Inception Ending Explained

Published 4 years ago by , Updated June 2nd, 2012 at 7:16 pm,

inception explanation spoilers Inception Ending Explained

While we have an Inception review where you can leave comments, we’ve set up this page as a place where you can discuss the Inception ending and other spoilers without worrying about ruining the movie for folks who haven’t seen it yet.

To help steer discussion we’ve added a lengthy analysis of Inception (especially the ending) and explained why our analysis of the film fits with the story Christopher Nolan intended to tell.

Does our Inception explanation match your theory? Find out!

Many people walked away from Inception impressed. Some were confused, some were even feeling like they had their brains woken by the most exciting and thought-provoking movie experience to come along all year.

I realize that most people who saw Inception have already made up their minds about what they perceived the film to be (and Nolan will undoubtedly be proud of that). However, for those of you still looking for an Inception explanation, we like to offer a few thoughts.

We’ve organized things by category for you, in case you’re more interested in one facet of the film than another. If you want to read about specific points you can follow the links below:

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The Rules

Inception production still 4 Inception Ending Explained

So, the first thing to talk about are the rules of the dream world Nolan created for the film. With all the action that happened onscreen, it was easy to forget some of the finer details – but once the lights came up, and people had time to think, I know the question of who was dreaming which dreams certainly came up (among others questions as well).

Remember the basic premise: Cobb (the extractor) and his team are con artists, and like any con artists their job is to construct a false reality and manipulate it in order to confuse and/or fool a mark (in this case industrialist Robert Fischer, played by Cillian Murphy). Nolan takes the classic concept of a con man a step further by making Cobb and his team dream thieves, but in the end, the basic concept is still your classic con/heist movie.

Dream Levels and Dream Time

Nolan throws a lot of fancy math at you but it’s all really inconsequential. All you need to really know are the basic concepts:

The dream within a dream process puts you into a deeper state of dreaming. The deeper you go, the further removed your mind is from reality. We all know what that’s like: the deeper you sleep, the harder it is to be woken up and the more vivid and real-feeling a dream becomes. If you’re in a deep enough sleep, not even the usual physical ques to wake up effect you, such as the sensation of falling (“the kick”) or even, say, having to go to the bathroom.

Inception production still 3 Inception Ending Explained

By the time you reach the Limbo state it can be so difficult to wake, and the dream can feel so vividly real, that the mind stops trying to wake at all – the mind accepts the dream as its reality, like slipping into a coma.

When you wake up in Limbo you don’t remember that there is such a thing as a “real world” – as in any dream, you wake up in the middle of  a scene and simply accept it for what it is. Breaking yourself out of this cycle is extremely difficult, which is why Cobb and his wife Mal were trapped in Limbo for what seemed like decades.

Time is the other factor. The deeper you go into a dream state, the faster your mind is able to imagine and perceive things within that dream state. We’re told the increase is exponential, so going deeper into dreams turns minutes into hours, into days, into years. This is why Cobb and his team are able to pull off the Fischer job while the van is still falling through the air, before the soldiers break into the snow fortress, before Arthur rigs the elevator, and all within the span of a flight from Sydney Australia to LA.

Inception DiCaprio Murphy on plane Inception Ending Explained

In Limbo, the mind works so fast that actual minutes can be interpreted as years gone by. When Saito “dies” from the gunshot wound he received on level 1 of the dream, his mind falls into Limbo, and Saito remains there for the minutes it takes Cobb and Ariadne (Ellen Page) to follow him into Limbo – those minutes in one dream state feel like decades to Saito in his Limbo state.  By the time Cobb deals with expelling Mal’s “shadow” from his subconscious, Saito has begun to perceive himself as an old man.

Mal’s shadow stabs Cobb during the film’s climax, which throws Cobb back out into Limbo and onto the shores of Saito’s limbo house. When Cobb has to “wake” again in Limbo, his mind is muddled just like old man Saito’s brain. Through Saito’s memory of Cobb’s totem and some shared dialogue that included key trigger phrases – “Leap of faith,” “Old man full of regret, waiting to die alone,” etc. – Cobb and Saito are able to remember the meaningful conversations they had and that there is a reality they existed in before Limbo, where both of them had deep desires still waiting to be fulfilled (Cobb and his kids, Saito and his business). Once they remember that limbo is limbo,  they are able to wake themselves up (likely with a gunshot to the head).

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  1. Well i havent seen it but i like spoilers;) so will this movie be as confusing as shutter island or understandable?!?

    • @Ricky18

      Imagine the Matrix + Ocean’s 11 + DiCaprio’s character from Shutter Island. That’s basically it.

      I think this film has gotten a wrap as being “mind-bending.” It’s really just a heist movie with a slightly complicated sci-fi premise. But it’s easy to enough to follow – just a lot to take in. Second viewing is recommended.

      • Come on would you build a forum section and all this explanations just for a movie which is a remake of others? Do you really believe it’s so simple and easy to find an explanation even now that this forum has 70 pages filled by different interpretations all very clever (at least in my view) If i’m not wrong your name “Kofi Outlaw” is at the top of this page…
        I think you just wanted to be provocative stating this… ;-)

      • agreed… once you get the ‘framework’ the details play like ball in hand… what is special about this film is that you really cannot miss a single sequence or you will be lost… the CG and the opulence make it appear as though it were planned as a film noir mystery….

    • First of all, I didn’t find Shutter Island very confusing. I realized pretty quick the truth about the main character. So if anyone found Shutter Island confusing, they’ll love Inception. Being more confusing than Shutter Island, I’m still not sure about the ending, but my guess is he is still dreaming. This is not based on the reasons noted in the article above, but on the jumps between dream layers.

      In the beginning of the movie, Cobb kills Arthur, which sends him up one layer of dreams. In Cobbs and Mals dream, they kills themselves once, which would send them up one layer of dreams. BUT, during the movie, Cobb explained to Ariadne that they had experienced with several layers, which means they probably were in layer two or possibly even deeper.

      Considering this, Mal could have been right, and he could have lived for years in a dream world. Then the children there would have grown older, and the totem he acquired from Mal would be from a dream world, which could mean that it behaved just the way he wanted it to. This could also explain why Mal shows up everywhere.

      There is a lot of reasons both for and against the theory, which is why I’m not sure, but it’s a dimension of the discussion which hasn’t been adressed before.

      • ok First The Director said that the whole movie was not filmed as a dream, Meaning there were definitely parts where Cobb was Awake.

        Secondly, Some people have said that His Wedding Ring can be a symbol of wether Cobb is awake or asleep.
        This works in the begining of the movie but not at the end because in the End Cobb tells His own subconcious that His wife is not real because He CAN’T imagine Her with all of Her Faults and Perfections the way She REALLY WAS. Thus in the end making him project himself without his ring in his dreams because His Subconcious knows that His wife is gone

        Thirdly, Some people say that Cobb’s Totem is the Spinning Top.
        This is False as well…
        The Spinning Top was His Wifes. He knew how it worked.. She had locked it away. He then Spun the top and left it in her “safe” which Planted the Idea that the dream world she was in Was NOT Real. She Killed Herself because that thought came with her out of the dream world as if there was supposed to be one more level of dreaming to get out of. She had set up Her suicide to force him to follow her off the ledge. He did not follow her and the rest of her plan took place.. which lead authorities to believe that Cobb killed His Wife. Thus making it impossible for Him to go home to His children. After His wife died he began using Her totem, The Spinning Top.

        Cobb’s Actual Totem were be His Children.. He can’t see their faces in His dreams.
        After His wife Died He was on the run. He could Not get back to His children because he would be put in Jail. He used His Wifes Totem though out the movie because He could not get to his totem.

        The reason that Cobb said “Make Your totem something small, Have it on you at all times. Never Let anyone else See it or Touch it or know how it tricks.”
        Was simply because He chose a totem that could not be everywhere with him.. His Children.
        He also knew how His Wife’s Totem worked… When she started to believe that the Dream World that they were in was real, He used her totem “against” her. Which planted the Idea that the world she was in was NOT Real. once they woke up from that dream world that thought of the world not being real came with her, Which lead to her death. She also had to have known about what His totem was because she said that If he didn’t follow her into Suicide that “They” would take the kids away anyway. Thus she took His totem away from him completely.

        That’s why He says to never tell anyone about it. He tells people about His wife’s totem (the spinning top).. it spins perfectly in the dream world and never stops.. but he never actually said what his totem really was.. but the movie drops serveral major hints..

        The Architect follows Cobb into his own dream. She finds herself in an elevator, Cobb is talking to his wife. Once Cobb notices that the Architect is in his dream he gets into the elevator and tells her that she shouldn’t be there. There is one scene in this squence that drops the major hint. It’s the scene with His children playing out in the yard. He says “No matter what I try to do I can not change this in my dream, I want to see their faces one last time but I missed my chance.”

        Therefore His Children are in fact his totem.
        Cobb created the rule of the totem being something small and keep it on you at all times. because he couldn’t get to his totem.

        In the end scene of the movie Cobb spins the Top and His children notice that He is home.. His children turn around and run towards him. At that moment HE KNOWS He’s awake because they didn’t do that in his dreams. The Spinning top no longer matters.

        AS A NOTE: There are 2 sets of Children in the credits!
        The first set…
        Claire Geare —— Phillipa Cobb (3 years old)
        Magnus Nolan —— James Cobb (20 Months old)

        Second Set…
        Taylor Geare —— Phillipa Cobb (5 Years Old)
        Jonathan Geare —- James Cobb (3 years Old)

        Don’t believe me… Look Here…
        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1375666/fullcredits#cast

        • I couldn’t agree with you more. =)

  2. Lol!!! Guess no ones seen it yet lol!!!

  3. Kofi!

    Don’t you dare compare it to another film… this is its own animal. Sure, it has elements that look somewhat familiar but it’s operating on a different level here. Just tell people to watch it. :)

    • Dude I’ve done more free press for this film than their marketing dept.

      People feed off comparisons. Let’s not get too haughty-taughty here :-) – Nolan is great but he can still be compared to others. There is plenty in ‘Inception’ that was borrowed from other films and stories and tweaked in that unique Nolan way.

      • So Kofi Outlaw, if you even read these posts, when are you going to start a website based on this forum? Did she tell you or did you already know? I mean about starting that website? Tell me, tell me right now! You need an architect, the most skilled in extraction. You have to admit you didn’t even know where this blog post would take you, all the way to page 92. To find out more……who are you to say otherwise? :):)

  4. I’ll thrown the first rock into the spoiler pool…

    Though I’m against the idea that the idea film is a dream, I have not found enough evidence that leads me to believe the resolution is not a dream. Since we never hear the shot by Saito to bring them to reality, there’s no promise the last moments are not a dream.

    Do you remember the Immigration Officier (Michael Gaston) in the movie before; at the end, is he merely a projection?

    • Was the ending real or just another dream layer?

      I think Nolann intentionally ended it as he did to leave it open so that the answer to this question could be YES, NO or even both.

      In addition to the spinnning top, which recieved repeated emphasis several times during the film, far mopre then necessary to convey its purposse, being left spinning atthe end of teh film there is also the isssue, iin my mind of the first act itsefl feeling a bit disconnected of ssorts. I don’t mean that in a negative way but in a diosconnected dream way.

      During the whole first act I kept thinkning that the end revelation would be that when they supposedly woke up from meeting with THE TOURSIT (Ken Watanbe’s character) that they were in fact still in a dream. Why?

      Several examples:

      The chase sceene between Decaprio and the agents of the coporation he did the job for was more then a bit of a strecth. For example when he squeezed thrpough that narrow passge it felt like the passage gotnarrow the further he went down it, inidicative of a dream world.

      There is also the whole scene jumpiing bit where the scenes don;t sseem to smoothly transitioon but are quick cuts like as if one were in a dream.

      These could merely be deceptive intentionss on Nolans part or, and this is what i hope, there was a good bit of footage cutto make it fit in the 2 1/2 hour time frame and so a diretcorss cut would easily be 3 or more hours and would include parts that would make sceene transition smoother.

      • How about when he is sitting in the hotel room early in the movie and his children are able to call him on the phone? If he is constantly traveling and in hiding from the U.S. government, how would they be able to reach him? Surely he wouldn’t risk giving them a number to reach him at, as this may allow him to be tracked down, wouldn’t it? This, the outlandish chase scene where he is recruiting the Forger, and the “dreamy” end scene made me think that the whole movie is one of Cobb’s dreams, and at the end when you see his totem wobble, it just means that he has accepted that dream world as his reality.

    • I think it’s fairly clear that at the end it’s reality. Since neither Cobb or the man that hired them are old. He returned to his previous age and at the very end the top was clearly about to fall. It wasn’t eternally spinning like it would in a dream it was going about normal top behavior spiraling down.

      • well you see maybe the dream put them in the state of young cause if in the dreams you can do anything then in the dream they could be younger as part of the circumstance and setting of the dream

        but i think the wobble in the following post shows that it is reality

        but lets face it everyone in the rest of the posts and earlier ones are all hoping that it wasn’t a dream but are still skeptical waiting for hard proof or even an interview or something to come up where someone in the movie or who worked on it says what it means or some hard evidence instead of this contriversial crap

      • he has already grown old with mol

    • The Totem had almost started to wobble at the climax. That’s enough suggestion for me to say: Cobb was in the real world. Only that he did not care whether he was or not, now that he had finally came home to his children. That was suggested to us when Nolan takes the camera away and blacks out from the top like who-cares-a-damn just when we are curious to see what happens to the top.

  5. Carl,

    Yeah, I feel like I’d have to see it again – I don’t think it’s a dream after one viewing but that sly Nolan left it purposely ambiguous.

    I envision another very long discussion thread similar to our Shutter Island explanation article. :)

    Vic

    • Yeah… I’m beginning to hate that guy. :P

      But it seems like there’s an extra long beat when the camera is transfixed on the Immigration Officier, like I’m suppose to realize something about him. I had the same feeling during TDK, when Det. Ramirez puts Harvey Dent into the squad car and look how that turned out.

      After my screening, I spent another 2-3 hours discussing it as a whole. The rest of the movie isn’t a dream because what would be projections, in Cobb’s dream, all have motives of their own (i.e. Ariadne makes her own token). Assuming, of course, projections of the sub-conscious don’t always have motives of their own.

      • no one should care about the immigration officer he is just a random guy there that long transfixion is because normally he would be red flagged during immigration because of hiis falsely accused crimes and him being the first to let him back home

    • That last shot is def just to mess with you.

      He knew he had you caring at that point – it’s like “watch it, watch it, is it gonna fall? IS IT GONNA FALL? – oh, oh…” [cut to black]

      Total Sopranos ending.

      Because, you know, how sure can anybody be that “this reality” is THE TRUE reality? Would the afterlife be the true awakening and human life just a dream? Is a guy who is in an active coma simply stuck in a different plane of reality, perpetually dreaming? Did Two-Face really die after Batman pushed him off the ledge – or are both halves of his mind alive in dream time?

      Hmmmm…. Thoughts, filling, brain – not, used, to, it, anymore!!!

      • Oh god, that movie was amazing.. I also was wondering, in the last shot, if it was going to fall or not. This movie was so great. I definitely have to see it again. I love everything you said, we cannot be sure if our human life is just a dream, and the afterlife is the true awakening. I always wonder about dreams, especially the ones that seem distantly familiar, which also leads to dejavu and even reincarnation. Dreams or thoughts of a past life.

        This movie was so incredible, and well put together. I cannot wait to see it again.

      • I am really curious about the immigration officer at the end. He was clearly a projection of Leonardo’s subconscious because of the things he mentioned .. the officer said things that were almost identical to the words of Leonardo’s wife. What bugs me, is that, I really don’t understand the point of the scene and what Christopher Nolan was trying to convey, because the ‘thing’ didn’t topple .. it was still spinning. Wondering whether that was a dream or not ..

        It IS ambiguous whether the ending is real or not, but personally, I think it was a dream. There was no proof that Leonardo woke up from the second or first layer .. and I think it would’ve been too late for him to wake up because he was out of time.

        Great movie! Anticipating to watch it twice!

        • Amanda, the point of the scene was to have an end that left you wondering. If you have ever spun a top you would know if it’s a good spin it can go perfectly for minutes.

          • On that note, the spinning top at the end was the first time you ever see it “wobble” while spinning. In all of the other dream sequences that DiCaprio spun the top and kept perpetually spinning, the spin was flawless. Just a thought …

            • Actually, I think it’s the first time he spins it, it does infact wobble, and keep going shortly after. it wasn’t always ‘flawless’

        • There sort of was evidence that it wasn’t a dream. Since Kato was younger again and the top was clearly going to fall if you have ever spun a top you could see it falling down.

        • Remember he had let go of his wife so he could come back to higher lever but hadn’t let go of his kids yet who were throughout the whole movie just as she was.
          Forgiveness of one’s self is never total and complete and all at once.
          I believe he would have eventually realized they weren’t his kids and would have let them go as he did his wife. Thus, bringing him all the way back.

          As for the totem, I think it’s relevant to remember that he didn’t wait around to find out if it stopped. He went right for his kids..

      • well that is the message in the movie and maybe is the ending just a ploy to get you to buy or watch the movie again because just like the titanic you want it to have a different ending or in this case a slightly longer one but it never is and we just watch it again and again

    • I find it ironic that the very thing the characters were doing in the film, putting an idea into someone’s head is exactly what Nolan was doing with the audience while we were watching it. Pure Genius.
      I’m surprised Kofi didn’t bring that out in his article.

  6. Wow now im really excited!!!!

  7. I’m trying to understand the logic of waking up from the dream though: if saito went into Limbo because of a gunshot and under heavy sedatives, how did cobb wake him up from limbo? With the gun he had?

    Great movie overall anyway, one that I definitely intend to view again…

    • Cobb made Saito remember that he was in Limbo. When Saito died his mind made him think it was a kick and that he was back in reality when he was really stuck in Limbo. Cobb saving him and reminding him that he was still dreaming is what enabled Saito to shoot himself (I assume) and create the kick to get back on the plane without losing his mind in the process.

      • Hmmm makes the most sense I guess… Thanks!

      • “Cobb made Saito remember that he was in Limbo”

        That was another weird part. If you remember, Cobb actually forgot what he was gonna tell Saito. It was Saito that eventually remembered and reminded him. Hmmm…

  8. A second viewing is deemed necessary. great film though.

  9. so i take it this movie has the typical dream vs reality BS… see that and argued about it before… i’m just gonna wait for this to come out on dvd.

    P.S i did read the review and i know vic said its similar but different to the dream vs reality concept but from what you guys are talking about its not really that much different.

    • The movie has nothing to do with dream vs reality, that’s really only the end.

      • Yeah, I second that comment (from Michael).

        You’re gonna feel left out if you miss this movie.

        There reason why I brought up the last 10 mins is because there’s a certain level of ambiguity that should be applauded.

        I now believe the last part is only a dream and I’ll explain after I confirm a few details.

  10. I really, really, really wanted to love the film. And, for the most part….ok, i loved the film. But, i must say i was fairly dissappointed in that fact that all of the best visuals were shown in the trailers. Because of how great the trailers were, i was expecting this HUGE visual scene that would blow my mind, but it never came. I can’t say i have any complaints about the actual film, i guess i just wanted a little more of the manipulation of the sub-conscious. Maybe, im just a sour puss. I was the only i know who wasn’t (and still isn’t) impressed with Avatar….

    • that makes 2 of us (in regards to avatar).

      • first off i didnt think avatar was as good as everyone thought either… great movie but not the end all sci fi god of movies…but back to the point inception was so visually stunning that i think after a while it desenseatizes the viewer, like a really funny movie you have to watch it a couple of times to hear all the jokes, this movie needs multiple viewings….and i agree for the most part but i feel the scene when gordon -joseph levitt was in the 2nd dream layer and the van flipped in the first dream layer causing the gravitational shift while he was fighting those two “guards” in the hotel hallway was as a whole a truely iconic scene…they did show a tiny part of it in the preview but that scene stole the movie for me (personal opinion)

        • i will definitly agree, that scene was rediculously awesome and the scene did give me a little jolt of excitement. You remember the first time you watched The Matrix?? THAT’s what i wanted to feel. This ultimate cool factor. I cannot wait to watch the film again though. I really look forward to seeing it again and i really can’t wait to it hits Blu-Ray.

    • Meh alot of people actually dislike Avatar. The Special effects are praised by all but there are plenty of us that think the films sucks overall.

  11. the fourth level was Cobb’s dream and the reason Fischer was there was because he wasn’t fully dead, he was just unconscious, if he was dead he actually would of been in limbo and Cobb and Ellen Page’s character wouldn’t have been able to reach him because you cant purposely go to limbo.

    Now as for Cobb and Saito, well I think Saito died in level 3 and Cobb died in level 1 in the underwater van since he didnt feel the kick so he drowned. At the point he drowns/dies he is already in level 4 so instead of waking up he goes into limbo, Saito has already been in limbo for a while so that’s why he looks older (you age faster in dream world). Saito doesn’t remember Cobb right away because it’s been so long since he has seen him. The film ends with Cobb and Saito creating a new dream world for themselves while in limbo, one where the inception job went well and cobb got to see his kids, in reality neither make it back

  12. I also believe that the end is not reality. What struck me about the ending was that his children were exactly as he had remembered them in his memory/dreams. They were on that hill and wearing the exact same clothes, and they had not grown or changed at all since his memory of leaving them behind. This makes me believe that he is seeing them simply in his dreams, still in limbo. The top keeps spinning…

    • Yea, I remember the phone call to his children at the beginning of the movie, his daughter sounded older than she did at the end.

      I guessing the end Chris Nolan wants us to question everything we take for reality:P

    • Just because they don’t age doesn’t mean anything. That would only be valid if you knew when his wife died. He could have been gone for 3 or 4 months for all we know. The thing about this movie is we aren’t supposed to know if it’s reality or not. It’s like the end of Blade Runner, you can speculate all your life whether he is a Replicant or not, but you will never actually be sure. Christopher Nolan wants you leaving the movie thinking, and seeing these comments it is clear that he has done what he wanted with the ending.

      • For all we know his wife could have died only a week earlier! He’s just been in so many different layers of dreams that it seems like its been a long time when it hasn’t really.

      • Simply, the ending is a dream. Why?
        Cobb never told his father to come by the airport. The plan was to be kept secret within his team.
        His father is his form of projection.
        I’m done with these complicated interpretations.

        • Belsh…You actually came up with a MUCH more complicated interpretation…if you consider what the film showed.

  13. You heard it here first: The inception was for Cobb. It was so that Cobb could be with his children despite whatever else was preventing it. A few things:

    1) They explained that 1 minute of real time = 1 hour of dream time. That means that 12 minutes of dream time is 1 minute. The flight attendant says “There’s 20 mins until landing” OK- so they were in the 1st layer of dreams for a week? No. Which means the ‘reality’ layer is fake.

    2) When he sees his kids at the end, the EXACT shot is used that he kept seeing. Except this time they turn around. His brain was rejecting his kids before, until the inception was complete at the end they couldn’t turn around. This also explains why we see Saito in the beginning. We also see the clock moving backwards in the opening shot, perhaps to show what happened leading up to it?

    He had to accept that his wife was dead – she kept trying to get into the layer that he would be with his children – but ideas are like viruses, he knew she was dead so if she was there it would ruin the inception. Thus, we had the scene where he explains to her why he can’t take her with him. She also almost ruins the entire operation, or his subconscious does. She says “How do you know your reality is real? You are running around working for mysterious agencies etc.”

    Also good catch with the security guard – also lends itself to the theory of even reality wasn’t real (didn’t notice it myself)

    The top continues spinning.

    • Your math is wrong. It should be 5 minutes of real time= 1 hour of dream time.

      • I like your take and I can’t help thinking that Michael Caine gave up Ellen Page alittle bit to easy, after he chaiseted (is that how spell that word?)Cobb so I’m thinking the father plan the inception for Cobb

    • I like this take on it. Except Sarah is right, your math is wrong. It’s 5 minutes of reality = 1 hour of dreaming. But it’s exponential for each layer after that.

  14. They are all still in Limbo…

  15. I loved this movie… by far the best movie i have ever seen

    though the end did confuse me ..the childrens clothes at the end were still the same , they were in the same position as they were in his memories also the top at the end looked like it was falling over.. i dont know but GREAT movie

    Also what was going on with the immigration officer??

    • Everybody keeps mentioning about the immigration officer, but for the life of me I can’t remember what he did that was so out of the ordinary?

      • Thats what Im trying to figure out …maybe it was the way he was looking at him?

        • You mean like how projections look at foreign minds when they sense them? But it wouldn’t make sense, given it’s his own mind…

          • The projections were staring at Ariadne when it was her own dream too.

            • Was it her dream? Or was it cobb’s dream, but designing it instead? I don’t recall them saying that projections would stare at the dreamer him/herself…

              • I’m not certain but I’m fairly sure Ariadne asked Cobb why they were staring at her/us. As to whose dream it was, it seemed like it was Cobb’s at first but then she started changing stuff around like it was her’s. I thought only the person whose dream you’re in could change stuff around.

                • They didn’t really explain the roles of the dream/dreamer and who is the subject and the architect.

                  From what I recall, the architect creates the world around them, the buildings, cars, etc. and then the subject fills the world with their subconscious, ie. the people/projections.

                  So when the people were looking at Ariadne, they are Cobb’s projections looking for the architect. If Cobb was both the architect AND the subject, then all of the projections would be looking at him as he changed things.

                  If we assume that at the end that we are looking at Cobb’s reality, then it’s acceptable for him to be both the subject and the architect because he doesn’t have Mal haunting him anymore (The reason he wasn’t the architect during the actual mission).

                  I love all these theories. This movie was so great. Also whoever was trying to talk about Avatar needs to note that this is Christopher Nolan and he hasn’t been relying on special effects to improve for 10 years to make this movie. He’s been working hard on the story/plot for 10 years.

              • They do mention that they begin to look for the dreamer. i believe it is in the scond level when they kiss. He says something to the extent of ” when things a re changing they begin to look for the dreamer. me” I could be mistaken though.

            • No they were staring at Cobb and if they were staring at Ariadne it was because she was changing things i guess.

              • I simply think that the whole staring scene with the immigration officer was seen from Cobbs point of view. Since that moment was intense for him in his sole purpose in current part of life, to get back home, that moment took a long time. That was just an ordinary moment, that simply took long for him because of the entire hopes he had for that very second. To get well past the law and return free at home.

                • I agree. It was a moment of tension for all of us to see if Saito had fulfilled his promise and if Cobbs would be able to finally return home or if he would be arrested and placed in jail.

  16. I do believe that the top keeps spinning at the end because i caught this between two scenes in the movie that seems too coincidental:
    -Saito and Cobb have their saying in which at the end they quote “…Take a leap of faith.”
    -Right before his wife commits suicide, she advises Cobb to “Take a leap of faith” with her.
    Them saying that between two times in the movie seems too similar to me and seems like he may be dreaming for those connections to occur.

    • To me, the top fell over, for the purely selfish reason of wanting a happy ending. I thought the reason his kids appeared to look the same when he got home was because when Michael Caine called to them, Cobb quickly flashed back to the last time he saw them. It looked like they actually had aged a little bit in the shot where they run up to hug him, but that one is quick and gets out of focus pretty quick, so I can’t be sure. And I thought the “leap of faith” line was repeated more to hammer in that theme rather than to be a hint of another level of dreaming.

      The beautiful thing about this movie is that the way it is set up, it is truly ambiguous. There are good arguments in place for both sides, so it is completely up to the viewer how it ends. Nobody is wrong. I believe that the end is real, because that is what I want to believe. But the way I look at it, I wouldn’t be upset if I found out that it wasn’t, because either way, he gets to be with his children, so he’s happy.

      • The leap of faith was important to me – Look closely at the room behind her – It is the exact room he is in but not torn up – did not catch it the first time………

        • Most hotel rooms look exactly the same though.

          The security guard at the end is just doing his job. If he was a projection more of the people around him would be stareing at Cobb, and that a security guard looks at someone twice isnt really THAT rare.

          And the thing with the kids. It is actually two sets of actors, and why whould nolad do that if it were ment that the viewers should think that they were the same age as the ones we saw through the movie.

          I think people read a bit TOO much into things.

  17. What did the immigration officer do that was so important?

    • He stared at Cobb like they do in dreams. I don’t think that was a dream though. See my comment below.

  18. Whole movie was a dream. Remember what he tells Juno at the cafe, if u just start in the middle of something with no clue how u got there it’s a dream. How did the movie start?

    • then why did the top fall over in some other parts of the moive?

      • unless you are saying that the whole fact that you could even go inside peoples dreams was a dream in itself….therefore a “totem” was just a made up part of his dream as well

        • Ahh, that is a good theory. Damn, Nolan is good.

        • Question- why was he using his WIFE’s totem the whole time. Where was his totem? They experimented with dreams together before she died, so surely he must have had one? Is he not using it in the movie, because the entire movie is a dream, so his subconscious chose to use his wife’s totem instead, so that it would sometimes fall whenever HE believed he was in reality, instead of when he really was in reality? hmmmmm

          • I agree with your theory. This is what I think happened! Cobb is still in Limbo and hasnt woken up. His wife did, and hasnt killed herself really. He has no control over the dream so the totem works depending if he perceives he is dreaming or not.

          • His totem is actually his wedding ring.

    • He did have a clue when he got up from the ocean. He asked for Saito by his name.

    • Travis, you’re not the only one to say this, but I find it really dumb. The movie started when we put it in the dvd player/sat down at the theatre/etc. We remember it starting. There were previews. Maybe popcorn. We remember how it started, it’s a MOVIE. How else it it supposed to start? Are they supposed to announce to you at the beginning, “The movie will start in 3, 2, 1… NOW!” No. Ridiculous.

  19. You guys already have some great stuff supporting the “It was all a dream” theory. Here are some of my observations supporting the “It wasn’t all a dream and the ending was reality” theory.

    1.The first time they show Cobb spin the top, it fell, letting him know he was back to reality. If the top fell at least once in the movie, it means it wasn’t all a dream.

    2. The top at the end started to wobble and would have fell. It blacked out to leave a sense of mystery to the audience.

    3. Immigration officer – He stared at Cobb for a while. In a dream, projections start staring at you if you are changing stuff too much or was it another reason? Anyway, the immigration officer did stare at Cobb but not like how they did in the dreams. Cobb was just standing there calmly so he wasn’t changing anything or doing anything weird. Also, in dreams EVERYBODY stares at you, in that case it was just the officer so that couldn’t have been evidence of a dream.

    This movie really needs to be seen twice. In the Sixth Sense, if you watch it the second time, you can just go “Duh! Willis wasn’t talking to anybody!” and every scene made sense. Hopefully after I watch it the second time(which might be tonight, just 18-22 hours later!) I will find some more details supporting either theory. Yes, the movie was THAT good.

    • 3. Then again, immigration officers in real life like to stare at people to make them feel uncomfortable/guilty about anything illegal they might be doing/carrying…

      • No, no I agree with you. I don’t think you read it right. I DON’T think that was part of a dream because if it was everybody in the airport would have been staring and they only stare if you do something to get noticed and Cobb was just standing there calmly.

        • Yea, the only thing I got when watching the immigration part was the tension on whether Saito honoured their agreement. Didn’t feel as if the officer was a projection.

          • Isn’t the immigration officer the same one who stamped his passport?

        • If I recall correctly, in some of the first dreams with Ariadne where she’s changing the dream a couple people look at her at first. It’s not until she starts doing crazy things that everyone starts looking at her and walking into her.

          • VERY true!

    • @1. Your point about the top falling is interesting in the context of your theory as well as some others. The top seems to be (and in fact is described as) the only real way Cobb could tell if he was in a reality. That in fact is the whole point of the totem in general. Yet, the significance of the very first inception with Cobb and his wife skewed her sense of reality and made her believe the real world was actually a dream, and the limbo world was in a sense her real world. Thus, we are given the means to believe that it would be possible that some dream plane of existence could in fact be a sort of real world for people. In this case, the top falling could in fact have fallen in this existence as a way of reasserting the reality of what is in essence (as many other comments have said) a completely dream reality.

      Im not saying I abide by any one particular interpretation of the movie… I just got back and feel the need to see it again and try to dissect it a bit more but I believe the notion of the totem and the top falling is clearly pivotal in an understanding of what constitutes ‘reality’ in this movie. I don’t think its enough merely to say the top would or wouldnt fall at the end though, because the top falling could merely indicate cobb’s subconscious desire to create enforce reality on a limbo-esque dream.

    • The “EVERYBODY stares at you” when you’re changing something, isn’t a valid argument. All the projections of the sub-conscious stare at the Architect when there’s suspicious of someone changing things. If the Architect of the end dream is Cobb himself, that would explain flashes of moments where people stare. After seeing the movie a second time, after all the staring on the plane, and after grabbing luggage, I noticed lots of people staring for just a moment–a lot like any other time they were in a dream and people walked past them.

      I’ll explain further in a comment, my final comment.

  20. Why does Cobb’s wife show up in other people’s dreams? This is the biggest clue that every world in the film is really another layer of his own perceived by his subconscious as the appropriate persons world or his believed true world

    • I think Cobb’s wife shows up in others dreams because while everybody is asleep, they are “sharing” dream. All of their consciousnesses are in the same “world”. And since Cobb’s guilt about his wife’s death was so ingrained in his subconscious, no matter who the Architect was, she would follow him into the dream.

  21. And the idea of the totem spinning or falling to prove reality is just that…an idea… and he demonstrated how such an idea is not valid to prove reality by changing it in limbo to convince his wife to kill herself

  22. Not to mention the undesigned train that shows up and visions of his children here and there…we are in the mind of Cobbs the whole film, the point is his perceived reality is the real one…the audience is let in on the secret that there is no true reality, no true dreams…its all real, its all fake….its what your mind makes out to be reality….to Cobbs the totem would have fallen in the end, as that is his perceived reality

  23. just wondering but after movies like this does the director at one point ever clarify these points that everyone makes.

  24. And ok i think that in this movie, the things that we are told is true. Everything is linked together with points that are obviously there. When you say the whole thing was a dream, you are looking into details that are not there. The Inception was for Fischer.

    The whole issue with Saito goes like so. Saito died in the 3rd level, and since the sedation was heavy at that point he went to limbo like the doctor said. Cobb drowned in the van and since he wasnt kicked out of levels 3 and 4 he was also put him in limbo. Saito is so much older because the time difference grows exponentially as you can tell with the falling van. So Cobb is sent to limbo which is what Saito has accepted as reality since he has been there so long but he sees the top which obviously sparks his mind of Cobb and thats when he remembers his agreement and is reminded of the dream. Since the dreamers of the previous levels are awake, if they die in limbo they will go back to reality which is when they awake on the plane. Looking into details that arent there will make whatever ending you want make sense, but there’s no evidence to back it up whatsoever. The top cutting out at the end doesn’t prove anything so it cant be used.

    The immigration officer was just looking at him oddly because the director obviously wants to give you some time to see if Saito honored his agreement and the officer isnt just gonna let him go through in 5 seconds anyway they still check the picture and identity and stuff lol

    • You’re really not going to let anyone have the idea of it being a dream?

      There’s also a ton of evidence that’s vague enough to support this being a dream, and apparently the top does make a sound of falling over at the end, but there’s plenty to support that the top falling over can mean he’s in a dream
      lol

  25. I think the whole idea is not to clear any points open to discussion. There’s no right answer or wrong answer. And such is the nature of what we perceive to be reailty. It’s all semantics. Like Cobb, he believes some layer of dreaming to be his reality (or maybe it really is the reality) and that’s a good enough starting point to get him going. Like the people who keep coming into the basement to be sedated and enter their ‘real’ world, which we label as their dream world. The whole movie could be summed up with this: “But he didn’t know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi.”

    • HAHAHAHA!!! That’s awesome! Did you just quote “Dream of a Red Chamber”? Never in a million years of limbo would I have thought to throw that into a discussion of this movie, but now that you said it, it makes so much sense! Dude, are you a projection in my dream, or am I a projection in yours?

      Whoa.

  26. I think people are trying to create a mystery/twist ending where there is none.

    This isn’t “M. Night Shyamalan’s Inception” – there’s no hokey twist in this film, which is IMHO much smarter and more cerebral.

    I think a LOT of things surrounding Cobb – his major storyline and themes – have to do with the condintional nature of reality and how we perceive it.

    Cobb’s time with his wife in Limbo was “real” emotionally speaking – he says at the climax “We had our time together.” He would have been happy in LImbo forever if not for his children being in the real world.

    Mal’s major theme was that her perception of reality was fractured by the idea Cobb planted in her head. Throughout most of the movie we are left wondering in the back of our minds if she wasn’t right when she jumped off that building – up until the climax it’s a distinct possibility that Cobb could die in the “real world” only to find out she was right.

    So, in the ending, I think the issue with the spinning top is Nolan’s statement about the nature of reality – that old philosophical debate about perception vs. reality. Cobb got what he wanted so whatever reality it is, it’s sufficient for him to exist and be happy. So, emotionally speaking, being back home with his kids is real to him because he wants to perceive it that way.

    Is he back in THE reality? Well, what is THE reality – especially when you’re talking about a movie, i.e. a fictional world to begin with. If you haven’t yet noticed, a lot of Nolan’s original work has subtle moments of meta-cinema worked into their themes.

    Memento – all about editing and cutting images and ideas together to make up a story.
    Prestige – all about approaches to showmanship (Practical effects vs. Tech wizardry)
    Inception – all about constructing levels of false reality and getting a subject (ie the audience) to go along with it without having their logic reject it – just like a director tries to do with movies.

    • @Kofi

      Well structured and excellent points Kofi. I too believe that Nolans intention wasn’t to leave the viewers wondering if it was all a dream or not; many may as youhave said be projecting their own desires onto what was intended by the director in the end.

      In otherwords i don’t believe Nolan pulled a “LOST FINALE” on the viewers, leaving unaswered annd open endings, because i believe that unlike Damon-Lindelhof, Nolan has a level of respect for the viewers.

      • What? Did you not see the last scene where the camera cutss of before we can see whether the top will stop spinning or not? If that wasn’t implying and open-ended ending, I don’t know what was… Also remember the scene where the chemist takes them to the basement where people who are addicted to these dreams come everyday and the watchman there says “Who are we to say that their dreams aren’t reality”. The whole idea is that reality can be whatever you associate it with. And it’s all relative. To someone else, your reality might be a dream and vice versa.

    • Kofi, You might preface your comments by saying that your interpretations of this film are just that, your own, and all are free to come up with their own opinions rather than saying unequivocally you are right and everyone else is wrong in their interpretation of this film.

      You sound like you wrote it and are basically setting the rest of us poor idiots straight. I had no idea you and Chris Nolan were that tight.

  27. So how does it begin guys i havent seen it but i dont care i like imagining how it begins and going to see it and i get more excited so please someone spoil it!!!!

  28. What I don’t understand is who Saito is, I understand they were trying to steal something from him…But who hired them? and what happened to the first architect??

    • @Ron

      Who is Saito – He’s some high level exec for corporation he works for, the same company that hired Cobb to do the inception we see at the start of the movie, the incpoetion that has them all on the train in whcih Cobb gets off at Tokyo. They we’re trying to steal something however they were hired by the coporation to be tested (because Saito needed to verify whtherthey could do what his real goal was, to plant an idea in the other guy) butthe corporation told them otherwise. had Cobb and his team known it was test then Saito would not have seen them as they truly would perform under a real job. Make sense?

      What Happened to the original Architect character? – Saito did tell Cobb that he (menaing Saito) wouldn’t do anything to him (meaning the architect) but the X Corporation probably will. I say X corporation b/c i don’t recall the corporations name that Saito worked for.

      • So basically that architect failed and they were just getting rid of him from the real plan…I get it

        • I think the reason was specifically to get Ellen Page as the architect (because she has a bigger box office draw lol) no because I can help thinking the inception was for cobb orchestrated by his father to get him come home a be with his kids I wouldn’t want to be raising my grandkids.

      • Ummm, BluColCri…

        I assuming that, by now (many months later), you’ve realized that Saito is not just an executive and that Cobol was a different company.

        I was surprised when I read your comment…

  29. No, no, no, no, no!

    No more arguing about whether the top is meant to keep spinning or topples over, please! The top does exactly what you see it do: it cuts out before you can tell if it falls or not.

    Can’t we all just agree that the director purposely left clues throughout the film, coupled with the ambiguous ending to allow each individual viewer to PROJECT his or her own beliefs onto the film? There is no definitive ending: that IS the ending. I mean it. Literally, that IS the final shot: the top starts to wobble and the movie cuts out before you can determine if it falls or not. The ambiguous, open-to-interpretation ending IS the ending.

    Everyone’s unique interpretation is highly entertaining and adds a new twist to the film I would not have thought of myself. It’s like Nolan has provided us a shared dream experience, and we are all populating it with projections of our own imagination. Who are any of us to say that our reality is the definitive reality?

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