Four days after Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” hit theaters, Drew Magary of the popular Deadspin site wrote a piece titled, ” ‘Inception’ Was Great, Now Please Stop Talking About It, Ass – - – - -.”
Four days! Has the cycle of consumption, discussion, backlash and backlash against the backlash become so rapid that a filmmaker will spend a decade creating a masterpiece — and less than a week after it’s unveiled, some are saying, “Enough with the talk about this movie!”
Nonsense. The debate about this amazing film is just starting.
“Inception” is one of the most exhilarating, breathtaking, challenging, complex and thought-provoking films I’ve ever seen. Although it’s influenced by everything from “The Matrix” to “Blade Runner” to Fellini’s “8½,” this is a wholly original work about the world of dreams, the power of love, the haunting nature of certain memories and the perseverance of the human soul. (My on-camera review of “Inception” is atsuntimes.com.)
Not everyone agrees. In a review titled, “Can Someone Please Explain Inception to Me?” Rex Reed writes, “At the movies, incomprehensible gibberish has become a way of life, but it usually takes time before it’s clear that a movie really stinks. ‘Inception,’ Christopher Nolan’s latest assault on rational coherence, wastes no time . . . [It's a] deadly exercise in smart-aleck filmmaking . . . from Mr. Nolan’s scrambled eggs for brains . . . ”
I’ll admit I didn’t understand every plot twist and the meaning behind every line of dialogue — but that’s OK. You don’t have to “get” every inch of “Inception” to appreciate it. If Mr. Reed wants a filmgoing experience that is easily understood, might I suggest he watch “Grown Ups” again.
Some friends and colleagues share my enthusiasm for the film; others immediately want to debate me or press me for my interpretation. Either way, isn’t it great to have such a spirited discussion about a summer movie? Nobody’s having passionate arguments about the meaning of “Shrek 4.”
SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read on if you’re planning on seeing “Inception.”
I’m not going to rehash the plot. Let’s get right into some of the more popular theories about the meaning of “Inception” — and what really happens in the final scene.
Here are some possible plot explanations and ending interpretations, along with evidence to support and/or undermine each theory.
1. The most straightforward interpretation: Saito hires Cobb and his team to plant an idea in Fischer’s mind. They succeed, and Cobb is rewarded with a trip home, where he is finally reunited with his children. He will never see his wife in his dreams again. The last scene is reality.
2. At the end of the movie, Cobb is still inside a dream. That’s why the children are the same age as they’ve been throughout the film, playing in the same position and wearing the same clothes. (Ah, but the credits list actors who play Phillipa and James at 3 years and 20 months, respectively — and other actors that play them at ages 5 and 3.)
3. The whole movie is a dream, most likely Cobb’s dream. Nothing that happens in the movie is reality. It’s dream upon dream upon dream. (In one sequence, Mal says to her husband, “How real is your world, with faceless corporate goons chasing you all over the planet?”)
4. Some of the real-world scenes are actually dream scenes, and some of the dream scenes are actually real-world scenes. In this scenario, Cobb’s friend Arthur has actually engineered the entire plan, in an effort to finally free Cobb from his wife. And if that’s the case, my head is about to explode.
5. To go back to the moviemaking metaphor, “Inception” is first and foremost Christopher Nolan’s symphony about the art of making movies. As Devin Faraci of chud.com outlines it, each character in the film represents a key player in the moviemaking process. Cobb is the director. Arthur, who does the research, is the producer. Ariadne, the architect, is the screenwriter. Eames is the actor. Yusuf is the technical expert. Saito is the studio chief. Fischer is the audience.
It doesn’t matter if the ending is a dream or not; Nolan’s primary goal is to take us on a journey about the process of filmmaking.
6. By cutting away as the totem is still spinning, Nolan is creating an inception of his own — planting the seed of an idea in our minds that perhaps Cobb was still dreaming, perhaps he KNEW he was still dreaming and he has embraced that — or he truly has returned to his real life.
7. Jack, Kate and Sawyer were in purgatory, and –
Oh wait, wrong controversial/ambiguous/brilliant/maddening ending.