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!