Christopher Nolan Revisits ‘Inception’ Ending During Princeton Graduation

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Inception Top
Photo: Warner Bros.

The ending of Christopher Nolan‘s Inception has, and always will be, a conversation starter.

We’re nearly five years removed from its release (yes, it really has been that long), and it still feels as if the fate of Leonardo DiCaprio‘s Dom Cobb can provoke some of the more intense movie-oriented debates to be had (here’s Brad’s take on the ending back from when the film was released).

Was Cobb really awake when he reunited with his children, or was he merely still in a pleasant dream that stands as a metaphor for finding peace? The film’s now-famous last shot of the spinning top (his wife Mal’s totem) only makes the finale harder to decipher.

Even though it’s not a clear-cut answer as to what happened, Nolan gave a fascinating look into the film’s ending, among a bevy of other great ideas, during a speech at Princeton’s graduation Monday morning (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Fitting right within his speech’s theme of chasing a better reality, Nolan gave a new clue as to what Cobb was thinking at the end. “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,” 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 anymore, and that makes a statement: perhaps, all levels of reality are valid. The camera moves over the spinning top just before it appears to be wobbling, it was cut to black.

“It matters to people because that’s the point about reality. Reality matters.”

“The point is, objectively, it matters to the audience in absolute terms: even though when I’m watching, it’s fiction, a sort of virtual reality. But the question of whether that’s a dream or whether it’s real is the question I’ve been asked most about any of the films I’ve made. It matters to people because that’s the point about reality. Reality matters.”

There’s a lot to digest here, but the most important thing to take away is the fact that, to Nolan, the ending might not be about what happened, but about where Cobb was mentally when the movie ends.

Nolan alludes, to Cobb, what was happening was real – it was the reality he was chasing, a profound thought about a nearly five-year-old debate about one of the decade’s most popular films.

I’ve always wondered if it really mattered what happened with Cobb (even if I was hard “team reality” when the movie came out), and it’s clear that, whatever was happening, the film ends on a positive note. Wherever Cobb is, he’s found peace.

Aside from the Inception tie-in, the rest of the speech provides a lot of great food for thought, and even a little clarification into Bruce Wayne’s Princeton alumni status (Hint: he didn’t finish his degree). And, how lucky are the Princeton kids for having Nolan speak at their graduation? Take that, Harvard and Yale!

So, what do you think about Nolan’s comments from the speech? Does it fuel the flame for either side, or does it help render the argument unnecessary? What filmmaker would you like to speak at your graduation? Let us know in the comments.