Reactionary Causes

Nolan Offers New 'Inception' Insight Prior to Its Debut on Blu-ray and DVD

I'm still happily convinced my interpretation is correct

I am expecting my Blu-ray review copy of Christopher Nolan's Inception any day now and while I have Oscar screeners and Criterion Blu-rays to dig into I can't help but feel it will find its way to the top of the pile. However, before it gets here, a couple of new interviews with Nolan have opened up the dreamspace discussion all over again and unlike what Michael Caine did back in October, Nolan maintains the ambiguity of the film's ending, although he does tie up a few loose ends.

In October, Caine seemed to feel he had it all figured out saying, "[The spinning top] drops at the end, that's when I come back on. If I'm there it's real, because I'm never in the dream. I'm the guy who invented the dream." Fortunately, this proves to simply be Caine's interpretation as Nolan is quick to point out, that while he has a clear idea of what is going on in the film, the film never clearly tells you.

Talking with Entertainment Weekly Nolan said, "I get a lot of questions like, 'Okay, did this thing earlier in the film mean that it's all true, or does this other thing at another point in the film mean that it's all a dream?'" He then adds, "There can't be anything in the film that tells you one way or another because then the ambiguity at the end of the film would just be a mistake. It would represent a failure of the film to communicate something. But it's not a mistake. I put that cut there at the end, imposing an ambiguity from outside the film. That always felt the right ending to me -- it always felt like the appropriate 'kick' to me... The real point of the scene -- and this is what I tell people -- is that Cobb isn't looking at the top. He's looking at his kids. He's left it behind. That's the emotional significance of the thing."

Is it just me, or might it be significant when Nolan says "it always felt like the appropriate 'kick' to me"? I don't know, food for thought... Moving on...

Nolan made a similar statement in an interview with Wired saying, "People who have kids definitely read [the ending] differently than people who don't. Which isn't the same as saying there's no answer. Sometimes I think people lose the importance of the way the thing is staged with the spinning top at the end. Because the most important emotional thing is that Cobb's not looking at it. He doesn't care."

This has always been obvious, but as I discussed in my "Wake Up! Let's Talk about 'Inception' -- Here's My Interpretation" piece, in which I detail my take on the film's ending -- a take I still firmly believe in -- the fact Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) doesn't care whether the spinning top falls or not is only part of the question. With Nolan saying it doesn't matter if the top falls or not because Cobb doesn't care doesn't answer whether or not the final scene in the film is a dream or if it's reality, a fact that could change your entire interpretation of the whole film. And when Wired's Robert Capps suggests maybe Nolan doesn't even know, he quickly replies, "Oh no, I've got an answer."

"I think the only way to make ambiguity satisfying is to base it on a very solid point of view of what you think is going on, and then allow the ambiguity to come from the inability of the character to know, and the alignment of the audience with that character."

"I've always believed that if you make a film with ambiguity, it needs to be based on a sincere interpretation," Nolan said. "If it's not, then it will contradict itself, or it will be somehow insubstantial and end up making the audience feel cheated. I think the only way to make ambiguity satisfying is to base it on a very solid point of view of what you think is going on, and then allow the ambiguity to come from the inability of the character to know, and the alignment of the audience with that character."

Okay, so there is an answer, but he's made the film in such a way that the film definitely doesn't offer up a definitive one, at least not an answer that can be sorted out by looking at the clues and saying, "Ah ha, that's definitely it, end of discussion!" However, that isn't stopping people from trying.

On my third viewing of the film one thing I paid close attention to was Cobb's wedding ring. He appears to only wear it in the dream world. However, there was one scene, close to the end, where he is supposedly in the dream world that I never saw it. So, I can't use this as a definitive clue... Yet.

Another idea people look to are Cobb's children, and this is theory Nolan does address, but it has also been addressed previously when costume designer Jeffrey Kurland told Clothes on Film, "The children's clothing is different in the final scene… look again..."

The idea Cobb's children were wearing the same clothes was one that had people coming up with certain theories. Another was whether or not they were the same children as we saw earlier in the film through Cobb's memory flashbacks. An IMDB cast listing showing two sets of actors threw that theory out the window, but Nolan is also quick to reiterate the point.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Christopher Nolan on the set of Inception
Photo: Warner Bros.

"Yes, two sets of kids!" he tells Wired. "The younger version of the boy is actually my son, and it's not him who turns around at the end. There's no ambiguity here."

"I was attempting to portray somebody trying to visualize something that they can't visualize. It's a combination of memory and imagining and dream..."

When asked if he used the second set of kids only at the very end or if he interchanges the two sets somewhere else in the film he says, "I don't want to specify too much... I was attempting to portray somebody trying to visualize something that they can't visualize. It's a combination of memory and imagining and dream, and all the different ways in which we as human beings are able to visualize things. The way in which kids appear throughout the film is a strenuous attempt to play with that."

This is a fascinating answer because it takes us all the way back to the ending of the film and whether or not it was a dream or not. In my Inception interpretation article I asked readers whether they thought the film ended in a dream or in the real world, and after 3,861 votes so far 2,362 people (61%) believe it ends with Cobb dreaming.

This was actually my interpretation as well, but I read it as Cobb having an actual dream. He was finally able to dream on his own again without the dream machine. The dreamlike quality of the end of the film led me to this conclusion and he was also finally able to see his children's faces. Additionally, I think an answer Nolan gives regarding the children's clothing, and how he was trying to use the children, supports my interpretation.

Nolan admits the clothes on the two sets of children are "very similar but not the same." Combine that with the quote I mentioned above where he says, "I was attempting to portray somebody trying to visualize something that they can't visualize. It's a combination of memory and imagining and dream, and all the different ways in which we as human beings are able to visualize things." Notice, he never says "reality." This, to me, means at the end of the film Cobb is visualizing his children at an older age, but his visualization still has them similarly clothed. So we never really see Cobb's actual children, we only see manifestations of his memories and what he imagines they will look like when he sees them again, which is why they are still in the exact same spot as he last remembers them being.

Is it all a dream or does it end in reality?

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So does the top fall or not? I agree, it doesn't matter. In my interpretation it doesn't matter. It can keep spinning or stop two seconds after the film cuts to black. I don't care because to me the final scene in the film is a dream, but it's a dream unlike any other in the film. It's a real dream, one that's not artificially induced or manipulated. That, to me, is the genius of it and I am anxious to watch it again on Blu-ray and see if my theory still holds up.

If you have yet to preorder the DVD or Blu-ray for yourself, you can order the Blu-ray by clicking here ($24.99) and the DVD by clicking here ($16.99).

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  • Arjuna

    another great article Brad, I hope Inception finally gets the nominations that the Dark Knight did not ie score, writter, director and picture

    • Arjuna

      every time Nolan doesn't win or get nominated I just keep reminding myself that Kubrick never won

      • sonofsunday

        that's the same exact thing with me.

  • http://www.rabidpictures.com Yaz

    Hmmm, interesting thoughts. I enjoyed the film upon my initial viewing, but to be honest, I didn't find my self as engaged in it as I would have liked. No doubts it is an interesting and intelligent piece of cinema, but I didn't find my self invested for whatever reason.

    Can't wait to pick up the bluray and have another viewing though. I'm hoping I'll enjoy it more upon the second viewing.

  • Chris Johnson

    I think there's even more to it than that - It questions whether your ability to perceive thing's more important than knowing what's real. Or even deeper; if reality feels just as real as what your mind can create then is it all just one in the same?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      That's definitely another idea to talk about, but it's not really what I am looking at in this piece where I am specifically talking about the end of the film, not the meaning of it all.

  • unrealtrip

    Whether it is a dream or not is irrelevant, just like he said. The entire concept of the movie, the shared dream, planting an idea in someone's head and letting it grow, IS the movie. We the audience are the people sharing the dream, the inception was on us, by Nolan, what ideas he planted, were all over the film. This makes Inception the single greatest film of all time in my opinion.

  • http://thekingbulletin.com Danny King

    I like the idea of the final scene being Cobb's first dream that isn't manipulated or being controlled. Interesting take that carries a lot of emotional weight.

    • destiny

      Me too! Great article Brad. Now, I have to watch it again!

  • Sohail Badat

    To Me the screen cutting black is a metaphor for waking up. You know how sometimes in a dream just when you are about to see something or do something amazing you wake up and feel really disappointed?- Thats what the screen cutting black meant

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      I like that, never thought of it that way, but it makes total sense and even serves as a nice addition to my theory. Very nice.

  • Mike Shine

    Brad your insane haha, your gonna stir up the inception debate again??? This movie should be in everyones xmas sock. Brad you kick ass.

  • AKD

    I definitely enjoy the discussion but I for one don’t really want a definite answer because I enjoy how Nolan has chosen to let the audience determine it and I wish for it to remain that way. I love the post as usual; keep it up BB, Inception on Blu Ray! Can’t wait!

  • JM

    See, Nolan said EXACTLY what I did: That the point wasn't whether it was real or not, but that he was choosing his kids over reality vs. fantasy. I win! :D

    • Jay

      That's not what Nolan said. All he said was that Cobb doesn't care about the top.

      Why wouldn't he care whether or not he was in reality with his kids? They're his whole reason for being, so why would he be okay with the idea that they're in reality without their father? It would be pretty selfish of him to be content with just satisfying his own desire to be with them and disregarding his ACTUAL children's need for a father. There's another way to take Nolan's quote there, but I'll leave it to you to figure out.

  • Jack

    The totem wobbled.

    • ben

      totem never wobbled in his dreams.did brad actually think nolan was going to confess when the evidence is presented in front of him and ruin the curiosity that people have for this film...like michael caine said,whenever he is in the scene,it's not a dream...plain and simple.the funny thing is,the creator of the "DREAMS" actually said its not a dream and people still don't believe it...now that is funny

  • RaiderMatt

    When Nolan says,

    "There can't be anything in the film that tells you one way or another because then the ambiguity at the end of the film would just be a mistake."

    doesn't that pretty much throw out any theories involving whether or not he is wearing his wedding ring, or if there are two sets of kids, ect? I think he just wants each person to have their own opinion. No one can say who's wrong or right.

  • Drew

    It was not a dream people....The totem never wobbled in the dream if Cobb wanted to be with his children in a dream world he would have stayed in limbo with Mal and the kids.

  • Sherah

    It was a dream: Cobb was not using his own totem so it did matter if it stopped or kept spinning!!! At a certain point in the movie, he spun it and then dropped it (in the bathroom). He didn't even spin it again to check! Also throughout the movie he gave hints that he really wasn't sure if he was in reality. For example, early in the movie he held a gun slightly to his head and spun the totem; when they were in the "snow scene" and Mal showed up, he wasn't sure if she was real or not! That's why he hesitated to shoot!!! The dude was confused!!! After seeing the movie for the fourth time, I concluded that his wife is in reality and his subconscious in the form of his wife is begging him to wake up because HE IS STILL DREAMING!!! Listen to the last thing she said to him in the movie! What a fun movie! Looking for a sequel!

  • Sherah

    Correction on my last comment - IT DID NOT MATTER OF THE TOTEM KEPT SPINNING OR STOPPED (BECAUSE IT WAS NOT HIS TOTEM)!