Review of Inception Dream Phenomenon from a Lucid Dreamer

The following is a review, not of the actual movie Inception, but of some of the dream phenomenon represented by the film. As a lifelong imaginary and an avid lucid dreamer, I have rich experience to draw on when discussing various aspects and dimensions of the dreamworld. My thoughts about these matters are based mostly on my own personal experiences as a lucid dreamer, on conversations I’ve had with lucid dreamers over the years, and my personal explorations in the dream literature. Please feel free to engage in anything I’m setting forth with comments or debate.

Totems/Reality Tests

The items in the movie that were referred to as totems—the top, the loaded die,    the weighted chess pawn— these are examples of what we, in lucid dreaming circles, call reality tests. Reality tests are ways that you can test whether or not you are dreaming. But you do not need “totems” to conduct reality tests! I simply look at my hands. Other people flick light switches or try to read a digital clock (neither work in dreams). Remember in the movie, Saito figures out he’s dreaming when he realizes the rug in his dream is polyester instead of wool. Noticing things out of place, like a third moon in the night sky or text that changes, are all ways of realizing the dream for what it is. Once you know you are dreaming, welcome to lucidity!

Lucid Dreaming/Realizing the Dream as Dream

When you realize the dream as a dream while you are still in the dream you become a lucid dreamer. You will recall that when Saito realizes he is in a dream, suddenly he has much more power. When Cobb (DiCaprio), wakes up Ariadne (The Architect) in her dream, she is able to remain calm while windows and buildings explode all around her. When she goes back into the lucid dream, she’s able to alter the physics of the dream and manipulate its very structure. Lucid dreaming is incredibly powerful and opens doors to heightened creativity, deeper understandings of self, spiritual growth, fun, psychic or clairvoyant experiences, and much more.

Dreams within Dreams

Dreams within dreams definitely happen. In the beginning of the movie they go 2 levels deep. During the final sequence they intend to go 3 levels deep, but then go a 4rth into “limbo”. However if we accept the possibility that Cobb is still dreaming when he returns to his children at the end of the movie, then we must view the limbo as, at minimum, a 5th level. I can recall a few occasions where I got 5 or 6 levels deep. Unfortunately, I don’t often recall the content of dreams within dreams, I only notice that I’ve awakened from a dream within a dream but rarely remember the dream from which I awoke. I like the hypothesis that as we delve into deeper levels of dreams within dreams, it is like peeling an onion… we are getting closer to our subconscious, our core self, our higher truth, our infinite potential. Notice that it took Fisher 3 or 4 levels of depth to experience his deep emotional insight about his father. Cobb thinks that this was inception— that the dream team had planted an idea in Fisher’s head—  but perhaps Fisher’s emotional realization regarding his father was just him recognizing his own deep truth. Cobb and cast helped him get there, as dream guides and helpers, but whether or not inception occurred is still up for debate as far as I’m concerned.

Maze Making, Puzzles, and Riddles

In the movie, The Architect is prompted to draw complex mazes. These mazes became the structure of the dreamworld and were useful to stave off the projections longer and give the team more time and space to run in the dream. From a young age I drew mazes… long ridiculously complex mazes that most people didn’t even have the patience to complete. I’ve actually been published a handful of times in children’s magazines like Weekly Reader, Read Magazine, and Jack and Jill. The movie got me thinking about the connection between mazes and puzzles and riddles and dreams. Dreams are puzzles, they speak in riddles, and they take place in elaborate mazes constructed by the architect in our minds. For this reason, I would venture to guess that those people who have honed their skill in solving riddles, doing puzzles, and making mazes are likely very vivid and complex dreamers with enhanced abilities in the realms of creative and symbolic problem solving. It naturally follows then, that if you are trying to expand and enliven your dream world, then try your hands at some puzzles and brain benders… consider them push-ups and sit-ups for your imagination!

Projections vs. Dream Characters

Consider the eastern/esoteric supposition that during dreams our subtle energetic body (aka dream body) can disengage from our physical body and explore other dimensions of nonphysical reality. Now consider the western/psychological supposition that dreams occur in the confines of our individual minds. Rather than engage in debate over which one is “right”, I can trust my own experiences enough to say both occur. With that said, some of the other people in our dreams may be projections of our subconscious. Other dream characters may be energetic entities encountered on other planes of existence, translated by our mental facilities to look like something that energy reminds us of. The book, Otherwhere: A Field Guide to Nonphysical reality Experienced by the Out of Body Traveler, by Kurt Leland proposes that we ought to think about the dream characters that we come in contact with in terms of the function they play. Are they Guides or Instructors, Overseers or Shades? I was excited to see Inception use some of these terms (Saito is an Overseer and Mal is told that she is “just a Shade”. The movie also continues in this vein by using other function-based designations for the rest of the characters: The Architect, Forge, Chemist, Extractor, etc. Leland would lump all of these designations into the category of Dream Rangers, or other dreamers that one may come in contact with in their dreams. The in-dream appearance of the characters we come into contact with will differ based on the individual dreamers’ upbringing, mythological and religious background, cultural and social lenses, etc… and it is for this reason that we should key in on dream character function rather than appearance.

The Vault

I appreciated the image of a locked vault or a basement as the place where our psyche stores all of the demons, the shadows, the darkness. While the shadows are allowed to play undisturbed in the vault, they are able to pull the strings of our waking thoughts and behaviors and patterns. When we learn to open the vault doors and shine the light on the shadows, darkness is transformed! This is a powerful way to resolve emotional pain in your life and to get over nightmares.

Speaking with departed loved ones?

It happens all the time. Whether dreamers are actually getting in touch with the energetic field or eternal soul of their departed loved ones or are just imagining projections of them is a question that I’m not yet prepared to answer with any sort of validity. I personally believe both are possibilities. Ultimately, however, the question is irrelevant, as the message is the important thing. If we receive, understand, and honor the messages from our dreams, then it doesn’t necessarily matter where the messages come from.

Dying in a Dream

Thank goodness Inception busted through the old myth and fallacy that if you die in your dreams you really die. As one who has experienced a few handfuls of dream deaths, I can attest to the fact that death in the dream typically means waking up in the physical body. I have experienced the feeling of death in a dream that I did not wake up from. Instead my conscious awareness transitioned into a formless, dreamless state… a great void. I remember in those moments thinking something like, “wow… I actually died. So this is what comes next, huh?” The profundity of the few experiences where I died in my dreams stays with me and gives me goosebumps as I recall them. The surrender that occurs in the moments just before death are so liberating and peaceful. Perhaps these reasons contribute to why Tibetan dream yogis promote the dreamtime as a great opportunity to practice dying.

Please feel free to comment on anything I’ve covered. I’m interested in the experiences of others with these same topics.

Dream Well.


~ by jonahhaas on July 30, 2010.

9 Responses to “Review of Inception Dream Phenomenon from a Lucid Dreamer”

  1. Wonderful and insightful synopsis. I could not agree more. What is most intriguing by your interpretations is that it’s followed by citations w/in the movie. Great job, great movie!

  2. Watch this on youtube an let me know what you think?
    The Twilight Zone – Perchance to Dream

    • Andre,

      Thanks for the link. I love those old classic twilight zones! They’ve got a great feel to them. As I mentioned in my post, I can firmly attest (and many others will too) that if you die in your dreams, you do not die for real. However, if what he said is true… that he had a heart condition that he couldn’t aggravate or else he’d die, then I suppose he could have had a heart attack in his sleep, that was triggered by excitement from a dream. Plausible enough. I love that they were playing with the dream inside a dream theme way back in the ’50s. What I think is the coolest thing about this video is that they were representing Lucid Dreaming way back then! Lucid Dreaming as an idea or practice didn’t get much lip service until sometime in the 80s. Pretty cool!

  3. Thanks for the personal info on mazes and dreams. During that part of the movie I didn’t really see the connection- I am a very novice (if at all) lucid dreamer and I don’t play with mazes… but your connection makes a hell of a lot of sense and makes me want to start playing with some mazes!

  4. The Inception was made to Cobb. The inception of the film is the moment when the seed was left in his mind. He then believes he is dreaming since the beginning which then make he finally believes that when he woke up in the plane he is in the reality. The Architect (Ariadne) is the key. She is a lot more skilled than Cobb, she knows how to manage gravity (so the totem) and made Cobb and all spectator believe that the inception mission to Fischer was the reality. Observe also that Ariadne learned a lot about Cobb’s psychology and Limbo, she is the only one allowed or that had succeeded to enter his Limbo so whenever she got that she would be able to architect the “reality” Cobb was looking for.

  5. I had forgotten that Jacob’s Ladder was pretty much like Inception long before Inception was made.

  6. I had a lucid dream two nights ago but I’ve been out of practice. I used to just be able to fly around in my dream but this time I just carried on dreaming, knowing I was dreaming, and being a passive observer, like somebody watching a movie. My test was always to see if I could feel the weight of my feet on the ground when I walked around. I never could feel the weight on my feet in a dream. When I run in a dream, I would see the world of my dream pass by but I wouldn’t feel my legs moving. Of course, they don’t move: your body is paralysed when you are dreaming. I’ve experienced “waking up” in a dream twice in a row and the second time I realized I was still dreaming I woke up for real. Oh and I noticed that you can’t read in a dream, that text keeps changing. That’s annoying. As a general rule, every time you focus on something in a dream it changes, even if you don’t want it to. It’s as if the subconscious mind is easily bored and has the attention span of a three year old. Maybe our subconscious mind never grows up: I’m always much younger in my dream than I really am and the older I get the more noticeable this is. Why do I still dream I’m in high school when I’m 43? Why don’t I dream about things more recent? Oh and I’ve died a couple of times in dreams. It really did feel like limbo, both times. The second time I found myself in the womb again being birthed. I woke up when I saw the light. No, I didn’t think I was going to Heaven but someone else having the same dream might have had that interpretation.

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