Watched Inception, got questions? Here’s a roundup of the web’s best answers (contains spoilers).
So you’ve seen Inception. First things first: Go empty your bladder. Now: React. It was amazing! It blew your mind! It was the best movie you’ve ever seen! Christopher Nolan is a genius! Um … What happened, exactly?
Here’s the plot synopsis you should have committed to memory before you went to see the movie:
Acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan directs an international cast in an original sci-fi actioner that travels around the globe and into the intimate and infinite world of dreams. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the dangerous art of extraction, stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state, when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb’s rare ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved. Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back, but only if he can accomplish the impossible inception. Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse: their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime. But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming.
Now to understand the meaning of the film – starting with the end. Did the top stop spinning, or what? And what does it mean about the film as a whole?
Bilge Ebiri at New York Magazine thinks the top keeps spinning, and this indicates that Cobb is still dreaming. “If so, then he has either lost himself in Limbo entirely, or Mal was right all along, and his world was always a dream.”
Steven James Snyder of Techland also thinks Cobb is still trapped in limbo. He writes, “We never really see the beginning of Cobb’s story – which parallels something that Cobb himself notes about all dreams later in the film: You can’t remember how it started.”
Devin Faraci of CHUD.com not only thinks the entire thing was a dream but goes on to say that the movie is a metaphor for itself. “What [Nolans]‘s ultimately saying is that the catharsis found in a dream is as real as the catharsis found in a movie is as real as the catharsis found in life … The whole film being a dream isn’t a cop-out or a waste of time, but an ultimate expression of the film’s themes and meaning. It’s all fake. But it’s all very, very real. And that’s something every single movie lover understands implicitly and completely.”
Cole Abaius at Film School Rejects disagrees: “I choose to believe that Dom and the rest of his team are all real people inhabiting a real world where dream-infiltration is possible, and that Dom has truly joined the waking world at the end of the film.” He argues that the structure of the film points to Dom being awake.
Nina Shen Rastogi at Slate also ponders this possibility, as one of five ways of looking at Inception. She notes that “as soon as Cobb wakes up, everything progresses almost too perfectly. Could the ending, in fact, be too good to be true?” She also points out that Dom’s children don’t seem to have aged by the end of the film. Yet she adds that it’s been noted that “Cobb appears to wear his wedding ring in all the dream sequences, and only in the dream sequences – but he’s not wearing a ring in the final scene. This suggests that Cobb did, indeed, go home to his kids and the real world.”
Naturally, it took a Lost mastermind to come up with the most mindbending explanation of all – Damon Lindelof tweeted that maybe the top neither stopped, nor kept spinning.
But what if a dream expert analyzed the film’s meaning? Glad you asked! Cinema Blend offers an analysis of Inception using Jungian archetypes – Mal as the Shadow, Saito as the Father, etc.
All right, but whose dream was whose? What’s with all the levels?
Dileep Rao, who plays Yusuf the chemist in the film, explains:
Okay. So first there’s reality. We get on the plane. We go to sleep. Then we’re in my dream, Yusuf’s dream. Because my pee urge causes it to rain. That’s how I see it. The architecture is Ariadne’s (Ellen Page’s) design, but it’s my dream. Then we drop down a level and go to the bar, to the hotel. I think we’re in Arthur’s (Joseph Gorden-Levitt’s) dream at that point. Then – this is where it gets mind-bending – we drop down into Fischer’s (Cillian Murphy’s) dream, even though he thinks they’re going to Browning’s (Tom Berenger’s) dream.
However, it might be easier to look at Techblog’s explanation in a handy-dandy illustrated chart, which explains each of the five levels of Inception, who dreamed it, who goes there, and the kick.
But what about the millions of other niggly questions about specific parts of the movie? Like, why is Saito so much older than Cobb in the final dream level? And why didn’t Arthur wake up when the van drove off the bridge? Cinema Blend went all out to explain a bunch of them, and Salon also has a pretty exhaustive list.
K, but there had to be a hole or two somewhere in the plot, right? Benjamin Radford at Discovery News discusses Inception’s flawed science and logic, including his opinion that Cobb’s motivation is “completely bogus” and the premise that, as Cobb says, “We all use only a fraction of our brain’s potential.” Radford says this is a debunked old myth:
In fact, medical studies have repeatedly shown that humans use all parts of the brain. I don’t blame Nolan for making the mistake, as it’s a common error. But if he’s going to spend 10 years on the script, you might think that he’d double-check the facts in his main character’s dialogue – especially if Cobb is supposed to be the world’s top expert on how the brain works. Let’s hope Nolan’s next film isn’t about a famous painter who casually declares that orange is a primary color.
But flawed or not – finally, a movie that made us think. Hard. Will Inception raise the bar for Hollywood? BBC critic Mark Kermode thinks so: “If this gets a huge mainstream audience, it will demonstrate that the studios have been wrong in assuming that somehow people want dumb movies.” Meanwhile, Cinema Blend has suggested five ways to know if Inception will save blockbusters, like watching where the online conversation goes and whether audiences will support Angelina Jolie’s maverick spy thriller Salt in Inception‘s wake.
And finally there’s the all-important question, asked of every movie that rakes it in at the box office. Will there be a sequel? New York Magazine has five suggestions for one, including a prequel: “What was Cobb’s job like back when he was single and before his nagging wife started turning up in dreams and ruining all the fun? Probably awesome: endless in-limbo keg-partying, threesomes with hot projections, etc.”
But let’s wrap our heads around this movie first.