Few film endings have sparked as much debate as Inception, with the ambiguity between the dream sequences and reality continuing to frustrate nearly a decade later.
The final scene shows Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘dream stealer’ character Dom Cobb reunited with his children and his father-in-law after having his criminal history wiped.
However, viewers left the cinema far from confident of a conventional happy ending. After all, Dom is seen spinning the top capable of differentiating between the dream world and real life. Fans will recall how the top continued to spin in dreams, but simply dropped in reality.
Christopher Nolan famously left viewers wondering after deliberately not showing the result, leaving Dom’s fate up for speculation. Were his troubles finally over, or was he merely hiding away in the realm of fantasy?
Nolan has previously insisted it doesn’t matter whether or not Dom was still dreaming; what was important was his personal decision to ignore the outcome of the top altogether.
Speaking at a 2015 commencement ceremony at Princeton University, according to The Guardian, Nolan spoke about how the ending was more about Dom’s subjective reality:
The way the end of that film worked, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb – he was off with his kids, he was in his own subjective reality.
He didn’t really care any more, and that makes a statement: perhaps, all levels of reality are valid.
Nolan – who has previously had to flee theatres to avoid questions about the ending – added:
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.
Well, that’s all well and good of course, but not exactly the sort of satisfying conclusion capable of bringing fans some much needed closure.
Fortunately, it seems good old Michael Caine has been holding the key to the Inception ending all along, providing an answer to the cinematic puzzle.
While introducing a Film 4 Summer Screen showing of Inception, Caine – who plays Dom’s father-in-law Professor Stephen Miles – offered a tantalisingly rare insight into Nolan’s thought process.
Speaking to astonished crowds, the 85-year-old actor gave the following explanation, according to The Independent:
When I got the script of Inception, I was a bit puzzled by it and I said to him ‘I don’t understand where the dream is’.
I said, ‘When is it the dream and when is it reality?’ He said, ‘Well when you’re in the scene it’s reality.’ So get that – if I’m in it, it’s reality. If I’m not in it, it’s a dream.
Now, as we know, Caine/Professor Miles is indeed in the ambiguous end scene, proving once and for all Dom concludes his story while experiencing a state of reality.
— Kate Prior (@doctorwibble) August 10, 2018
Had a wonderful time exploring London for the past couple of days with @lukewhotweets ?
— Leanne ? (@LeanneFaben) August 11, 2018
Fans cannot quite believe the answer has finally been revealed, their wildest dream come true at last, an answer behind the Inception ending.
One person tweeted:
Omfg i always used him to say it was not a dream i feel so validated rn.
I believe the evidence of it being a reality has always stronger. It’s nice to finally have some sort of confirmation, though.
Omfg i always used him to say it was not a dream i feel so validated rn
— anna ?️? (@peterrstark) August 13, 2018
I believe the evidence of it being a reality has always stronger. It's nice to finally have some sort of confirmation, though.
— ????????? (@ShavedSheev_) August 13, 2018
Now we can sleep easily at last. Or can we…?
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.