Does it really even matter? Spoilers ahead.
Yeah, so, Inception, right? The film where the majority of the plot revolves around the concept of a dream within a dream within a dream. The one who left the audience scratched their head and started Reddit debates that are alive till this date, even after about 10 years since its release.
Before we objectify the ending result of the film, let us go back a bit and see what the film was about making our ways to the end and lifting subtle cues in between to see if we can make sense out of the ending from all the hints we’re given throughout the film.
The Significance Of Opening Scene
The film starts with Cobb(Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in a dream trying to extract an idea from someone, and the audience is introduced to the whole world of dreams and what this whole process is all about.
There are majorly two ways to introduce the audience to a certain phenomenon; one can be to tell them verbally, which can be done through a conversation between two characters, having a narrator narrate the events that are taking place or, you can show the audience what the process is like without briefing them and having them figure things out on their own.
The introduction scene of the film is really significant as it conveys a lot more in such a short period of time, and the remaining details are given to the audience as Cobb instructs Ariadne(Elliot Page) for, wait for it, the Inception.
How It All Started
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief with the rare ability to enter people’s dream and steal their secrets from their subconscious. His skill has made him a hot commodity in the world of corporate espionage but has also cost him everything he loves.
When Saito(Ken Watanabe) offers Cobb a task to plant an idea into the brain of Robert Fischer(Cillian Murphy), his rival’s heir, Cobb assembles a team of members to pull off this grand heist, something called Inception. In return, Saito offers Cobb a chance at redemption, which will facilitate him to go back to his hometown and reunite with his kids.
For this, he creates a team of people who are the absolute best in their respective fields. Starting with the best extractor, Cobb himself. Arthur is the team’s Point Man. While Cobb plans and provides the direction of each job, Arthur’s task focuses on the execution of the job, which includes researching the details behind upcoming missions and ensuring that all team members know their roles. Ariadne is the Architect who’s supposed to design the whole dream, Eames(Tom Hardy), who’s the forger whose ability is to impersonate anyone in the dreams and lastly Yusuf(Dileep Rao), who is the team’s chemist.
The Real Totem
As we, or rather Ariadne, is briefed with the rules of what a totem should be like, we can feel something off about Cobb’s totem as we get to know that he used his wife’s, Mal’s(Marion Cotillard) totem after she died in the real world.
As the film progresses, you get even more sceptical of Cobb’s decision to use Mal’s totem, considering what she does when he’s dreaming, but a popular theory claims that his wedding ring is his real totem. Every time Cobb is dreaming, he wears his wedding ring and every time he’s in reality, he doesn’t have one on his fingers.
Dream Vs Reality
When Cobb wakes up with the rest of his crew at the end of the film, we see an entire shot of him deboarding from the planning and leaving the airport to his home. All these minutes were not merely shot to increase the film's length but carry a special meaning.
The audience is told that when a person is dreaming, they do not remember how they travelled to their current destination. Throughout the film's length, we never see people travelling to their destination when they start dreaming. But now, at the end of the film, we get to see Cobb’s journey to his home, and this is a cue that further gives rise to the idea that the ending might be a reality.
What The Cast Had To Say About The Ending
Michael Caine, who played Mal’s father in the film, admitted he didn’t understand the script but was assured that it must take place in reality if he's on-screen. “I said to [Nolan], ‘I don’t understand where the dream is,’” Caine told Film 4’s Summer Screen. “He said, ‘Well, when you’re in the scene, it’s reality.’ So get that — if I’m in it, it’s reality. If I’m not in it, it’s a dream!” That would be a simple way of concluding Cobb really did awaken alongside businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) from their subconscious limbo experiences — a tall feat when it would’ve seemed like they lived decades and lifetimes in an abyss — and Cobb really got to see his children again.
DiCaprio told Marc Maron on his WTF podcast that he doesn’t know what happened at the end of the picture. “Sometimes you’re just focused on your character, man,” DiCaprio told his fellow actor. “I actually do get involved, but when it came to Chris Nolan and his mind, and how that would piece together, everyone was trying to constantly piece the puzzle together.” He finally added that the ending “depends on the eye of the beholder, I guess.”
“The way the end of the film worked, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb — he was off with his kids,” Nolan explained to The Guardian in 2015. “He was in his own subjective reality. He didn’t really care any more, and that makes a statement: perhaps all levels of reality are valid?”
Does It Really Even Matter?
To Cobb, it doesn’t seem to matter if he’s still dreaming or not as after spinning his totem, he doesn’t care to see if it spins infinitely or stops and goes out to reunite with his kids, which in turn also means that Cobb has finally accepted this as his reality and doesn’t bother to find out anything else.
He now knows that he has faced his guilt and somewhere accepted it, which gives a sense of relief, and he wants to continue living the life that he wished for and staked everything to get.
But to us, it seems to matter if the top topples down or not. After paying attention to the details of the film and paying attention to what Michael Caine had to say, we can conclude that the top does stop spinning, and the end is indeed a reality. I mean, if we have to be really objective and put the finger on it.
What do you think about the film's ending, is there something else that we should look into, a new theory maybe? Comment down below!