Christopher Nolan’s Inception

Another film that got a lot of attention this past year is Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The film is nominated for the Best-Picture Oscar, and today the Writers Guild Awards gave Nolan the award for best original screenplay. I loved the film, and I thought it was one of the most inventive movies that I have seen in a long time. I also hugely enjoyed watching the film from an archetypal perspective. I knew going into the movie that Nolan was born with a Mercury-Saturn-Neptune t-square, and it was remarkable to see how many different ways that that the film is an expression of that archetypal combination.

Inception is the science fiction story of a character named Cobb (played by Leonardo Dicaprio) whose job it is to use a form of consciousness technology to illicitly enter into another person’s dreams and then steal valuable information that is revealed in the dream-state. The film opens with Cobb attempting one of these dream-heists, but with him failing in the attempt. The person who Cobb tries to steal from (Saito, played by Ken Watanabe) turns the tables on him and then offers him another job. Instead of trying to steal information, this time Cobb is now tasked with inception: the implanting of an idea within the dream-mind of another person. Saito hopes to perform the inception so he can manipulate his victim for business purposes. This is an incredibly difficult job, but Cobb ultimately accepts it because the reward he is offered would allow him to return home from his criminal’s life on the run, and allow him to be reunited with his children.
As the story unfolds we discover that both Cobb and his wife Mal (played by Marion Cotillard) had become deeply engaged with the dream technology, and at a certain point they got trapped in a kind of dream-limbo that it took years (of dream-time) to escape from. They got so lost in the technology that they ultimately struggled to stay in touch with reality. Even when they were no longer trapped in the dream-world, Mal became convinced that they were still dreaming, and she concluded that the only way to wake up to reality was to kill herself (in what she felt was still dream consciousness). And so the film is pervaded with the profound grief of Cobb’s character who has tragically lost his wife to this technology, and is now separated from his children. I will assume from here on that everyone who is reading this has seen the film, and I won’t say anything more except that by the end of the film all of the above exposition is thrown into question, and the viewer is left feeling very much like Cobb and Mal in limbo, questioning what was real, and what was a dream.
This film is obviously very Neptunian, and we would expect the filmmaker to have significant Neptune aspects. Neptune, of course, is the planet that rules dreams, and it is Neptune that is the god who is present at the moment we drift from waking consciousness into sleep and dreaming consciousness. Neptune also rules consciousness itself, and it relates to altered-states and experiences of confusion and disorientation. In this case, Christopher Nolan has a t-square of Mercury, Saturn, and Neptune, and in this piece I want to especially explore both the Mercury-Neptune square that he is born with, and his Saturn-Neptune opposition.
I associate both the Mercury-Neptune archetype and the Saturn-Neptune archetype with people who regularly do dream-work of different sorts. You see Mercury-Neptune in the charts of people who like to write (Mercury) down their dreams (Neptune), and who are looking to find a communication (Mercury) from their unconscious mind within the dream (Neptune). In this film the Mercury-Neptune fits both the use of the dream technology (Neptune) to steal valuable information (Mercury), as well as the process of inception where an idea (Mercury) is planted inside the mind of the dreamer (Neptune).
Saturn-Neptune is associated with dream-work for different reasons. Saturn is the principle that has to do with discipline and hard-work, and so you see it in people who are disciplined with a dream practice, and who work hard to bring their dreams (Neptune) back into waking reality (Saturn). Thus the Saturn-Neptune archetype has something to do with the hard work of integrating dream messages into our everyday waking consciousness. In the film, Saturn-Neptune is consistent with the main character’s attempt at mastery (Saturn) over their own dreams, and the dreams of their target.
There are many other Saturn-Neptune motifs that are present in the film as well. The whole struggle with the nature of reality that is central to the film is a classic expression of the archetype. I’ve often heard Rick Tarnas refer to this combination as the “Is it real or isn’t it?” archetype. Saturn can be seen as the reality principle, and Neptune can be confusion, illusion, or delusion, and often when the two are in hard aspect you will get people who have moments where they struggle to stay in touch with reality. Thus it is an archetype that sometimes can relate to madness or grappling with insanity, and we see several characters in the film struggling to stay in touch with reality.
Saturn-Neptune also has a lot to do with grief and melancholy, and you often see it present when there is a significant mourning process (consider Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who is born with a Saturn-Neptune square and who wrote extensively about the grief process). In extreme cases, Saturn-Neptune is also an archetype that seems to relate to suicidality, or with people whose cosnciousness (Neptune) is consumed with death (Saturn). In this film we have characters who utilize death as a way to escape from their dreams, but in the case of Mal we have someone who is confused, and thinking she is still trapped in a dream, accidentally takes her own life.
Saturn-Neptune is also associated with illness and infectious diseases, and one of the great archetypal quotes that I love from this film is when Dicaprio’s character asks “What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient…highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.” Saturn-Neptune is the infectious parasite, and with Mercury it is the idea that is infectious.
Saturn-Neptune also really fits the whole theme of dream-building in the film, where Saturn brings the architectural dimension to the dream landscapes that the characters have to construct in advance of their mission. It is also the archetype of sleep-problems, insomnia (note that one of Nolan’s previous films is titled Insomnia), nightmares, and the potential for becoming trapped (Saturn) in a dream state.
Another film that is archetypally similar to Inception is the 1998 Alex Proyas film Dark City. It is another case where you have characters struggling with the nature of reality and who have their consciousness manipulated while sleeping. It is directed by Proyas who is born in 1963 with Saturn square Neptune, and is released in 1998 under the next collective Saturn square Neptune (The Matrix also has some similar motifs and comes out under that same alignment in 1999). Note that there was a tight (within 2 degrees) collective Saturn-Neptune quincunx in the sky when Inception was released last July.
Mercury-Neptune is an archetype that has a big potential for mental (Mercury) confusion (Neptune), and this is a theme that is clearly explored here in this film (and also explored to great effect in Nolan’s earlier film Memento). Mental confusion is also a state of consciousness that many film viewers experienced both during and after watching the film. The film is so multi-layered (and the dreams are so multi-layered) that the viewer must struggle to keep track of what is happening. And thus the film induces in the viewer the feeling of the Mercury-Saturn-Neptune energy that Christopher Nolan is born with. Also consider how difficult (Mercury-Saturn) it must have been for Nolan to write this incredibly complex screenplay. I’ve heard that he had to construct diagrams (like the characters in the film) to keep track of all of the multi-levels of the dream realities in order to make sure all the puzzle pieces fit together.
The film is radically ambiguous, and many different interpretations are possible. It is conceivable, for example, that it is actually Dicaprio’s character who is the recipient of the inception process, and it is he who is being manipulated in the dream landscape from the very beginning of the film. But there is not a definitive interpretation, and like the nature of the poetic Mercury-Neptune archetype, we are left in a dreamy state of reflection in the end. Thus, the film performs a kind of inception on the viewer, and like the characters in the film we are left asking ourselves: what is the nature of reality, and are we currently awake, or are we dreaming?
Christopher Nolan birth data is from Wikipedia, no birth time, so chart is cast for noon.