By Marty Mulrooney
I finally went to see Christopher Nolan’s Inception last night and it blew my mind. I thought it was phenomenal: a big budget science fiction film that deftly manages to grip the minds of a mainstream audience. It is a big film with even bigger ideas. Leonardo DiCaprio is fast becoming one of the finest actors of our generation. Following Shutter Island, it is hard to argue against the fact that he has dominated the silver screen in 2010, mixing natural charisma with genuine humanity. Yet after Inception finished, I knew the one thing on people’s minds and lips as they left the cinema would undoubtedly be the ending… (Warning: Spoilers!)
I think I found a way home. And this last job, that’s how I get there.
People who have seen Inception will know that it is all about dreams. Where things get even more complicated is the idea put forth of dreams within dreams. Thankfully, Nolan and DiCaprio manage to convey these ideas with minimal convolution, instead making it all seem like a natural part of the narrative. Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) only has one desire left in life: to be reunited with his children. It is this driving force that compels Cobb to delve deeper and deeper into the world of dreams. It is also the reason we follow him.
Science fiction fans will most likely recall the now legendary Blade Runner debate. For years, fans argued whether Harrison Ford’s character Rick Deckard was human. A Director’s Cut soon followed and Ridley Scott eventually caved in to massive fan pressure and confirmed that Deckard was actually a replicant. Much like Inception, this idea all boiled down to a dream: Deckard dreams of a unicorn in Blade Runner. When he finds an origami figure at the end of the film, he realises that this dream was implanted.
However, I do rather wish that Mr Scott had kept quiet. I like ambiguity. I know some people need closure, concrete ideas, definitive explanations. But is life ever really like that? I like the idea of those elevator doors closing on Deckard and Rachael and, much like them, we don’t have a damn clue what will happen next. Which is why the spinning top in the final scene of Inception is one of the greatest endings I have ever seen.
This spinning top is explained to us as a ‘totem’, allowing the owner to check whether they are in a dream or not. Cobb is quick to explain that the totem must be unique to the user, as only they will know its true weight, mannerisms and real world logic. Otherwise the user can be tricked and manipulated. In the spinning top’s case, if it doesn’t topple, the world is a dream. Which is what makes it all the more thought provoking when you stop and realise that this is actually his wife’s totem, at least originally, and not his. As Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) quips at one point, Cobb doesn’t exactly follow his own rules. But is there more to Inception than initially meets the eye?
Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realise something was actually strange.
Definitely. What an amazing feat for a film to be able to make the audience’s conviction falter alongside Cobb’s as a projection of his wife in limbo begs him (and us) to realise that she was right all along: this isn’t reality and he is still dreaming every time he wakes up from a job. The faceless government men chasing him in the real world are actually subconscious projections trying to eject him from the dream world. Cobb defies this explanation. He knows his wife and the woman before him will never be enough. She is a mere shade; he can never accurately imagine all her perfections and imperfections. His wife is dead, he says. They grew old together and had their time. So she plunges a knife into his chest.
Yet what Cobb’s wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) says in this scene stuck with me, as if I too had been incepted. When Cobb is being chased earlier on, there is a moment where it feels as if the walls between two buildings are closing in and trapping him, a common dreamlike quality. Yet, as much as internet bloggers and film buffs may argue that moments such as these define the reality shown in the film as a dream still very far detached from the real world, I have to disagree. The walls do not move in: they merely get closer together at one end. Mal doesn’t magically appear at the building across from the Cobb’s hotel suite when she kills herself: she rents it so Dom can’t stop her from jumping. Nolan is giving you that feeling of doubt that Dom and Mal felt whilst in limbo: what is real? And does the answer matter if you are with the people you love?
Never recreate from your memory. Always imagine new places.
Adding to this, Nolan purposefully makes the scenes set both in reality and within dreams share the same visual style: there is nothing here to separate fact from fiction. Even as physics are bent and buildings rise from the dust, there is a grounded realism to the proceedings that makes us forget about the world as an illusion and focus instead on the characters as the only truth.
Many viewers have pointed out that during the scenes set in the real world Cobb doesn’t wear his wedding ring. This makes sense, as at night when he sneaks into his subconscious to visit his dead wife, he does wear the ring. In the world of the dream they are still together. At first I thought Marion Cotillard as Mal was the one weak aspect of the acting, but I was completely wrong. She is detached and one dimensional because that’s the way Cobb paints her: a woman driven insane, who he desperately loved despite her delusions. As for the wedding ring? It is missing from Cobb’s finger in the final scene.
I don’t have the definitive answers and what’s more, I don’t care for them either. Inception isn’t about answers. It isn’t even really about questions. Perhaps Cobb doesn’t speak to the other team members when they land at the airport because it would look too suspicious. Or perhaps they are merely projections and he is still trapped in limbo. Is this why his children have not aged? Perhaps he hasn’t been away as long as he thinks, his job simply making it seem like a lifetime due to the infinitesimal nature of time within dreams. Yet they are dressed nearly the exact same way he remembers, causing doubt. A small idea. Like a parasite.
Ariadne (Ellen Page) tries to leave the team early on, but is soon drawn back by the allure of ‘pure creation’. The fact that Christopher Nolan has left enough space for us to expand on the narrative ourselves, arguing over a million different little things, is testament to a film that tells a whole story by only telling half of it. The viewer is the architect. When Cobb’s projection of his dead wife asks him how the children are, he responds by saying “I can’t imagine.” Yet at the end, he finally sees their faces and the spinning top is forgotten. It doesn’t matter if this is reality or not anymore, or whether the totem topples or carries on forever. Yet I am sure I saw it falter before the cut to black. For Cobb’s sake, I truly hope it falls.
What did you think about the ending of Inception? AMO would love to hear your thoughts!
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