Tag Archives: Movies

Inception (2010)

Director: Christopher Nolan

The first time I saw Inception, I could not figure out the details. I just came out with the impression that it was a superb movie with some plot involving dreams within dreams and stealing and planting of ideas in other people’s subconscious. The image of the falling van frozen midway between the bridge and the river got forever etched in my mind whenever I remembered the movie.

Only on watching the movie the second time after several years could I follow the whole plot. In the movie, Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio) gets into the mind of Robert Fischer, heir to a large business empire, to plant an idea (that he must dismantle the business empire) into his subconscious through various layers of a shared dream. The film is stunning with its visual effects and the dream landscapes that really whisk your mind away to another world altogether.

And just like the film The Matrix, there are to be found several tantalizing parallels between real life and the ideas used in the movie.

The pivotal idea of the movie is captured in this quote by Cobb

Our dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake we realize things were strange.

When we dream, it does seem real, isn’t it, as if we are in that world with all its adventures and excitement. While the dream is happening, we are simply sleeping in the real world. Our posture while sleeping or the movement of food in our intestines might create feelings which get visualized as certain emotions or experiences in the dream world. And if in the dream we reach a spot where we are in ‘real’ danger, then than jolts us to wake up. This is same idea that is depicted in the movie – that when you die in the dream world, you wake up in the real world – or one layer up in the subconscious.

In the movie when Cobb’s wife Mal gets too attached to the dream world, Cobb plants this idea in her subconscious. But after waking up into the real world, she still carries that idea around with her and insists on dying, believing that she will wake up into another higher layer of reality. And Cobb could not prevent her from committing suicide.

Due to the inability of our language to express ideas, we have to use the same words to represent vastly different orders of abstraction. “To wake up” is also one such phrase which can have multiple layers of meaning depending on what you are talking about. And one such metaphor that is used in the spiritual teachings, is that – to awaken one must die!

In this case, to die is not referring to the physical death but dying to the attachments of the physical world. And when you die to that, you awaken into the real world. So is there truly such a real world? Is the world we are living in merely a dream?

Gurdjieff’s whole teaching started with the statement that man is asleep and he has the potential to wake up. All his exercises and instructions were meant to help his students awaken to the real. He also wrote a book – Views from the Real World.

Buddha described himself as the Awakened One.

So is there a state of mind, a state of consciousness that these people are pointing to and is that state to be understood in the same way as we understand the state of waking up from a dream?

As a seeker of truth, one must pay attention to these ideas and instead of taking the step that Mal took in the movie, one must use the totem that Cobb used to check whether one is in a dream or in the real world.

What’s the equivalent of the totem in our world? What is it that can tell us without any doubt that we are in a dream and not in reality? I would propose it is self-observation. If one observes one’s mind without judgement, we will at some point realize that whatever we understand of this world is not so at all. And when that understanding takes place, we (so to say) ‘awaken’.

All the great spiritual teachers have always used some or other ways of inception – to plant the idea of awakening into our subconscious. Gurdjieff called this the Influence C which appears to us in the dream as Influence B and points us towards waking up as opposed to the forces of the dream which are Influence A, which keep us in the dream.

So are you awake or dreaming that you are awake? Am I the person who is saying this to you in your dream like Morpheus talking to Neo in The Matrix?

Detachment (2011)

Director – Tony Kaye


In the film, the character of Adrien Brody, Henry says

I realized something. I’m a non-person, Sarah. You shouldn’t be here, I’m not here. You may see me, but I’m hollow.

The film shows the degradation of the American education system where children have no respect for anything and teachers are at their wits end. Henry arrives at this school as a substitute school teacher and is able to bring an unruly class under control. He is a person who does not show any emotions and is completely detached to everything and everyone. At the same time, he is also shown expressing his love and concern for his ailing grandfather. He brings home a street prostitute, heals her physical and emotional wounds and yet refuses to accept her advances. One of this students becomes infatuated with him and starts to click his pictures in secret. Then there is a co-teacher with also whom Henry gets close. He In all these relationships, Henry tries to remain detached. He even arranges for the orphanage to take away the prostitute.

Henry teaches his students to cultivate their own consciousness against what his calls the ubiquitous assimilation of everything around us.

I liked this film because I could identify quite closely with the character of Henry, a person struggling between detachment and involvement with the world.

Is Reality an Illusion?

Is reality merely an illusion? The wise keep saying that. But it is difficult to wrap our heads around this notion. After all, we see, hear, smell, taste and feel things. How can all this be an illusion?

movie hall

Imagine you are in a movie hall engrossed in an exciting movie. As the movie captivates your attention, it begins to influence your emotions and state of mind. Depending on whether the movie is a thriller or a horror movie, you experience the ups and downs of emotions along with the characters in the movie.

So the question is – Is the movie real? Yes it is. It is playing in front of you. But it is not real. The characters are not real. It is an illusion created on the screen in front of you.

I am sure you would have experienced a movie which made you cry, laugh, and once in a while make you jump out of your chair. We think the movie is good, well made, well directed and the actors were superb. However, we forget one very important thing – the fact that we invest reality into the movie. Although it is not done by explicitly thinking “I am going to consider this movie as real” but the overall effect of lights out and loud volume immerses you into the movie and makes it appear as real. Without this serious participation in the movie on our part, we will not enjoy it.

Similarly it is with other things in life. Take for example sports. We have to invest seriousness into something which is fundamentally non-serious. Scoring a goal or taking a wicket is nothing in itself without us making a serious business of it.

Therefore, the wise say that life is merely the game of God – Lila.

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players… (Shakespeare)

So it takes a slight turning around of our view, although happening in an unaware state, to consider an illusory thing as real. Similarly, it takes a reversal of that turning around in our view, by doing it consciously, to come back to normal perspective on things.

As a child, I cried when Amitabh died in Sholay. My parents told me it is only a movie and that he did not die in reality. Many people are upset when their team loses a match. But it only takes a minor realization that it is only a game in order to get over the sadness.

Getting Stuck

The problem is not that we consider as serious business what is not serious but it is staying for long in that specific state. When we continuously invest seriousness into everything in life, we experience stress. Even a small one minute delay will raise our blood pressure. We become cranky, demanding and pushy if we take everything as real.

However, staying too much on the other extreme is also equally problematic. If we assume the position that nothing in life is serious, then we will not be able to act appropriately in life. We will become casual, non committal when we take everything as illusion.

Those are the two extremes. The true path is in the middle. Discard both views that life is real or illusion and take life as it is. Do not ask how!

Everything is real and is not real. Both real and not real. Neither real nor not real. This is Lord Buddha’s teaching. (Mulamadhyamakakarika – Root verses of the Middle Way by Nagarjuna)

Just notice and be aware and be conscious whenever you invest seriousness (when you act as if it was real and it mattered) or non-seriousness (when you act as it it did not matter at all) into any situation in life.

So life is not serious but let us not take it casually or life is serious but let us not take it seriously!


Das Experiment (2001)

Director – Oliver Hirschbiegel


This is a German movie. Das Experiment translates to The Experiment. The experiment is about observing human behavior in a simulation of a prison environment.

In 1971, Philip Zimbardo a professor at Stanford conducted a real life prison experiment using college students in order to study the psychological effect of perceived power. This film and many others are inspired by those events.

In Das Experiment, there is a professor who recruits 20 paid volunteers for the experiment of which 8 are selected to play the role of prison guards and 12 selected to play the role of prisoners. He sets one rule that there must be no violence of any kind during the simulation. The job of the prison guards is to maintain law and order and the job of the prisoners is to be locked up in their cells and to follow some arbitrary rules that the prison guards would make.

The movie depicts how the situation deteriorates over the course of a few days as the volunteers start taking their roles seriously, forgetting that they are doing this for money as volunteers in the experiment. As the story develops, it starts to focus on the battle between one dominant prisoner Tarek who tries to break the rules and one sadist prison guard Berus who will go to any extent to subjugate Tarek. Eventually the story takes a violent turn resulting in deaths and injuries. At the end, both Tarek and Berus comment to each other – you started it all.

But if you watch the film, you will not be able to find out where it all started and who was to blame. Maybe it was the setting of the experiment, maybe it was that the volunteers forgot who they were and took their roles too seriously, maybe it was the fact that both prisoners and guards were given their specific uniforms and were told to behave as them.

In real life also, whenever we take our roles too seriously, we forget who we are and resort to physical and vocal violence. We can even take this analogy further. In life we are born into a specific country, a community, a religion and we start taking that position seriously and become prisoners of that thinking.

Just imagine if the prison experiment was conducted on a mass scale across generations, then prisoners and prison guards would no longer know that it was all an experiment. Prison guards would start to believe that they were chosen by God while prisoners would believe that they are being unjustly tortured.

Pushing the analogy to its limits. Self-realization is when we wake up from this identification of who we are – whether a doctor or an entrepreneur or a factory worker, or a man or a woman or a Catholic or a Jain – and intuitively know that we are THAT. In that moment, all our assumed pretenses fall away and we will truly become a nobody. And even if we have to live out a role in the society, we will be able to do that without the associated anxieties and stress.

In the film, Tarek’s co-prisoner Steinhoff (#38) displays this level of awareness during the whole experiment. He is constantly aware that he is only there for the experiment and avoids getting involved in the escalating situation with the prison guards. In the end he also helps the other prisoners escape from the cells.

Warning: The film contains several scenes depicting male and female nudity. So watch responsibly. Also use subtitles as the film is in German


Kiss The Sky (1988)

Director – Roger Young


Sex and Spirituality somehow have a deep connection – Some people find spirituality in sex while others say it cannot be found in sex. This film shows that deep connection in a marvelous manner. The story revolves around two middle aged executives who are tired of their routine – family, mortgage and job. They think they have lost their freedom in the course of making life work for themselves and their wives. They decide to go to the Philippines to find freedom or at least a good holiday (from a man’s perspective).

Their lives are changed forever when they meet the beautiful Andy and later the Zen monk Kozan. All men will very easily relate to the dialogues in the film and not just the sensuous chemistry between the main characters. The film brings out the essential conundrum faced by men – doing everything so seriously in life with the best of intentions and yet not finding that inner satisfaction, either in their jobs or with their wives. The monk suggests to give up the search for the better asking the rhetorical question – whats so wrong with life that you need to struggle to make it better?

Waking Life (2001)

Director – Richard Linklater


George Santayana said: “Sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled.” One of the persistent teachings of the spiritual masters is that our waking life – the life in which we walk, talk, think, eat, go to the office, marry, bring up children – is actually a dream. Even though we think we awake from sleep, we are actually day dreaming in our waking life. All our goals, ambitions, memories are simply a common dream. When one realizes this, there is the possibility of further waking up to the ultimate reality beyond time and space.

The film Waking Life is a unique film in many respects. It is a digitally enhanced live-action rotoscoped film. Everything is shaking and fuzzy as if in a dream. The story is about a young man who is in a continuous dream like consciousness – he keeps waking up from one dream but finds himself in another one like the layers of an onion. In his dreams, he meets other characters and discusses with them philosophical issues such as free will, relationships, existentialism, and so on.

I must say that you will need tremendous energy to watch this film – my most favorite mystical movie.

Peaceful Warrior (2006)

Director – Victor Salva


The Zen-like paradoxical title of this film was what first attracted me to this movie. And I must say that the film surpassed all my expectations. The film is an adaptation of a novel written by Dan Millman and is partly autobiographical. It tells the story of a highly competitive college gymnast who happens to meet a mysterious individual whom he calls Socrates, who teaches him to live in the moment, not through theories and discourses but by actual demonstration.

Dan is initially attracted to Socrates after seeing a miraculous feat. He wants to learn from Socrates what he thinks are tricks which he can use to excel in gymnastics. However, when he discovers that he is becoming different from his peers, he becomes skeptical and afraid of what Socrates is teaching him and leaves him. As he goes back to his old ways, Dan meets with an accident which breaks his leg and he is removed from his college team. Dan turns to Socrates again in desperation, and he now truly begins to learn and understand. Socrates encourages him to train again for gymnastics and to get back on the team.

This movie is one of the best teacher-pupil movies I have seen. Movies based on sporting themes are always entertaining and this one combines spirituality which makes it a treat to watch.

One of my favorite quotes from the movie

Socrates to Dan: You practice gymnastics. I practice everything.

​I believe that “living in the moment” does not mean ignoring the future or forgetting the past. It is not something to be learned by practice and effort. This living happens when you realize that all there is exists in the NOW.

The Truman Show (1998)

Director – Peter Weir


This movie is the mother of all reality shows on television. It takes the idea of Big Brother or Big Boss wherein participants are closeted in a house for 3 months, and extends it to the whole life of one individual.

Truman is born and grown-up on the sets of the reality show. A whole city is constructed as the set complete with neighbors, offices, and the beach. Everything including the weather is simulated. Except Truman, everyone else is an actor. The filming is done through hidden cameras and the show is televised round the clock to the world. Everything is fine until Truman finds some inconsistency about things happening to him and decides to investigate.

Now in the spiritual tradition, the world we live in is also a sort of a self-created reality show which sustains itself. Everyone is already hypnotized into believing what his identity is, based on which he or she lives. However, there are some individuals who find inconsistencies in the worldly affairs and decide to investigate the true meaning of life and become spiritual seekers.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Director – Stanley Kubrik


This is a film that stays in your mind for a long time. You cannot forget the raw imagery in this film. And the super performance by Malcolm McDowell. The film contains depiction of violence and nudity so naturally it is meant for a mature audience.

The Clockwork Orange is not about entertainment but is a thought provoking take on techniques of preventing violent behavior. The story is about Alex DeLarge, a gang leader who engages in fights, rapes, robberies and senseless violence.

He is caught by the police during one of his raids and sentenced to prison.

After a couple of years in the prison, the authorities are looking for a volunteer for the Ludovico technique, a procedure for curing violence in a person. Alex volunteers for it.

The technique involves tying up the person so that he cannot move and forcibly keeping his eyes open with instruments. He is then shown violent movies, scenes of crimes being performed, and extreme violence. Initially, Alex enjoys this but after some time aversion starts to build up. The problem is he cannot end this, he is forced to watch it because his eyelid are kept open.

After two weeks he is ‘cured’. In a demonstration of the cure, he is shown to be incapable of fighting even when provoked and convulses at the sight of a topless woman.

A Clockwork Orange is based on a 1962 satirical novel by the same name written by Anthony Burgess. The idea is similar to George Orwell’s 1984 in which the authorities are trying to control humans and making them mechanical gadgets (clockwork) in skin and flesh (orange).

The central question is whether violent behavior can be cured with external techniques. One of the reasons for putting people in prison is that they should be punished and as a result should realize their wrong doing, repent and become better citizens, apart from keeping them away from ‘civilized’ society to prevent further violence.

But the film tries to point out that criminals are only an extreme form of the basic nature of society which is violence.

I am reminded of a documentary “Doing Time, Doing Vipasana – Meditation in Indian Prisons” which deals with this issue of change of heart in prisoners happening from within rather than through punishment and the time spent in prison. It shows how Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman IPS officer introduced the ancient Vipasana meditation practice in Tihar jail with amazing results.

Siddhartha (1972)

Director – Conrad Rooks



The film is a masterful adaptation of the novel written by Hermann Hesse and is considered to be one of the spiritual classics – one man’s search for the meaning of life. If you have liked the book, you will definitely love this movie.

Set in the time of the Buddha i.e. 2500 years ago, the movie tells the story of Siddhartha, the contemplative son of a priest, who wants to become a sadhu. The spiritual search leads him to spend time with wandering ascetics, learn the wisdom of the Buddha, indulge in sensual pleasures, experience success in business, and even become a father.

When he realizes that he has lost the real goal, he walks away from everything and happens to meet a ferryman who teaches him how to learn from the river. Eventually, Siddhartha becomes enlightened and attains happiness.

I found reading the book to be a more engaging experience as one could read the thoughts that went through Siddhartha’s mind. The movie cannot bridge this gap because everything cannot be verbalized. Despite this, the movie is one of my favorites. The background songs pierce deep into the heart.

I see Siddhartha as a timeless allegory for a spiritual seeker. At any age, in any part of the world, there is pain and suffering in every human activity – be it the striving for material pleasures or the spiritual search. Enlightenment is only to be discovered every moment with the realization of the emptiness of knowledge and desires.