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The movie industry is a sharpened tool that can slice to the heart of personal, spiritual and social disease, exposing in living color what’s wrong with the world on this side of the silver screen.

But wielded in the hands of Hollywood, this scalpel-like instrument rarely finds the cure.

Take in point the brilliant and mind-boggling film “Inception,” an Oscar-worthy offering that unwittingly grazes just past the answer on its incision deep into the darkness of guilt:

“Do you want to take a leap of faith,” the movie asks repeatedly, “or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?”

If only the filmmakers realized the right direction for their “leap of faith,” they might have landed upon the solution to their movie’s gut-wrenching themes of guilt, regret and dying alone.

Nonetheless, this blockbuster film is not only the best movie of the year so far, but also one of the most original and creative films of the last decade.

The premise of “Inception” is that Mr. Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is part of an elite group of thieves who have found a way to share the dreams of their targets and then manipulate the M.C.-Escher-like dreamscapes to extract hidden information that is valuable in the real world. In essence, they use dreams to steal secrets.

But Cobb has secrets of his own.

Festering in his mind – the mind that is used to build these magnificent dreamscapes – is a life-shattering guilt over the death of his wife. Hidden in the basement of all these dreams are Cobb’s memories, but they refuse to stay there. If Cobb cannot find a way to purge the guilt and shame and horror over what he’s done, it will literally drive him mad.

Though this underlying theme sounds similar to the guilt-racked world of a previous DiCaprio thriller, “Shutter Island,” “Inception” supersedes the former in creativity and mind-bending plot. It is simply a magnificent piece of work that many are rightfully comparing to “The Matrix” for its groundbreaking story and special effects.

Unlike “The Matrix,” however – and, indeed, very much like “Shutter Island” – “Inception” does a far better job depicting the depressing power of guilt than it does presenting the cure.

Despite talk of “taking a leap of faith,” the film’s only resolution for this guilt is to “forgive yourself” and “let go.”

And, while, psychologically, these are important steps, they don’t complete the process. In a case like Cobb’s, simply forgiving oneself doesn’t address the profound spiritual wounds of, as the film states, “an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone.”

Shakespeare better understood the humanly unconquerable power of guilt, when he wrote the words of Macbeth, who was aghast that there was no cleansing for the hands that committed murder:

“What hands are here? Ha! they pluck out mine eyes,” Macbeth wailed. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.”

Guilt, as Shakespeare understood, does not just wash away because we wish it gone.

Guilt is a debt against all that is right and good in the world, a wrong that must be corrected, a crime that must be punished, a spiritual dilemma not solved by psychology alone.

And so “Inception” is wrong in its conclusion … but it did whisper the solution.

For the spiritual debt for our guilt was paid by another, a price in his blood, when God who could do what no man can do for himself stepped into man’s place and as Jesus took the punishment for our wrongdoing.

“There is, therefore, now no condemnation,” the Bible says; the sinner’s debt is paid; he is free of the burden of guilt.

“I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist,” God says in Isaiah 44:22. “Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”

But can man trust in this truth, believe in this Jesus, accept the payment that the guilty soul perpetually tries to extract from itself? It is a risk, a chance, a leap into the arms of a God that we cannot see.

So, ultimately, though they didn’t know it, the writers of “Inception” got it right:

“Do you want to take a leap of faith,” the movie asks, “or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?”

Content advisory:

  • “Inception” is filled with gun battles, fistfights, deaths, car chases, crashes and other melee. At times, it’s overkill, as the film slips from being incredibly brainy to overly brawny at times. Some editing of the action could have helped the film. Other than a bleeding wound from a gunshot, however, there is little gore to accompany all the violence.
  • The movie has about a dozen profanities, surprisingly few for a film of this genre, far short of the constant cussing that detracted from “The Matrix,” for example. The “f-word” is completely absent. There are, however, a handful of violations of the Third Commandment.
  • Likewise, sexuality in the movie is virtually nonexistent. There’s a chaste kiss and a female character that flashes some cleavage. That’s it.
  • Despite talk of “a leap of faith,” the phrase is not used in a religious context in the film. Nor do religion or the occult play a significant role in the film. The only exception may be a brief comment from an African man who oversees people purposefully living under heavy sedation to experience long dreams. The man says the people sleep to “wake up” in their dreams, which they have substituted for reality. “Who are you to say they’re wrong?” he asks, intoning some Eastern mysticism, but it’s not developed by the plot.

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