The ending of Inception has been studied and discussed countless times since the film’s release, and the answer to whether it was a dream or not might be in a very simple detail. Christopher Nolan’s films are known for exploring concepts like time, memory, and identity in the most believable (yet exciting) ways possible, and he took this to another level in 2010 with Inception. This psychological sci-fi action film had the concept of dreams and their structure as its main themes.
The film takes viewers back and forth between reality and dreams – multilevel dreams. In order for the characters (and, in turn, the audience) to know if they were dreaming or not, each of them had a totem. An Inception totem has a very specific feel to the person it belongs to. In Inception, Arthur uses a loaded die, Ariadne uses a hollowed-out chess piece, and Eames has a poker chip. The most famous of the totems in Inception, however, is the spinning top that Cobb uses because of its connection to the end of the movie.
Inception Theory: Cobb’s Real Totem Was His Wedding Ring
Totems are objects used by the characters to test if they were in the real world or a dream, and they all had specially modified qualities that made them very personal. When in the dream of someone who doesn’t know the totem, its characteristics will be off, which is why it was very important that no one else touched it. Cobb’s totem was a spinning top that originally served as his wife’s (Mal, played by Marion Cotillard), and it’s the one that sparked all the debate over whether the ending of Inception was a dream or not.
However, many viewers pointed out another detail that might suggest Cobb had his original totem, but he didn’t use it anymore: his wedding ring. Cobb wears his wedding ring when he’s in a dream, but not when he’s in the real world. Fans have wondered if the ring was Cobb’s original totem, one that he hasn’t used since Mal’s death as he started using hers. This idea is supported by the ring being an object that could have had very specific characteristics (weight, shape, etc) and it would have been one only Cobb would touch.
What’s interesting about this theory is that, even if the ring wasn’t Cobb’s real totem, this detail helps give more clarity to the ending, as he’s not wearing it in the final scenes, further supporting that he wasn’t dreaming and did reunite with his children – something Michael Caine had already talked about, saying that his character never appeared in dreams, and he shows up at the end. Whether the wedding ring is the key to finally answering the biggest question about Inception or not is unknown, but the truth is that Nolan left a lot of small details everywhere for viewers to form their own interpretation of the ending.
Leonardo DiCaprio Doesn’t Understand Cobb’s Inception Ending Either
Adding to the ambiguity of the ending for the audience is that star Leonardo DiCaprio has made it clear in interviews that he doesn’t understand the ending himself. Following the release of Inception in theaters, the actors involved in the project were repeatedly asked how they interpreted the ending – did the spinning top fall, was the reunion with the children a dream? DiCaprio didn’t offer a definitive answer in interviews and admitted he didn’t really know what was going on. DiCaprio told Marc Maron during the WTF With Marc Maron podcast that what really happened in the scene “depends on the eye of the beholder.”
DiCaprio trusted in Chris Nolan’s vision to tell a story. He had many conversations with Nolan on the set of Inception about the work, but he didn’t make a judgment call on the ending of the movie either way. Nolan offered up a different perspective on the movie when interviewed by Wired in 2011 though, explaining, “The most important emotional thing about the spinning top at the end is that Cobb is not looking at it. He does not care.” Cobb gets back to his kids, and that’s enough for him, whether it’s real or just a dream.
Next: What Each Inception Character Represents (Confirmed By Christopher Nolan)