LaserBrainStudios – My interpretation of Inception’s ending

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by InceptionEnding

in Inception Ending

“…Let’s get my conclusion out of the way and then I’ll explain how I come to it: Cobb is in a dream at the end. And he knows this. He doesn’t set the top spinning to test his reality or to show the audience that he doesn’t care about it’s outcome anymore – he sets the top to constantly spin as a reminder to him that he’s in a dream, so he won’t get lost in it. Just like he used the constantly spinning top to incept the idea in Mal’s mind that the limbo they’d shared for 50 years wasn’t real. So, yes, the top will continue to spin because that’s what Cobb has set it to do. He’s almost doing an inception on himself in the end!

Now, how do I come to this conclusion? The seed of this idea (you might call it it’s inception) is that the top doesn’t really make sense as a totem for Cobb – or is at least somewhat confused. The point of a totem is to check the reality status of the world you’re in. You do this by making sure that nobody else knows exactly what your totem feels like or how it will fall (like Ariadne’s chess piece and Arthur’s dice). If somebody else knows this, they’d be able to recreate your totem so realistically that you wouldn’t be able to tell if you were in a dream or the real world. The spinning top originally belonged to Mal and was her totem. That’s not a problem since she’s dead and thus won’t be able to create the dream Cobb experiences. But how does the top work as a totem for Cobb?

I first thought that it works by always constantly spinning when in a dream and eventually falling over when in the real world. But that doesn’t work as a reliable totem. If someone was to try to recreate the top in a dream world to fool Cobb, they’d likely make it as an ordinary top – one that doesn’t continue to spin forever. Which would mean that the recreated top in the dream world would eventually topple over and Cobb would believe he’s in the real world. So maybe it’s just that Cobb knows the top so well that he knows exactly how long it’ll spin in the real world, but that doesn’t really make much sense either. Just think of all the factors that determine how long the top will spin. He’d have to spin it exactly the same way every time – even a faint gust of wind would change the outcome. It’d be like spinning a roulette wheel and getting the ball to fall on the same number every time. It’s virtually impossible.

So if the top doesn’t make sense as a totem, what is Cobb’s totem? Some have presented the idea that his wedding ring is his totem. He wears the ring in the dream world, while it isn’t on his hand in the real world. But that presents the same problems as with the spinning top: Everybody he’s ever shared a dream with knows that he’s got his wedding ring on his finger in the dream world, so it’d be easy to fool him by simply not recreating the ring in the dream world. So why then does he wear a ring in the dream world and not in the real world? Because he’s basically still married in the dream world. Mal still exists in the dream world. That’s his entire problem. The ring merely symbolizes that he hasn’t come to peace with his wife and that her presence still exists in the dream world.

Well then, if the top doesn’t make sense as Cobb’s totem, and the ring doesn’t either, then what exactly is Cobb’s totem? Think about it. What’s the one thing he can be sure will happen in the dream world that will remind him he’s in a dream? His dead wife showing up. He knows that his wife is dead in the real world. So, in a way, Mal is Cobb’s totem. It’s not something Cobb intended, but the fact remains that she works just like a totem: She reminds him he’s in a dream.

Now, let’s back up a bit. What does Cobb want in the movie? To get home. To be with his kids again. Alright, why doesn’t he just recreate them in a dream then to be with them? Because he knows they wouldn’t be his real kids? That’s probably part of the explanation, but the most simple explanation is that he can’t. He doesn’t have enough control over his subconscious. That’s why Ariadne gets involved, remember? Cobb can’t be the architect of the dream world, because if he builds it, Mal will probably run completely amok in it (which she still does to some degree, but I imagine her influence is smaller when Cobb didn’t build the dream). That’s why Ariadne gets hired to be the architect. So, Cobb can’t make a dream world in which he can be together with his kids because Mal won’t let him.

And now we’re getting to the end of the film. Cobb confronts Mal in the limbo. He finally comes to grips with what he did and can forgive himself (or something to that effect). The point is that he finds peace with himself and thus with the Mal in his subconscious. He makes sure she won’t show up and ruin his dreams anymore. Which means that he can now build a dream for himself in which he can be with his kids. That’s how he gets home in the end. By going into limbo after Saito and then staying there to build his own world with his kids. Because now he can. Now Mal won’t screw up his dream anymore. So Cobb knows it’s a dream in the end because he himself built it! But he doesn’t want to get completely lost in it like Mal did when they spent 50 years in limbo together. So he makes sure he won’t forget that he’s in a dream by using the exact same method he used on Mal to convince her that their limbo wasn’t real. He sets the top to constantly spin on the table in his living room, just like he placed the constantly spinning top in Mal’s “safe”.

In that final scene of the film, Cobb is basically doing an inception on himself: He’s planting the idea in his own mind that the world he’s in isn’t real to make sure he won’t get completely lost in the dream he’s created.”

Related posts:

  1. UltimateComposer – Ending of Inception- how did Cobb get back? “Here’s what I think happened at the end: Everything we were shown in the ending WAS the real world and not just a dream to help Cobb or keep him stuck in the subconscious or some other thing. Him meeting his kids WAS real. The top wobbles because it IS...
  2. ListlessInk – Inception Ending and Interpretations “…Is Cobb still in a dream? To me, the top seems almost to be a bit wobbly. I think it is very likely it will eventually fall and he is indeed in a “real world” (more on this later). Still, it is just as likely that he might have never...
  3. MattOnACarPhone – My Interpretation of the Inception Ending “…Analytically, despite several smaller themes throughout the 148 minutes, the over-arching theme, to me, is that of blurring the line between perception and reality. Cobb’s sub-conscious projection of Mal, a character who appears in almost every dream, is obviously not real in the sense that she is a living breathing...
  4. FunWithCole – Want to know what the ending to Inception means? I have the answer. “…The top spinning at the end is the Schrodinger’s cat paradox. Without seeing it fall, but having evidence it might, we are left with the fact that Cobb’s world is simultaneously a dream and reality. More importantly, Cobb’s action to walk away without confirming the top’s fall is the true...
  5. Nolan Fans Forum – My Theory on Cobb and the Ending “I am convinced that Cobb is still dreaming at the end from some pretty cohesive clues; of course, please debate with me on my theories! I’m quite sure now, but I might not have caught something that you did . 1) The two sets of children: In the credits, there...

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Shivesh August 22, 2010 at 2:08 am

How do you explain him waking up on the plane and meeting his dad after finding saito? How could he still be in a dream if he woke up in the plane with everyone else.


Saltiva August 22, 2010 at 8:06 am

He woke up on the plane because that’st he dream he created for himself. I totally agree with this! I love the ending because of this very reason- all of the possibilities! But I do think he is in the dream world- A. At the end he is experiencing Deja vu from previous memories (can happen in real life but less likely than this because he kids are still so young, but the film never quiet tells us how long he has been away). B. Like Christian Knudsen pointed out- he spins the top to Incept himself, which is the ultimate Nod to the title!

And I heard several others say he died in the river in the van- not likely because that was a layer of dream and would’ve only sent him further into limbo.

When I first started to watch this movie I was begining to think the entire film was a dream and that Ariadne was there to bring him back because she is the only one he ends up sharing the scope of his memories/dreams; however, this was obviously disproven.


Saltiva August 22, 2010 at 8:18 am

Oh yeah and I felt like this film was very similar to Shutter Island (not a dream but definately a state of Conscientiousness/Perception) because in the end even though he is “cured” he misleads the doctor into thinking he isn’t cured so that he can be Lobotomized because he even says to the doctor (after he conviences him to signal the main doctor to go ahead with the lobotomy) “living as a monster, or dying as a good man”- therefore he has obviously given himself away to the minor that he knows he is “cured” but doesn’t want to be-

These films are so closely related.


sildarmillion August 22, 2010 at 10:19 pm

I like your explanation, but my question is why would he want to be with his kids in a dream because now that the job was done, he could be with his kids in the real world?


Bufgu - el calde August 23, 2010 at 1:18 am

Let me, after viewing many valid and thorough posts and hypotheses, present a different idea, if only for discussion, since we can argue all these points back and forth.

What is truly fascinating about this movie is how Nolan can make tangible even the most abstract things within the flow of the movie that it seems perfectly acceptable. 1.An actual elevator to go “deeper” into Cobbs brain from the beach to the hotel. 2. an actual architect rendering these levels for the dreamer to fill with information that is revealing to the extractors, or inceptors in this case. These are all almost silly when discussed but fully plausable for those who saw it. Also well done is the exaggeration of dreams based on actual factors. When Arthur is flopping in the van, the entire hotel shifts axis and everyone floats as if in a space simulation parabolic flight. In the fitst extraction, an Entire building begins to flood from the top windows. The avalnch in the third fortress level. Each further level one goes into, the more exaggerated even a little event feels (whch is why they use the kicks at the very least).

So with that in mind, I will say the whole movie is a dream and an exaggeration of a fully relatable problem many fathers faec with their children in the corporate day of age. He is always on the road, going from place to place, losing touch with his kids, who he would love to be there, and his wife, who he must have arguments with. He has lost reality by ways of his constant and demanding job (one could even question if he is an actual dream grifter/incepter – or that is just his symbolism for someone who is in psychology or even something like advertising where he can manipulate the mind into wanting to buy a product or figuring out what focus groups like–which is why i can even believe someone saying this movie is actually in the past {look at the clothing and hairstyles emphasizing the 1920 to 40s–then again the hotel had modern technology.. anyways).

He is a man always on the run, and in his dream, he had fabricated that it is not his fault he is constantly o nthe road —

1.”numerous anonymous corporations are constantly chasing you. “, which Cobbs wife uttered to him and questioned whther or not HE was dreaming, when they were both in limbo before she stabbed him.

2.a. His wife turned him in to force him to “take a leap of faith” with her and go into reality by jumping off the ledge. b.He is not allowed to go into the country because of this or he’ll be shot. c. Others seem to know about this without being told.

3.his kids are never facing him, but turning and runnin away, almost going on childhood withouthim.

4.His guilt creates a wife who is a menace and dangerous (which he calles a shadow) , even though she seems so pretty and harmless, as an excuse to leave as if he doesn’t have one good enough for himself.

So He is using companies and work as a scapegoat. He feel compelled to work just as much as he does to be with his kids. But the pressures of the corporate empire press down on him more than his guilt.

In this movie, his dream, his wife jumps off the ledge wanting to get out and into reality. She does this because she confuses reality with dreams based on his inception and follows his advice from a deeper dream to escape (by riding the rails so to speak). In actuality, its Cobbs own confusion of reality and perception of his day to day jobb. Cobb projects his wife, instead, being confused, and he jumping off the ledge is his own manifestation of him feeling he is losing his relationship with his wife. It’s exaggerated, since it’s symbolic in a dream, like the avalanche and the turning hotel. The reasons he is banned from the US based on this are almost absurd, since the police can find out the verdict fairly simply.

Cobb cannot jump with her, and be in a commitement with her forever, like he promised in marriage, his own perceived dreams by wearing the ring, and numerous times in the dream, because he is so reluctant to abandon his alternate reality: his demanding job -his day to day reality,, his dreeam/this movie and take a leap of faith to his family and kids.

Saito, is his fantasy. A man who can come and fix everything for him — by force no less. he can make a call, he can let him be with his kids. how? by Cobb convincing an heir to a corporate kingdom, to break it up into less powerful entities. How convenient. Cobb;s ticket to his family is by breaking up the establishment: convincing a corporate titan, the future runner of an international empire, to lay off, for lack of a term, and demagnify its hold of Cobbs everyday life. This is cobbs dream, a man to come sweep him and save him. Saito asks him to take a leap of faith, and cobb does… for a man in order to break up an empire first, family and guilt next. He cannot go back unless he takes care of his hecktic work situation and he cant take care of the work situation(by breaking apart the oppressive companies —the inception mission) until he can deak with his guilt.

The whole movie has a continuous loop theme. 1.the endless staircase 2. the recurring characters 3. most importantly, the clockwise depiction of a dream Cobb scribbled to Ariande, in her dream, of a mind constantly processiong and creating in a loop. Cobb then draws a line saying “this is what we need you to do, create, so the mark can process”. This line is what the movie is. Cobb processing his situation above the surface (not in the movie) and creating more based on that procession below the surface (what is shown in this movie). It is prefect how the movie, like a clock, basiclly ends where it began, on the 12, on the beach in Japan, but like a clock, the hand may still be on the same number but it is in a different time, not 12am but 12 pm. Saito is old, relecting now Cobbs anti-hero, the opposite of Saitos early depiction of a fantasy. Old and alone, regretting his inaction is saito, just like he told cobb not to be.

He is in his deep limbo here, on the beach, washed ashore on the coast of japan. his own mission to save, within himself, his sanity, is complete with the inception into fischer. He can go to his kids again, and not have to work. The totem spins, and just when it wobbles, the movie ends. It’s not important, Cobb doesn’t care anymore. He will stay in this state with his kids to leave reality and responsibility of work and fam.

The top – the top is cobbs totem all along, Not Mals. Why? The only totem not shown in the movie is either Cobbs or Mals. Many think the top is not cobbs, due to obvious scenes where it clearly shows her owning it. However, throughout the whole movie, Mal is a projection by Cobb. She is the only one guaranteed to not be in the movie. In no way is she hooked up to the machine on any level. Since the movie is a dream and all the figures in it are projections, Cobb can know their totems since he created them in his mind, whether his subconscious self knows about them or not. Since Mal enterred the dream with Cobb on the same level, and is now, one can argue, awake, Cobb’s subconscious doesn;t know his wife’s totem because she never showed it to him in reality. So, when he, in his limbo, projects his wife, his closest thing to him, he renders his token as hers since, when they entered the dream, he had no clue what she would use to know reality. By him projecting his wife to lock the totem safe in a vault, he is convincing himself on a deeply subconscious level that his wife’s dream of them to be together and not have him jet setting for work are unrealistic (since in that dream they made in limbo they were together always). He then spins the top and changes reality to make her believe this is not possible. This is him trying to convince himself his work is worth it. He ends up regretting it because his wife jumps off a ledge because of this.

By spinning this deepest level top, his whole perception of a totem being a link to reality. On his deepest level, he changed the meaning to what a top spinning means. So when his wife jumps off the ledge and the top is still, it is his reality since he convinced himself it is. He is confused, just as his wife said, just as ariande said, just like michael caine said (sorry forgot his name), and his totem lost meaning. So at the very end, when the top spins and wobbles a bit, He is in a fantasy land, but it doesn’t matter. He walks away to join his kids in a state he wants to be real and convinces himself to be, although it is not. He is in limbo.

how is that? well, the way the top wobbles is telling. nolan could have cut the scene at any time after the wobble, but only does when the top is perfectly upright. Of course, when filming, the top eventually fell, but when the screen is cut is totally arbitrary and the top looks as if it will recover. It is purposely vague, because this is scence is vague, even to Cobb, but it doesnt matter sinec he convinced himself to be able to accept the guilt of alienating his wife for work, at least in his make believe state. His kids, he can have now that the corporation is broken up and work is done. When he is in reality, he may have to quit his job, but for now all good.

why are the kids different? they are slightly different in dress and in positioning in the final scene which is extremely telling. Since in cobbs mind, he has not seen his kids in some time when he finally does his brain knows to render them a little differnt. However, his brain only has that one image to work with, so the alterations are ever so slight, but not enough to probably reflect reality, since he cannot.

who is ellen paige supposed to be. well, ellen paige is his own representation of a female young Cobb. A young Cobb, after college, would question cobbs actions constantly and and play counter to his actions. She is a flat one dimentional character, as is his wife, since they are projection by cobb to convince himself conflictiong things. They bother question if he views reality correctly and oppose his actions. They are made by a man to oppose a man, so its not deep. However, the college kid is described as being being “even better than”cobb was at her craft. the kid is his old self asking why do you do these things? old self knows. he views her as his better self.


shahzad camran November 6, 2010 at 1:39 am

at the end of nimbo, the cycle of levels repeat, the whole film is a dream and level one is the so called reality as the writer wants to be interpreted by the views, so cobb dies in nimbo and comes back to level one. through out the movie kids are of same age and wearing same cloths. it is cobbs psyche in the dream that doesn’t let him see faces of his children, but after his so call accomplishment of job in dream level 1 his subconsciousness lets him to see the faces of children


culture November 18, 2010 at 4:18 am

i think that it’s the best surreal &philosophic masterpiece of 21century.


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