Turns Out That ‘Inception’ Was What I Said It Was

So, as I learned from Variety, Christopher Nolan recently told the Happy Sad Confused podcast something sort of final about the end of Inception, the subject of endless argument and debate since the movie’s release.

I think it was Emma who pointed out the correct answer, which is Leo’s character—the point of the shot is the character doesn’t care at that point.

(For the record, the Emma in question there would be Emma Thomas, film producer and Nolan’s wife.)

This answer struck me because it’s very much what I argued over a decade ago when I suggested that Inception never was a “puzzle box” movie. Rather, it simply incepted you with the idea that it was a puzzle box movie in order to create an ongoing sense of disorientation.

Here’s what I wrote back in the fall of 2010:

If the movie is not a puzzle movie, the final shot is not important in the way that most people seem to think. Which is not to say that it isn’t important. But the importance isn’t in whether or not the spinner falls, and so whether or not this is reality.

Instead, the importance lies in the fact that Cobb isn’t watching to see, the way he does every other time he spins it. Why isn’t he watching? Because he doesn’t need it. Why doesn’t he need it?

Click through to read my explanation here, but the idea is that he didn’t need the top—or, in Emma Thomas’ observation, doesn’t care about it—because his kids were his real totem, the thing that cannot be faked, and so the thing that tells him this is real.

Re-reading that post today, I realized that the reason why I was so stupefied at the time by people arguing over the ending is because ultimately it was an argument over subtext in a movie that didn’t have any subtext. As you can see in my post, it’s pretty clear that the movie in fact was all text.

At any rate, the top is irrelevant because at this point in the narrative Cobb knows that it’s irrelevant. While neither Nolan or as far as we know Thomas offered an explanation as to why Cobb doesn’t care about the top at the end of Inception, Nolan’s remarks to Wired give up the game:

He’s moved on and is with his kids. The ambiguity is not an emotional ambiguity. It’s an intellectual one for the audience.

This is exactly what I argued in 2010:

We were told almost from the very beginning that the movie was about Cobb needing to get back home to his kids. In a movie that wasn’t a puzzle, a movie where “they were just telling you things”, they told us this. Flat out, and repeatedly. Cobb’s children always were at the very center of the movie.

I’d suggest that after a decade of speculation the mystery is solved, but I never believed there was a mystery to begin with.