Did The Top Fall? and Other Mysteries of ‘Inception’
By JOSHUA LAWSON and MARSHALL SCHULTE
If you haven’t seen “Inception” yet, this article is not for you.
JOSH: That top was about to fall. Just saying.
MARSHALL: After seeing it again, I’ll agree that the top was definitely about to fall, but I don’t think it actually matters. The top wasn’t just something to keep him within reality; it used to be Mal’s totem. In a way, it was Cobb’s connection with Mal.
The top was Mal’s totem, so it can’t really work for him. So instead, his perception of reality affects whether it falls. If he thinks he’s in a dream, the top doesn’t fall. If he doesn’t, the top falls. In the end, he spins the top and doesn’t wait for it to fall. He just walks away toward his children. He doesn’t care anymore.
JOSH: That’s interesting, but I think the top was much more symbolic. When Cobb breaks into Mal’s subconscious to perform inception, I have to think that there’s more to it than simply opening a safe and spinning a top as we witness with Fischer. Inception is much more complicated.
The top signifies reality. Cobb comes into possession of it when Mal goes on to what she perceives as her reality, and at the end of the movie when Cobb puts it down on the table, he doesn’t even bother to look at it. He was discarding it. He had found his reality—his children—so he gives the top to the audience.
MARSHALL: That could certainly be the case. I feel like any interpretation of “Inception” is pretty legitimate, since Christopher Nolan must have deliberately made the movie as ambiguous as he possibly could. However, the editing of the movie supports the “it’s all a dream” argument. In the scene where Cobb is introducing Ariadne to the concept of being in someone else’s dream, he asks her how she even arrived at her current location, and she cannot tell him. A lot of the scene transitions don’t make very much sense, but nobody seemed to notice.
JOSH: I definitely agree that the editing does seem to skip forward throughout the movie. For instance, near the end of the movie when everyone other than Cobb and Saito has made it out of the bottom two layers of the dream, it’s implied that they simply wait out the rest of their time back on the top layer, the city block.
But none of this is seen or even hinted at. I see the distinctive transitions of “Inception” as little more than Nolan’s characteristic style of streamlined editing. He knows what’s essential to the flow of the story and doesn’t want to bore his audience with what isn’t.
MARSHALL: Well, Nolan is certainly interested in red herrings though. When I compared Cobb’s kids during that early flashback to how they appear during the ending, they looked exactly the same to me. But according to IMDB.com, completely different children play them, supposedly representing a two-year gap. And according to costume designer Jeffrey Kurland, they were even wearing different clothing. But I can’t get over how similar their positions and appearances were. It’s almost identical.
There seems to be a counter to everything in this movie though. For instance, if you look, Cobb only has his wedding ring on during dreams. During scenes that are supposed to represent reality, he doesn’t have it on. The counter to that could be that since he isn’t wearing his wedding ring during the ending, it could simply mean that he’s finally over Mal. It’s hard to be sure.
JOSH: Yeah, I was really excited hearing about the wedding ring theory until you pointed out that he might just be over Mal finally. You’re definitely right about there being a counter to everything in this movie. I must say though, that the intended two-year difference in the children, even if it all looked the same, firmly supports my anti-dream stance.
There’s a very important scene in the movie where Cobb explains to his father-in-law that his children are waiting for him to return and that is their reality. Inversely, Cobb’s reality is his children and at the end of the movie, when his children turn around, he has found his reality and he doesn’t need a totem to tell him that.
But when it comes down to it, everyone is going to see whatever ending they want to. I want to see Cobb happy and reunited with his children, and so he does. That’s my reality.
MARSHALL: Well, the children he sees at the end could have just been Cobb’s idea of what they would probably look like after the two years he was away from them. And in that last scene, when he walks away from the spinning top, Cobb does indeed accept that as his reality. But I think the key is that he doesn’t care whether that reality is real or a dream. Nolan leaves it up to the audience to accept it along with Cobb or believe it to be a dream with Mal. We may disagree on the ending, but I think we both agree that it was a great movie.