Inception: Explanation of the ending scene

inception(non commercial)

Year 2010: Christopher Nolan new film, Inception, is released. The sci-fi thriller fascinated cinema fans just as much as it confused them. As if the plot wasn’t complex enough, the last scene left audiences wondering about its meaning. You know what I’m talking about, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, finally arrives back home after successfully carrying out his job. There he spins his top for one last time, but immediately leaves to see his children while the top is still spinning. When it seems that it’s about to topple, the ending credits roll causing a huge debate about whether Cobb is still in a dream or is indeed in reality. Although Christopher Nolan stated that the significance of the last scene is that Cobb doesn’t stay to check if the top topples because he has finally reached the reality he chose, the debate still lingers. Well the truth is that Cobb is most certainly in reality and here’s why:

1. The wedding ring

If you pay close attention to Cobb’s left hand throughout the entire movie you will notice that every time he enters a dream he is wearing his wedding ring, but when he wakes up and is back in reality he doesn’t. Probably this is because Mal exists in his dreams and so he is still married to her. After he wakes up in the aeroplane, he doesn’t wear his ring. This can be noticed both in the airport when he is handing his papers and in the last scene when he’s with his children. This means that he either is in reality at the end or he is in a dream in all the other scenes he appears to be in reality. In other words, if Cobb isn’t in reality at the end, then the whole film is a dream.

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2. The spinning top

Although we never see the top falling, it is pretty clear that its spinning is quite ‘real’. Instead of the perfect spinning observed in the dream world, the top in the last scene is unsteady and even wobbles just a second before the ending credits roll. This would not happen in a dream.

3. Christopher Nolan’s direction

Christopher Nolan is a director who likes to give away small hints for his audience. He did it again in Memento and The Prestige, although I’m not gonna comment on these movies so not to spoil anything. The point is, they also contain confusing parts which can be explained by small details in some scenes. Now the only way Cobb is not in reality at the end of the film is the entire movie being a dream. In such a case, not only would it be impossible to prove either theory, but it would make Nolan’s small hints useless. One could argue that it would make the whole plot useless. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that such a plot would contradict Nolan’s style and direction.

4. The children’s age

For all those who believed that at the end Cobb is still dreaming, I understand that you may have not been convinced by the first three points because you still have an ace up your sleeve: the children at the end are the same as the children before Cobb left. This is definitely the no.1 argument for the dream theory. The children at the end are exactly the same with the same clothes whereas if Cobb was in reality the children would be older. Well, this is actually wrong. The children are not the same, they are indeed older  in the last scene and this can be seen in the credits.

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There are two different pairs of children in the screenplay. The pair Cobb sees in his dreams is 3-year-old Philippa and 20-month-old James whereas at the end, the children are older by two years (the time Cobb spent outside the US) and are played by different actors. Even their clothes are slightly different (Philippa wears a white shirt inside her dress and James wears shoes instead of sandals).

So, it is pretty clear that Nolan intended for Cobb to be in reality by the film’s end. Anyway Cobb could have stayed in limbo where he could have both his wife and his children if he wanted. You can still argue of course that the film is fantasy and rules mean nothing at all, but if so I can’t do anything about it. In any case the point of the film is that reality is subjective and that we have to chase the reality we believe in. As Christopher Nolan himself put it in a speech in Princeton University:

“In the great tradition of these speeches, generally someone says something along the lines of ‘Chase your dreams’ but I don’t want to tell you that because I don’t believe that. I want you to chase your reality.”

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Review: Interstellar (2014)

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Christopher Nolan’s most recent film is an epic adventure in space filled with science and philosophy as the characters go into an interstellar expedition in order to save humanity. It is I think the British director’s most mature work and it could have been his best picture if not for its disappointing ending. One can’t avoid drawing comparison to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (one of Christopher Nolan’s favourite films). Interstellar is indeed an odyssey of its own, but it ultimately fails where 2001 succeeds.

The story is quite long and can be split into three parts. The first part (the first 40 minutes) takes place in earth at some point in the future when a kind of space dust has filled the planet eventually causing a food shortage. People are only concentrated in surviving. Most of them become farmers and as a result, technological advance is put aside. Our main character is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former pilot and engineer who is struggling to adapt to his new life as a farmer while raising his son and daughter. Murph, his daughter, is a brilliant kid with a great interest in science as her father. One day she claims that a ghost is trying to send some messages to her through the books in her room. Cooper translates one of those messages (without understanding their source), and it leads him to a secret base where what is left of NASA is trying to carry out a mission to find an inhabitable planet. They mention that they also have been conducted by seemingly supernatural forces that they believe to be 5-dimension beings. Cooper is chosen to pilot the spaceship Endurance joined by the scientists Brand (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) as well as two robots.

The second part takes place in space. The goal is to pass through a wormhole near Saturn that will lead them to another galaxy where three previous missions, each for a different planet, have reached planets that can possibly be inhabitable. The plan is to find the best of these three planets and if possible go back to earth to bring all remaining people to this new planet (Plan A). If resources do not allow for a journey back to earth, the plan is to use fertilized eggs they carry with them to create a colony and preserve the human kind (Plan B). Note that these planets are very close to a giant black hole which decelerates time which results in Cooper’s children becoming older than him. I don’t want to go into any more details. Let’s just say that the first two planets didn’t work and the resources left were very limited so Cooper manages to send what is left of Endurance into the third planet sacrificing himself in the process by falling into the black hole. Brand, the only remaining member of the crew, is supposed to follow plan B in this planet.

Before I talk about the third and last part, which is actually only the last 30 minutes, I want to comment on how good this second part was. It was amazing! Everything about it was a masterpiece: the visual effects, the score, the imagery, the story, everything. Most of all though, the dialogues. As I mentioned above the film also gets philosophical at times amidst the so well-researched scientific script. You listen to the astronauts talking about supermassive black holes and the next moment they discuss about love being a total mystery that overcomes the barriers of space and time. It was much more though-provoking than I expected. The idea alone that a time may come when earth won’t have the necessary ingredients to sustain human life is terribly frightening. The main theme of the film I think is survival and how far people are determined to go in order to survive. What would you do if you have to choose between the people you love and the preservation of the human kind? I hope we never come to face this dilemma.

And then comes the last part, the ending. This is where everything goes wrong. We discover that the ghost and these 5-dimension beings are actually future humans who have evolved into much more powerful beings and allow for Cooper to send messages in the past to help the people of his age. Then, we learn that Murph and her team managed to create a station that can travel in space and save a lot of people, Cooper somehow is transferred there from the black hole and Brand starts a new human colony in the third planet. All this carefully taken care of scientific background becomes something closer to fantasy. First of all there’s the predestination paradox we so often come across in sci-fi movies. How did future humans survive if they needed Cooper to send these messages to NASA? And even if there is an explanation for that as some people claim, why didn’t future humans make things a bit easier? They could travel through time and they supposedly created the wormhole that made the whole plan possible. Couldn’t they create a wormhole next to the earth so that everyone could be saved? Couldn’t they inform people about the best possible planet? And if NASA created a station in space that could sustain life for thousands of people, couldn’t it do the same in the Earth saving many more? Maybe Christopher Nolan just wanted a happy ending. Maybe he wanted to satisfy people who didn’t care much about science. For me, the last minutes only managed to ruin my impression of the previous 2 hours.

In any case Interstellar is a great and very engaging film and its technical aspects are amazing. The ending made the plot seem a bit faulty, but this doesn’t make it a bad film. In fact I would recommend it to everyone. You never know, maybe there is a pretty good and scientific explanation for everything and I’m completely wrong. Maybe this is why 2001 is better. Kubrick knew which answers he could answer and which he could not. So instead of coming up with some out-of-place explanations about the monolith and evolution, he just leaves everything open for interpretation letting the movie speak for itself. I wish Interstellar did the same.

8/10