Thursday, July 29, 2010

INCEPTION: Wait.. What happened?


I’ve seen Inception four separate times in five days. That’s 9.4 hours, 38 dollars and 12% of five days. Obviously, I’m in love with the film. I can honestly say without a shadow of a doubt that it’s Christopher Nolan’s best film to date. Yes, better than The Dark Knight.

Now, I could talk about why the film was such a success for hours. I could write about how Hans Zimmer’s jarring score, Leonardo Dicapreo’s performance, Wally Pfister’s jaw dropping Cinematography, and Nolan’s suburb storytelling all come together to make this film something to be remembered. (Jordan’s review can be found here)

No, instead I will try my best to answer the most compelling question that Inception asks. What the hell happened in that final scene?


This article was written for the millions of people who have seen inception. Spoilers after the break.

Many people are asking the same question. What happened to the top? Well, I’m going to go ahead and just say that we can’t know that it fell over. Nolan didn’t show it, so it doesn’t matter. Now, thats not to say there isn’t an answer.

Quite a few people believe that the final scene of the film is apart of Cobb’s dream. That Cobb is still trapped in limbo. That he has accepted whatever world he is in is truth. Explaining why Cobb didn’t watch the top fall over, he didn’t care. He wanted to see his kids.

See, I disagree with this theory. I disagree because Cobb knows for another reason. Remember, what was the most obvious difference between reality and the dream world? I personally think that the biggest difference was the presence of Cobb’s wife, Mal. Simply put, If Mal was present he was in a dream. His own or otherwise. We also know that it doesn’t really matter if she dies. Cobb shoots Mal in the snow layer, before they enter limbo. She came back. It’s safe to assume that she could come back again, right?

It’s possible that it could be a dream, and she could still be there. After all, things in the ending were pretty odd. Where was the children’s grandmother? Why haven’t the children grown to be much older, why are they wearing the same clothes? It was almost as if time didn’t pass in the Cobb household.

So what happened here? Was Cobb dreaming or was he not dreaming? Why did Nolan choose to not show the top, and keep the ending open for interpretation?

The answer to the second question is simple. He didn’t keep the ending open.

It’s a trap!

Sorry, I had to do it.

After multiple viewings of Memento, Nolan doesn’t seem like the kind of director to keep the ending so ambiguous. He didn’t show the spinning top to tell the audience “This isn’t the answer. This is irrelevant now.” To me, what really matters is his wedding ring.

  • In every scene of a dream. Cobb is wearing his wedding ring.
  • In every scene of reality. Cobb is ringless.

In fact, at some point in just about every scene, there is a fairly obvious shot of Cobb’s hand.

Saito's test for Cobb - Ring Present

Layer 1 of inception - Ring Present.

Shortly after Ariadne's first encounter with Mal - No Ring

Moments before inception begins on the airplane - No Ring

Now, this for me is black and white. There are countless of other examples, kindly highlighted by various forums discussing the films meaning.

  • On the train before Saito wakes up. No Ring.
  • All of Mombasa. No Ring.
  • Yusuf’s basement, after dropping his totem. No Ring.
  • Paris workshop . No Ring.
  • Aridane’s first experience with Dream sharing. Wedding Ring.
  • First Class cabin scene. No Ring.
  • ALL of the inception. Wedding Ring.
  • Final scene of the film. No Ring.

Now, if we trust Cobb’s ring as his real totem, then Inception had a happy ending. All is well that ends well. That’s my interpretation, I’m sticking to it.

I believe that everything else in the film that suggests otherwise is a Red Herring. (Such as Cobb dropping his totem in the bathroom of Yusuf’s basement.)

As for the fact that the children didn’t age is easily disputed, in fact they are played by different actors. I could have sworn they were the same but it appears they were trying to suggest that time passed. Why else cast different sets of children.

Magnus Nolan...

So there you have it, thats what I think happened in Inception. Do you disagree? Do you think that’s almost too simple? Let’s hear it in the comments.

In case you missed it, Jordan’s review can be found here.

-Spencer Starnes for

Update: After this post exploded with popularity on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit expect a follow up examining the chain of events that caused the spike in popularity in a couple days. I’m sure it will be interesting!

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