So goes a dream-state dialogue toward the end of the movie Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Although I’m not an avid movie watcher, I have noticed a recurring question amongst psychological thrillers lately; the question of: “What is Real?” Another example is provided by DiCaprio’s second-most recent movie, Shutter Island, where the viewer is challenged to determine which scenes are representations of the protagonist’s reality, and which ones depict his hallucinations. And so we leave the cineplex shaking our heads wondering “what is Real.”
The most obvious instance of this trend is Reality TV, which rarely, if ever, lives up to its name. Nevertheless, it betrays a desire amongst the viewing public to observe “Real” people in situations that at least resemble Reality.
And if we look back to world of Hollywood fiction, we see the 1999 film The Matrix, where Neo is offered the opportunity to take the red pill, and discover Reality for himself, or the blue pill, and remain trapped in illusion. The traitor Cypher experiences Reality, but chooses to betray Neo in order to return to the dream world.
Most of us can relate to this preference for Reality, but not all of us. Anyone who suffers fixations with alcohol, mind-altering drugs, role-playing games, digital entertainment, pornography, or suicidal thoughts, is expressing an aversion to reality, and would much prefer to escape it into a world of death or dreaming.
But even those of us who are technically “healthy” – who can’t be diagnosed with any addictions or behavioral disorders – so often live our lives on a fabricated plane. If we adopt one persona in public and another in private; if we dwell on the past or fantasize about the future; if we “dress for the (job/lifestyle/man/woman) we want, not the one we have,” we have pre-empted the Real world for the sake of a dream.
Let’s not be too hard on ourselves. We don’t always avoid Reality because we think fiction is better. Sometimes we avoid Reality because it’s too damn hard to find. Who am I really? Who are my friends? and What’s the point, anyway?
Almost anyone will agree that, if Reality is to be found and identified, it will only happen by digging deep. We have to dig down past our surface characteristics, past our present experiences, and past the perspectives of our peers, our parents, our teachers, and our luminaries. Yes, it’s a pain, but if it were easy everyone would do it.
And as we dig, if we listen carefully, we’ll hear Reality calling out to us from below, calling us out of everything phony and fabricated that we’ve experienced before. Calling us to take the red pill, to shake the illusion, to wake up from the dream. It is a voice that we cannot ignore without practice and persistence. “Come and find what is Real.”
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. -Isaiah 55:2