25 May 2011

An idea can change your life

Not for nothing is this the catchphrase of one of our popular service providers.

I just finished reading a fascinating book and watching a fascinating movie illustrating this concept. The movie, which we'll get to in a bit, is undoubtedly one that most of you will already have seen, and fairly long ago; the book, I think, is one that not many may have read.


I stole borrowed Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point from dad's collection after coming across a mention of it on an online film tutorial. ("I've got this book!" I thought excitedly.) There was a time a few years ago when I wouldn't have dreamed of reading non-fiction for pleasure, but clearly times have changed. And this was one fascinating book, so relevant to our lives. It deals with the social epidemic, or in other words, how ideas catch fire. How trends become trends, and most importantly, why they do so. But this wasn't a treatise in fashion or materialism. This was a lesson in psychology, social behavior, the kinds of people that cause an idea to reach it's tipping point - the point at which it grows and spreads uncontrollably, as opposed to an explicable exponential progression. What makes this book so amazing is that it exposes things that you may have taken for granted, and explains them in a lucid, easy-to-read manner. Gladwell uses examples from Hush Puppies and Sesame Street to crime and teenage smoking. This book could be used as a text for advertisers, for management students, for social workers, for anyone interested in getting an idea across to a large number of people or, conversely, trying to break a habit or trend from spreading.


This brings us to the movie - Christopher Nolan's Inception. I am often wary of over-hyped films because they often threaten to disappoint, but this one sure didn't. For quite a while in the beginning, "what is going ON" was the only thought swimming in my head (oh, and "Joseph Gordon-Levitt has grown up!"), and though it is quite complicated to follow at times, it does a wonderful job at clearing it all out, if only to leave us with a titillating ending. (SPOILERS AHEAD)

Exeunt, defeated by a top?

The key line, and what makes the movie so interesting to me, is probably the one likening an idea to the most resilient virus ever known. The dream angle is fascinating as well, since being a vivid dreamer, I can relate to it and especially to the confusion. Ultimately, the movie is less about dreams than about a spark, and implanting that spark in someone's mind subtly enough to make him believe that it was his idea all along. But the use of dreams as the form and means is brilliant, not only because they're a great way to explore the subconscious and thereby bring Cobb's personal weaknesses in (his story, after all, is really what the whole movie is about) but also because any confusion or disparity that may emerge can simply be brushed aside - who can really explain everything about a dream?

In the end, it doesn't matter whether the top keeps spinning or not; what matters is that Cobb stops looking at it. He believes what is happening is real and therefore, he is cured. His catharsis has happened, the guilt is gone; no longer will his dead wife visit him in nightmares. Whether this is indeed the real world ceases to make a difference, for he is here, now, with those he cares about - this is his dream come true.

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