The top kept spinning, spinning, and spinning. It seemed like it would never end. Then it wobbled ever so slightly, and before we could register what that meant, the screen was immediately cut to black. With that, visionary British director Christopher Nolan has created one of the most ambiguous and talked about endings in all of contemporary cinema, stunning hundreds of millions of viewers whom, I foresee, would continue to talk about it for a very long time.
Inception shows a world no different from ours. It is very much a realist dreamscape; it is neither overly futuristic like that of The Fifth Element, dystopian like that of Children of Men, nor dark and gloomy like that of Blade Runner. Nolan’s vision is rooted in the very construct that determines how our world operates – the adherence to the causal-effect phenomena, the curiosity of the human psyche, the evolutionary tendency towards eliminating rival competition, and very essentially, the prevalence of technology in our daily lives.
Inception probes on numerous issues, directly or otherwise, ranging from Man’s increasingly unregulated use of technology, our identity and place in society, and to more pronounced observations on the state of our being, which is arguably the most fascinating and thought-provoking takeaway from the film. The concept of the “state of our being” could be described as seeking for an objective subjectivity in an environment of constant ambiguity. Or to put it simply, it is about trying to get all (if not most) of the truth out of the perceived world we live in.
Nolan’s film places the reality versus dream debate in the very nucleus of the film’s psychological-philosophical discourse. It asks questions that some of us are not ready to answer, or have no answer to. What exactly is reality? Is there such a thing as the real world? Are we in that world? Or are we too caught up in our own (materialistic-driven) “dreams” that we are unable to determine the state of our being? There is a word for it – limbo, as introduced and theorized by Nolan in his film.
Our future is not shaped by who we are, but how we think what we are. What we are will tell us where we are headed. Inception is provocative in the sense that Nolan forces upon the viewer a judgment he or she has to make, especially of its ending. Is it reality? A dream? Limbo? A metaphor? A mental loop state? A false consciousness? Not making a judgment would seem akin to not questioning what we are.
If you perceive the world that you are living in right now as reality, what then is your dream? Is it the dream of a better life? But what if you are actually living that dream, what then does reality mean to you? Our state of being, consciously or otherwise, is constantly struggling to find a place in either of these two realms. Very often, it ends up in neither, causing us unhappiness and disenchantment.
So I shall propose this: In the final scene, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) spun the top and walked away, not caring about its outcome, confidently accepting what he wanted to believe. That is what we should be striving for. Dreams, realities, and what not, do not matter anymore. They are mental constructs that serve no relevance. What is most important for us now is to find joy and satisfaction in what we have, to seek what I call “living the now”. This will give us a platform to build a future of hope. A future that would not be decided by a spinning top.