Inception: What Are We Allowing Into Our Minds?

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Written By Wan Phing Lim, Malaysia

Most people would remember Inception, the mind-bending dream-within-a-dream film written, directed and co-produced by Christopher Nolan. Released in 2010 to huge commercial success, it won four Academy Awards in 2011 and grossed over US $828 million in box offices worldwide.

Inception is essentially a film about corporate espionage. It tells the story of a thief called Dom Cobb (Leonardo diCaprio) who extracts corporate secrets through the use of dream-sharing technology. One day, he is offered a job by a Japanese businessman to do the reverse— plant an idea into the mind of a rival CEO to dissolve his dying father’s company and break up a long-standing monopoly.

Cobb assembles a team of six, including an architect to design the dream world, a chemist to administer sedatives for a stable dream state, and an impersonator to manipulate the victim. Apart from the brilliant visual effects and powerful music score, Inception’s storyline sends this important message to audiences—that the mind is powerful and is able to determine a person’s future.

 

It all begins with the mind

The word “inception” comes from the root word to incept, meaning to begin, to start or to establish something. In the film, Dom Cobb compares an idea to a virus—small, resilient and highly contagious. Once it takes hold in a person’s brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. And so the team hatch a four-level strategy to plant these ideas—level by level—into their victim, Robert Fischer Jr (Cillian Murphy)’s mind:

Level 1: “I will not follow in my father’s footsteps”

Level 2: “I will create something for myself”

Level 3: “My father doesn’t want me to be him”

Level 4: “I will dissolve my father’s empire”

The next 90 minutes of the film moves quickly in a complex maze of kidnaps, robberies and shootouts—all cleverly designed to manipulate Fischer, set the scene and provide context for the thoughts to be planted. The job is carried out en-route an 18-hour flight when all are put to sleep to carry out the task in the dream world. The mission is a success and over the coming days and weeks, the thoughts implanted in Fischer’s subconscious will start to take root, grow organically and translate into the desired outcomes.

Our minds determine our future

The inception process is complex, dangerous, and requires much strategy, engineering and physicality. The same way Cobb and his team go to great lengths to plant a seed into their victim’s mind, our enemy the devil uses a similar modus operandi. The Bible calls him a thief (John 10:10), a liar (John 8:44) and very crafty (Genesis 3:1). He “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). But far from being a physical lion waging a physical attack, the enemy assaults us first in the mind.

Before the mission begins, Cobb warns his client on the gravity of his request: “The seed that we plant in this man’s mind will grow into an idea. This idea will come to define him, and it may come to change everything about him.”

Why is this important for us to understand? The Bible also talks about how the enemy wages a spiritual war against us in the mind. To overcome this, we have to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) and to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Inception may be a science-fiction thriller, but the movie is based on the solid truth about how our thoughts can affect our actions and shape who we become. Cobb says in the film: “The smallest seed of an idea can grow, and it can grow to define or destroy you.” Towards the end of the film, we realize that it was the idea that “Your world isn’t real” that led his wife to her tragic suicide.

Our thoughts are so powerful that they are able to determine the course of our lives. May we always be alert and sober-minded, guarding our minds vigilantly against any seemingly random or negative thoughts that are not submitted to Christ.

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7

Venom: Are You Willing To Be Invaded?

Rating: 4/5 stars

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Written by Wan Phing Lim, Malaysia

“I am Venom and you are mine. You didn’t choose me, I chose you.”

Sounds like an eerily familiar verse from the Bible? Venom, the latest supervillain to hit the big screens as a standalone movie, is a Marvel blockbuster with all the science, superpower and alien species invasion from space.

 

The Brock/Venom Hybrid

Released on 5 October 2018 in the US, Venom tells the story of down-and-out reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who loses his job and ex-fiancée after exposing trade secrets of The Life Foundation. The foundation is a bio-engineering company headed by scientific genius Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) who is secretly running human trials to merge with an alien life-form, the symbiote. During a break-in to the facility, Brock is attacked by a symbiote and gains superpowers. The symbiote starts speaking to Brock, introducing itself as Venom, and the two work together to bring down a more evil symbiote known as Riot, which later takes over Drake’s body.

Voiced by Tom Hardy himself, the Brock/Venom “hybrid” is an amusing character to watch. There’s wit and humor going on between man and monster as they seek to share a body and make space for each other. “If you want to stay, we can only hurt bad people,” says Brock. But Venom’s reply is: “The way I see it, we can do whatever we want. Do we have a deal?” In another scene, Venom threatens Brock to “cooperate and you might just survive”.

But over the course of the film, we see that Venom has a softer side. He gets upset when he is labelled “a parasite”, and even changes his mind to invade Earth, choosing instead to help Brock and save humankind from Riot’s destruction.

The movie is slow at the start, taking 45 minutes to reach the climax where Venom invades Brock, but it’s also not as dark and menacing as the trailer portrays. It’s fun, quirky, fast-paced (after the 45th minute, that is) and action-packed as with any Marvel superhero film.

 

Symbiosis and A New Race

The Brock/Venom character has much to teach Christians about the concept of symbiosis and becoming a new race. In the movie, Drake races against time to create a super-race that can sustain humanity, whose careless lifestyles are destroying earth’s resources by the day. His human experiments have failed countless times, that is, until Venom achieves perfect symbiosis with Brock, giving Drake hope that it can be done.

C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity that we become “new men” when we are fully in harmony and in tune with God. “God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man,” Lewis writes. Indeed, 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT) says, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

In biology, symbiosis is defined as the interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association to the mutual advantage of each other. In that sense, learning to “submit to the will of God” is like learning to be in symbiosis with an unseen force.

Drake’s many human experiments failed in the past because the human bodies or “hosts” were unwilling and not strong enough to withstand invasion. Many of them were homeless men and women who were tricked off the streets. But Eddie Brock was different. He was physically and mentally strong, willful, focused, and willing to accept his fate—making him the perfect cooperative host for Venom. In the movie, Brock and Venom are stronger together, achieving their goals for the greater good.

The film begins with the phrase “I am Venom” but it ends with “We are Venom” once Eddie Brock is fully attuned to his new identity. Are we willing enough hosts to be “invaded by Christ” in the spiritual sense, and are we willing to cooperate to do His will?

Just like Brock, we are weak as mortal human beings, but God’s supernatural strength enables us to achieve greater things. And just as Brock and Venom worked together to defeat a greater evil, we have been chosen by God and united with Him in order to defeat the stronghold of sin and establish God’s kingdom here on earth. As new creations in Christ, He gives us boldness to pray for others, to perform miracles just as His disciples did, and to stand firm against the forces of darkness with the Holy Spirit’s help.

God never forces Himself on us because He gave us a free will, but in Christ-likeness, we should all say as Jesus did on the cross: “Your will be done, not mine” (Mark 14:36).

 

p/s: Be sure to stay till the very very end of the end credits!

Searching: How Far Will You Go For Your Loved Ones?

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Searching, the first film from 27-year-old director Aneesh Chaganty, is a crime thriller starring John Cho who plays David, a father in a desperate search for his missing daughter.

After his daughter, Margot, goes missing, David is not allowed to take an active role in the police investigation, so the only way he can help is by combing through her digital persona in search for clues to her disappearance. Filmed from the unique perspective of smartphone and laptop screens, the movie explores the different masks that we put on to hide what is going on inside. Through the twists and turns of the investigation, David learns how little he knew of his own daughter and also what lengths he would go to find her.

Searching isn’t the first film shot from the exclusive point-of-view of a laptop screen, but it is by far the most engaging one, nearly perfectly capturing the millennial generation’s online experience. From its opening shot of booting up Windows XP, the film begins by playing on nostalgia with footages of the MSN messenger, the original YouTube interface and even the early versions of Facebook as we view memories from Margot’s childhood. I haven’t seen such an emotional first five minutes to a film since that heartbreaking opening sequence from Pixar’s Up.

The film proceeds to utilize present day communication apps like Facetime and iMessage as well as popular social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and even Tumblr to reveal the story of Margot’s disappearance. David even uses Google Sheets and Google Maps to help in his own private investigation. The little details from director Chaganty of the dropped frame rate during a video call or a typo while messaging or deciding to delete a 200-word rant and replace it with a short, passive aggressive sentence all added to the realism of the online experience.

Although the film-making techniques used to craft the story of Searching certainly make the movie unique, it is the emotional pull of David and Margot’s characters that makes the film a great one. Some of the buzz around Searching is that it is the first mainstream Hollywood thriller with an Asian actor as the lead. Interestingly though, John Cho being of Korean descent had very little to do with David’s character arc. The film instead focused on universal themes of complicated family dynamics, of grief and loss, and—most powerfully—of a father’s love.

This theme of a father’s love was the one that spoke to me the most when reflecting on the film. I was reminded of Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7) where he tells us of the Shepherd who will “leave the ninety-nine” sheep and “go after the lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:4).

In Searching, David discovers things about his daughter that he couldn’t have imagined were possible. He finds out how Margot has been deceiving him and doing things that he couldn’t believe she would do. At one point in the film, David laments to the lead investigator, “I did not know her. I did not know my daughter.” Despite those discoveries, David’s ultimate goal of finding his daughter never wavers.

In the same way, God’s love for us is constant and unwavering. But in contrast to David, our Heavenly Father knows His children intimately. He knows about the masks that we put on and the lies we tell people in order to fit in or seek approval. He knows about the sneaking around and our sinful behavior. He knows that we will disappoint and disobey Him and go our own way. And yet despite that, he will “leave the ninety-nine” and chase after us with an even greater fervency than David does in the film. In fact, our Heavenly Father has made the ultimate sacrifice for us, not because of anything good in us, but because of the intense love He has for His children.

Although we will hopefully never have to experience what David and Margot went through in the film, my prayer is that we all experience the love of our Heavenly Father and allow ourselves to be found in Him even if we lose our way.

Crazy Rich Asians: The One Struggle We All Have in Common

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

 

Rating: 4 out of 5

“Why are you watching that bimbo show?” A friend of mine asked incredulously, when I told her that I was going to catch the sneak preview of Crazy Rich Asians, which had finally opened in my country, Singapore, earlier this week after much hype.

“Well, I like bimbo shows,” I replied with a grin. Of course, I could have argued that this was no “bimbo” movie, but a “movement”—in the words of the movie’s director, Jon M. Chu. Even before the show was officially released, much was written and said about how Crazy Rich Asians is a watershed moment for Asian representation on the big screen: it is the first Hollywood movie to feature an all-Asian cast 25 years after Joy Luck Club.

Or I could have expounded on the need for us as proud Singaporeans to throw our weight behind a show that featured our little red dot in all its splendor and glory. After all, how many movies are there in Hollywood that mention our city-state, much less, choose Singapore as their main film location?

I could have also highlighted how well the movie had performed at the US box office over its opening weekend, raking in over US$35 million and coming in at number one.

But the truth was, I had simply read Kevin Kwan’s book earlier this year and was excited to see how the rom-com would play out on the big screen against sights and sounds I was familiar with.

It is a tale as old as time, albeit with an all-Asian cast twist: a guy falls in love with a girl and brings her home to meet his parents. The only catch is that Singaporean Nick Young (played by Henry Golding) is from one of the richest families in the island-city and his Asian-American Economics professor girlfriend, Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu) doesn’t have a clue about it. Unsurprisingly, drama ensues the moment they set foot in the Young household and our female protagonist finds herself the target of almost everyone in the Young family—especially Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young (played by Michelle Yeoh)—who thinks she’s not good enough for her son.

As my friends and I took our seats in the cinema, it was apparent that we were not the only ones ready to be entertained. Around us, young and old, Singaporean and non-Singaporeans, Asians and non-Asians, filled the packed theater and had come with food and drinks as well. The excitement in the theater was palpable and the atmosphere boisterous. It was as though everyone knew this was a movie of significance to Singapore (not only was it shot in Singapore, it involved 297 Singaporeans or permanent residents as production crew members, and 12 home-grown names in the cast itself), and we all really wanted to like it.

True enough, the movie did entertain. People laughed, cried, and even gasped at all the right junctures. And as the credits rolled, a round of applause resounded in the theater; the movie had lived up to expectation. Though most (if not all) of us were neither crazy nor rich, something in the movie had definitely struck a chord. And I suspect it wasn’t just the Singlish, nailed effortlessly by Singaporean actress Koh Chieng Mun (who plays the mother of Peik Lin, Rachel’s good friend).

Beyond the perfectly coiffed hair, impeccable make-up, gorgeous landscapes and outfits, the show surfaced an inherent human trait in its main characters that transcends socioeconomic status, lineage, and cultures: self-worth. Yes, apparently even the crazy rich struggle with it (some spoilers ahead).

For female lead Rachel, you could even say that her bigger story is about finding where her worth really lies, as she grapples with gaining acceptance in the ridiculously rich Young family, especially from Nick’s steely and imposing mother who tells her to her face that she will “never be enough”.

Or you might feel sympathy or chagrin towards Michael Teo (played by Singaporean actor Pierre Png), the hot-and-cold husband of Nick’s cousin, Astrid Leong (played by Gemma Chan),  who can’t seem to break out of feeling second class among the Young family despite his dashing good looks and impressive military achievements (which are elaborated on in the book).

Even the doyenne herself, Eleanor, reveals to Rachel at one point that she herself hadn’t been the first or even second choice of Nick’s grandmother, who jumps on every opportunity to remind her that everything she does isn’t good enough. And so she tries to establish her worth through Nick, by letting him stay with his grandmother so that he can gain her affection.

If there’s one thing that the movie does a great job portraying, it’s that rich or poor, handsome or plain-looking, clever or mediocre, we all have moments where we doubt our worth. Yet even as we struggle within, like Eleanor Young, we seem to use these very same characteristics to lord it over others and say or do things (whether intentionally or not) that make others question their worth as well.

But beauty is fleeting, and so is our wealth and intellect. If we anchor our self-worth in these things, we will ultimately become highly insecure and judgmental beings, our confidence tossed to and fro by the changing standards of the world.

That’s where the beauty of the gospel comes in. In the eyes of God, we are all truly “not good enough”, but not because we’re not from a good family, don’t have a good job or the perfect features. It’s because we have rejected God and chosen to live our lives our own way. Yet, while we were still rebelling against Him, God sent His son, Jesus, to die for us—to make us “good enough” out of His love for us (John 3:16).

Now that is a game changer. Because our worth, regardless of our lineage or achievements, is fully intact as a result of Christ’s finished work on the cross. This means that as children of God and co-heirs with Christ, we should no longer worry about establishing our worth or judging others, but focus on living for the One who gave it to us (Romans 8:14-17).

And what that looks like practically is summed up succinctly in the passage Eleanor reads out from Colossians 3 in that especially ironic scene where she is having a bible study with her sisters:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Will we shake off the baggage in our lives—opulent or not—and turn our eyes to things that truly matter, and last?