Here is another movie in my series on the top ten Buddhist movies. Inception came out in 2010 and demonstrates nicely the Buddhist concept that the reality we live in is merely a projection of our subconscious.
In the movie, people share dreams together. One person, the architect, sets up the basic framework of the dream (location and environmental features) while the subject populates the dream with projections (people) that are parts of their subconscious. Other dreamers can join the subject in the dream as well. The movie plot focuses on using the dream state to either steal information from the subject (extraction) or to give the subject an idea that they will carry out during their awake time (inception).
My interest is not so much on the plot, which is fascinating in itself, but on how the movie as a whole models the Buddhist concept that the world we find ourselves in is really just a projection of our mind. A school of Buddhist thought called the Mind Only School (Chittamatra or Yogacara) actually purports that the world we live in is just mind only. The people in the movie (aside from the shared dreamers) are actually just projections of the dreamer’s subconscious.
My first reaction to the movie took a couple of days to wear off. When the movie was over, I found myself viewing the world and the people around me with a different lens. Each person I interacted with I saw as an extension of myself. I couldn’t shake the sense that they were just an extension of my subconscious and that my world in a dream.
One of the themes of Inception is that the dreamers have to be on the alert about whether they are dreaming or awake. The dream is so real that discernment regarding their sleep state is nearly impossible. This too is similar to the idea in Buddhism that our awake state is really just a dream state. It is impossible to tell the two apart and like a dream what makes certain things occur or not is not readily apparent. Our awake state seems real, when it it truly a deceptive reality.