WeGotThisCovered – Dream A Little Bigger: A Guide To Understanding Inception

by InceptionEnding

in Inception Ending

“…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….”


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kirk July 28, 2010 at 9:27 am

I had been thinking along the lines of your 12c section all along, but all of your insights are interesting. I believe that the actual intended point of the film is to set up a number of potential scenarios, all of which work if you’re looking at it from whichever particular angle. I think Nolan is making a statement that “reality” is so complex, how can just one linear story with one truth at it’s center be THE only reality? There’s always a “flaw” which makes another “reality” seem more plausible. Maybe they’re all a continuing series of realities and our perception, our focus is what makes us see one particular series of events and beliefs as “reality.” It’s kind of a series of Mobius strip layers.


Bufgu August 23, 2010 at 1:30 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.


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