It has been a decade since the release of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and the science-fiction thriller’s ending continues to mystify fans. Inception remains one of the most successful non-franchise films of all time, and was instrumental in establishing Nolan as one of the world’s most bankable directors.
On the film’s 10-year anniversary, here’s what Nolan and star Leonardo DicCaprio have said about the ambiguous ending, which left fans wondering if what they were witnessing was a dream of reality.
At Princeton University’s 2015 commencement ceremony, Nolan said, “The way the end of that film worked, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb – he was off with his kids, he was in his own subjective reality. He didn’t really care any more, and that makes a statement: perhaps, all levels of reality are valid.”
He continued, “In the great tradition of these speeches, generally someone says something along the lines of ‘chase your dreams’, but I don’t want to tell you that because I don’t believe that. I want you to chase your reality.”
Nolan added: “I feel that, over time, we started to view reality as the poor cousin to our dreams, in a sense … I want to make the case to you that our dreams, our virtual realities, these abstractions that we enjoy and surround ourselves with, they are subsets of reality.”
In a 2011 interview with Wired, the director said: “I choose to believe that Cobb gets back to his kids, because I have young kids. People who have kids definitely read it differently than those who don’t. Clearly the audience brings a lot to it. The most important emotional thing about the top spinning at the end is that Cobb is not looking at it. He doesn’t care.”
At a 2019 event, actor Michael Caine, revealed what Nolan had told him about the film’s ending. “When I got the script of Inception, I was a bit puzzled by it and I said to him ‘I don’t understand where the dream is’,” Caine said. “I said, ‘When is it the dream and when is it reality?’ He said, ‘Well when you’re in the scene it’s reality.’ So get that – if I’m in it, it’s reality. If I’m not in it, it’s a dream.”
While promoting his 2019 film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Leonardo DiCaprio said that he has ‘no idea’ what happened at the end. “Sometimes you’re just focused on your character, man,” DiCaprio said on Marc Maron’s podcast. “I actually do get involved, but when it came to Chris Nolan and his mind and how that was all pieced together, everyone was trying to constantly piece that puzzle together.”
Nolan will soon release what promises to be another mind-bender, the sci-fi film Tenet. The film has been delayed several times, because of the coronavirus pandemic, but is currently slated for an August release.