The 20 seconds that ruined Inception

Inception Token

Last week I saw Inception with my daughter.  I was seriously considering giving this flick a miss after reading Michelle Malkin’s rant about its empty-headed actors.  Nothing ruins a movie faster than an actor going off-script!  Actors are given scripts written by others for very good reasons.  Most of them have stunted childlike minds that rarely emit ideas worth considering.  I have no patience for such nonsense and I certainly won’t pay for it. Lucky for Inception its Cineplex competitors were defining a new standard of airbending suckitude — move over Plan 9 there’s a new fetid pant load in town.

Spoiler Alert

To my relief the juvenile politics of Inception’s actors did not manifest in the movie.  Inception is a fine film but it threw away its slim chance at greatness in the last twenty seconds.  At this point I must issue an all points spoiler alert.  Do not read  beyond this paragraph if you want to preserve your faint chance of being surprised.

Inception is all about recursive nature of reality and dreams.  What is a dream and what is reality?  How does dream time relate to real-time?  Does such a question even make sense? Are we in a dream?  What happens if we dream in a dream?  The movie tackles these themes with technical gusto. The special effects are so special you forget about being impressed and just enjoy the story.  On this account Inception succeeds were Avatar sounded some sour notes.  You cannot fault this movie on technical grounds.  Nor can you fault it on cheesy subject matter.  How many Hollywood blockbusters deal with the nature of reality?

To avoid getting lost in dreams the Inception dreamers carried a personal test token. The test token is a small object that behaves one way in dream worlds and another way in reality. And, this is crucial to Inception’s plot, only one dreamer should know the token’s trick. DiCaprio’s character used the spinning top shown above.  As some readers have pointed out the spinning top is DiCaprio’s wife’s token but he knows that in dreams the top never stops spinning while in the real world it tips over. By spinning the top he can distinguish dreams from reality.

In the last twenty seconds of Inception DiCaprio’s character returns home and starts the top spinning on a table.  Throughout the film he has been trying to catch glimpses of his children’s faces.  In his dreams their faces are always turned away.  Finally, they turn their heads and he sees their faces.  Then the camera cuts to the spinning token. It’s still spinning but it’s wobbling and starting to fall.

The film ends before the token falls. I’m guessing the director just couldn’t stomach the focus group happy ending and spared us the indignity of watching the top fall.  Despite the residual uncertainty, maybe it doesn’t fall and this isn’t reality but another dream, the implication is clear enough we are safe and sound and back in the real world.   A better ending would have been no top wobbling and no child faces. Then everything would have been marvelously ambiguous and unclear.  Never pander to the audience art is to delicate for that!

28 thoughts on “The 20 seconds that ruined Inception

  1. I think you misunderstood the children and faces. Cobb was avoiding looking at them because he didn’t want to become attached to them in the dream and thus it would be much too difficult to do something like kill himself. As for the top wobbling, that’s up for interpretation on why it may have wobbled–for instance if Cobb was still dreaming its possible that external forces (gravity, earthquake, someone shaking him) could have caused a disturbance in his dream world.

    • You’re right about the kids. As for the top there is ambiguity but I would have preferred things fully unresolved.

    • I believe it was his wife’s but since he knew the “trick” he could still use it.

  2. Why in the world would the architect (who is trying to fool him into thinking it as the real world) make a top that wouldn’t stop spinning? The token only works if he is the architect and makes it that way.

  3. He didn’t look at his children’s faces in his dreams because that would mean he was accepting the dream he was confronted with.

    Him seeing their faces simply means that he accepts that reality.

    It doesn’t add any implication as to whether he is awake or not.

    The top wobbling allows enough ambiguity.

    If the top didn’t wobble at all then the audience would presume he was in a dream still.

    So you’re ending would mean that “IT WAS A DREAM ALL ALONG!” the one ending that would be oh so predictable and that no one wants. The film would have been laughed out of cinema’s “Oh my god, it was a dream all along. Just how cliche could they get”

    No, the ending we get is that he now accepts the reality he is currently presented with and the top wobbling but without allowing it to fall is enough to suggest it could still be dream..

    All of this belies the big question which is what was his Totem?
    Because he use Mal’s token, not his own. If Mal knew that the totem was intended to fall over in the real world then if she was in fact the architect in their initial journey into the unknown then she would know that the top was supposed to fall and so in the first level of dreaming it would and the whole test would be invalid.

    So there is plenty there to speculate that he is still in the dream.

    • You make some good points. Your “it was a dream all along” being viewed as a let down is likely. Whatever this film is it’s not a Sixth Sense.

  4. The reason the camera cuts away at the end is that Cobb doesn’t stay to watch the top fall. The reason Cobb doesn’t watch it fall is that he knows he’s in reality. Mal is not and never was a dream architect; she has neither the aptitude nor enough training.

  5. I do not agree at all I loved inceptio it is a grate movie and I think the spinning token in the end is just like “Are we all just dreaming? Or is it reality?”

    • Irrelevant to the story. The forever spinning top was his wife’s token but he was in on the secret and the fact that he knew was key to the plot.

  6. Just saw this yesterday, but you are slightly mistaken about the tokens – they tell you if you are in your own dream or someone else’s, not necessarily whether you are in a dream or reality. That’s why it was important not to let anyone else get a hold of your token – if only you know its characteristics, those characteristics will be unique to your dreamworld.

    So the top falling could mean he was in the real world, or possibly someone else’s dream. What that means, I haven’t figured out yet!

  7. Well, sorry to say it but…. The fact is, that as we are being told in the movie, Cobb and his wife had lived in the dream for a life time. Now, if we divide all the layers there could possibly be, it would still be atleast a couple of years. But the kids still wears the same cloth, are the same height, and everything else is just as he remembers. I find the token to be bullshit, to cheat the common viewer, into thinking “Everything is good and I can go live a happy life” while people who likes to think about this stuff, or lucid dreamers* will realize, that a token inside a dream is fine, but since it is your dream, the “endless spinning token” can still fall, if you want it to. Conclusion; He now accept THIS layer to be reality, but I can assure you, it is not THE reality. But you can live happily in a dream, can’t you?

    • At the deepest level, where Cobb lived with his wife, the dream time was vastly expanded. A few weeks at that level corresponded to many years in “reality” so it’s possible the “real” kids did not significantly age while a lifetime passed in deep dream. I see your point and I agree Cobb could still be in a dream.

  8. Forgot to add *Lucid dreamers are people who in real life, actually spends time in trying to live through their dreams, kind of like inception. It is a real thing, and a quick google search should explain everything about it.

    • You are correct but remember Cobb knows his wife’s token trick: it doesn’t stop spinning in dream worlds. Only a token’s owner should know the trick. The fact that he knew his wifes trick essentially made the token his own.

  9. I personally believe that Cobb’s Totem is not the spinning top,during the movie, he states that it was his wife’s, and they also say that everybody has to have their own totem so only they can understand how it works. If you study the movie carefully, it seems rational that Cobb’s Totem is his Wedding Ring. in his dreams they are still together which is why he is always wearing it in his dreams, but when he is in reality, he is not wearing it symbolizing that they are apart because she is dead. and in the last scene, he’s NOT wearing one

    Is it just a coincidence? possibly, but only the director really knows

  10. I agree with most of your comments, but as others have said, Cobb wasn’t going to look at his kids faces unless he was sure we was not in a dream. Ending the movie before seeing what happens to the top was brilliant, as it has resulted in a ton of interesting discourse on the web.

    My personal opinion is that we don’t get to see the top fall or stay up because Cobb doesn’t care anymore — he has accepted he is in reality and isn’t planning on going anywhere — ergo the result of the top no longer matters. It’s over for him.

    Unfortunately, he is still in a dream and his wife is waiting for him 1 or 2 levels up in actual reality. When she jumped from the hotel, SHE WAS RIGHT. If they were trapped for 50 years in unconstructed dreamspace, then they had to be at least 3 levels down. When they were run over by the train, they pop-up only one level.

    Finally, Cobb’s use of her token is utterly invalid as it does whatever he wants. Where is his token? He doesn’t have one and thus he really has no idea where he really is.

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