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inception movie in depth critical analysis and cinematography

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inception movie in depth critical analysis and cinematography

How we understand the ending of Christopher Nolan's inception has everything to do with this spinning top. We're told the top is Dom Cobb’s totem. It helps him differentiate dreams from reality, if he's in a dream it spins endlessly but if he's in reality, the laws of physics make it topple over. As the film comes to an end, we think Cobb has resurfaced back up through the many onion layers of dreams we've witnessed to reality but then the camera moves over to the spinning top and just before the spinning top appears to be wobbling as it cut to black Nolan deliberately cuts to black before we can tell if the top is about to stop. So let's look at all of the evidence and theories out there to finally decide whether Cobb is still dreaming or not and how much it really matters.

Inception Scene

 

To determine whether they're awake or in a dream, Cobb's team uses small charm like objects totems. Film quotation: “you need a small object potentially heavy something. You can have on you all the time that no one else makes.” Cobbs totem is different in some key ways from other people's totems and this is one reason unpacking the ending based on the top gets so complicated.

Most totems like Arthur's loaded die and re-add knees Bishop have an irregularity so they're unique in reality but turn ordinary and dreams the point of having an abnormal totem is that if you're trapped in someone else's dream the objects normally will be a giveaway to you but the person in control of the dream won't know it cobb spinning top is the opposite. it's unique in dreams and ordinary in reality and this is problematic because if he's in someone else's dream they'd assume a top spins normally too. So that means he could be in a dream controlled by someone else without ever knowing it even if the top does fall right over after we cut to black, then, it's still not conclusive proof that Cobbs not in somebody else's dream and there's another key way in which Cobbs totem is different from the others.

 

 

Inception Action Scene

 

The features of the totem aren't supposed to be shared with anyone. Film Quotation: “I can't let you touch it that would defeat the purpose he owned the eye you know the balance and the weight of this particular loaded die. That way when you look at your totem you know beyond a doubt that you're not in someone else's dream.”

So it should raise our suspicions that both Ariadne and Cobb’s late wife, Mal, know how his totem works. The top actually belonged to Mal first. Film Quotation: “This one was hers she's spinning the dream it would never talk just spin and spin.”

So theoretically Dom could be trapped in Ariadne’s or Mal’s dreams but that would mean either that Ariadne betrayed Dom or that Mal isn't really dead and the scene where she killed herself actually took place in a dream state.

Some argue that if the top originally belonged to Mal it can't be Cobb’s totem because a totem can only belong to one person but while we're left to wonder what Cobbs totem was before Mal died were never told that taking the totem of someone who's died is a problem. He's not sharing it with another living person.

According to one theory, the top spins endlessly in dreams because Cobb forces it to by concentrating on it. So even if it is about to topple in the last scene it could be just that he's looked away from it and isn't concentrating on it anymore. So again he could still be in a dream and then there's a fan theory that Cobbs real totem isn't the top at all but his wedding ring. Cobb only wears his ring in dreams and not in real life.

Inception Scene Cobb with Ariadne

 

From what we see of other totems they seem to move with the owner between waking and dreaming life. Although hypothetically there's nothing to say a totem can't only appear in dreams. Wearing his ring only in dreams is important because it symbolizes that he's close to Mal’s dreams and distant from her in reality. In the final scene we don't get a clear shot or close up of Cobb’s hand but we can see that he's not wearing the ring when he goes through airport security on his way home. So even if the ring isn't his totem its absence does support the argument that he's back in reality. Overall given all this evidence and diverse theorizing it seems likely that the top is Cobbs real totem the way Nolan talks about the movie makes it seem like he's thinking of the top as the totem as well. Christopher Nolan Quotation: “but at the end of the film there's a spinning top that's spinning and if it fools or doesn't fool is the key idea is it a dream as it reality.”

And in the final shot, it does look like the top is starting to slow down about to eventually fall over so all of this is slightly in favor of its being reality at least there's not enough evidence to declare otherwise but Nolan intentionally cuts out before we see if the top falls because he does not want to give us the answer.

So for a better more full answer we have to look around at all of the other evidence besides the totem. one reason people believe Cobb is in a dream is that there's some confusion about how exactly people get out of limbo during the fissure inception job Ariadne resurfaces from limbo to reality dream layer by dream layer but in flashbacks Cobb and Mal seem to go straight from limbo to reality. So this could be an indication that Cobb and Mal only go one layer up from limbo and Cobb’s been in a dream this whole time.

But the difference may well be that Ariadne is just riding a kick that is that she's triggering the falling feeling which will wake her up into the next dream layer while Cobb and Mal actually kill themselves in limbo which whisks them straight back up to the real world. Some viewers are also suspicious of the Mombasa chasing where the walls close in on Cobb in a way that just couldn't happen in reality. As well as how characters repeat certain lines. Film Quotation: “I am an old man. Filled with regret, waiting to die alone.”

So it's hard to know if Nolan is just toying with us or if all of this craziness is a sign that Cobb really is in a dream. At the end of the film Cobb studies his home to make sure that everything is as it should be and he doesn't notice any physical signs that something's off. We have a solid understanding of how Cobb wound up back home while people and dreams are usually confused about the lead-up to an event. Film Quotation: “how did you get here? Where are you right now?”

We know that each detail of a dream has to be perfect right down to the carpeting. Film Quotation: “stain and frayed in such distinctive ways but very definitely made of wool. I know. I’m lying on polyester”. The dream world also isn't stable it has giveaways like spontaneous explosions, Warped terrain and bizarre weather. Film Quotation: “Strange weather, isn’t it?”

Anything that happens in the Dreaming person's physical reality will disrupt the dream. So if a person is airborne on one dream level, their dream self on another level defies gravity. Overall, the lack of these signs and the peace and normalcy of the film's final scene point to it being reality and of course the biggest disrupter of the dream world is a person subconscious. Film Quotation: “mind telling your subconscious to take it easy. My subconscious remember I can't control”. The projection of Cobbs subconscious guilts is usually mol. She constantly appears in dreams and sabotages his work.

Inception Scene Di Caprio

 

Film Quotation: “your guilt defines her it's what powers her”. But in the last scene, she's nowhere to be found. So this indicates again that there's no reason to believe he's in a dream. Likewise if he were asleep and someone were trying to perform an inception or an extraction on Cobb, we'd probably see signs of his subconscious trying to attack that person like in the Fischer inception jobs. Film Quotation: “Fischer’s had an extractor teach his subconscious to defend itself so his subconscious is militarized. It should have shown in the research”

But we see no evidence that there's anything to attack. There's also the fact that in dreams before this Cobb only sees his children with their backs turned. Here he sees their faces and while the children look a lot like they did in the dreams for the scene Nolan actually used slightly older child actors and different clothing to show the passage of time. So given all of the miscellaneous evidence together, we'd say it's more likely that Cobb is awake but because we can't arrive at an airtight answer through just the facts it's actually more revealing to look at what Nolan is getting at fanatically in his ending. More striking than the factual question of whether he is dreaming or awake is the fact that Cobb doesn't seem to care about the answer to this question. He spends the top so he clearly has some doubts about whether he's in reality but then he gets distracted by his kids and stops looking at the top, the camera cutting to black is Cobb no longer looking to his totem to tell him what's real.

The symbolism is that the legitimacy of his reality isn't his main concern anymore. Earlier in the film Cobb is totally fixated on the distinction between dreams and real life to the point where it's taken over everything. If he thinks he's stuck in a dream he'll shoot himself in the head to get out of it but after he confronts his guilt personified in Mal and returns home at last Cobb feels that this world is real.

Nolan himself has said: “the way the end of that film worked Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Cobb, he was off with his kids, he was in his own subjective reality and didn't really care anymore and that makes a statement that perhaps all levels of reality are equally valid.”

So on one level Nolan's choice not to confirm what a dream is and what's waking life is preventing us from writing off the importance of dreams. The film reminds us again and again that the emotions of a dream are unbearably real. Film Quotation: “it's never just a dream as it face full of glass hurts like hell when you're in it feels real”

The only reality we know is what we perceive. Film Quotation: “they feel real while we're in them right it's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange”. This is why Cobbs decision to perform inception on Mal is a huge mistake. He wants her to doubt the reality of their extended shared dream in limbo but he ends up making her distrust all her experiences. Film Quotation: “possessed by an idea. This one very simple idea that changed everything that our world wasn't real that she needed to wake up to come back to reality.”

As a result Mal loses her bearings and her real life and loved ones feel like a dream she can't wake up from. Cobbs final mind state is a reversal of Mal’s. she couldn't trust in the reality of anything. He decides to trust in what feels real to him without giving into any more worry and doubt. But even if Cobb doesn't care if he's dreaming or not we clearly do audiences care very much about what's really happening here. Nolan said: “the question of whether that's a dream or whether it's real is the one I've been asked the most about any of the films I've made. it matters to people enormously and that's the point about reality reality matters it won't be transcended.”

 

Inception ActionScene

 

And throughout the film does alert us to the danger of mistaking dreams for reality or choosing to believe that dreams are superior. Film Quotation: “Why do they do it? after a while it becomes the only way you can dream.” Reality is rich because we're not in control. Objective reality lets us be surprised and amazed by other people. Film Quotation: “I can’t imagine you with all your complexity, all your perfection, all your imperfection.” and in reality we're not suffocated by our subconscious emotions and perceptions. So yes, it does matter if he's back in reality or not. This is the reason the ending of the film is still so hotly debated. Whether Cobb is awake or asleep changes our understanding of what this story means. Even though Nolan admits that objective reality matters in Inception he's also saying that there is no such thing as truly objective reality. The problem is that even when we're awake our realities are subjective. Our experiences our sensory data perceived by our eyes and ears interpreted by our brains filtered through our subconscious feelings. So the result is going to be different for everybody. The leap of faith line that recurs in the film. Film Quotation: “do you want to take a leap of faith? I’m asking you to take a leap of faith.” could be interpreted by some as a sign that Cobb is in a dream but it's also Nolan's way of encouraging us to live fully in our world even though that world is inherently mysterious. It's not that all realities dream or waking are equal, it's that no one can tell you for sure. You have to figure it out for yourself. It's significant that all of the characters in this movie are paranoid that their dreams might be infiltrated or controlled by others. This is a bigger metaphor for the fear that we're living someone else's idea of reality someone else's dream and what could be sadder than that in our own lives we have to decide what we believe is truly real and then commit to that. So inception leaves us with two takeaways that might seem contradictory but are equally true. Objective reality matters but at the same time reality is what's true to you. We have to be detectives of our own truth and figure out what we feel in our bones to be real. In the end Cobb is awake and the life that feels realest to him. He's living his best life. Film Quotation: “An idea that is fully formed fully understood- that sticks right in there somewhere.”

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