Tag Archives: Minotaur

Enter the Labyrinth

Trying not to think too much about Children of the Corn, I visited a corn maze over the weekend. This particular autumnal activity highlights just how much detail a human mind can pick out in a mass of sameness. You can tell if you’ve been to this particular juncture before—that oddly shaped leaf, or that peculiar stone, or that specific ear with the missing teeth will give you the clues. This particular maze, however, also uses printed clues. Before you enter the labyrinth, you may choose your species of guidance. There were 4-H clues, Girl Scout clues, history clues, and more. One of my companions handed me the scriptural clues. Although it may have been an obvious connection, I thought about it in terms of salvation. A corn maze is not unlike life in the real world; confusion, false leads, and aimless wandering. Having a guide—in my case, knowing the Bible—will lead you out.

corn-maze

Of course, the point of a corn maze is the fun of getting lost. This particular farm had eight acres dedicated to fall fun, and our party did get hopelessly mired in one location and had to ask for help from the corn cop who wanders like a friendly minotaur, or maybe a personal Daedalus or helpful Ariadne, directing those who’ve lost their way. The idea is that once you enter the maze, you look for numbered clues at various junctures—only a few crossroads have them—and answer the question for instructions about which way to go next. Even with the Bible in hand, or in head, we managed to lose our way. Baptized by a sudden cloudburst, we sought shelter in an open field. The only way ahead was to press on.

Those who’ve been with this blog for any length of time know that it is intentionally kind of a labyrinth, often using metaphor. In the case of the literal corn maze and its clues, minimal biblical knowledge was required to figure out the correct way to turn. The trick was even after getting all the hints, there was still some distance to go. Wet, confused, and having only our wits to go on, by trial and error we made it through. Our instructions—for we each had a different set of questions—only got us so far. My biblical guide was damp and see-through with the soaking we received. Metaphors were falling as fast as the rain. After all, the point of a corn maze is that you don’t get your money’s worth unless you get well and truly lost.

Resurrinception

Inception_ver3Like most profound movies, Inception keeps me coming back repeatedly. I’ve already written a post on how the Theseus and minotaur myth lurk deep within the labyrinths of this film, but upon my most recent viewing a new angle caught my attention. In the first level down into Fischer’s dream, when Saito is unexpectedly shot, Eames asks Cobb, “What happens when we die?” It could be the question of a child faced with a dead pet for the first time. Of course, Eames refers to death in a dream under sedation, and limbo is the closest thing to spiritual death that a person can experience. The timing of that question, however, triggered in my head the number of resurrections that take place in the movie. I have frequently noted here that resurrection is a standard part of the tool kit for western movies, particularly American ones. We expect resurrection. So, finally, three layers down, a dream within a dream within a dream (even Poe would be proud), Saito dies. He is lost in limbo.

Limbo is a fuzzy theological construct thought up by the church for those who don’t deserve Heaven, or Hell, or even Purgatory. Some, it seems, end up in limbo. In Inception limbo is unconstructed sub-conscious, an area even Freud would fear to tread. Saito dies and goes to limbo. Fischer, meanwhile, also ends up in limbo because Mal shoots him dead in the third-level dream. Mal is already in limbo because she killed herself in real life—or was it a dream? Cobb, of course, must die to return to limbo to retrieve Saito so that he won’t be arrested when the plane lands. In limbo, three of the four escape, riding the kick back up to consciousness. Only after baptism in the first level dream, when the van plunges into the river, do the lost souls emerge. What happens after we die? Resurrection.

I’m not suggesting that Christopher Nolan planted a Christian idea in the viewers’ subconscious mind. Resurrection is part and parcel of our culture. Perhaps, however, this helps to explain the durability of some religious concepts. We long for resurrection on such a deep—maybe subconscious—level that we want to see it on the big screen. Even ghosts, we’re told, haunt because of unfinished business. It is Saito, the Japanese business mogul, however, who undergoes the most resurrections. He dies in the van underwater, in the fortified mountain hospital, and in limbo (perhaps in the elevator as well, but this is uncertain). His is a regular reincarnation of resurrections. Inception, I’m sure, will keep me coming back for more. One of the questions that none of us escapes while alive, is that uttered at the level of the dream.

Inception of Theseus

Never the first for new cultural memes, but often among the last, I finally took my family to see Inception over the holiday weekend. The Internet has been buzzing with comments about the movie for the last couple months, so it was difficult not to have preconceived notions of what to expect. Nevertheless, I found the film utterly engrossing. At one point I realized that I hadn’t blinked in so long that my eyes had begun to dry out. Having just finished Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves at the end of June, and having begun my Mythology class on Friday, the Theseus myth has been on my mind anyway. Inception takes the hero’s journey through the labyrinth of the subconscious.

The first hint that Inception was the Theseus story, for me, was the introduction of Ariadne. The daughter of King Minos, Ariadne informs Theseus how to escape the labyrinth, and her first task in Inception is to draw a maze that takes a minute or longer to solve. Dom Cobb, like Theseus, is a deeply flawed hero. Part Theseus, part Daedalus, Cobb has trapped an unlikely Minotaur in the form of Mal, his wife, deep in his subconscious mind. She stalks him in his unsavory work, and when she threatens his very concept of reality, she is slain by Ariadne.

Coupled with classical mythology, the film also raises the unresolved question of the nature of reality. Is conscious existence any more real than the subconscious? This theme was explored in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ back in 1999 with a similar ending that refuses to answer the question. Both films raise the troubling interference of technology with the most secret of human psychological repositories, the uninhibited subconscious. The closer the Internet comes to a global intelligence, the more the individual mind recoils into its own obscure and unexplored territory. Despite Freud and his disciples, we have not yet even begun to understand our own subconscious minds. Movies like Inception draw on classical sources to help us deal with the Minotaur that surely lurks there.

Ariadne explains her dream to Bacchus

House of Myth

Mythology is everywhere. Although I am prevented by personal experience from declaring with the professionals that it is highly valued by our culture, I nevertheless find it lurking all around. Just yesterday my daughter asked me if anyone still believed in the Greek gods any more. I am sure that with the revival of ancient cults that is all the rage today one wouldn’t have to travel too far to find an ardent devotee of Zeus or Hera. Even on a more pragmatic level, however, mythology maintains its allure. While reading a bit of Apollonius or Euripides recently I was struck at how biblical it sounded. Mythology pervaded ancient life and became woven into the fabric from which our own culture is cut. There is no escaping it.

I just finished reading Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. While I’m not a real fan of ergodic literature, the story has a way of luring the reader into the labyrinth of the Minotaur, an association that the book itself disavows. As a student of mythology, however, I approached the book as a decidedly non-demigodic Theseus, wondering where the twists and turns might lead. My conclusion at the end was that no one truly escapes mythology. Classed in the horror genre, the book has few frights and more than a few rest stops to ponder. If we would admit it we would see that mythology still has a tremendous gravity.

The use of mythology as the basis for literary work is nothing new. Clever authors for centuries have recast the classics into newer forms, sometimes transforming them beyond recognition. As the world grows more pluralistic, keeping in touch with our mythology will only grow in importance. It is our shared heritage, and even if far distant cultures have their own cadre of myths, it doesn’t take too long to realize that their stories, like ours, spring from a very deep pool indeed.