One of the most famous films directed by Christopher Nolan is certainly Inception. The fame acquired has, however, over time become a secondary element compared to the passion that viewers from all over the world have shown towards the possible interpretations of the film. The explanation of Inception and what hides its ending has become the cinephile bet par excellence, to the point that interpretations crowd the internet as only the images of kittens had previously been able to do.
Yet, between exegesis and an interpretation, research has often taken such perverse directions as to create readings that are as interesting as they are incredible.
A long time ago it was a member of the cast, Michael Caine, who solved the long-standing question, who proposed his own version, trying to bring order to the maze of numerous decodings on the web. Not only the finish, however, is worthy of attention, since the entire film offers ideas and reflections that are revealed by a careful analysis of its components.
So let’s try to explain Inception
Inception is explained in the dream
Since its release, Inception (2010) has captured the imagination of many viewers, placing itself among the most viewed science fiction productions of recent years. Subject and screenplay bear the signature of the director, Christopher Nolan, who already in 2001 composed a short story of eighty pages on the theft of ideas through dreams. The central idea, then realized in the film, is inspired precisely by the concept of incubation of the lucid dream, taken to its extreme in a story that can be interpreted as a dream container for all events.
Just as with dreams, Inception’s explanation also requires that all its details be raised as a sign of meaning. Names, places, facts thus share the same importance, collaborating in defining the narrative for what it is. An example of this is given by the appearance on the scene of some recurring elements (exactly as happens in dreams), among which the role of the train stands out in the prologue and in its unfolding.
Inception, his explanation reveals a film about cinema
In Inception, trains are symbols of the enormous self-generating power of thoughts and ideas. When Cobb (Leonardo di Caprio) and his crew initially descend into Robert Fischer’s dream, a freight train goes up the street, telling us that Robert Fischer has mobilized his subconscious. Similarly in Cobb’s subconscious, Ariadne (Ellen Page) observes the passage of a train and this manifests its relationship with the mental processes in progress. After all, it is on the train tracks that Cobb and Mal (Marion Cotillard) lie down, trying to awaken the impact with a wagon.
The train would be nothing but the symbol of thought, of its speed, but also of its ability to connect and transport antithetical realities. The exact example of how Nolan’s writing follows the mechanisms of dreams, which communicate through images, objects and faces (confusedly combined) a more complex sense of their value in reality.
This is how Nolan transforms Inception into a declaration of intent and a love letter to the Cinema. In fact, for him what enters the frame is not the result of chance, and he never refers to this. Instead, it is the reality that pours into the image to acquire meaning, to declare itself as pregnant with meaning.
An explanation of Inception cannot, therefore, ignore how its objects acquire a value greater than that possessed in reality. Here a train is the dream that tells itself, a top is the index of reality and a kick is the return to it. Again, just like in dreams, nothing is unrelated to the functionality of the narrative. Everything is a dream, everything is true, everything is an image.
Explain Inception through Mythology and Religion
The budgets that Christopher Nolan managed to get his hands on overtime have never really affected the attention paid to the smallest details. Although his films (literally such since he never succumbed to the charm of digital) are real blockbusters capable of intercepting the tastes of the mass audience, the director’s authorial approach is rarely lost.
The screenplay, written entirely by Nolan, is in fact a harbinger of the complexity that Inception then manifests with its ambiguous images. Between the lines, it is thus possible to discover a world of its own, through which Inception continues its game of blatant enigma. The more it hides, the more it reveals itself. To confirm this are even the names of the protagonists, who allude to their role within the events.
The name and role of Ariadne (Ellen Page), the dreamlike architect through whom we discover this world, would for example reasonably be associated with the well-known labyrinth of Knossos. In the myth of the Minotaur, Ariadne is in fact the one who helps the hero Theseus to get out of the intricate architectural construction by means of the brilliant idea of the wire, as well as being even more responsible for the labyrinth.
In the same way, Ariadne in Inception provides information to onironauts to move in the world of dreams, and so is the viewer’s informant. The red thread that it assigns to the audience is even among the few points of reference of the script, and it is in the dissolution of these that the film builds its own reinterpretation of the myth.
Can we say that Cobb (Leonardo di Caprio) is therefore Theseus? The answer is tied to the explanation of the ending of Inception. If in fact, we believe that the place to which it reaches in the conclusion of the film is a Limbo, we can safely conclude the mythological association. Because like the mythical hero Cobb is also punished for breaking the barriers of the realm of the dead, that is the places of the dream.
The link between names and narration is also confirmed in the character of Yusuf (Dileep Rao), the doctor within the dream journeys, who would refer to the homonymous character narrated in the Qur’an, whose story begins with a dream.
Furthermore, if Cobb has been dreaming for all time, it is easy to believe that the link between names and events is the result of the unconscious on the collective imagination that his mind draws on. After all, the myths are part of us and their link with reality flows right into the action of the dream.
A possible explanation of Inception sees Cobb the only real character, and the others all projections of the subconscious. The clue to understand this interpretation is placed at the beginning, when Cobb, Saito (Ken Watanabe) and his are in the apartment outside which a revolt is moving. Cobb states that projections never attack the dreamer, but others, apparently perceived as intruders. However, if so, the revolutionaries would have to attack Cobb and Saito; but they don’t, they attack Nash (Lucas Haas), who should be the dreamer on this level.
Cobb represents, in a certain sense, every man. He is in fact presented to us as literally dammed on the bank of his subconscious. It is fragmented and separated, exiled from the United States (to which it wants to return), but in truth detached from what it is. The land he wants to return to is not real, only a projection of what he has lost.
Inception’s explanation and the deception of the top
However, what most questioned Inception’s viewers is its cryptic ending. If in fact what happens concerns Cobb and his return to himself, and therefore could be a projection, the images seem to allude to another, misleading the public in this game between reality and dream. In the final Dominic Dom Cobb, the man at the center of the story, able to enter people’s dreams to introduce ideas and extract secrets, returns to the United States of America, as promised by the instigator of his latest mission, the magnate Saito.
Here he seems to be able to finally embrace his two children, from whom he had been dismissed after being accused of the murder of his wife. At this point, when the intricate interlocking of dreams lying on infinite narrative levels seems to come to an end, Cobb turns his totem (a top) to find out if what he is witnessing is really real. At the moment of the response, however, he is distracted by his children, preventing us from discovering the truth. The viewer is thus left only with an interrupted shot, with the totem, the famous spinning top, which turns and jumps.
If Michael Caine is there …
The ending is, therefore, more open than ever, and this thanks to the information that the film provides us along the film. The operation is actually simple, but the way Nolan applies its mechanisms always leaves room for doubts and interpretations. If the spinning top goes on and on, Cobb is sleeping. If the top falls, Cobb is in reality. Nolan’s detachment on the salient moment is thus the root of all analysis, the excess of which, however, pushes to misleading reinterpretations of what the images really communicate.
Does the spinning top still spin? According to Michael Caine, here in the role of Cobb’s mentor Miles, the answer is ill-posed, and this is because she never differentiated dream and reality. The numerous interpretations, based entirely on the jolt of the totem, would in fact be incorrect since they ignore a key passage of the ending.
When Cobb is distracted by the children and runs to hug them, Christopher Nolan takes off on the shot of Michael Caine who enters the house to leave his father at his moment. This shot of a few seconds is the last shot before the slow machine movement that shows the fateful spinning top, the (incorrect) source of each analysis. Because as claimed by the actor in a recent interview, his presence would be the real key to distinguishing the true from the false, and for this it would be the penultimate shot to give us the definitive answer. In fact, he said to BBC Radio microphones: The scene [of meeting with children, ed.] Is true, because I am present while in dreams there are never.
Indirect confirmation of Nolan
This certainty finds its source in Christopher Nolan, who instead never wanted to declare anything about the ending. Caine would have said that upon delivery of the script he had to ask Nolan for an explanation of some scenes of Inception.
In particular those in which the easy distinction between reality and dream was lost. The answer seems to confirm the uselessness of the spinning top in the interpretation of the ending: what you appear on stage, we are in reality. Here then, therefore, that no dreamlike mechanism would be in place in Cobb’s coveted return, and so that embrace of his children would be more true than ever.
In Inception the explanation is uncertainty
The only truth conceded by the film, however, is perhaps another, and the addition of quarrels on the twirl of the totem has hidden its value over time. The spectator, distracted by a slow movement of the machine that turns towards the top just to confuse, loses focus on the bottom of the scene, where Cobb embraces his daughters and smiles as he had (literally) dreamed.
It is therefore probable that for Nolan it mattered to communicate to us that sometimes we choose not to know and that therefore the distraction of Cobb was the will to make real what for him should be. After all, as already stated, this is his journey, an exploration between himself and himself.
Cobb’s voluntary subjectivity is in fact supported by Nolan himself, who in 2015 invited Princeton graduates not to pursue their dreams, but their reality. Because the abstractions you fall in love with are subgroups of reality. So the top should not even be looked at, that’s why detaching right on her in the moment of the final answer. It goes around Cobb, and it doesn’t matter.