Inception: Explanation of the ending scene

inception(non commercial)

Year 2010: Christopher Nolan’s new film, Inception, is released. The sci-fi thriller fascinated cinema fans just as much as it confused them. As if the rest of the plot wasn’t complex enough, the last scene hinted at a huge twist that could turn the plot on its head. 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.


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. The whole point of the top as a totem is that Cobb could manipulate it to spin forever while he was in the dream world. This means that the wobbling itself is a proof of reality.

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 as 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.


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.”


Update (September 19, 2018):

It’s been over a year since I wrote this article. Since then, there was a quite illuminating comment by actor Michael Caine regarding the debate discussed above. Caine, who played Cobb’s father in law in the film, stated that whenever his character appears in the script it is in reality. Since he appears in the final scene, the film ends in reality and the Cobb family lived happily ever after. More details here:


La La Land ending scene analysis


La La Land has given us one of the most interesting, thought-provoking and some may say confusing endings of the recent years. I have read and discussed about several interpretations of it during the last few days and finally I believe I understand what the meaning is. Everyone who’s seen the film knows what I’m talking about. We see Mia 5 years after she left for Paris to start her acting career. She’s now famous, has a new man in her life (they’re probably married too) and even has a child. One night as they wander in the streets of LA, they enter a random club which turns out to be Sebastian’s club, the one he dreamt of creating all his life. He even used the logo Mia designed. When they see each other, Sebastian starts to play their favourite song and we see a vision of an alternative ending. It’s basically a montage of all the major events that happened before only with different, more ideal to say, outcomes. In the vision Mia and Sebastian instantly fall in love with each other, they live the perfect live, Mia performs her play in front of a crowded theatre, Sebastian follows her in Paris where he plays his jazz music, they have a child together and live happily ever after. We then return to reality for a last shot where we see Mia and Sebastian smiling at each other.

Before I share my own interpretation, I would like to point out some things that people got wrong. Apparently, a lot of people think that the vision is Mia and Sebastian imagining what could it be if they stayed together. However, some of the alternative scenes are irrelevant with that. That is, some things we see in the vision wouldn’t have happened, them being together or not. First of all, half of the vision depicts their life before they broke up, but it’s still different. Then there are scenes like Mia’s play which in the vision is crowded. This has nothing to do with them breaking up. So, this is not what would have happened if they stayed together.


Another thing which people are quick to assume is that the film has a sad ending. However, there is no evidence that it was sad for the characters. In fact, a lot of things point in the opposite direction. Just because every single person who’s seen the film wanted Mia and Sebastian to be together doesn’t necessarily mean that THEY wanted to be together. First of all, they were not forced to break up. They could very well stay together if they wanted to, but they chose to go their separate ways. They actually broke up before Mia got her role. They still had love for each other, but they thought that it wouldn’t work and it was best to move on. Furthermore, Mia has a new man in her life, David and it seems that she considers her relationship with him much more serious than her relationship with Sebastian. We see that 5 years later, she has a child that is about 3 years old. This means that she probably met David quite early in her new life and in less than 2 years they had a child together. We also need to consider that at least the first year of her acting career must have been very difficult. Her dream wasn’t fulfilled when she got the role, but much later. In order to become the actress she dreamt of, several things had to happen first; hard work for her first role, commercial and critical success of the movie, interest from other studios/filmmakers, etc. In any case, it wasn’t a good timing for a new relationship. We can assume then that she loved him a lot and was pretty serious about him. Remember that her life with Sebastian was relatively easy and they had plenty of time for each other. Their relationship started to deteriorate when they both faced challenges in their line of work. Moreover, we don’t know anything about Sebastian’s new life. It’s possible that he has a new girlfriend too. He has fulfilled his dream and it wouldn’t be absurd to assume that he’s also very happy in his life. So, they both live their dreams and Mia at least seems to have found the man of her life. You may feel that the story had a sad ending, but did you consider the possibility that the characters were actually happier than ever?


Now, to explain the ending. The most important question we need to ask here is whose is the vision. The way I see it, there can be two interpretations. The most probable one is that it is Mia who’s imagining the alternative ending. Everything focuses on Mia’s dream in the vision. She performs her play in front of a full theatre, she gets the role, Sebastian follows her in Paris, she becomes a famous actress and has a beautiful child. We see nothing about Sebastian’s dream. The club they enter is someone else’s and we see him following Mia instead of focusing on his dream. If you’re not convinced, remember that the last part of the vision, where the couple gets out of the traffic jam and walks to the club, exists only in Mia’s memory so it can’t be that Sebastian is imagining an alternative version of it when he never experienced the original one in the first place. One has to look no further than the title to realize the meaning of the vision. La-La Land is an idiom for a place that is out of touch with reality. Mia has lived for months in La-La Land with Sebastian. She thought that everything was going to work in a sort of magical way, but eventually she snapped out of it. She realized that her relationship with Sebastian wasn’t going to work and that what she really needed to do was work hard to fulfill her dream. Besides, being with Sebastian was never part of her dream. She only dreamt of becoming an actress. While their relationship was supporting her dream everything was perfect, but it didn’t last for long. So upon seeing him again, she visits La-La Land for one last time. Then, she returns to reality realizing that it was foolish to expect Sebastian to only focus on her instead of her dream and that things were better this way. They have both fulfilled their dreams and they still love each other and are grateful for having each other in their life for a while as this has helped them both advance further. Then they smile! How much happier than this can it get?

The other interpretation is that what we see is nobody’s vision. It is rather a message for us, the audience. The film is trying to tell us that the perfect life and perfect relationship simply don’t exist. This is actually the general meaning of the film and it also applies to the case where the vision is Mia’s. It is pointless to expect for everything to work out in an ideal way. The best thing we can do is focusing on our dreams and believe in them. These are what defines us, we are nothing without our dreams and despite many people’s belief, dreams do come true. Even if there are challenges ahead, even if we get disappointed, we should hang on and pursue our goals until we achieve them. La-La Land and Hollywood worlds don’t exist. Life is much different from that and it’s actually very beautiful if we see it the right way.