Chrstopher Nolan Kind of Explains the Ending of Inception!

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After months of debating what's real and what's not in Inception, as many of you fine readers have done in our own Inception Ending Explained editorial, Wired magazine finally managed to eek out a few words from Chrstopher Nolan himself. In issue 18.12, the folks at Wired complied a list of theories that have been hotly discussed since the film's July release, followed by Nolan's maddeningly succinct and cryptic responses. Hey, you know he can't just give all the answers away!

Hit the jump to read Nolan's thoughts on Wired's theories, and if that wasn't enough of a treat, check out a previously unreleased poster below! Inception hits DVD and Blu-Ray on December 7th. Click the thumbnail to view larger:

Inception Alternate Poster

What’s happening in the movie: After the first extraction fails, Cobb spins his top to check if he is in a dream.  It falls over.

“The Ending Is Not a Dream” Argument: This establishes context for the audience—the movie is not all a dream.

Nolan’s Comment:  “This gives Cobb a base-line reality.  But he’s an untrustworthy narrator.”

Dom Gets Wet

What’s happening in the movie: Saito says he’ll clear Cobb’s name if he takes the job.  He asks Cobb to take “a leap of faith.”

“The Entire Movie Is a Dream” Argument: The phrase “leap of faith” occurs over and over.  It’s an artifact of Cobb’s subconscious.

Nolan’s Comment: “I don’t think I’m going to tell you about this.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur

What’s happening in the movie: Cobb starts assembling his team and trains Ariadne in dreamweaving.

“Actually, It’s About Movie-Making” Argument: All the roles correspond.  Cobb: director.  Ariadne: writer.  Eames: art director.  Saito: producer.  Fischer: audience.

Nolan’s Comment: “I didn’t intend to make a film about film-making, but I gravitated toward the creative process that I know.”

Folding Over

What’s happening in the movie: Cobb goes to Mombasa to get Eames the forger and Yusuf the chemist.

“Or Maybe It’s a Meditation on Architecture” Argument: A beautiful pan across the rooftops of Mombasa.

Nolan’s Comment: “I wanted to show the potential for the real world to have analogies to the dream world.  The mazelike city of Mombasa does that.”

“Actually, It’s About Movie-Making” Argument: Smash cuts, mysterious chases, implausible coincidences—the grammar of film is the grammar of dreams.

Nolan’s Comment: “I wouldn’t say that I tried to use the grammar of the film to tell the audience what is dream and what is reality.”

Sato's Lair

What’s happening in the movie: Cobb confronts Mal in limbo, and Fischer is incepted in the hospital.

“The Entire Movie Is a Dream” Argument: Mal challenges Cobb’s reality.  Faceless corporations?  Chased around the globe?  Really?

Nolan’s Comment: “For the ambiguity at the end to work, you need to see that Cobb’s world and the dream world are very similar.  And you need to doubt Cobb.”

Bulding Sand Castles

What’s happening in the movie: Cobb washes up on the beach (full circle with beginning).

“Just the Ending Is a Dream” Argument: Saito honors his agreement.  They build limbo to be their reality together.

Nolan’s Comment: “Uh…that’s not how I would have read the movie.”

Saito and Mal

What’s happening in the movie: Arriving home, Cobb finally sees his children’s faces.

“The Entire Movie Is a Dream” Argument: The kids haven’t aged!  And they’re in the same clothes!  This is clearly all a dream.

Nolan’s Comment: “The kids are not wearing the same clothes at the end!  And they do age!  We were working with two sets of kids.”

“Or Maybe It’s a Meditation on Architecture” Argument: It’s the golden-lit craftsman dream home…with a house made of blocks on the dining table.

Nolan’s Comment: “The film is about architects.  It’s about builders.”

Cobb on a Plane

What’s happening in the movie: Cobb spins the top—it’s still spinning when the movie cuts to black.

“The Entire Movie Is a Dream” Argument: The top doesn’t matter—Cobb can finally see his children’s faces.

Nolan’s Comment: “The important thing is that Cobb’s not looking at the top.  He doesn’t care.”

“Or Maybe It’s a Meditation on Architecture” Argument: The top itself is constructed—topologically, it’s a pseudosphere, every point curving away.

Nolan’s Comment: “The prop guys just made a top that would spin for a long time.”

“Actually, It’s About Movie-Making” Argument: The audience has to “take a leap of faith.”  Nolan uses ambiguity as a storytelling tool.  There isn’t just one answer.

Nolan’s Comment: “Oh no, I’ve got an answer…”

Director Christopher Nolan

Thanks for those non-answers, Chris. Let the debate rage on! Tell us what you make of all this in the comments section below!

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Inception Quotes

What's the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. Which is why I have to steal it.


Never recreate from your memory. Always imagine new places.


Inception Review

Oh Christopher Nolan, how do you do it? Here is a man I can't help but admire: First he manages to capture the attention of Hollywood...

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Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (106 Votes)