The day after the movie Inception opened I saw it with a group of fellow dreamers from a workshop I was facilitating. I expected to have a good time. I am a big fan of director Chris Nolan and I loved Memento, The Prestige, and Insomnia, and to a lesser degree The Dark Knight. I have always been fascinated by Nolan's exploration of multiple, levels of consciousness in his films, and perhaps this gave me exaggerated expectations. I enjoyed the film but I was disappointed in his choice to "dazzle" us with way too many car chases, gun fights, and explosions, at the expense of character development. But the bottom line is it IS a very visually engaging film, and the characters DO awaken interest, projective identification, sympathy, and curiosity.
The film has also awakened a great deal of general interest and curiosity about lucid dreaming, telepathy, and mutual dreaming. As a professional dream worker for over 35 years, I have been exploring these kinds of dreams both directly in my own dreams, and in the reports of clients and colleagues. The basic question most people who've seen the film are asking is: "Does any of the stuff that happens in the movie bear any resemblance to real dreams?" I would say yes it does (and all credit to the director for doing that). The film shows the some of the real possibilities of evolving creative awareness in the dream world.
We can, and regularly do become aware in our dreams that we are dreaming - that's the usual way we determine that we are lucid dreaming. We can, and often do, have dream experiences that we share "telepathically" with others, (as demonstrated by startlingly similar narratives and dream details that are revealed when we wake up); and we can (and occasionally do) share "mutual dreams" where we are aware in the dream, (again without waking up), that others from "outside" the dream are communicating and interacting with us as we dream. To find out more about these subjects you can go to the International Association for the Study of Dreams website: asdreams.org.
However, I think the current accepted definition of lucid dreaming is too narrow and limiting. My years of working with dreams convinces me that any dream in which the dreamer, (or "dream ego"), feels, thinks, and most importantly behaves in ways that are totally contrary to the patterns of usual, "normal" thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in waking life is a lucid dream - whether those experiences are accompanied by language like "this is a dream" or "I am dreaming" or not. For example: I discover that I'm breathing underwater without difficulty and cheerfully continue with the dream without recognizing - in the dream - that I'm dreaming. I would say this is still lucid dreaming. I discuss this expanded idea of lucid dreaming in more detail in my recent book The Wisdom of Your Dreams - Using Dreams to Tap Into Your Unconscious and Transform Your Life (New York: Penguin/Tarcher, 2009) especially pp. 249-259.
You might also be interested in Dream Telepathy by Stanley Krippner, Montague Ullman, and Alan Vaughn (reprinted in 2003) They discuss a series of rigorous experiments undertaken at Maimonides Hospital in New York City in the late 1960's and early 1970's to test the dream telepathy hypothesis. The results of these experiments were (and still are) clear, and statistically valid well beyond chance.
Those who explore dream telepathy generally find that the factors of personal emotional connection and family relationship are key elements in the vast majority of "telepathic dreams". Krippner, Ullman and Vaughn carefully eliminated all the elements of personal acquaintance and family relationship that might have "contaminated" the study's results, and yet they still produced compelling, statistically valid results. It suggests to me that "telepathy" in dreams is so common, that it might be a "level" of every remembered dream, (and probably in that great number of dreams that we fail to recall upon awakening as well).
There is ample and significant evidence for "mutual dreaming" in the annals of the Tibetan Buddhist and Bon traditions. The ability to connect in the dream world with other dreamers, both lucid and not-lucid, is also amply attested to by contemporary lucid dream researchers, like Steven LaBerge, Robert Waggoner, Robbie Bosnak, and Celia Green.
Interesting though these questions about lucid dreaming, telepathy and mutual dreaming are (and the film deals with them well, although with a great deal of "exaggeration,") what I wanted Nolan to do was show me the ways in which the unconscious affects our dream landscapes. Dreaming is inherently unconscious - dreams are postcards from the unconscious, yet Inception seems to depict ONLY conscious elements in the dream landscape. As you descend through the dream world levels in the film I expected to see increasingly unconscious elements; in a film these might be shown as imagery which is more autonomous and "organic."
In the upper layers, it was OK with me that the film showed cities being built more or less consciously but the farther from ordinary waking consciousness the experience of the dream takes us, the more naturally wild, organic, and irrational the dream world becomes. For example, one could conceivably find a decaying cardboard version of Brasilia at one of the deeper levels of a dream, and such a conscious, "architectural" construct would most likely be constantly invaded and undermined by all manner of exotic, even alien plants, bugs, and animals. In waking life this would be much like the way we assert our conscious superiority over raw nature and nature so often "wins."
The unconscious, at all levels of depth, contains more than the materials repressed and denied by the conscious dreamer in waking life. Yes, those elements are present, but always in the company of other autonomous, unconscious energies and images.
The "projections" that behave like anti-bodies, protecting the dream from "invasion" by "outside forces" do exist, but they function in an environment that is animated and energized by wild, dynamic, energetic, untamed unconscious forces that are always present.
In Terry Gilliam's film The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassas, (Heath Ledger died while filming this and Jude Law, Colin Farrell, and Johnny Depp stepped into his character creating amazing layers of depth to the movie), these "wild card" images from the unconscious show up in many ways, most memorably as the stilt walkers in the clouds. In Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, these place-holders for the unconscious pop up as the Red Queen, as the Jabberwocky, and numerous other images, all of which throw the plot off kilter, raise the ante of "weirdness" and leave us on the edge of our seats wondering where "that" came from - hallmark of the unconscious. I wanted more of that in Inception precisely because it is such an interesting, multi-layered film teetering on the edge of being a great film about the experience of dreaming.