Inception Ending Explanation

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Here's a short and sweet explanation of the ending of Inception. Unlike my last post, this one will contain spoilers about the plot. Feel free to disagree.

The first thing we have to do to fully understand the movie is to try to count the levels of dreams in the main story arc of the movie. Here they are as seen from the movie:

1. Real life
2. Kidnapping scenario
3. Hotel scenario
4. Mountain scenario
5. Limbo

However, for the topmost layer, things also have to be considered:

1. The Cobol Engineering mcguffin was mentioned only in the first 20 minutes of the movie. For a company that's supposed to be so threatening, aside from the chase somewhere in Africa, they've played such a minor role.

2. Moll (the wife) mentioned in fact that the real life scenario is a bit too idealistic to be real. Working for a secretive company, getting chased around and shot at with no real consequences (more on this later), and the general barely elaborated presentation of events in real life (there were more scenes in other dream levels than real life actually).

3. Moll was so convinced that there is another layer to the dream. While it's possible that she's wrong, it's also possible that she's right, and from the last conversation in limbo, it almost seems that she was just trying to bring up the idea that he has to, in fact, wake up already.

So if the ending with the totem stopping from spinning is a good ending, it will still make more sense to have the totem continuously spinning as a better ending.

There will be three layers instead:

1. Real life
2. Movie-like scenario
3. Kidnapping scenario
4. Hotel scenario
5. Mountain scenario
6. Limbo

And Moll will be there waiting for our hero to wake up. :)

One last note:
Why is it that Ken Watanabe recognized the faces of the people who entered his dream, but their main target could not?

26 comments:

Areej said...

Yeah. Maybe Moll/Mal is trying to rescue Cobb from Limbo. Though I think the whole movie is Nolan's inception of you choose your reality.

Anonymous said...

The top stops spinning several times in the reality prior to the kidnapping reality. I think this means that the first one was real. That or it means the totems were worthless

kesav said...

my only doubt....Fisher was shot in the snow mountain..nd he was present in Cobb's dream frm where Ariadne drops fisher down the building...how is it that Mol was keeping fisher in Cobbs dream???
Some one please explain!!!???

Anonymous said...

Does Cobb’s totem keep spinning at the end or is it about to fall off the table?
A: The fact that the film cuts away before we know for certain suggests that they want us to keep guessing. But we think it kept spinning. Here’s our reasoning: Note that at the end of the film Cobb’s kids haven’t aged. They match exactly his memory of them. A memory which must almost surely by now be out of date, since he’s been away from them for many months. Though he finally sees their faces, otherwise they look exactly as he envisioned them. They're even wearing the same clothes. In reality, his kids would now be older and different than his memories of them. This could suggest that Cobb is still in the dream and the top does indeed keep spinning after the credits roll.

Alternate Theory Aaron points this out in our comments section: "In the opening moments you get a glimpse of Leo's hand. Specifically, he's wearing his wedding ring. Now, if you follow the rest of the movie keeping an eye out for this you will notice that he only has the ring on when he's in the dream world. At the end of the movie he isn't wearing the ring." If the ring only appears when he's in a dream and he's not wearing at the end of the film, that could be confirmation that in fact, the top does stop spinning after the credits and Cobb is at last in the real world.

the yawner said...

@kesav
My theory is that since Cobb has already been in limbo (which I recall they mentioned as the deepest known layer of the subconscious) he - and in extension his projection of his wife - still retains domain of that world. And since it is a shared dream, it is possible that Cobb became the dominant dreamer when they reached limbo.

Also, in support to the ending-is-still-a-dream theory, earlier when Cobb was talking to his kids I was under the impression that his daughter sounded a bit mature. The phone call itself sorta established that Cobb's been away for quite a while now. So I was kinda expecting that his kids would have been a bit older on that final scene. Hmm...

Anonymous said...

The movie will be a lot simpler if you can assume one constant: the totem is not effective in the layer of Cobb's reality.

Anonymous said...

I believe the movie takes place in reality based on the fact that the totem falls in different parts of the movie, and the function of the totem is axiomatic to the entire story. However, upon reaching the 4th layer of reality without a proper kick, his removal from that brought him into a new limbo, constructed of his most recent interpretation of reality. He almost reaches the surface, but instead ends of in a new dream, finally clensed of Molls presence.

ブレント said...

I think hes still in a dream or limbo in the end. WHen he woke up on the plane he did not have the tube connected to his arm. Before that everytime they awoken they removed the tube. And when he got home finally, kids are in the same position outside like he remembered, with same clothes.
That what i think, but its also interesting and fun reading other peoples perspective on the movie.

the yawner said...

I just remembered one particular scene where Cobb asked Ariadne if she remembers how they got to the cafe. So... How can you tell if the start of a scene is real and not a dream?

Anonymous said...

The totem will stop spinning in the end, not because everything is real, but because in that layer of dreaming, Cobb managed to convince himself that things are real so well, that he manages to defeat even his own totem.

Anonymous said...

rumz ito.

my take was it was molly's incepting cobb's brain. with all the biases he has, its funny how he thinks its the other way around

Anonymous said...

The big part is the fact that the top was NOT his “totem” but rather it was his wife’s. If you remember, he stole it from her lock box and he also mentioned that if anyone touched someone elses’ totem, it becomes worthless. So what was his totem? I think it was his kids faces. If you remember, he never saw them and that one time where his wife was telling him to look, he quickly turned away because he didn’t want to get trapped in that world if he saw them.

Jonny said...

if it was a dream at the end why didnt he put his wife in it? He said in limbo that he couldnt create her perfectly and thats why he couldnt stay so i doubt he would be happy in a dream world with his kids because they wouldnt be exactly perfect, which is what Cobb would have wanted

Essentially, this film is designed to be inconclusive!!! So many of the things said and done contradict later explanations of the plot. Basically, your all dreaming and im about to give you a kick

Anonymous said...

As much as i love this movie, i hate inconclusive endings esp. since this one has absolutely no solid clue into what is happening at the end...

Sam said...

regarding the top. remember when they mentioned that no one else should touch your totem or know the outcome (dice)? well, the top did belong to Moll before Cobb took it, so IMO the whole top spinning or falling rules are 100% off since Cobb screwed it up. whether the top falls or not, it doesn't mean anything regarding dreams or reality because Cobb can control it either way.

Sam said...

also, why was Cobb's father in law waiting at the airport at the end of the dream? it was not certain at ALL whether Cobb was going to be "free" in America. it was all based on whether the task was successful of not, so why would his father in law be there (a little too perfect, you see). he should be back in Paris doing his job, teaching. Cobb didn't have enough time on that flight to have accomplished his task and notify him in time for his father in law to get from Paris to US.

Anonymous said...

He is dreaming. When Mal jumped off the building.. she didn't die, she just woke up. He is still sleeping. In the beginning when leo shoots joseph-gordan levitt in the head in the japan place... he wakes up in like south america with the big riot outside which is also still a dream. And near the end when the son of the business is in limbo and juno kicks him off the building and he dies... he wakes up back in the snow fort.. which is also 1 dream earlier. So when leo and mal killed themselves in limbo with the train.. they would wake up 1 dream earlier, but it obviously took more than one dream to get into limbo... so they must still be in a dream. So she was right to kill herself again. And that is why at the end... the kids have not gotten any older... they are wearing the same clothes.. and have the same mannerism as they did before.... It was all part of his dream 1 dream above his and mal's limbo..

Anonymous said...

I was reading through all of the comments and had an interesting thought, although it may not have any standing at all... What if the real inception happened to Cobb? What if instead of him doing it to his wife in limbo to make him think the world wasn't real she did it to him so that he would think limbo was real, and then his subconscious ran with the idea and he could never really wake up. What if when he saw his wife "kill herself" his subconscious invented an elaborate plot to preserve reality rather than face the fact that he was still dreaming? Again it was a random thought i had from reading all the other comments and it is not really all that developed.

blackplume said...

Why is it that Ken Watanabe recognized the faces of the people who entered his dream, but their main target could not?

With regard to your question above, I think Ken Watanabe recognized the team because he actually knew them before the dream session occur. He is actually testing them before hiring for a mission. For sure he already checked the background and information of each member. While the target (Robert Fischer) know nothing about the team.

Writer Dan said...

Great discussion regarding this provocative and well written film. I don't buy the argument that Cobb is still in a dream, coma, limbo or that Mal is actually the one in reality. All of these possibilities are too easy and a complete cop-out.

In film as in life, there are presumed "truths." Without reality, the illusion or dream has no meaning or substance. Cobb is defined by his guilt, and that is what defines him throughout the film.

Here are some further observations of the film:

1) Limbo is NOT the 4th Level. Remember, if you die in any level under sedation, you will go into Limbo. Limbo is simply the fragmented subconscious of the mind and NOT a dream within a dream.
2) At the end of the film when Cobb sees his dad and his children, it is clear that we must take what we see at face value. a) He sees his kids faces for the first time in the film. On IMDB, there are credits for 4 actors who play the role of the children so it means that the children do age approximately two years from the memories to what we see at the end of the film. b) His dad and kids cannot be projections because remember, you cannot control your subconscious. No matter how much Cobb wanted to be with his family, he could not possibly “will” that to happen because he has no control. c) These images also cannot be past memories of his children and father because this is first time that they have been reuninted.
3) I also agree that the ring is very significant. Cobb indeed only wears a wedding band while he is under. The ring is obviously absent when he is in reality. Having worked on many film productions, I can tell you that this was not an oversight but very deliberate. There are at least two people in charge on continuity on every film. The only thing these people do is make sure that the actors and props remain consistent from scene to scene. The ring is a hint and giveaway.

Chris Nolan deliberately inserts just the right amount of doubt so that this type of discussion can circulate. But lets look at the story and themes as a whole. It is about a man who is burdened by extreme guilt and motivated by the love for his children. The journey that he must descend forces him to deal with the guilt head-on. "The greater the emotion, the greater the catharsis" - symbolically, water is used throughout the film, the dunking, the van in the pier and the beach. All represent catharsis or “cleansing of the mind.”

I have no doubt that Cobb made it back to his family. Once Cobb sees his children’s faces, he knows that he is in reality and does not need the totem to tell him otherwise. The fact that Nolan cuts the last shot to black as the totem starts to tilt is a great way to keep the film on the minds of the viewers long after it is over. He has planted this idea in our minds and judging by all of the posts, it is spreading like a virus. Bravo Mr. Nolan…bravo!

Writer Dan said...

Great discussion regarding this provocative and well written film. I don't buy the argument that Cobb is still in a dream, coma, limbo or that Mal is actually the one in reality. All of these possibilities are too easy and a complete cop-out.

In film as in life, there are presumed "truths." Without reality, the illusion or dream has no meaning or substance. Cobb is defined by his guilt, and that is what defines him throughout the film.

Here are some further observations of the film:

1) Limbo is NOT the 4th Level. Remember, if you die in any level under sedation, you will go into Limbo. Limbo is simply the fragmented subconscious of the mind and NOT a dream within a dream.
2) At the end of the film when Cobb sees his dad and his children, it is clear that we must take what we see at face value. a) He sees his kids faces for the first time in the film. On IMDB, there are credits for 4 actors who play the role of the children so it means that the children do age approximately two years from the memories to what we see at the end of the film. b) His dad and kids cannot be projections because remember, you cannot control your subconscious. No matter how much Cobb wanted to be with his family, he could not possibly “will” that to happen because he has no control. c) These images also cannot be past memories of his children and father because this is first time that they have been reuninted.
3) I also agree that the ring is very significant. Cobb indeed only wears a wedding band while he is under. The ring is obviously absent when he is in reality. Having worked on many film productions, I can tell you that this was not an oversight but very deliberate. There are at least two people in charge on continuity on every film. The only thing these people do is make sure that the actors and props remain consistent from scene to scene. The ring is a hint and giveaway.

Chris Nolan deliberately inserts just the right amount of doubt so that this type of discussion can circulate. But lets look at the story and themes as a whole. It is about a man who is burdened by extreme guilt and motivated by the love for his children. The journey that he must descend forces him to deal with the guilt head-on. "The greater the emotion, the greater the catharsis" - symbolically, water is used throughout the film, the dunking, the van in the pier and the beach. All represent catharsis or “cleansing of the mind.”

I have no doubt that Cobb made it back to his family. Once Cobb sees his children’s faces, he knows that he is in reality and does not need the totem to tell him otherwise. The fact that Nolan cuts the last shot to black as the totem starts to tilt is a great way to keep the film on the minds of the viewers long after it is over. He has planted this idea in our minds and judging by all of the posts, it is spreading like a virus. Bravo Mr. Nolan…bravo!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else have a problem with Mal's totem itself? It seems to me that it shouldn't work at all. The point of the totem is that it has specific properties *in the real world*, such that another dreamer wouldn't know them. How can a totem always behave in a specific (and unnatural) way in someone else's dream? The dreamer would have no reason to think that a top would keep spinning against the laws of physics.

Pelin said...

In Cobb's dreams his daughter was always wearing black mary jane shoes. But at the end of the movie the girl was wearing pink converse. And I think they looked like a bit older.

But, If I'm not mistaken, when Saito returns from the limbo, he must not remember even he has an agreement, so how did he remember when he returned?

And another point is that, although I've never ever been or seen immigrant/immigration exist at the airport, I don't think Cobb left the airport through these exists. And how does his father know Cobb's coming?

vm52 said...

After seeing the movie two times over, my penny's worth of thoughts are these - the entire movie is a dream conjured up by Cobb's mind who is actually in a limbo or a coma and his mind is deparately searching for a way out. Remember that he does not call home - it is he who receives a phone call from his children and they are not shown talking to him on the phone - just their images as he remembers them. The fact that children age during the movie is irrelevant as ages can go by when a person is in a limbo. Cobb is stuck in a dreamworld of his own creation. He may have harmed his wife in real life and is carrying that guilt too ro his wife is alive and well and keeps invading her husband's subconscious in order to bring him back to reality.

Anonymous said...

you cant know if cobb is in the real world or not. why? because we don't know if the tingy object stoped spinning or not. that is what makes the money a pain in the butt!i wont melt my brain trying to understand my brain hurts!

Anonymous said...

Thats because he's dreaming aka creating just as he does maul in all of his dreams. The images of his kids was just him reliving memories.

 

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