“…12. So what happened at the end?
The ending is the most confusing part of the film. There are a couple of theories as to what happened. The theories are as follows:
12a) Nothing Ever Happened
The nothing ever happened ending is the simplest. Some people believe that nothing ever happened and everything was just Cobb’s dream. People think that Cobb was just a normal businessman who came onto a plane and fell asleep.
No one knew anyone. During the plane ride, Cobb had a crazy dream (the events that took place in the film) and at the end of the film he woke up. That’s it. No inception, no such thing as entering people’s minds, nothing that was shown was real. It was all just a dream and Cobb is just an ordinary person who was flying home.
12b) Cobb started dreaming after he met Yusef
What if everything from when Cobb meets Yusef is just a dream? Think about it, Cobb goes down to the basement with Yusef and sees all those people who are dreaming. It is here that he decides to try out Yusef’s chemical. This could be the last moment he is truly awake. When he ‘wakes up’ from the chemical he tries to use his totem but is interrupted by Saito. Cobb isn’t able to see if he is still dreaming or not. From this point on we never again see the top fall, technically we never know if Cobb awoke from that dream in Yusef’s place. For all we know, he could still be asleep.
12c) The inception was actually on Cobb
A popular theory is that the film wasn’t about planting an idea in Fishcer’s head, rather it was about planting an idea in Cobb’s head. Think about it, Cobb is racked with guilt and his father-in-law (Michael Caine’s character Miles) knows this. Surely he would want to see his son-in-law get back to normal wouldn’t he?
Could it be that he hired Ariadne, an exceptionally bright and talented architect, to perform inception on Cobb?
Think about it, when Cobb is walking through the airport at the end and sees Miles, Miles says “you’re welcome”. Why would Miles say this? Is he saying it because he has freed Cobb from the guilt and now Cobb can finally get on with his life?
If anyone was capable of performing inception on Cobb it would be Ariadne. She was always eager for more information on Mal and she was the only one who got a look inside Cobb’s mind. She is also the only one who knows about Cobb’s totem and how it works.
Perhaps the inception was on Cobb all along. It was to plant the idea that he wasn’t responsible for Mal’s death and that he could still live a normal and peaceful life if he let go. As for when the inception took place, that’s another story. It could be when Cobb went to try out the drugs in Yusef’s place and everything from there was in his head or it could be that the inception on Fischer was just a cover or an excuse for Ariadne to get into Cobb’s head and perform the inception. An interesting take on this theory can be found here. I’d summarize it but its quite long and this article is already getting a bit too lengthy.
12d) The inception was on us the audience and was done by Christopher Nolan
An interesting thought going around is what if the inception was on us, the audience?
Think about it. Perhaps Christopher Nolan planted an idea in our head. No matter how we view the ending we will always have doubts. No theory or explanation is perfect. If it’s a dream then why does the top wobble, if it is reality then why are the kids wearing the same thing and why do they look the same age? Why after Cobb goes under in Yusef’s place is the top never shown to fall again? Nolan has planted a seed of doubt in our heads. If he hadn’t shown the last shot of the top, most people would just assume Cobb got back. Due to that last shot of the top, we all now have ‘creeping doubts’ as Mal calls it. We question what was real and what was a dream?
12e) Cobb wakes up at the end and is actually able to return to his kids
Most people still think that the ending is real and Cobb is back in the real world. Think about it, Cobb went into limbo to find Saito. He reminds old Saito of their deal and convinces Saito that this world is a dream and not reality. Since both of them realize that they are dreaming, perhaps they can escape limbo.
When Saito grabs the gun, and presumably kills himself and Cobb, maybe this sends them back to the plane. Or maybe the sedatives wear off by this point and they are able to escape limbo from the gunshot since they are not under sedatives. If in fact the sedatives had worn off and they were just normally dreaming, it would be reasonable to think that they can kick themselves out of limbo and back onto the plane.
The kick would be a straight kick back to the plane since they wouldn’t have to go through the other levels. This is because the other levels had already collapsed so technically they were only one level under.
This theory calls into question the very very end. When Cobb returns home his kids are in the same spot and are wearing the same clothes. Another thing to point out is that the kids haven’t aged at all either, they look the exact same. This leads people to doubt this theory. The people who support it will argue that Nolan just did this to mess with us and to leave the ending open to interpretation. Another thing to point out is that Cobb is only seen wearing his wedding ring in dream scenes, never in reality. At the end of the movie he isn’t wearing the ring, maybe he is in the real world?
12f) The ending is just a dream and Cobb is still stuck in limbo
The theory I like to go with is that the Cobb is still dreaming at the end and doesn’t escape limbo. A few reasons give this theory validity. Firstly, the whole thing that was mentioned above about the children is a strong point for this theory. Another reason is because at the end, when Cobb spins the top, he just walks away. He doesn’t seem to care whether or not it stops spinning. Perhaps it’s because he knows he is in a dream but he doesn’t care because perhaps this is the only way he can see his kids.
Another reason I think this theory has some validity is because we see Saito pick up the gun at end. I think that when Saito shoots him, instead of going back up to the plane, Cobb enters an even deeper limbo. There is simply no way for Cobb or Saito to return to the plane since they both died while sedated. The very end is just a projection that Cobb created so he could be happy and at peace. By killing Cobb, Saito did complete his end of the deal, Cobb was able to return home to his kids, even if it was in a dream.
12g) The ending is really Cobb stuck in a loop state
Lastly, some people think Cobb is stuck in a loop state that is designed by Ariadne. This loop state is to relieve him of the unpleasant truth that he is trapped in limbo. Ariadne knows the trick of creating a loop and she knows it fools the subconscious of the sleeper into perceiving the dream as real for far longer than they normally would.
The concept of the loop comes up a few times in the movie and we do see Arthur teaching it to Ariadne. Perhaps, she creates a loop for Cobb and gets him to believe through inception, that he has made it back up into the plane and into reality. Maybe she has designed a closed loop for him and he will keep dreaming forever….”
- Chicago Sun-Times – What the heck is ‘Inception’ about anyway? “1. The most straightforward interpretation: Saito hires Cobb and his team to plant an idea in Fischer’s mind. They succeed, and Cobb is rewarded with a trip home, where he is finally reunited with his children. He will never see his wife in his dreams again. The last scene is...
- EntertainmentBlur – Inception Explained “Half Reality, Half Dream, End Reality: These theorists believe that Inception was very straight-forward. Cobb put together a team to perform an inception on Fischer Jr. He did so because the one thing he wanted most was to be reunited with his children again, and that’s what the powerful Saito...
- Slate – Five Ways of Looking at Inception “READING 1: Saito hired Cobb and co. to plant an idea in Fischer’s mind. They succeed, and in the end Cobb really does go home to his kids. READING 1A: Saito hired Cobb and co. to plant an idea in Fischer’s mind, but the ending—everything from the moment Cobb “wakes...
- MovieFone – ‘Inception’ Ending and Theories: What Just Happened?! “…• So if it was a dream…? If it was real, of course, then there’s not a whole lot to strain your brain over. But if that top is still spinning on some cutting room floor, then a whole new slew of questions open up. Are the other members of...
- Breaking Global News: Inception Ending There are various interpretations of the Inception ending and ultimately the viewer will have make up their own mind of the meaning of the film....