Thursday, July 22, 2010

So who completed the final act of Inception?

Hello friends. It has been more than 6 months now since I have updated my blog. Reasons are manifold - not many random thoughts erupting in my mind, a shift of interest towards playing guitar, and last but not the least, an accident which made me bed-ridden for approximately 2 months.

Watched the movie "Inception" recently, and I personally believe it to be one of the best movies that has come out in last couple of years or so. A wonderful treat from Christopher Nolan, who currently stands at 2nd place in my list of best directors (next only to Stanley Kubrick). I have seen each and every movie directed by him so far, and intend to maintain the record.

During the past couple of years since I started watching his movies, I have discovered that Christopher Nolan is a perfectionist. You won't find even a single loophole in any of the movies he has made so far, be it "The Following", which was his very first movie, produced on a very low budget, or the grand, Batman comic book based "The Dark Knight". Inception too is an awesome movie. It has a pretty dense plot, and Nolan has ensured that people keep guessing what the ending of the movie signifies. I personally believe that this movie deserves at least 3 viewings. First viewing to understand the plot, as it is pretty damn complex, and one would have to put all his thoughts into understanding the rules of dreamworld. A second viewing is required to gather some minute clues that Nolan has scattered everywhere, which are critical to the story, and to understand the bigger picture about which I am going to discuss shortly. And finally a third viewing, dedicated not to Nolan, the storyteller, but to Nolan, the director. I am yet to have a 2nd and a 3rd viewing of the movie.

I was recently having a discussion on Gmail with some of my friends who have seen the movie, and was also going through hundreds of posts on internet about what people believe the ending of the movie signifies. And a few thoughts of my own regarding the ending filled my brain (finally some random ideas after 6 months of inactivity of my grey cells).

I would be putting down my thoughts below assuming that you have already seen the movie and are aware of terms like totem, architect etc. If you have not yet seen the movie, I would suggest to read no further as there are spoilers in rest of the post (and anyway, you are not going to understand even a bit).

So here are my 2 cents about the ending -


A totem, as described in the movie, is a small personalized item that only the owner knows a specific thing about. However, throughout the movie, Cobb is shown spinning the top in front of everyone else in his team (including Ellen Page who has not even officially joined the team yet). And everyone is aware what Cobb's totem is. Do you think Cobb, who is more experienced than anybody else in his team about the way things work in dreamworld and reality, would spin his totem in open? Maybe he deliberately did so. Maybe he wanted everyone (including audience) to believe that the spinning top was his totem.

Cobb always used his left hand for spinning the top. It is the hand on which he wears his wedding ring. As pointed out by many on internet, the ring is there every time he spins the top. However, it is not there in the very last scene. Is it possible that whenever Cobb used to spin the top, he simultaneously looked at his finger secretly? The spinning top would distract the onlooker (and the audience as well) into believing that it is the totem, while the real totem always lay on his finger. And in the very last scene, since he was not wearing a ring (indicating that he is now in real world), and since he also got his kids back, and had no intention to return to his old profession again, he did not care at all if the spinning top stopped or not.

Nolan is a fine craftsman. In most of his previous movies such as "The Following", "Memento" and "The Prestige", he has made us think only in one direction throughout, until the very end. Only in the last scene of each of these movies has he uncovered the truth. I think this time as well, he has made us believe something which was not the truth. But this time he wants us to uncover the truth ourselves, through the little clues he has left everywhere in the movie.


Inception has more to it than meets the eye. Nolan is known for various experiments he has done so far in his movies. In Memento, he experimented with a non-linear narrative, and gave it a treatment very different than other such movies like Pulp Fiction. While in Insomnia, unlike other thrillers, he focused not on the psyche of the serial killer, but of the detective. And no need to mention that with the two Batman movies, he has redefined the way comic books are adapted. But I believe that his biggest experiment so far is Inception. Here is my reasoning -

Cobb and his team were not the only people who were able to complete the act of Inception in the movie. There was one more guy who actually was successful in this act, and it was Christopher Nolan. He planted the idea in the minds of millions of viewers, that the spinning top is Cobb's totem. And at the very end, the scene cuts to the spinning top, and everybody keeps guessing whether the top would topple to suggest Cobb's return to reality. Or would it keep spinning forever as if Cobb is still in a dream.

You would have noticed, that in both the incidents shown in the movie where an idea was successfully incepted into the subject's mind, it was the very end of the dream where actual inception happened. Although, the foundation of the idea was laid down slowly and steadily during the course of dreams, it was not until the end of the dream that the inception completed. If I draw analogies and say that movie was like a dream, audience the subject, and Nolan the architect, then it would be appropriate to say that Nolan built up the idea in audience' minds that spinning top was Cobb's totem. Nowhere in the movie has Cobb admitted by himself that the top is his totem. He spins the top, but maybe the reason for this could be the one I mentioned earlier. Perhaps the wedding ring was his totem. Or perhaps his children's faces (thats another theory posted on internet).

And at the very end of the movie, he leaves the top spinning, and audience come out of the dream believing that the top is Cobb's totem. Everyone on first viewing would have ignored the presence or absence of a wedding ring on his hand, and the spinning top in the end would have strengthened the idea that it was the totem (Remember, its not easy to recall what happened in a dream, except the very end). The reason why the last scene cut to the spinning top was because that was the idea he wanted to implant in our minds.

Nolan would be a proud man to have carried out this act of inception. And I personally believe that this is exactly what Nolan would have intended to do when he had finished the script for this movie. He implanted an idea in millions of viewers' minds that spinning top was the totem. He put an idea into critics' minds that the movie was just a well-crafted thriller - something like matrix. It is a perfect way of manipulating with a viewer's psyche.

Thought provoking. Isn't it?

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