Was the ending of Inception a Dream Or Reality? – is probably the most discussed topic about the movie. There have been tonnes of theories around the final scene of Inception. Some of the articles claim that Nolan has finally revealed what the spinning top was about. There are other stating that the actors have explained it; like the one which has Michael Caine explaining the ending. What you will notice is most of the articles don’t let you know definitively if that last scene belonged to a dream sequence or reality. And if it were a dream sequence, then who was the dreamer? When does this dream start? …and so on. The articles mostly suggest that Cobb finally accepts it as his reality and therefore nothing else matters. But as viewers that is not enough for us, is it?
This article will focus specifically on the ending of Inception.
For the detailed explanation of the film, please check out – Inception Explained. Now …
Answer: It Was Reality!
I want to take a stance on the topic and provide evidence for why the last scene was in reality. Before I go into why I’d like to mention one prevalent theory.
Inception Ending Wedding Ring
The observation was straightforward.
- Every scene where Cobb is shown to be part of a dream sequence, you see him wearing his wedding ring.
- Every scene from reality, when Mal was still alive, you see Cobb wearing his wedding ring.
- Every scene from reality, after Mal is dead, you see Cobb not wearing his wedding ring.
And in that finale at the airport, when Cobb is standing in at the passport control, we are shown that he is not wearing his ring. This then indirectly determines that the final scene is indeed reality. It’s a fantastic piece of observation. There are tonnes of conversations around this on Quora and Reddit. There have been theories that have arrived to debunk the wedding ring theory too.
Evidence for why the last scene is set in reality
Confusion With The Kids
Much of the disagreements were initially born from the fact that:
- Cobb’s kids, who we see throughout the film, don’t seem to have aged in the final scene.
- The kids are even wearing the same clothes as they are in earlier dream sequences.
This lead to the thought that the last scene was only another dream. BUT…
Actors Playing The Kids Are Different
The kids in the last scene are definitely not the same as the ones before. The girl is older and is actually played by a different actor. See below, the cast for the kid’s characters – there are two sets of actors playing the pair of kids. One set of actors are a few years older than the other. This clearly shows that the kids in the last scene were meant to look older than the ones we see in the dream sequence early on. It was merely a cinematic play to give the audience the impression that the kids might not be real.
The Kid’s Clothes Are Different
The clothes worn by the kids are different in the dream sequences and the final scene. You can see that the sleeve on the girl’s dress is white. It is only that the kid’s clothes are merely similar and yet again was done to introduce that doubt in the minds of the viewers – reality or dream?
So in summary, they are older kids and are wearing different clothes. Now…
The Spinning Top Wobbles
Any spinning item rotates about its center. In the case of the top in Inception, it is spinning about its tip. Every spinning object is subject to air friction and contact friction. The air around the top and the tip touching the table will eventually slow it down. If an object has a constant angular momentum (fancy phrase for “constant turning speed”), then it will remain perfectly still. Recollect the top inside Mal’s safe in Limbo – spinning but still. This is because inside a dream the top is not affected by friction.
However, when there is a change to the angular momentum (caused by friction), the object will wobble. E.g., a basketball spinning on one’s finger will wobble before it eventually slows and falls down. If you go back to the spinning top in the final scene, you will notice an evident wobble before the film cuts. If the objective were to state the last scene “may have been a dream”, the cinematic cut would have happened before the wobble. But since the wobble was purposefully left for us to see, it was left there for us to know that the top is losing speed. There you have it – and that is how we know for sure that the last scene is happening in reality and is not a dream.
Like most theories, that get debunked, the wobble can also be refuted. I love this topic and would be happy to read comments for or against it. Please do share your thoughts below.
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Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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