“I never sleep on planes. I don’t want to be incepted.” – “Jack” on 30 Rock
I remember the Inception ad campaign pre-release. First there was that bizarre 20 second promo that told you nothing other than that Chris Nolan was directing some new flashy action movie and it was probably going to Blow Your Mind. Then slightly longer promos where the audience discovered that everyone – literally, everyone – was going to be in this movie: Leo, JGL, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy (always a plus, in my book), Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, and even Michael Caine.
The promos started getting longer. Media hype grew to a frenzy. Everyone was going to see this movie.
Me? I was ready to watch it after the first previews. I love – love – movies like Inception. Action thrillers or slow, creeping dramas with twists and turns and surprise endings that still leave you guessing. I am also a fan of all the actors previously listed. Nolan, I can take or leave, but I haven’t watched Memento*.
I was excited. However, as the media frenzy escalated, I became less and less enthused by the prospect of watching this film. By the time I had time to watch the movie, everyone had already seen it, and I decided not to bother until it showed up on Netflix.
After months of diligently avoiding spoilers, let me present some to you here, in my Unified Theory of Inception.
IT WAS ALL A DREAM.
There. Easy. Pat.
I cannot tell you the number of times people told Cobb that he needed to stop dreaming, snap back to reality, see the truth, and so on. Of course, this becomes a major plot point in regards to the confrontations with his wife. However, even in the first act, there are numerous references to Cobb dreaming and to his world being less than real.
Furthermore, no one actually attacks Cobb. Yes, the competing businessmen attack people around Cobb and seem to chase him, but no one actually manages to hurt him. The projections in the dreams attack people around him as well, sometimes wounding them, but Cobb is never physically hurt. He doesn’t even seem to be targeted, while his compatriots go down in droves.
He doesn’t have a totem. He borrows his wife’s, but didn’t he say that a totem had to be something only you knew fully? How can he ascertain reality if he has no basis of comparison?
Why is Cobb the only one who can bring in his projections to other people’s dreams? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say that all of it–even the other dreams–is really Cobb’s dream?
Here is how I read the movie. After the death of his wife, Cobb withdrew into the world of dreams to shelter himself. However, his father (who invented this dream technique) and other associates are trying to pull him out. Alternatively, the projections of these helpful people are trying to wake him up. Thus, they all go along on this wild ride that really should not make sense, but is instantly understood and believed by all non-Cobb characters.
In the end, he fails spectacularly, but creates an ending he can enjoy.
Of course, that isn’t what Nolan believes. “I choose to believe that Cobb gets back to his kids, because I have young kids…. The most important emotional thing about the top spinning at the end is that Cobb is not looking at it. He doesn’t care.” (Source)
Well, there you have it. Straight from the horse’s mouth.
*Sacrilege, I know. Haven’t seen Fight Club either. I know I will love both of these films, and they are perpetually on my Netflix queue.