Christopher Nolan’s Inception is an impressive piece of filmmaking. A well crafted puzzle which is delibiratley ambigious. Its story supports multiple interpritations of the films meaning.
Most theories can be traced to the take on the final scene, I aim to show a range of theories starting from the most obvious to more complex and hopefully help you see this film differently.
Alfred Hitchcock had a great quote that by starting a film with disorientation it leads to paulsability. On 1st viewing Inception is so intense with story, pacing, action and emotion that it rarely stops to let you ponder over meaning. It is therefore no surprise that some audience members where happy to take the story at face value and see Cobb succeed by returning to real life from limbo and complete his emotional journey by returning to his children, assuming that the totem would fall and making this a happy ending.
There is evidence to support this idea if you look closely at Cobbs wedding ring, He doesn’t wear it in all the scene, maybe hinting to us that in his dreams he is still connected to his wife through marriage and the ring, but when he returns to real life at the end, he has chosen to move on and no longer bares the emotional burdan symboilsed by the ring.
Interpritation 2 require some revisiting of Nolans previous work.
The title of most of Nolans films becomes the literal representation of the end of the film.
In Memento, Leonard has a clue written on paper and descides to get it tattooed as a memento.
In the Prestige we are told at the beginning that magic is made up of three parts, the pledge, the turn and the prestige, at the end of the film, we are presented with nolan bringing something back like the 3 part of a magic trick.
In The Dark Knight, Jim Gordon gives a speech about the heroic nature of Batman as Batman kneels and then stands on a building top as if earning a new status and being Knighted.
In the dark knight Rises, Gothams new protector rises up on the batcave platform.
In Inception: - did the spinning top fall or go on? The idea of whether the film is real or a dream is implanted into the audiences mind. This act is Called Inception. Nolan has performed Inception on the audience leaving them with doubt and sparking discussion about the films meaning.
So interpritation 2 is summed up by the idea that at some point in the story, perhaps the moment he wakes up on the plane, is no longer reality and he is still dreaming, showing us that he does finally get home but he’s still in his own mind.
Interpritation 3 is that the whole film is a dream, there is a great parrallel between movies and dreams. Movie logic of arriving in a place and not always seeing how you got their also applies to dream logic. The idea that the whole movie is a dream for the audience can be noted in the last minutes of the credits. All through the credit titles we hear the heavy inception music, but the final song to be played is the song which is used to signal to the characters that the dream is about to end, perhaps playing as a sign that the audience have been experinceing a dream like state and it time to wake up. Lyrics are ironice ‘I ave no regrets because it is cobbs guilt that is keeping him in a dream world.
A more personal connection to this interpritation can be seen with Chris Nolan himself. Inception was Produced by his Wife who has Produced and helped him create all his films. This is a strong parrallel between Chris and his Wife creating movies or worlds like Cobb and Mal, telling us that inception is loosly based on his life, dreaming for a living, being away from his children and creating mind bending world with his wife. Chris also bares a resembalace to Leo. The other charcater in the film also mirror a Film crew. Leo is the leader and Directos. Eames is a shapshifter or actor, Satio is the money man or executive producr, arindna is the arcatecic or production designer and arthur the producor day to day. is the Yusuf- Special effects. Supporting the idea that Inception is a methaphor for filmmaking.
Interitation 4 starts becoming more complex.
‘wake up on the shore of our unconcious’
As the team try to perform inception on fisher, the events and emotional struggles that fisher goes through also mirror the healing and eventual letting go of cobbs wife that cobbs goes through. It could be seen that Mal was right from the start as is living back in real life and it is Cobb who is lost in a dream world. The whole mission and idea which allows him to get back to his children at the end is planted by an outside force and cobb is experinceing incepton. convincing him that its his idea and ultimately saving him. The person who is most likely behind this is Micheal Caines character. Despite his screentime, he is trying to move Cobb in the right direction, he even makes a plea with him to return. Since this idea must be cobbs idea to take, micheal’s presence is presented through arianda, therefore changing the reltionship dynamic between cobb and her to allow an outisder to challnge and critise him. Prehaps like eames he is a shapeshifter and personified through arianda through the story. Putting cobb through a series of challenges in order for him to make peace with the guilt he feels, represented by mal in his dreams.
At the end of the film then the final scene takes on a different meaning. Instead of the question being raised regarding the totem we can see that cobb spins it and then walks away, this is the only time he does this in the film, telling us that whether this is a dream or not, he doesn’t care, he is emtional ready to move past his guilt, he is ready to return to his children.
Another aspect that is often overlooked is that the spinning top isn’t cobbs totem, it is his wifes, therefore is a false indicator and the result can then be manipulated by mal, meaning that whether the totem falls or not at the end is a false reading of whether he is in a dream. It would be more fitting to say that Cobb’children are his totem, constandly showing up in the dream unable to see there faces like the spinning top is unable to fall but at the end there faces are revealed as if the totem has dropped and told him he is finally awake.
The charcters names reveal extra thematic connection to the story.
However this can be taken further is we have
we spell daymares,
: - described as a frightening or obbsessive trance experinced while awake.
This certainly applies to cobbs struggles and also has a thematic link to nolans other film memento, while a flawed main charcter, realife, dreams and memories merge togther until you can’t tell the difference. Like memento, inception is a bit of a visous loop.
Copp is also associated with water in the film, perhaps a theme of drowing, drowning in his sub-conious, lost trying to stay afloat. Contribute to him being lost and drowning in his sub-conious.
Nolan’s intenional ambiougiuity is there to provoke discusiion. Not arriving at a diffinetive answer but a unique perspective on life.
Like a dream the disorientaion makes it so familr but hard to understand, it is your interpritation which gives it meaning. Like a mirror reflecting your own ideas back at you, you find the clues which support your theories. Therefore the meaning is more a reflection of the viewer than of the film itself.