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  • Writer's pictureKory James

Lucid Dreaming: How Inception Gets It Wrong

Updated: Aug 5, 2022

Let me start out by saying I’m a sucker for any Christopher Nolan movie, Inception included. Nolan’s capacity to condense complex, fascinating topics into feature length epics has rightfully earned him a spot in cinema history, if not history proper.

Inception is an exemplary work of his genius, bringing together the psychic importance of dreams with a compelling action narrative all while allegorizing the viewers’ experience of being immersed in a movie. Wildly imaginative.

What’s more, Inception was a pivotal motivation for me (as it was for many) to pursue the art of lucid dreaming, which I am forever grateful for.

BUT as a passionate (yet still amateur) practitioner, I would be remiss to not notice how far off Inception gets from the true power and awesome sauce of real-world lucid dreaming.

Let me explain.

My first lucid dream began from a state of sleep paralysis. My body an unmovable stone, breathing made impossible, and shadowy, ill-intentioned creatures whispering in the corner of the room. Anyone who’s had it knows the drill.

But, by some stroke of luck, this time I was able to shake it. I rolled from the mattress to my feet and out of the hallucination, or so I thought. I exited my college bedroom and entered my grandparents’ kitchen where an assortment of friends who’d never met each other waited for me.

Still, I suspected nothing.

It wasn’t until explaining to them how I conquered sleep paralysis using hand motions that my attention was drawn to 6 strange fingers intermingling out of one of my palms. “I’m in a dream!” I shouted to my nonmaterial friends. “This is a dream!”

Lucid dreaming is a crazy thing. It feels like a surprise birthday party, every goddamn time. And it comes with a host of unforgettable and otherwise unexperiencable experiences.

Since my origin story, I have flown superman-style through starry night skies over glowing cities while wind currents pulsed about me, and I savored every second.

I have practiced self-defense, meditation, and object materialization – and once engaged in a full-on DBZ sky battle. I have walked through walls, brought vibrant settings to life, and held deep conversations with recreated family members that had me waking to tears.

Side note: most of the time dream characters will not admit they are dream characters and are pretty damn stubborn about it. But they’ll always fold if you press long enough.

All of this is a long way of pointing out where I believe Inception misses the mark…its dream sequences are just not that wild. What, we get a train rolling through a street, a crazy dead wife, hallway jumping, and a curving cityscape?

Real dreams have so much more to offer.

Where’s the flying, the outlandish settings, the shapeshifting dream characters, the inexplicable logic, the sleep paralysis, the nightmare creatures, where’s Goku?

And if we’re to believe Leo was a pro at lucidity, why didn’t he just Thanos snap his dream enemies to dust? Yeah, yeah, would draw too much attention to the dreamer or something.

Inception emphasizes the perceptional uncertainty between dreams and reality with the psychotic break of Leo’s wife (and that dreaded spinning top), but any practiced lucid dreamer would tell you this is a non-issue. Dreams simply feel different than reality once you question if you’re in one – there’s this electric buzz, weightlessness, and psychedelic color enhancement to everything.

Not to mention you can phase your flippin’ hand through anything you want.

And while Inception does hint at the impact of dreams on the waking world, what with Leo’s zombie marital issues and Tommy Shelby’s nonappreciative father, in my opinion it doesn’t go deep enough.

Lucid dreams exist at the intersection of conscious control and materialized unconsciousness, making them the ideal locale for confronting one’s anxieties and repressed personality aspects, which psychologists call “shadows”.

Shadows are not necessarily sinister things, but rather innate parts of our psyche we sweep under the rug because they conflict with the false identity or ego we wear in the world.

To explore the mystical inner workings of the unconscious, to confront, accept, and integrate shadows, and to experience superhuman capabilities – these are what make lucid dreaming fascinating, and these are what Inception strikes out on.

And that’s without even touching on the theory of the collective unconscious…will have to save that for its own post 😉

If you’re up for it, DM me your zaniest lucid dreams and/or sleep paralysis stories or post them in the comments below!


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