in the movie inception, the surest way to know that you’re dreaming is if you can’t remember how you got to where ever you happen to be at that moment. we are told that asking this question is a good way to stay oriented to reality, because the danger is to be caught in a dream, having lost hold of the distinction between dreaming and reality.
while each new wrinkle in the dreamscape threatened to send the plot beyond the limits of comprehension, there were a series of well formed parallels being drawn between our inability to understand the dream state, and the false certainty with which we presume to understand waking reality, until it seemed that dreaming became more perfectly analogous with waking, and I found myself asking questions of reality to which the characters in the plot were asking of their dreams.
“how did i come to be here?”
One character who is trapped deep within her own subconscious dream world is the target of the inception of an idea that causes her to question the false reality of her own making, but upon freeing herself from the clutches of the dream, she finds that the so called “reality” to which she had been thrust back into shares all of the same dream-like characteristics of false presumption, and this too she has to be free of.
The main character, her husband, fights between these tensions, constantly orienting himself to reality (where his top spins just so). Though he is a brilliant architect of dreamscapes, able to pull vast and intricate designs from memory and imagination, in the dreams born of his sorrow he manages finally to recognize the projection of his wife as nothing more than an illusory shadow of all that she was in life, and he never even dared to project the beauty in his children’s faces.
Like Cobb, we have to fight to stay oriented to objective reality, because it is a far better world than the world of our own making, even when we feel entitled to the dreams that promise us all of the security and comfort that reality so unsympathetically denies, they are still shallow and false, projections of the shallowness and falseness in ourselves. reality is the place where we don’t have to project our own fragile perceptions of beauty. reality is, as the final scene reveals, the place where we are confronted by the beauty in our children’s faces.