October 22, 2011


In this post I am going to tell you what I think the ending of Inception is (discussed without spoilers in this post) and WHY it's that way, and so perhaps it goes without saying that this post will be RIFE with spoilers. There won't be anything else in the post: just that one subject. This is the part where you should leave if you don't want to read spoilers about Inception.


Here is the ending I demand that you believe: Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) is back in reality. He successfully completed his dream mission, Saito followed through with his promise, and Dom goes home to his kids.

Here are the reasons this is true:

1. Because Dom makes it clear again and again in the movie that he is not interested in living in dreams. He has to do a lot of work to convince his wife to leave Limbo, but he is determined to convince her of it---even though they were very happy there. When she wants to go back and live in dreams again, he doesn't want to---even to try to save her life. He tells Mal in his final Limbo scene that her dream self is an insufficient shadow of his real wife, and that that's not good enough for him. He doesn't want to interact and live with his DREAM children: he's had many opportunities to live permanently in Limbo and recreate his wife/kids there---but he wants ONLY his REAL children. It would be inconsistent with everything we know about him for him to suddenly say "I don't even CARE if this is reality or not, I'm so happy!" He might feel that way for a short time, but not permanently. They'd be shadows of his real children, and not good enough---and he'd be remembering that his own dream happiness wasn't solving reality for his real children who were still waiting, parentless.

2. Because Lynn linked in the comments section to this Inception FAQ, and there are assorted mentions of the writer and actors believing that Dom IS home in the end. If MICHAEL CAINE thinks Dom is home to reality in the end, then DOM IS HOME TO REALITY IN THE END.

3. Because if he's not home to reality in the end, the movie isn't over. See #1: Dom is not interested in living in a dream. So if this is some wonderful dream, he'll soon figure that out and then he'll have to start a new quest to get home. There would need to be Inception II. (This would be the only situation in which I would go with the "It's still just a dream" ending: if it will lead to a sequel in which he tries again to get back to reality.)

4. Because the spinning top at the end is the perfect dramatic/non-sappy end to the movie. Fading out on Leonardo DiCaprio hugging small children would have been okay, but kind of sappy after all the shooting, and it would have left us all in the theater feeling a little awkward with each other. I can just SEE someone working on the movie saying "Oh my god, you know what would be AWESOME?" and everyone else going "WHOA. YES."

5. Because if he's not home to reality in the end, I hate the whole world and everyone in it, and especially everyone who makes movies.


Lynn said...

Number 5 is my reason, too. I must believe that he is back with his real children for the sake of ever being able to watch another movie ever again. I cling deeply to that little wobble of the top!

Swistle said...

Lynn- Yes: it wobbled. IT WOBBLED. And it did it more than once, after going completely unwobbly at first. The spin was deteriorating. It was GOING DOWN.

Anna said...

My husband says that the reason it's reality at the end is that Michael Caine's character never appears in the dream bits, only the real life bits. So if he's there then it must be real life.

A cool thing I like to mention about Inception is that they filmed the bit at the hotel with the twisty corridors at the Cardington airship hangars, which are a few miles from where we live in Bedfordshire. They filmed some of the recent Batman films there too.

Type (little) a said...

I only watched it like a month ago, and I'm SO GLAD someone wants to talk about it with me, as my husband is not so into Leo DeCaprio and is having a hard time sitting down to watch. PS- I just watched The King's Speech and I want to talk about that too!

I just decided that it was reality. For all the reasons you stated.

However, I am afraid it might not be simply for the possibility of Inception 2: Electric Boogaloo, or alternatively Inception 2: The Search for More Money.

Furthermore, I don't believe it would be so easy for Saito to make a phone call, and 5 seconds later he clears customs. In real life, he would have gotten arrested, and eventually cleared. AND! Wouldn't Saito be flipping PISSED that he was left in the dream for decades and decades?? Guess he doesn't hold a grudge? Or maybe I need to suspend disbelief.

Reading (and chickens) said...

I wrote this long involved comment that could be its own post and blogger ate it. Of course. Anyhow: I think that it's not Dom's dream/awakeness that's actually the center of the whole movie, but that it's MAL'S dream.

Swistle said...

Type (little) a- I explained the Saito-phone-call thing to myself as that he got everything all set up ahead of time and only had to make one call to give a final okay. And that it involved Huge Non-Legal String-Pulling. The guy BOUGHT AN AIRLINE because it "seemed neater."

For "left in the dream," I went with him being grateful for being rescued AND that he was a reasonable guy who realized they'd told him NO TOURISTS but he'd insisted.

Kelley said...

One of the other big arguments generally given for him not being in a dream is that the kids are wearing different clothing than we see them in the rest of the movie. I've done some work in costume design myself, and I can tell you that a decision like that wouldn't just be made for the hell of it.

Alyssa said...

Arrgh. Now I have to rewatch the movie because it's been too long and when I watched it the first time nobody I know in real life would sit down and overanalyze it to this extent with me and I NEED TO KNOW THE RIGHT ANSWER. I want to take your word for it because clearly you've thought this through, but...ahem. These things are important and need to be given their proper attention.

Jessica said...

As Kelly said, the children's clothing at the end is slightly different from the beginning, which leads me to think the filmmakers made that deliberate choice to show people who look closely enough it's real (but they made it similar enough that you might think the clothing is the same).

Carolyn said...

I didn't give it too much thought (I didn't want to make my brain explode!) but all I can is that my understanding of it was that he might not REALIZE he's in the dream still. So no matter if he didn't want to live in a dream or not, he might still have ended up so confused he didn't realize that he was.

I like the comments about the clothes the kids are wearing, though! I don't notice stuff like that, but it's a compelling point, and I sure would LIKE it if it was a happy ending like that ;)

Reading (and chickens) said...

OK, blogger no longer hates me, so here is why I think the movie is actually from Mal's perspective:
1. We never find out what Dom's totem is. It is always Mal's totem that's shown, and Dom doesn't even HAVE a totem, which is weird, right?
2. Mal is the only character in the movie that is very one dimensional. Everyone else is fleshed out, but she's basically either crazy or homicidal, and I think it's because the dream is from her perspective and therefore she's filled with guilt about something she did.
3. There is the overtone of jealousy whenever we see Dom and the Architect girl interacting, which is weird, since he doesn't actually seem all that interested in her.
4. We can't trust anything in the movie since most of it is a dream, or a dream within a dream, or what have you, so whatever APPEARS to be real to the audience probably isn't.

I have more, but I've already written my own post in your comments. (Everyone else I've talked to about this DOESN'T BELIEVE ME, but I don't care! I believe me!)

Hope T. said...

@ Reading (and chickens) - I liked your comment! I can go so far as to say that you might be right. I certainly agree with your first point. I tend to lean toward believing that the whole movie might be Dom's dream, though. Either way, using someone else's totem means that he can't find out if he is in his own dream.

I can TOTALLY understand Swistle's hope that Dom has really come "home" and found reality. But my guess is that the point is that "reality" is only a place in each person's mind and does not exist in objective terms. In other words, we can't share reality with anyone else: we are truly alone. But I can think of a few other options and Reading (and chickens) has given me another possibility to consider. I LOVE endings like this that leave you wondering. ("Doubt" is another movie I highly recommend to those who like the kind of ending you have to figure out yourself.)

Swistle said...

Reading (and chickens)- Here's the problem for me, if it's Mal's dream: I no longer care about anything that happens in the movie or anyone who's in it. The movie doesn't hold together for me anymore, or have any point or motivation at all.

I think her flat character is what indicates she's only a projection and not a real person, and it makes sense to me that Dom would have adopted his wife's totem after she died. The jealousy doesn't seem to be about Ariadne, but about the SPACE: Dom knows that Mal would consider that "their" dream-space together, and wouldn't want another person brought into it.

Christina said...

These were fun - thought you might like them as further "proof" of your theory!



Now I want to watch the movie again, but neither Amazon nor Netflix has it online. Bummer!

Gail said...

Swistle, this is the line that makes me relate to you, and I haven't even seen the film:
Because if he's not home to reality in the end, I hate the whole world and everyone in it, and especially everyone who makes movies.

CARRIE said...

As if my Netflix queue isn't long enough, now I have to watch Inception again to look at the kids' clothing. And think about it as being from Mal's pov. And all the other things everyone has mentioned.
(And to see Joseph Gordon Levitt again, of course.)

Keely said...

I loved that movie.

And yes, it WOBBLED.

Reading (and chickens) said...

OK, am putting Doubt on my Netflix queue. Thanks Hope T.!

Frenchie said...


Aubrey said...

One of the most mind-blowing end explanations that I read/heard about Inception involves Cobb's wedding ring. Apparently, he only wears the ring in his dream sequences. The final scene, with his hand spinning the top? NO RING.

Erin said...

I'm with you for all the stated reasons. I like Reading (and chickens)'s thought that it might be Mal's dream, but I think you're right that that doesn't really make sense when you really think about it.

And Hope T. -- you're right that "Doubt" is another good one with that type of "is it or isn't it" ending. (I think he totally did it, but the public seems to be pretty divided on that.)

Nancy said...

I think I have to watch it again, but one thing you mentioned I wasn't sure about: I didn't think his wife wanted to go back and live in dreams again, I thought she thought they were still in the dreams and so had to die again to get back to reality and that's why she killed herself.

Also there's one bit early on where he's running between two buildings and has to squeeze through a narrow gap at the end. I think this is supposed to be reality but it feels so dreamlike that I am confused.

But I think 1 and 3 are excellent reasons.

Swistle said...

Nancy- I know SHE thinks it's going back to reality---but what I mean is that he is not willing to go back to what he knows is living in a dream to make her happy (that is, if he'd convinced her they could go back to Limbo, rather than killing themselves to get there). And when they're IN Limbo, she wants to stay and he has to go to a lot of work to make her realize it's a dream and that they need to leave---even though she loves it there.

Christy said...

The first time I watched it, I noticed that the kids were older at the end, and sure enough, in the credits it said they were played by different children. I took that to mean that Dom is in reality because the children are always the same in the dream(s) because he hasn't seen them in a long time. He always projects them as he remembers them. I think I noticed that they wore different clothes as well, but for some reason that didn't seem as important to me.

Jen said...

I am firmly in your camp Swistle. Particularly number 5. Except. I think they only made it wobble and left it "open" for a sequel. The ending shouted sequel. I love that movie and need to watch it again. It just blew my mind.

Sara C. said...

There's another clue that it's reality - he's not wearing a wedding ring. His wedding ring is his totem (like the top was his wife's totem). He ONLY wears it when he is dreaming (I've seen the movie a number of times, and I've checked). He's not wearing it at the end.

Lindsey said...

Have you seen this article? I thought it was really interesting...

Anonymous said...

This movie put me to sleep.

CAQuincy said...

You got me at Number Five. Case dismissed!

Nessa said...

I hate that movie for all the reasons you cite and more... it drives me crazy. Plus... why are they all sitting on the shore after the crash just chit chatting - shouldn't the crash have moves them up??

St said...

I love that you wrote this and that you are so adamant in your beliefs!! I suspended belief at the end of Inception because I felt like that was what the creators wanted me to do and I always like to let Hollywood pull my puppet strings. For real.
My problem with discussing Inception is that I totally get it confused with Shutter Island because of the whole "kids and trauma and altered realities" thing going on in both movies. So. That.