When it was released in 2010, ‘Inception’ seemed destined to be one of those movies that leave fans arguing about its ending until the heat death of the universe. And for much of the last eight years, that has certainly been the case. The famously ambiguous ending, for those who may need a refresher, saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb reunited at long last with his children. The moment is almost too good to be true, so Dom spins his top – which will either keep spinning in a dream or fall in reality – to test whether or not he’s awake. He’s hardly set the top down when he walks away to join his family. As the film ends, the camera closes in on the top which spins and only begins to wobble as the credits roll. And so, we’ve been left to make up our own minds as to whether or not the ending is real or a dream. But Michael Caine may have just changed all that.
Caine recently hosted a screening of the film in London, and during his introduction, he finally did it. He explained the ending. Or at least, he shared the explanation that was given to him by Christopher Nolan:
“When I got the script of ‘Inception’, I was a bit puzzled by it, and I said to him, “I don’t understand where the dream is.” I said, “When is it the dream and when is it reality?” He said, “Well, when you’re in the scene it’s reality.” So get that – if I’m in it, it’s reality. If I’m not in it, it’s a dream.”
For a film that has been so thoroughly picked apart over the years, that’s a pretty cut and dry answer. Almost hilariously so, in fact. Of course, that’s assuming we can take it at face value. While it very well may be reflective of Nolan’s intent, it could also be that the director was telling Caine what he needed to hear – in this case, the easiest answer. Or perhaps Nolan was offering an “actorly” explanation along the lines of “If you’re in it, it’s real to you.”
Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it. I do have eight years of practice, after all.