The thing that really continues to entertain me about the movie Inception is how much people are still arguing over what it all means. Well, the argument may be over. People may have moved on, but since it is all on the internet, it just looks like people are still passionately debating the thing. Wonderful internet. You can't always go back, edit your post, and put everything in the past tense. So to speak.
I understand that people can feel so passionately about Inception that they've actually edited the movie in their heads. Going so far as to insist that the final token actually fell off the table, which didn't happen. I'm even guilty of this. The edited memory part. Not the token falling on camera part. From the moment the movie ended, I was convinced that you never actually saw the children's faces, which is not true. As I relatively recently discovered, you do get a real good luck at the kids faces. The fact that I was convinced otherwise is really cool and goes a long way toward telling you how I interpreted the ending.
I suppose I should point out that I don't really care what actually happened. Whether it can be definitively proven that the movie ended with Cobb still in a dream or the real world doesn't particularly interest me. The important thing to remember is that Inception is a movie set in dreams. Dreams have a tendency to be ambiguous and open to interpretation. So, it comes as absolutely no surprise to me that Inception has an ambiguous and open to interpretation ending. When done well, an ambiguous ending is really cool. It also keeps people talking about the movie, which can increase other people's interest in seeing it. Even seeing it again.
I could even go so far to say I was expecting an ambiguous, trick or mind-fuck ending. After all, a number of this director's movies have mind-fuck endings. Following is a little more double-cross than mind-fuck. The Prestige has a pretty good mind-fuck ending. Memento is pretty much mind-fuck from beginning to end.
So, okay. A movie about people who manipulate dreams. Oh, I wonder how this is going to go? Will it be a mind-fuck? Will it have a Twilight Zone ending?
Walking into the thing wondering if it would have a Twilight Zone ending, I saw a lot of little clues throughout that pointed rather directly toward a Twilight Zone ending, which just goes to show that I was primed for a specific way of interpreting the movie.
So, I don't really care what happened or the clues that point toward that interpretation. I'm fascinated by why.
Why do you care? Why are you so convinced that the ending is this way and not that? Why does it matter?
Okay, so why do I get a Twilight Zone ending? Or to be more precise, why was I hoping for a Twilight Zone ending?
Because they can be really cool. Twists and turns and bizarre happenstance fascinate me. Bending reality and expectation. Distorting perception. I love it. Just look at my fiction, for fuck's sake. How much of it is about doubting the senses or reality? Losing control of what is real. I eat this shit up.
Wild digression time. I had a class on Celtic literature in college. Immediately hit it off with the teaching assistant. First couple days of class before we got into the text itself, she would tease me about how strange and bizarre Celtic literature was. I wouldn't be able to follow. My mind would boggle. Blah. Blah. I remember the class where we started talking about the first story in the Mabinogi. I remember the TA sitting in the first row of class. She turned. Saw me. And pretended to laugh. Threw back her head to mime a mad-scientist oh-you-will-suffer laugh. First story in the Mabinogi? Loved it. Thought it was great. Didn't think it was weird. Had no problem following it. The TA's jaw dropped when I told her. Beautiful moment, that. We kept in touch for something like a year after the class ended.
Digression time over. So, hopefully you get where I'm coming from. How I roll.
I hate the term spoiler. Hate it with a mad passion. Can't stand people who complain about spoilers. Can't talk shit about shit because somebody out there somewhere in this godforsaken universe might not have seen the freaking thing yet.
So, if you haven't seen the fucking movie yet, stop reading now.
Hey, you're still reading.
Warned you, you bastard.
The whole thing is a dream. Beginning to end. There's not one moment—one frame of film—in the real world. Yes, it is an inception, but the target is Cobb. Some person or people unknown—quite possibly his wife—are trying to plant the idea in Cobb's head that he is trapped in dreams.
Think about it. What's the best way to plant in an experienced dream experts head that he is lost in dreams? Best way to start that inception? By creating a dream in which he is hired to run an inception.
The seed of the idea is planted. The idea is inception itself. The inception is that somebody can be changed. Come to a realization and accept that its source was external.
Minor points including doubting reality. Being reminded that some people become so lost in dream that they spend as much time as they can hooked up to dream machines. Hooked up in places that not so subtly resemble opium dens. Needing to go deep into dream. Travel to a mysterious place called limbo from which it is all but impossible to escape with one's sanity intact.
Planting seeds about the risks and dangers of dreams. Inception.
Why? Is Cobb lost or otherwise trapped in dreams? You know. I don't care. It requires too much speculation on information beyond what the movie provides.
I've got theories, sure. He's in a coma. He's really deep in a dream, refusing to wake up because he thinks he is awake. Can't accept that his wife realized they were still dreaming and woke up, which looks indistinguishable from suicide to him. Spending too much time hooked up to dream machines. Losing track of reality. Walking through life as if everything was a dream.
Somebody—quite possibly his wife—is trying to snap him out of it. Get him out of that coma. Wake him from that dream. Make him realize that he has lost his edge. Sleepwalking through life. Whatever. Ultimately not important to the movie if you can believe that.
Important to the movie is the inception itself. Not so much why or even whether it works.
As I said, I love this idea. Makes the whole movie kind-of an intricate con or heist. Reminds me of The Sting with Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
So, that's why I interpret the movie as I do.
Clues, anybody? Okay, we'll bother with some clues, which are really not that important and most definitely open to personal interpretation.
The token doesn't fall. I don't care if it wobbled. It spins up. After he looks away, it spins up. Discovered this at the same time I discovered you could see the kids faces. Thank you, YouTube. People love going on about whether or not the token wobbled, but they are focusing on the wrong thing. That last image alone. Back up a second. He spun the token in a big lazy circle. Now, I know I haven't done that much research on tops, but I'm pretty sure that when you spin a top in a big lazy circle it proceeds to slow down and eventually fall over. What a top that was spun in a big lazy circle does not do is speed it. Doesn't straighten up. Spin in place. No, it continues to move in a big lazy circle, slowing down, until it finally falls over. None of which actually matters because it wasn't his token in the first place.
Doesn't matter if he was wearing a ring or not. If the whole thing is a dream, then he can wear or not wear a ring at any level of dreaming without it making a single solitary difference.
How did his dad get to America so fast?
Why was it easier to buy the whole airline company? I mean, come on.
What's with all the sudden rule changes once they started the inception of the guy on the airplane?
None of which, as I said, is really important. The details are transitory, intentionally ambiguous, and quite deliberately open to interpretation.
Okay, I sort-of understand the argument against the whole thing being a dream. Makes the whole movie feel like a cop-out. No reason to care about anyone or anything if its not real. Nothing matters. Nobody is in danger. Nobody can die.
To which I say, what do you mean nothing matters? The whole thing is an elaborate con. Everything matters.
And, I personally think that is really freaking cool.