Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
End of Inception decoded [video] (sourcefed.com)
279 points by pavanlimo on Nov 12, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 121 comments

>The Matrix is a great movie but a poor expression of Baudrillard's philosophy. The Matrix is quite straightforward, there's no confusion, no paradox: you're either in the Matrix, or you're in the real world. You may not know you're in the Matrix, but that doesn't change the fact that you are, or are not, in it.

This is incorrect - in fact there is a very reasonable explanation that the Matrix is three levels, and what looks like the real world is just another level of the matrix. This is why Neo's abilities bleed over into the real world.

That is the version that most closely aligns to Baudrillard's philosophy.

Someone on a gaming forum wrote a lovely bit of fiction in which "the Matrix" is layer one, "the desert of the Real" is layer two, and you're reading a brief overview of the system written by someone on layer six. He and his colleagues are pretty sure that they're in the final, real world, but they're not making any assumptions, and research is ongoing...

If you find the link, I'm interested. In the meantime, here's the very related Finale of the Ultimate Meta Mega Crossover:


Found it! Note that it's part of a greater thread: http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?666317-Bizarre-Fan-theor...

I never liked that particular interpretation. It was too obvious and had been done better elsewhere.

I preferred an alternative explanation, where The One actually comes in two parts, a program in the matrix, and a human in the real world with a direct neuro link to that program. Neo's powers are expressed in the real world because he still has a direct link to the machines.


I liked the sequels a lot better once I read that. They're still not genius cinema, but they're better.

actually the three level explanation includes this facet through the little Indian girl - Sati. Remember when she makes a sunset for Neo at the end? And the story by Morpheus about the legend of "someone who could make the matrix as he wanted. born into the matrix". Obviously only a program can be born "into the matrix".

I think Sati was really the One and inserting Neo's code into the Source rebooted it, effectively deleting her. This did NOT happen thanks to Neo not choosing the Source (and tge Oracle's tricks).

But the real world is still not real ;)

I like that, it would be similar to Lain... but, I always thought about another possible interpretation: what we call "the real world" is actually pretty similar (if not equal) to a machine. If the Matrix is a simulation of the real world, then why Neo wouldn't be able to hack the rules outside of the Matrix as he did inside of it? Maybe the glitches or errors of the Matrix are actually physically possible (obviously not in classical mechanics).

If that's the case, then, the Matrix is a good thing since it would let us understand in more depth the reality.

This explanation is less elegant because it requires different laws of physics in the matrix real world than our world. "a direct neuro link to the machines" doesn't do anything to explain why neo has telekinetic abilities in the "real" world.

Neo only uses his powers against machines, shutting down the sentinels at the end of Reloaded, blowing stuff up on the way into the Machine City, and in being able to see Smith's alter-ego in the real world. None of that is incompatible with having a wireless transceiver in his brain.

The movie clearly is trying to give the impression that he is using telekinetic powers, not hacking into the robots and causing them to act as if he is using telekinetic powers.

If he actually has telekinetic powers, this scene doesn't make sense:


His powers don't work on the flesh-and-blood Bane/Smith. He can't swipe the knife away from Trinity's neck at a distance. He can't easily beat Bane/Smith in a fistfight. The best he gets is to see Smith's machine form after being blinded.

All of his powers shown in the real world are against machines, never flesh-and-blood humans.

It's never mentioned he has a wireless transceiver in his brain. He has a wired one, but not a wireless one.

There's nothing to contradict it, either; not all the plot points have to be served up on a nice dinner plate. If it fits nicer than the matrix-within-a-matrix theories, then might as well go with that.

That's what he's saying, though. You're either in the Matrix or you're not. Neo still has powers, ergo you're still in the Matrix. That's it. Neo can see even though he's blind? Still in the Matrix.

No twist, no paradox, no confusion - there was an extra layer.

Wow I was always confused by the ending of the last Matrix movie how Neo did what he did, now I must look up peoples ideas of what the ending really meant.

The matrix ending could have been great - if it ended up being that they were never really out of the matrix. That the human need for choice part of the equation was taken into account by the machines and allowed them to think they've broken free (or were fighting a war) when they were never really free. Neo could have been the extremely rare corner case among millions of cycles that figures out they're not really out.

Instead the movie baked in religious overtones and went the supernatural route (basically invalidating everything they set up in the universe in the first place).

I think that, ultimately, most viewers would rather have a movie that presents a picture of humans having a chance at triumph, rather than one where the truth of the story is that we cannot win (because the computer overlords are merely simulating our win to placate us). The latter is far, far more dystopian.

Interestingly, the Thirteenth Floor did a pretty good job of that overall premise (sims inside sims), but without the dystopian overtones.

_The Thirteenth Floor_ was released same year as the Matrix. I think it's a better execution of the same idea.

World on a Wire is an adaptation of the same book directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (the greatest director of all time), and is definitely worth checking out.

Thank you.

"What matters isn't whether the top stopped spinning; what matters is that Cobb didn't bother to find out."


That's what pretty much everyone I talked with thought… I don't think I'll ever understand why so many people think Inception is some kind of convoluted, brainy and really complicated movie when it's a cool action film with nice ideas but rather straight forward.

I think I would have enjoyed the movie a lot more if I had gone into it expecting a cool action movie with neat ideas, rather than something cerebral. If I'm expecting an action movie, I'm willing to forgive holes and hand-waving in the plot and premise because, hey, it's just an action movie, and look at all the cool slow motion exploding crap.

But if I'm expecting cerebral sci-fi, I have high standards for everything being tight and thought out. With those expectations in mind, I found Inception pretty dumb. It makes me wish I'd seen it without hearing all the hype first.

But at least it was better than Looper.

Indeed, I spent so long refusing to watch it because everyone I knew was harping on about how great and cerebral the movie was - which has a tendency to cause me to want to find flaws. On a whim, I finally watched it a few months ago and was completely shocked at how poorly it was executed, and how much of the plot I had to gloss over to keep up with. I ended up enjoying it as an action flick, but being angry that it was sold to me as an intellectual journey.

I suspect the rarity of filmmakers with talent at the level of, say, Cocteau, drags down the standards of what people are able to comprehend as truly cerebral.

My hypothesis is that it's just very difficult to get a smart movie made without someone influential demanding that it be dumbed down.

I felt its magnificence was its ability to evoke emotion. In the case of the supposed convolutions, it was the ability to evoke confusion. The confusion helped promote and maintain the tension, so that the catharsis was stronger, because the key fact in the whole thing is "Cobb is lost". I, for one, was crying by the end of the movie.

The masterpiece of The Dark Knight was the same thing, except that the emotion was horror: each of the Joker's little atrocities kept building up and building up until the last one was so large that he didn't even need to be on screen anymore.

That's Nolan's trade mark. He uses callbacks and repetition to mount emotion.

This !

I really, really didn't get why so many people on the net didn't get it, or thought it was really complicated !

Everyone needs a reason to live.

With Christopher Nolan own words: “The important thing is that Cobb’s not looking at the top. He doesn’t care.” http://collider.com/inception-christopher-nolan-explains/

That's the TL/DR/didn't watch I was looking for

TL;DR from the video is: When dreaming he is wearing a ring, when awake he is not. In final scene he isn't wearing a ring, therefore he is awake.

New acronym: TL/DR/DW :)

and /DL

Didn't Learn or Didn't Listen ? :P

That article seems far-stretched and circuitous, making things out of its own rather than really explaining what Nolan is trying to say(It's actually not that complicated. Just a hugely commercial movie which is attached too many connotations. For example they had to fight their way through, probably just mainly because the need of cinematic effects). Also it has the very danger of fashioning out massive escapism. "What matters isn't whether the top stopped spinning; what matters is that Cobb didn't bother to find out." What total nonsense. If we live our real life with such an attitude then it's one of the utmost dangers I can imagine. (For example you may play a game all day long and claim that is the "reality" you are fond of being in. While in fact doing so only totally destroys your life as well as lives of people you should be together with, as I have already experienced). We have to have the will and courage to face the real life, to face all the things it throws at us no matter good or bad. True joys only derive from the reality. Any attempts of escapism will in the end only enlarge the problems you're facing and bring more disasters.

>>True joys only derive from the reality.

Well a dream is as real as things get.

The whole problem is really in describing reality. Ask any lucid dreamer and they will explain you than the key to lucid dreaming is to constantly question your current state(are your dreaming or not?).

And after some time it just doesn't matter. Because every thing is just a electrical impulse to your brain. If your brain is sent a signal to treat hot as cold. You will hold a hot iron in your hands and be perfectly OK with it. The reality of things 'hot being hot' doesn't change, nothing changes but your perception of things.

If you ponder deep enough when you dream this is what happens in a dream too. You are perceiving things. Whether they are real are not, is as useless argument because your knowledge of it is the way your brain is telling you about it and not what it actually is.

I've had inception like dream within dream, losing lucidity while dreaming inside the dream and there after. In stages like that its difficult to say what is reality and what isn't. The safest way is to not do any thing harmful or dangerous. In fact I didn't know of it until I woke, it was then during a usual dream recall that I got a surreal feeling that I had woke up from three levels of 'reality'.

You know those days that are totally normal, the routine, what you do for a period of time in your life to just reach to the next level? OK, I had a 4 level deep dream, in which I dreamed that I woke up. I did in glaring detail what I would do, when I actually wake up, including the stupid things like opening the fridge just remember what I was about to do. I didn't notice that I dreamt until a single detail made me curious and I instantly woke up, before I could notice what it was. However this was the 3rd level of the dream and much more realistic than the 4th level. I'll skip the 2nd level, but in the 1st level of the dream I could not find a single thing that made me curious, heck I even did what I would do, if I were suspecting that I was "dreaming", like washing my face with icecold water, phoning to someone I know, asking someone to pinch me. Unfortunately the pain and everything else was realistic so I kept dreaming that I actually woke up now and was somehow fooled to become relieved by that matter. After my routine day (which of course includes brushing teeth, washing face, shower, going out, taking a bus ride, going through the city and such random stuff) I turned back home and was just about to think about the day, when I noticed something was wrong. I couldn't remember what a professor said (you'd think that's normal, huh, haha?). And In the glimpse of an eyeblink I woke up again. This time I was really awake, but couldn't believe it for several weeks until I gave up finding out what's real or not, hoping to be really awake. Everybody who had a very very long dream taking years (in detail), knows that when dreaming there is no time limit. A second can be an infinity in a dream.

After "waking up" into what I think is reality, I experienced a single difference between dreams and reality. In every dream that I woke up, I could see myself from the top and then immediately when my dreaming self opened it's eyes I started seeing things through that perspective .

>> Is sleeping inside a dream possible? If not, that could be a trustable way to find out if one is a dream or not. Much more reliable than a ring ;)

All I can say is I'm a little jealous. :)

I hope some day I dream at such deep levels.

I hope you do not. How will you find out that things are real or not?

It makes you really skeptic and a little more cautions, but also open to risk than you would usually be. Maybe a good attitude for an entrepreneur, but all your logic and fear induced by that logic mostly fades away at some times. That's when you think it could be a dream subconsciously, at that time you start doing things you never would. It's twisted, it could also make you overly cautious, because you start valuing real life as something more wonderful than you thought, a unique thing, something you are deadly afraid of losing control of. The worst is: "What if you understand your multi-level dream as bad as you understood Inception?" Just like some friend of yours who had trouble getting Matrix in example. Could that mean you see draw a pattern and believe reality is the 5th dream? Could that when you really wake up, make everything make appear surreal? Would you try to jump from a window or do something to find out if you're dreaming?

The question that reality is a dream is supported by the Simulated Reality Hypothesis and that is also factor that makes this film a great one. Because there is no answer to that question. You could wake up when you die, or you could die. Using stochastic maths and game theory would suggest to die, but that speaks against everything that makes a game, a dream or life out. Playing is winning. Not playing is losing.



It's always this argument that comes up, and it always seems like bullshit.

First off, yes, our brain offers us an interpretation of the outside world, but no, that's not 'its' interpretation. We are it.

Second - dreaming is not as real as things get. Yes, our perception determines how we react to the world, but it does not actually change the world on its own. In a dream, our perception is expressed as actual physical changes to the structure of what's around us. In other words, in life, I can imagine a house on fire, but it's still standing - whereas in a dream, that bitch burns to the ground.

Third - whether or not I'm dreaming does matter (and the way you try to explain that doesn't really make a ton of sense). If I shoot myself in the face in a dream, I wake up. If I shoot myself in the face at my job during the day, it's a bit different outcome.

Fourth - I can ponder what is in a dream, and I can perceive what is in a dream. This does not carry the same weight as perceiving and pondering the world around me. At most, the dream perception is just fancy navel gazing, it's introspection at its finest (or worst depending on your view). Whereas perceiving and pondering the world around me can directly impact how much I have to eat today, whether or not I get hit by a car, or whether or not I'm on fire.

The argument that dreams are the same as reality because our brain offers interpretations of both has always, to me, seemed to be the 'whoa man, check out how big my hands are' type of stoner bullshit from college. Arguing that our dreams should carry as much weight as our interaction with the world around us has always come across as just a miserable person's way of saying that they're not happy with where they're at in life, but that's okay because it's all about how we interpret the world around us.

I didn't intend for that to be as hateful as it came across. I've read it three times and can't make it any less hateful. Take it for what it's worth.

You didn't get the point I was trying to make. The whole point is the term 'real' is difficult to define. You seem to have definition of the term real, as to some state of wakefulness. But how did you come to that conclusion? How do you know that you are not dreaming at this point in time?

You might simply be treating a level of wakefulness as real.

This is exactly what happens when you have dreams within dreams. You wake up to level, which you think is real. Until you wake to another level and so on.

No, no I didn't.

The term 'real' isn't that hard to define. It consists of everything that exists when I cease to exist. It is everything around me that keeps going when I stop going.

Therefore, awake, asleep, on drugs, it doesn't matter. My perception of the world is just that, my perception. The world exists whether I'm here or not. To argue that reality is dependent on your own personal perception is one of the most egotistical and self-centered things I've ever heard.

Again, the 'everything and nothing is real' argument just comes across as sophomore existentialism, nothing more.

So what is reality? Are sure sure it is realy real? And where is the difference between dreaming you lived 70 years or really living them? You will nver know the difference.

We all create ou own "reality" out off faulty perceptions and memorys.

"Playing a game" is a bad example because it is hardly compareable to the complex illusion we really ( ;) ) live in. The dream world of inception however is as complex as as the "real" world (at least from a humans point of view).

Sorry but you are sailing into a philosphical ocean with only a inflateable animal as support.

Well I'm going to back him up, and blaspheme the memory of George Orwell for good measure.

Sanity is socially-defined. So is reality, at least human-eudaimonic reality. Basically, imagine we live in the Matrix, and you get out, but you're the only one who does get out or ever can get out. Do you live in reality?

In the scientific sense, yes: causal arrows run from your reality to ours.

In the social sense, no: you live in total isolation, have an utterly meaningless life due to lack of social relationships, and quickly go insane from the extreme solitude. (I mean that literally: solitary confinement of human beings causes measurable damage to mental and neurological health.)

Given multiple possible realities, the one that's going to make you sane and happy is the one where everyone else lives, or at least enough of a peer group to keep you sane. Thus, if you break out of the Matrix, you should focus on building Zion.

If we're talking about real-world, non-hypothetical real-life versus, say, World of Warcraft, it's pretty damn obvious that you can have better and more meaningful relationships with more people in real life, and that living almost entirely in real life does much more to support your physical and mental health than living in WoW. We can therefore obviously conclude you should stop playing WoW right now and go out in the healthy sunshine.

Just like your mom used to tell you, but way mind-screwier.

There is a book called "Finite and Infinite Games" that you should read. http://www.amazon.com/Finite-Infinite-Games-James-Carse/dp/1...

It's really metaphor for life.

I think many people will live out their entire physical lives in advanced holodecks of the future. I think that would be perfectly reasonable.

The notion of escape is pretty terrifying to a jailer.

Personally was not a big fan (hard to say that without sounding snooty) - the movie was mostly entertaining but was kind of pop-corn sci fi masquerading as deep sci fi. Too many plot holes filled with arbitrary mechanics. Edit: it may have been over my head, but I think it is perhaps in a movie's favor to be very clear in its purpose (without necessarily bludgeoning you with it)?

This explanation of Inception changed my opinion completely http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ginQNMiRu2w

Great link.. This is really interesting. Reminds me of one of the original Matrix Essays about it's symbolism, religious imagery, chance, subtle references to philosophy, etc. There are too many Matrix essays now for me to find it again... sadly.

This REALLY needs to be upvoted. This is drastically better than the analysis in the OP.

Absolutely agree! I wish I had seen this video earlier.

Agreed, it's a shame it took me so long to find this. Hope skeptics take a look.

Thanks - I was not even aware people went into this much analysis of the movie. :)

This is brilliant!

brilliant, thanks!

I've tended towards criticism from the opposite direction (which can also apply to The Matrix). Its philosophical underpinnings have been done by other works of fiction to greater depth, but those stories tend to be impenetrable for most people, much more so than either Inception or The Matrix were. See Ghost in the Shell or Neuromancer, for example. Or even Nolan's own Memento.

Putting it in a more easily-digestible form is a useful thing to do, which tends to blunt this line of criticism. There are some philosophy professors who really appreciate these movies, because they provided nice reference points that their students already know about, making it much easier to teach certain concepts.

Memento is really the best lens through which to view Inception. The former was the more metaphysically mind-fucky, intellectually and emotionally jarring experience. The latter is the more visually spectacular, but shallower variation on a similar theme.

For what it's worth, I enjoyed the idea of Inception a great deal. Part of me really wants to love the movie. But it's hard for me to love it when I've seen Memento do the same thing so much more deftly, with such a smaller budget, given a lot more constraints. Memento is Nolan the filmmaker, and Inception is Nolan the movie director. I enjoy both, and I'm not saying Inception is without its originalities or its merits. But I can't call it a masterpiece; it's disjointed and incoherent in a way that smacks of excess.

I dig your analogy, but I am not sure it's 100% warranted in this case, given that Nolan made both movies. It would be one thing if the Wachowskis both wrote Neuromancer and made The Matrix. But they didn't. They made The Matrix as an action movie that just happened to have some metaphysical underpinnings. They didn't make a philosophical piece that happened to have great action sequences. The movie is pretty clear about where it stands on that spectrum, and most fans who are honest with themselves about why they like the movie will admit they like it for the fight scenes. (As a mental test, replace the computer-simulation plot device with any similar construct: dreams, alternate dimensions, etc. -- and everything else about the movie holds up just fine.)

With Inception, I can't tell where Nolan stands. Is it a thought piece with cool special effects, or a special-effects piece with deep thoughts? As much as we might rush to categorize it as the former, I'm not so sure. Trying to be the latter gets in the way of the former. Nolan tries to have his cake and eat it, too, and he's not entirely successful at either. What results is a beautiful, haunting, provocative, but flawed movie.

Memento was literally a mystery film, and unless you kind of know which context clues to look for you're not really going to figure out what's going on until the end. Inception had a lot of mystery to it in terms of what's real and what's not, but in the end the mysterious portion of it is not really the point of the movie. We're not really presented with the question of what's real as the core mystery to be solved. The fact that Nolan doesn't actually reveal anything at the end aside from the context clues mentioned in the video and in the article posted at the top of the comments and his remarks after that "it doesn't really matter whether or not Cobb is in a dream" lead me to believe a lot of it is more of a character study of that man rather than an overarching sci-fi type world. The journey is not really to decide whether or not Cobb is living in the dream world but more so whether he is at peace either way.

I do agree with your general assertion that Momento is a more coherent film and I think that is largely due to the scope and scale of those respective films' budgets.

"Memento was literally a mystery film"

On one level, yes. But Memento is a philosophical inquiry as much as it's a literal mystery.

"his remarks after that "it doesn't really matter whether or not Cobb is in a dream" lead me to believe a lot of it is more of a character study"

I think the same point is generally true about Memento.

[Massive spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't seen Memento and might be curious]

The "big reveal" in Memento isn't so much the unraveling of the mystery. It's that the mystery itself is a red herring. Leonard chooses his own reality, regardless of whether or not it's the factual truth, and regardless of whether or not he's caught in an infinite loop of his own creation. The same can be said of Cobb's choice at the end of Inception, running out to embrace his kids (and this particular version of reality) without checking on the spinning top. At the conclusion of both films, the protagonists basically surrender to subjectivity. They realize, consciously or not, that it's the only rational choice they have. They can never know the real truth, so they construct or embrace the truth that suits their needs.

This is what I meant when I said that both films are explorations of the same theme. That theme is basically our agency and choice in the subjectivity of our reality. It's about how we create the worlds we inhabit, literally (in the case of Cobb's "architecture" of dreams) or figuratively (in the case of Cobb's and Leonard's choices w/r/t reality).

Just imagine someone makes a new movie where Lenny, Cobb and Neo are merged into one character in/out of a matrix, a dream and a story with a loss of hippocampal LTP.

Great insight! I think my main gripe with the movie is that it kind of gets caught up in its own net of contrived mechanics -- for example, here are some of them:


Equally there are philosophy professors who don't appreciate it. One class that I was a member of was warned that our professor had not seen The Matrix and, given the number of essays that referred to it, never wanted to see it or read about it ever again.

I appreciate that sentiment. The Matrix is certainly interesting, but it's one of those things high schoolers use as a jumping off point and it is very trite and cliche. It's a lot like Ayn Rand actually, it's not that it's objectively worthless, but it's Twinkie pop philosophy that people are exhausted grading papers of.

Its also one of those movies where if the technology actually existed, it would be so valuable, it couldn't be made illegal or made limited. It would instantly be democratized. It would have uses in pretty much every human endeavor and be the ultimate gaming and recreational environment.

Essentially, it would be lucid dreaming and world building on demand. I think the idea that it would be held down by the world's governments is more than a little simplistic. Heck, the world's governments can't keep pot or data dumps from whistle blowers off the streets, let alone something like this.

Truest thing I've read today. I think we continually underestimate how transformative technology is. It moves faster than politics and once there's a positive impact foothold, it's hard to roll it back.

The dangerous time for any tech is when it invokes fear before or at release.

Counterpoint - nuclear power. (granted it started with the bomb, "fear", moved to free energy "to cheap to meter" (foothold), to fear again.

True. Great example.

I see the tech/sci-fi part of Inception to be like the "unobtainium" in Avatar. It's merely a plot device to make the story work around it.

It could have been something else, like something similar to Tron or The Matrix, or maybe a magical background, but it needed the "multiplayer, multilevel thoughts" one way or another for the story.

I would have respected the "unobtainium" in Avatar more if they had called it something other than "unobtainium".

What's wrong with "unobtainium"? The term wasn't invented for the movie, but has been used in engineering since at least the 70's. I thought it was a nice touch.

The reason it sounded stupid in the movie is because it was the name of the actual element that they were mining. The historical use of the word that you mention is for hypothetical things, e.g. in thought experiments. From Wikipedia:

"In engineering, fiction, and thought experiments, unobtainium is any fictional, extremely rare, costly, or impossible material, or (less commonly) device needed to fulfill a given design for a given application. The properties of any particular unobtainium depend on the intended use. For example, a pulley made of unobtainium might be massless and frictionless; however, if used in a nuclear rocket, unobtainium would be light, strong at high temperatures, and resistant to radiation damage. The concept of unobtainium is often applied flippantly or humorously."


I took it to mean that the geek character in the movie was deliberately dumbing things down for the person he was explaining to, out of disdain for their position. He was basically saying, "This is the most valuable substance in the universe, and we can only get it here" in as bluntly and impossible-to-misunderstand way as he could.

It wasn't in the context of "Quick, pass me that bar of unobtanium!", or other in-universe common-usage (a la "midichlorians"), but rather a deliberate simplification. ("What do we mine here? __important shit__! Now leave me alone and go back to your useless sociology experiment while I do something important!")

I admired the honesty of it. It doesn't insult the viewer's intelligence by pretending it's anything other than a plot device.

As Ursula Le Guin puts it:

All fiction is metaphor. Science fiction is metaphor. What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors, drawn from certain great dominants of our contemporary life - science, all the sciences, and technology, and the relativistic and the historical outlook, among them. Space travel is one of these metaphors; so is an alternative society, an alternative biology; the future is another. The future, in fiction, is a metaphor.


The way I look at it is that I saw it when I had a small child and was somewhat sleep deprived.

In that state I enjoyed it and found it pleasantly thought provoking but that's not to suggest it was a massively clever film as there were days back then when I found tying my shoe laces pleasantly thought provoking.

Nothing snotty about not liking Inception. I for one didn't like it at all. I agree that it borrows concepts from deep scifi but it painstakingly explains everything to you so that you lose the mind bending effect of deep scifi.

Then there is also the god-awful performance of Cotillard.

The idea of Cobb's wedding ring as his totem has been discussed publicly as early as July 2010 [1], the month of the film's release.

[1] http://www.reddit.com/r/Inception/comments/cvk2i/is_cobbs_ri...

Exactly, why posting this 3 years after? It has been brought up again and again for many years...

Obligatory XKCD. This was all new to me. http://xkcd.com/1053/

I agree, and I don't usually post mean things under a repost.

But this article had sense when inception was still in theater and all the hype was about the movie. It's not something really important, or amazing, or... years after it now became just another trivia about a movie. But I'm glad some people can hear about it for the first time anyway.

Or possibly: http://xkcd.com/606/

How about a relevant SMBC: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=3106

The whole point of the ending is that Cobb does not care about whether he is in reality or not, as long as he is with his children.

To search for clues as to whether it's one or the other is to miss the point.

Not at all. Nolan let DiCaprio wear the ring with an intent. It is at least part of his message.

No, it could also mean he simply let go of his wife, whether dreaming or not.

Post-catharsis, pre-wake, in Limbo to get Saito, he has the ring. If letting go of Mal got rid of the ring, it wouldn't be there on him in Limbo.

I think so too. Regardless of the idea that Cobb let go of his wife and reunited with his children or not, that ring symbolizes the intent to the viewer with much more directness.

Using the ring as an indicator allows someone to nit pick that he may be wearing the ring in that scene and that something happened between the airport and the car ride home.

Using the fact that he didn't care to verify solidifies the real result... he's given up fighting.

The two aren't necessarily incompatible though are they?

Whether Cobb cares or not he's still somewhere.

Or you can look at it that there are two endings depending on what you're looking for - certainty or something other.

I feel that is largely Nolan's intent, that Cobb has chosen experience over memory and guilt whether that experience is truly real or not.

This explanation is not totally convincing. The main issue is the OP actually just referred to very few scenes, while there is no proof that throughout all scenes this difference remained consistent. A more plausible explanation would be Nolan initially intended to use such a mechanism, but later decided to leave it out. However, since some of the scenes of the movie were already filmed, the ring could not be changed. It's obvious that Nolan put the spinning scene because he deliberately wanted to leave an equivocate ending. It's possible that in the beginning that wasn't his idea, and he changed it halfway through the movie. But what's clear is the ending was intended to be equivocate. He would not let such a vague "ring" mechanism co-exist with the spinning scene. That's far too strenuous.

You state your view as though it's obvious, yet it is far more contrived of an explanation and is predicated on the idea that Nolan would change his mind about the ring and NOT fix it throughout, which seems so unlike him

The ring is still ambiguous. It is never characterized properly as a totem (Cobb never uses it awake, that we see). If you interpret it as a symbolic representation of his mental affiliation with Mal, then:

a) At the end of the movie he is awake, and he really meets his children. The lack of the ring is consistent with all available evidence prior to this point because he only has the ring on when he is asleep.

b) At the end of the movie he has successfully escaped Limbo twice. Cobb has mastered his own psyche; he has achieved closure on Mal's death; he has finally embraced in his own mind that the Mal in the dream is just a ghost, and can be in the dream without the ring. He can dream again without Mal invading from his subconscious.

Here's a google talk by Kyle Johnson that discusses different interpretations of the film:

'Inception and Philosophy' http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ginQNMiRu2w

All those who think Inception should be considered as just another cool action flick must watch this video.

A kind of Stone-Age version of Inception is "La Vida Es Sueño" by Pedro Calderón de la Barca written in 1635. http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_vida_es_sue%C3%B1o

It is a 3-act play where the Prince of Poland, Segismundo was imprisoned since birth due to a bad prediction by astrologers that he would be evil. However, Rosaura and Clarín arrange for his release.

  Nace el ave, y con las galas 
  que le dan belleza suma,  
  apenas es flor de pluma 
  o ramillete con alas, 
  cuando las etéreas salas 
  corta con velocidad, 
  negándose a la piedad 
  del nido que deja en calma; 
  ¿y teniendo yo más alma, 
  tengo menos libertad?
Essentially that birds are free to fly around in the sky and naturally look beautiful. So why do I with more "soul" have less freedom ?

In Act 2, Segismundo contemplates his freedom and his relief turns into outrage. Indeed he rapes a women, throws a man over a cliff and murders another one.

In the 3rd act he is captured and thrown back in chains - the astrologers' prediction has been fulfilled.


Inception certainly takes this several iterations further putting dream inside dream inside dream. Yet, metaphysical questions of whather you are awake or dreaming have been around...

This sounds more like [SPOILER HERE] Minority Report

Sounds like every single Greek tragedy ever.

I was beginning to wonder if it was just Hans Zimmer's score that masterfully carried my emotions at the end. But too jarring was the theme of exploring the depths of a shared psyche with your wife in an absolute, limitless world, then losing everything in yourself from a single mistake. The dream mechanism was a wonderful way of taking you from the sublime to the very feeling of hell.

Very glad to have read this subtle message from the director! A masterpiece in my mind.

That was a real common theory around the time of the movies release, something I noticed on my second (or third) run through it. The bigger tell is that it's not his totem to start with, it belongs to Mal and as is pointed out you have to have something unique to you, something only you could know. I don't think it ever actually reveals what Cobb uses for his.

Inception was a pretty good movie but people treating it like it's some deep, super-complicated work of genius makes me worry about them.

They aren't the first ones to have noted this.

Also, this came out a while ago...

Wasn't the whole film a dream? How else could Sato buy an airline on a whim?

More importantly: The near-richest guy in the world, who hates flying commercially, just gives up. Instead of, chartering a private flight, he flies commercial and is visibly upset. He pouts and acts all annoyed. Obviously from that point on they were all dreaming.

Did anyone else find Inception to be basically straightforward (though interesting and enjoyable) with an insignificant binary question at the end?

There certainly may be more depth than I'm seeing, but there wasn't anything that made me need to wonder why anything happened the way it happened. As mentioned in the thread already, Momento's the one that isn't straightforward.

I'm not intentionally trolling---I suppose I probably am missing something. There just wasn't anything obviously confusing on the movie's surface for me.

"since the movie came out 3 years ago"

wow 3 years already?

And babies born in Y2k are teens now

Cinefile article at THE TOP of HN. Love it.

Yeah, soon we'll just be able to merge this website into its own subreddit and call it a day.

*at the top of

the ring could disappear because he finally realized that she died, hence it does not mean he is in the reality.

I watched this movie about 13 times in the theaters---and finally someone figured it out! Way to go!

I must ask... What compelled you to watch a movie THAT many times in such a short period?

I would say the first three times were because I enjoyed the movie so much the other ten: I was obsessed with trying to figure out the ending.

13 times? Wow, you REALLY liked it eh

If the ring indeed indicates dream/reality, why does Cobb bother to spin the top .. since he already knows whether he's wearing the ring or not? .. or did he take off his ring even in his dream by that point?

Does Cobb know the ring indicates dream/reality?

It only took him 26 playthroughs (66 hours), but by Jove did he figure it out!

I read somewhere that his totem itself was flawed. For example, others totems had something different; a loaded dice. In dream, the dice would act normally, in reality it won't, that's the way to differentiate reality. Cobb's totem would topple in dream as well as in reality.

That's something I read and wondered.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact