I rarely post anything on movies, but I feel compelled to write about Inception ever since I stepped out of the theatre. Inception is simply a beautiful film that will undoubtedly inspire discussions for years. Not only that, it really makes the audience want to just talk about it for hours. There is so much depth and so many possible interpretations.
Before that, please keep in mind that this post is not for everyone. If you have not seen Inception, do not read this! You will regret it.
In fact, the less you know about Inception, the better the experience will be, and what an incredible experience it will be. I even avoided all the trailers before going to the cinema. Thus, I would highly recommend watching this movie as soon as possible in case you get some accidental spoilers. And with all the talks around it, that is very likely.
Like most others, after Inception ended, I came out the theatre with a lot on my mind. In particular, the ending is especially interesting. In the last scene, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is reunited with his children and finally sees their faces. As he goes over to his children, he spins his top on the table. The movie cuts off before it falls (or never falls).
Is Cobb still in a dream?
To me, the top seems almost to be a bit wobbly. I think it is very likely it will eventually fall and he is indeed in a “real world” (more on this later). Still, it is just as likely that he might have never woken up on the plane as the top continues to spin for eternity. Either way, I propose that whether the top falls does not matter. In fact, this whole journey, starting from the very beginning, takes place in a dream. Cobb has been caught in limbo for such a long time that his perceived reality is actually still in a dream.
Even in Cobb’s “real world”, there are many dream-like qualities. The movie cuts between scenes rather abruptly. We never see Cobb or anyone going from one environment to the next. They simply end up at the next destination, jumping from the train to the hotel to the lecture hall to the warehouse to the bar to India to the plane and finally to Cobb’s home. There are many other situations common to dreams. For example, when Cobb is trying to escape from corporate assassins, he gets stuck between two buildings; this is a really common anxiety in dreams. Additionally, when Cobb is in the basement of the chemist, Yusuf (Dileep Rao), he takes a really strong sedative, but immediately wakes up. Time inconsistencies is yet another logical fallacy only possible in dreams.
Furthermore, Saito (Ken Watanabe) and his men are ubiquitous, and his power is questionably immense. Perhaps Mal (Marion Cotillard) is on the right track when she asks, “isn’t it strange they chase you all around the world, just like projections?” Saito is possibly a projection of Cobb’s regret. Over the course of the movie, Saito and Cobb repeatedly utters, “do you want to become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?” The three instances of these words are not necessarily tied to the particular moment in the film, and really suggests that Saito is an inner reflection of Cobb.
Cobb’s reality is questioned even more by the rules of leveled dreams. According to Cobb and Yusuf, if you die when you are too deep, you would end up in limbo rather than waking up. When Mal and Cobb try to return to reality, they actually committ suicide rather than use a kick. Thus, Cobb may have merely gone further into limbo. This also explains why Cobb is unable to dream without the aid of sedatives and the technology. He is so far down that he may already be in a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream… Having yet another dream is impossible without the dream machine.
Another indication that this whole movie takes place in a dream is that Inception never shows Cobb’s totem. The totem Cobb uses is actually Mal’s, which should not be able to indicate anything about Cobb’s reality. Again, Cobb may have gone too far to forget his own totem, and instead take on Mal’s within this limbo.
Additionally, Christopher Nolan uses several unreliable narrators to hint at this interpretation. As Mal’s father-in-law, Ariadne’s (Ellen Page) professor, and Cobb’s mentor, Miles (Michael Caine) has a rather important role. At the end of the first meeting between Cobb and Miles, Miles tells Cobb to come back to reality. In addition, Cobb is reminded of this again by the keeper in Yusuf’s basement: “They come here to be woken up. Their dream has become their reality. Who are you to say otherwise?”
Ariadne further hints at this. When Cobb warns Ariadne to never create from memory or she may lose track of reality, Ariadne replies, “Is that what happened to you?” She revisits this idea later, “the deeper we go into Fischer, the deeper we go into you.” It is possible that she means something a little more literal; going down even more levels with Fischer may really be going deeper into his limbo. And maybe there, Cobb can finally realize the deepest truth of all. This is all a dream.
It is also interesting to note Ariadne’s name. In Greek mythology, Ariadne leads Theseus out of the labyrinth with a red fleece thread. In Inception, dressed in red, Ariadne attempts to free cobb of his guilt and his dreams.
Given all of this, I think Ariadne may have gone within Cobb’s limbo to lead him out. The real inception is to plant the idea in Cobb’s subconscious that none of this is real, much like Cobb has done to Mal. Thus, when Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) asks Ariadne after the mission where Cobb is, Ariadne simply says that Cobb will be fine. The idea has been incepted and all that is left is for it to grow. The ending shows that Cobb has returned to some reality.
*I need to watch this again.
*Joseph Gordon-Levitt is really really sexy.