What’s the meaning behind the ending?  

Cobb (DiCaprio) wakes up from three layers of a dream, walks through security because of Saito’s magical phone call, acknowledges his dream team at the luggage carousel, sees the faces of his son and daughter, and then spins his totem and leaves the room. It wobbles but doesn’t fall. This closing shot has made view-goers in recent years question the reality of Cobb’s situation, and it’s one reason why I appreciate Christopher Nolan’s script and his message–thrilling movies with substantive scripts are why I love going to the movies.

Christopher Nolan: “I feel that, over time, we started to view reality as the poor cousin to our dreams, in a sense … I want to make the case to you that our dreams, our virtual realities, these abstractions that we enjoy and surround ourselves with, they are subsets of reality.”  (Ben Child, The Guardian, 5 June 2015)

I revisited the 2010 blockbuster Inception the other night and in the five years since its release, five things stood out this time:

Ken Watanabe as Sait,o Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, Leo as Cobb
  1. Chris Nolan’s script is intelligent; it’s a fine mind-bender, made more comprehensible when watched a second time. It’s fast paced; you’re pretty sharp in my book if you understood everything after one viewing. Check out these awesome NeoMam Studios INFOGRAPHS
  2. It is a fascinating thriller made more thrilling with Hans Zimmer’s pendulum swinging score.

3. The CGI stands necessary to the film’s effectiveness.  Who hasn’t wanted to climb Escher’s “Penrose Stairs”?

4.   CGI? Chris Nolan? Hans Zimmer? It’s a trifecta of repulsion for some. Why is that?

5. The two female actors, Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard, gave perfect performances. Where is Ellen Page these days? Marion’s Mal was sultry and haunting. It’s only a matter of time before Cotillard wins another Oscar. She’s fantastic in everything she does.

Have you seen Inception lately? What are you favorite scenes?


41 thoughts on “Inception

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  1. Not a fan of Chris Nolan. Something about him rubs me the wrong way. That being said, this is probably his best movie. In any case, I think Cotillard is today’s best actor. She’s gorgeous too!


  2. I haven’t seen it. (And probably never will) I’m still trying to work out ‘Memento’ after a couple of viewings, though I quite enjoyed ‘The Prestige.’ Maybe I’m not clever enough for Nolan, I’m not sure. I know people who love this film, as well as those who don’t rate it at all.
    But my main reason for not watching it is that I can’t stand DiCaprio. Other than a fair turn in ‘This Boy’s Life’, I don’t think he can act his way out of a paper bag. I don’t get him, but I know that many do. I’m never going to be one of them. He can stop me from watching a film, as is the case with ‘Inception.’
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I assumed he was sruck in another dream layer at the end. Or maybe what we were led to think was reality was in itself a dream layer all along.
    Having thought about it a bit more after reading your piece here, I’m now wondering if the ending was meant to be ambiguous – did the spinning thingy fall over, but after we stopped looking at it?


    1. Hi Ashley He would be in limbo if the totem fell. I think because it wobbled, you can infer it was real. If it was abother dream, it wouldn’t have wavered. It would have stood upright, spinning away. If it was limbo, why wouldn’t Mal be with them?


  4. My good friends disagreed and Saif the children always have same clothes and are same age. I was crying tears of happiness, wishing his wife could be there but happy the kids are there with the grandparents. I think it is real but good friend found flaws with this theory which was more a “feeling.” I hope to see it again someday.
    I liked Ellen Page, J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as the family members in the quirky film, “Juno. ” Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hanks are great in “Catch Me If You Can,” “Blood Diamonds,” he is a bad “boy” in “Wolf of Wall Street.” In reality, he is a genuine and caring person who donates to environmental causes.


      1. Absolutely, and that was another something I loved about this movie. It was not conventional, and it was smart and twisting and it really works wonders.


          1. Ooooh, it is something he excels at without fail each and every time. It is such a gratifying experience to watch a film that makes your mind work for the end result.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve watched it twice, but it’s now been a couple years since I have. I need to again since I do love it for the reasons you give and more. Not the least of these reasons is the visual masterpiece that it is. Glad you ended talking about Page and Cotillard. I think you’re right that Cotillard is bound to win another Oscar. She is fantastic every time out, and in multiple languages which seems to be incredibly difficult. Many actors are great in one, but not so great in another, at least consistently (Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek come to mind, both great in Spanish, rather so-so in English). As for Page, I’ve been a fan of hers since Hard Candy and have loved her in everything I’ve seen her in. Early on, she looked like a future Oscar winner, herself. She still might be, but seems to have been pushed to the fringes which is sad because I think she’s immensely talented. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Wendell! Thanks for commenting. You raise a great point–Marion’s ability to act perceptively in both languages is admirable. Page is smart and expressive. I wish she were in more films. While the upside down French road and infinity mirror on the bridge was cool, I liked the hotel hallway fight scene the best.


  6. Hi Cindy!

    This has got to be one of my favourite movies of all time! I’m sure I’ve watched at least five times now since it’s release.

    I think the most memorable scene for me is when Ariadne sneaks into one of Cobb’s dreams. The whole construction of Cobb’s memories as different “floors” that you can move between on an elevator is so creative. I also love the symbolism in that the lower you go, the more intense, or “deep,” the memory.

    All in all, though, the deeper message that is given through Ariadne about forgiving oneself and releasing the responsibility of another’s demise really touched me. The way that Nolan uses the symbolism of Mal playing as Cobb’s subconscious, hijacking his dreams and literally killing him (or others) is, I believe, spot on in terms of what unforgiveness can do to a person. It’s what makes the movie so meaningful for me. It’s not just great acting or amazing cgi – there’s actually an incredibly valuable lesson that can be taken from it and used in our every day lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anna, welcome! Thanks for your insightful commentary. Without a strong script with meaningful message or philosophical argument, CGI can get tiresome. Even without CGI, a bland script = bland film.


  7. This is one of my favorite movies, period. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen it. Everything from the performances to the presentation to the deep, intelligent story – I love it all. As for the ending, I think the totem eventually fell. I think that wobble is significant. Plus it is the ending that makes me feel the best. I’ll be honest Cindy, I get misty every time I watch that ending. Zimmer’s incredible music as Cobb goes through the airport and eventually his home to see his children for the first time. It’s one of those father moments that nails me. Love it!


  8. Joseph Gordon-Levitt tells Ellen Page it defeats the purpose of one’s totem to let someone else touch it.

    DiCaprio’s totem wobbles when he gets Saito and it falls after his first outing with Page. Yet neither matter because the top was never DiCaprio’s totem. He took it from Marion Cotillard’s safe.

    Add to that the kids not aging, nor being at the airport, and the other characters conspicuously too well suited for their roles and you have something pretty suspicious… imo. 😀


    1. So you are saying that totem all along was Marion’s? When did that happen?
      How do you know?
      You can make a case either way, which is awesome. We never know ho long Cobb is out of the country, how long Mal has been dead? It seems like he’s been out of the country for years, but maybe only several months.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. After Saito’s been shot, DiCarprio explains his history with Marion to Ellen Page.

        In their giant city is an old, small house. Inside it is a doll house and behind the dollhouse is a safe. As DiCarpio explains that Marion had locked some hidden truth deep inside herself, it shows Marion placing the top in the safe – her totem, her way of knowing she was dreaming: the ‘truth’ she chose to forget.

        After Leo and Marion awoke, she was plagued that they were still in a dream. It shows Marion fondling the top-totem on a cutting board as she sits at a table convinced they needed to kill themselves.

        Before Marion jumps off the ledge, DiCaprio walks into their hotel room and picks the top-totem off the floor by a broken champagne glass. He examines it, Marion kills herself, and Leo has it afterwards.

        When they were fighting, Marion tells Leo he can’t control things if he doesn’t know he’s dreaming. So, if it’s not his totem and he might be dreaming,. then the top-totem isn’t an indicator of reality… imo.


  9. I haven’t seen it for a couple of years. I really must watch it again. I firmly believe Nolan intended the end to mean whatever each individual viewer wanted it to mean.

    I see it as having three possible meanings:

    1 – The top keeps spinning and he is in limbo

    2 – It topples, he is home

    3 – It doesn’t matter what the top does, he never made it out of limbo the first time when Mal killed herself to get out.


  10. I’ve watched Inception twice, and I thought it was an absolute knockout film both times. It’s hard to say what scene I liked best because I don’t think there’s a bad scene in it. They’re all great. You’ve put me in the mood to watch it a third time.


    1. Hi! I have seen it 2x. I’m sure a third viewing would illuminate more details I missed. I will watch it when I’m bored and need a jolt of excitement. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, BunKaryudo. I like your posts but am not allowed to comment or I would.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi, Cindy:

    Excellent selection and dissertation!

    When I first heard of ‘Inception’, I thought it would be similar to an updated and hugely budgeted ‘Dreamscape’ from the early 1980’s and put the thought on the back shelf.

    That was a mistake. Everything about ‘Inception’ sings of originality. Meticulously thought out and executed. With CGI used not in excess. But to aid the actors and move the plot along. Ariadne and Cobb’s first walk through Paris and its shifting, vertical streets and folding buildings is right where it’s needed and money well spent. Ending in an “infinity stream” of mirrored images that is attention getting and quickly mid boggling.

    Zimmer’s soundtrack is tense, alluring and suspenseful. Heightening Nolan’s tale about the unknown being right around the corner. Still trying to figure out what tricks were used for Arthur’s time buying merry chase through the hotel and Cobb’s van plummets off the bridge!

    Cobb’s spinning top at the film’s is a great “McGuffin”!That leaves me with wanting a Happy Ending in real life. While the other half knows that all dreams should have a Happy Ending.

    Last I heard, Ellen Paige is using her own time and money to write, direct and possibly act in her own independent film about the heroism of a female Marine NCO in Afghanistan. An admirable, noble plan. Since she just about write her own ticket for being cast in future films, big and small.


    1. Hi Kevin! Welcome. Oh, I’m so happy to hear that about Ellen Paige! I will watch it. She’s too bright to be pushed to the sideline.
      I think the film is intellectually pretty perfect as films go. It’s his best film, for sure.
      Kevin! Oh, please, stop by to today’s post regarding Ang Lee. Your impressions would by highly valued!
      Cheers, mate.


  12. One of my favourite movies ever. It is also a movie that resonates with me on a personal level since from a young age I have lucid dreams (dreams when you know you are dreaming). I think the script was very well crafted here, I can only compare it to “the Usual Suspects” in its complexity and attention to detail. People say that Nolan slightly ripped off “Paprika”, but apart from the concept borrowed, I don’t see any major similarities. I also think that Leo contributes greatly to the film’s success. People don’t realise that immediately, but he provides a very much needed emotional input here, as he does in “the great gatsby”, “blood diamond”, “shutter island”, “the revenant”, etc.


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