I saw it Saturday. It's now Monday night, and I'm still savoring it, slowly folding it over and over in my mind like a cerebral lozenge. I haven't made any real decisions about the ending, just because it's so much fun to consider various interpretations (I've included several beyond the cut. There are spoilers beyond this point, so if you haven't seen it, you may wish to stop reading).
With things of this sort, I always look to the names for guidance:
Ariadne: In Greek mythology, she helped Theseus find his way out of her father's labyrinth by giving him a ball of red fleece that she was spinning. (Inception's Ariadne often wears red.)
Dom Cobb: Such an odd name begs for scrutiny. This web site says that the surname Cobb indicates a locality, specifically, a harbor. The Internet Surname Database says that it derives from a term meaning "lump", found in both Olde English and Old Norse, and used to denote a large, well built, impressive man. I can't say that Dom Cobb is a large man, but he certainly contains multitudes. Dom ... short for domicile? Home harbor? We do first come across him while lying on a beach, and, as a commenter points out below, there's a water motif throughout the film.
Mal: Means wrong or bad in French, and the character who bears it as a moniker is French. She is also called a shade at one point in the film.
Eames: Wealthy protector, or uncle. I chuckled when I read that last one, given the role that Eames plays during one part of the film.
While looking up names, I came across this article:
Some interesting comments from around the 'net on the movie:
From James Berardinelli (I include this quote because David had made the "young DeNiro" connection in a comment before I read this, and I thought it was cool that he and one of my favorite movie critics had a similar perception):
Apparently, DiCaprio, in addition to being Martin Scorsese's current day Robert DeNiro, was always Nolan's first choice for Cobb, and the versatile actor brings the full weight of his talent to bear on a difficult role. DiCaprio has to hint at unpleasant secrets in Cobb's past while forging a bond with the audience. It's up to the performer to make Inception more about human beings than about special effects. He succeeds and that's one reason why this movie isn't only about challenging ideas and eye candy.
From Berardinelli's ReelViews forums:
Second Unit Director
Maybe it's the pessimist in me, but....
I don't think the top would ever have tipped over. Ariadne was the only one on the team who knew the problem Cobb was having. Just in case things didn't work out for him in the real world, she created that ideal resolution world in the final layer of Cobb's dream. He got what he wanted not because Saito fixed it for him, but because she built it for him. Anyone else agree?
I enjoyed reading this Variety review. The Magritte/Escher bit was something I thought as well, but, as a David Lynch fan, this was my favorite part:
As dreams go, "Inception" is exceptionally lucid, especially compared with the more free-associative nightmare logic of David Lynch's "Mulholland Dr." or "Inland Empire." Those were movies to get lost in; here, it pays to stay focused.
Several reviewers have commented on the "labyrinthine" structure of Inception, but no one I know has had any trouble following it at all. Nolan makes it very clear, and even gets a little carried away with Ariadne serving as the audience foil in terms of exposition here and there, in my opinion.
Sun 07/18/10 9:55 AM
What Nolan did with this ending, and why it fits so perfectly with the film, is plant an idea in our heads. The director did the same thing to us that Cobb did to his wife: made us question the reality we were seeing. That not only makes it a perfect ending, but one that’s designed to nest in our brains and make us think.
Sun 07/18/10 11:02 AM
I think the point was that once Cobb saw his kids’ faces, it didn’t matter to him whether he was awake or dreaming, it was the reality he wanted. He walked away from the spinning top because he didn’t care to find out anymore.
Sun 07/18/10 7:04 AM
I wouldn’t say that Nolan would stoop so low as to “tease” us. The truth is that Cobb did make it home. whether the top fell or not is not in question- i recall it slightly toppling, which would make it impossible for such a thing to continue spinning. what is significant is that Cobb did not watch it to check. he has come to be able to control reality in a way that he could not control his dreams. he is leaving behind dreaming as a substitute for reality, and will no longer need the top.
Sun 07/18/10 8:07 PM
LEO’S FANTASTIC DREAM DURING FAMILY BEACH DAY – NOLAN STRIKES AGAIN!
A Nolan film is never what it appears to be. There’s always a straightforward plotline, but buried within 5 layers of complexity is a completely different story he’s telling us.
Like an unsolved Rubik’s cube, a person might twist it and turn it hoping that there might be an actual solution to the whole puzzle – and in a Nolan film, there always, ALWAYS, is a definite solution. The answer of “leaving it to your imagination” is the simple answer, and the Rubik’s equivalent of solving one side. Many can be happy with that accomplishment, enjoy the puzzle, put it down and never think about it again.
But there are those of us who can’t let it go. We have to keep twisting and turning the problem in our mind. Because, no matter what, we have the agonizing belief that the entire thing can be solved… and in Inception’s case, there is most definitely a solution. Nolan is that clever, and not that cruel to leave us hanging infinitely.
Nolan caters to the intellectual elite who can strip back the main story, dig past the brilliant cinematic misdirection and find out what is Nolan exactly trying to tell us?
HERE’S THE ANSWER (after all of that preliminary buildup) – The spinning totem at the end is part of Nolan’s classic misdirection. The totem is the seed of doubt that Nolan plants in our mind, forcing us to wonder that “the movie we’re watching isn’t real.”
The truth is that at the end Leo is still asleep, but just about to wake up. He has been asleep on the beach. When the totem stop’s he’ll be kicked into reality and back with his family.
The only “real” moments in the film are in the first few seconds of footage. Leo is at the beach with his wife and kids, who are building a sand castle. Leo has fallen asleep too close to shoreline, and is briefly awakened by a wave crashing upon him. In his waking vision, he sees his children from behind, but is too sleepy to awake. He falls back asleep, and the wonderful, bewildering, funtastically complicated dream begins.
His dream has one singular mission – return to your children.
In the main plotline of the film, Nolan demonstrates how a small seed planted in a dream can have gigantic effects in shaping a life. The demonstration that he’s planted in this film and left us fellow geniuses to figure out is the opposite: how dramatic the effects of the real world can have on our dreams.
It is the fleeting, sleepy glance of his children that form the motive of the dream. It is the waves crashing upon him that provides much of the environment of the dream. Water being “washed over” is prevalent throughout the dream world:
- Leo splashes into a bathtub and emerges, just like a wave of water at the beach.
- The city on the first level of the dream is drenched in water. The van splashes into the river
- The bar on the second level of the dream suddenly erupts into storm.
- The freezing cold nature of the Himalayas… a place you might find yourself in a dream if you were wet and cold in real life, leading to a wave of freezing water (avalanche). Immediately after the avalanche, one of the characters cracks the joke “geez couldn’t he have dreamed he was at a beach?” Nolan’s brilliant sense of human shines again!
- Leo wakes on the fourth (and fifth) levels at the beach.
Add to this that the very top floor in the elevator of his “dream prison” is a sunny day at the beach with his family. This is the highest level of the dream – the level that is closest to reality.
In reality Leo was asleep at the beach with his family. Though he wanted to be with his children he also wanted to stay asleep – hence the struggle over reality and the dreamworld in his dream. Each wave crashing upon him drew him deeper into sleep, producing a stranger and stranger dream, with stranger and stranger representations of each wave in the dream.
The really fun nature of the film is that the logic all makes sense in the dreams, because it’s “dream logic” that we’ve all experienced. But this logic can not work in the real world.
For example, the “dream machine” that enables sharing of dreams itself is a piece of fantasy. The machine is deliberately simplistic – with simple wristbands and a big rubber button in the middle… something you might find in a dream – mighty in conept but not fully realized in the imagination. Even if such technology existed in the real world, your group would enter the first dream together, but within that dream the machine is not real so it could not then plunge your whole party into a second shared dream. The sedatives in the first dream are not real, so they couldn’t induce sleep strong enough to start the next dreams. However, this planning and logic seems rock solid in your dreams while they occur.
There is so, so much more detail and wonder in this film but I couldn’t proceed without first determining simply which scenes were and which scenes weren’t real, if any.
This is all that I’ve figured out so far after three viewings in two days. I’d love to read everyone else’s reaction to this. What’s I’d really love is if Mr. Nolan wrote me back to tell me if I’m right or wrong!
Sat 07/17/10 9:56 PM
My theory (not that it matters because I’m pretty certain even Nolan doesn’t have the answer) is that he’s awake, since, in the dream world, the top wouldn’t even wobble.
The prolonged spin, however, says to me that he, like Mal, will always hold his reality in doubt.
Side note: one of the things I particularly enjoyed about the film was the inside joke / metaplay with Marion Cotillard and "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" by Edith Piaf. Indeed, this was one of the very first things I mentioned when exiting the movie theater, well before reading the Variety review (I avoided reading much of anything about Inception prior to seeing it because I didn't want to be spoiled). I think, if we consider Hollywood's old "dream factory" nickname, one could almost consider the use of the song a motif indicating Mal beckoning, calling to Dom through each level.
I thought that Cillian Murphy did a very nice job with a rather small part. I thought he invested a lot of emotion in his portrayal of Robert Fischer, Jr., and even though I know that his resolution wasn't the point of the film, I cared about his character.
Completely outside the interpretations and analyses, I loved the way they handled the special effects in Inception. In some films (and, fond as I am of The Matrix, I'd include it in this assessment), it sometimes feels like, "Hey, look, we're doing a special effect now!" There's sort of a look-at-me aspect that can jar the viewer just slightly out of the story, and remind him/her that he's sitting in the theater watching a movie. Despite the surreal elements, a good many of the effects in Inception felt very fluid and ... well, real, except they felt like dream reality, which wasn't jarring at all because that's the reality in which the story primarily took place. I feel certain that the movie will win several Oscars for technical merit, at least.
Overall, I quite enjoyed it: four out of five stars. I think I'd like to see it again, and I don't say that about a great many films. With this one, I believe there's more to be discovered upon a second viewing. Perhaps there's yet another layer, waiting to be revealed. :)