Wednesday, July 21, 2010

INCEPTION and the Ethics of Mind-Rape

Monday night, my wife and I made a date of dinner and a movie. The movie was INCEPTION, the apparent blockbuster of the summer. I enjoyed the movie, though not as much as I'd hoped. My wife hated it. Anyway.

Since leaving the theater, one of the thoughts about the movie that's been nagging at me is that the ethical aspects of the premise were barely explored. The premise of the movie is that Dom Cobb (DeCaprio) is in industrial espionage, using CIA-developed technology to enter the dreams of powerful people and steal information from them ("extraction.")

He gets caught by Saito, one of his marks, and in order to save himself agrees to enter the dreams of a powerful person and PLANT (rather than steal) an idea in the mind of Saito's competitor, Fisher ("inception" rather than "extraction.") This will give Saito a competitive advantage against Fisher. The caper evolves from there. Parts of it are amazing, parts of it are stupefying. The special effects are magnificent, even if they overwhelm the story at times.

(Nothing to this point is a spoiler, because I haven't written anything not available in every review of the movie. Spoilers lie below, however.)

What of the ethical issues attendant to the premise of the movie?

1. The acts at the movie's center are the equivalent of mental rape, regardless of whether they are performed in the act of extraction or inception. Do we applaud this?

2. Cobb has performed one act of inception before. It ended very, VERY badly, with the death by suicide of his wife. Yet he is willing to try it again for a chance to reunite with his children?

3. Are we to applaud when the mind of a billionaire is raped, simply because he is a billionaire? Fisher is never shown to be unethical or dastardly--unlike the victims in the OCEANS series--so the audience is not rooting for bad things to happen to a bad guy. He's just rich, and in Saito's (and thus Cobb's) way.

4. The fact that a happy ending is manufactured for Fisher's relationship with his father--does this make the act acceptable? The happy ending wasn't fabricated for the sake of Fisher's health or well-being, it was devised to make him lose billions of dollars to the devisor.


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