Now what struck me about Inception was not so much its special effects or twisty plot, but its relentless secularism. As the characters plumb the depths of their own and one another’s psyches, as they delve into the furthest reaches of who they are and what motivates them, neither God nor salvation, nor even psychological growth ever even come up for consideration. The entire purpose of the Inception team is to make money by helping their clients uncover or implant some practically useful bit of information. And this is such a let-down, precisely because the deep exploration of the self has long been appreciated, both in the eastern and western spiritual traditions, as a privileged means of encountering God.As I've thought more about the movie and pondered deep questions ("Is it hyper-gnostic or über-gnostic? Did I really see the movie or did I sleep through it and dreamed that I saw it? Why did I pay for that stale popcorn? Or was the popcorn a bad dream?"), I have reached the conclusion (spoiler alert!!) that the movie is primarily about the question: How do we know reality? How do we know that reality is real? And so forth. I think the final sequence of the film, while purposefully ambiguous, points toward the main character, Cobb, recognizing that reality can, in fact, be known through love and relationship. He no longer has to rely on a token (the little top that once belonged to his wife) to mark his place in reality and dreams. Once he sees his children, he is able to walk away from the top (which could, I suspect, symbolize materialism or reliance on external date, contra Fr. Barron) for he knows his children are real, and he is now able to embrace reality fully. (Note that throughout the movie he only sees the backs of his children, but at the end is able to see them face to face—a strong suggestion of communion and knowledge).
But, that aside, I think it is incorrect to say that the "entire purpose of the Inception team is to make money by helping their clients uncover or implant some practically useful bit of information" when the only reason Cobb takes the job and assembles the team is because he believes the client is able to reunite him with his children (the other team members, of course, have other motives). Cobb is haunted by his wife's death, which was largely his fault, and he is trying, in some way, to pursue redemption by being with his children and being a new man. There isn't, I don't think, an obvious and blatant "God theme" in the movie, yet Cobb's realization of his limits and failings points to a certain spiritual awakening and undermines the notion that it is all about "relentless materialism." Again, I believe it is completely the opposite; I find that "reading" as flawed as the idea the movie is promoting gnosticism.
The "deep exploration of the self" is shown in Cobb's coming to grips with the selfishness and jealousy that destroyed his marriage, with his obsessive need to control and manipulate. In the end, he has to confront his demons (his wife—or, rather, her memory, is portrayed with a somewhat demonic quality) and accept and admit his failings. This allows him, then, to let go completely of his demons when he leaves the token spinning at the very end.
On a related note, the most intriguing and original review of Inception that I've read so far is found in Locus magazine. I'm not convinced completely by it, but its good reading. Finally, for those still trying to figure out the levels and such, here is a graphic guide.
• "'Inception' is so good..." (July 24, 2010)