If you walked out of a theater in 2010 having just watched Christopher Nolan’s Inception with a group of your friends, it is quite likely that you immediately held debate regarding the film’s ending—was Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) still in a dream?
As a reminder, establishing reality by characters in Inception was done through the use of totems, or objects that felt or acted certain ways only in the real world. The common example was the use of a spinning top, which Cobb’s wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) used. In dreams, the top would spin endlessly. At the conclusion of Inception, audiences see Cobb seemingly reunited with his children, and a happy ending for all. But, to be sure that his fortune is real, Cobb gives Mal’s top one final spin, then turns his back on it. The camera lingers and the top keeps spinning until there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wobble, then cut to black.
In a recent Q&A at a Film4 Summer Screen screening, Michael Caine (who played Miles, Mal’s mother and Cobb’s mentor in the film) says he has a definitive answer to the question—what the audience sees is the real world and not a dream. His basis for this claim is an insight Nolan gave him saying that if Caine’s character is on-screen, it’s a signal that the action is in reality. Given that Miles appears in the final moments of Inception, Caine asserts that audiences thus have their answer.
What is most fascinating about this story is that the question still arises, and I would argue that it signals the mark of a great film. The fact that this debate still exists with such interest proves the staying power of Inception and its impact on cinematic culture as a solid, complex, adventure-mystery.
As for putting this answer to rest, there’s an argument to be made that Caine’s theory, while solid, doesn’t fully close the door on conflicting opinions. The issue is that Caine is simply incapable of answering the question with certainty, as the only person who could is Nolan. He too has been asked the same question several times (more than any other, he claims), and he always refuses to answer with a wry smile. To that end, I posit that Caine’s story could certainly be true, but Nolan could interpret his art in an entirely different fashion, and either misled Caine or changed his mind about the rules, keeping the door open for other possibilities. Nolan probably has a definitive answer in his mind but understands there is joy in interpreting Inception’s ending, and good on him for not ruining that, even if there is strong evidence pointing one way or the other.
What do you think—is the case closed on Inception’s ending?
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SOURCE: The National