Inception is a masterpiece. It's the type of movie that comes along once in a great while and reminds me why I love movies so much. After having seen the film twice I feel like I have a good grasp on what the movie is about yet I am still hesitant to review it. I've read so many amazing articles about this movie that I wasn't sure I had anything useful to contribute other than "me likey Inception!" Luckily for you however I am compelled to discuss one topic that has been on my mind since the infamous cut to black. Spoilers from here on out so if you have not seen this movie yet, stop reading and go buy a ticket right now for the next showing.
The main debate of Inception seems to come down to whether or not the top stopped after Cobb was finally reunited with his children. I think the top would have kept spinning but it doesn't matter because I interpret the cut to black as Cobb waking up from his dream. Some people agree with this theory and believe every second of the movie is a dream. Now I don't buy that argument but I think we enter the first level of dreaming a lot earlier than some people think. There is a scene after they meet up with the chemist Yusuf in Mombasa where Cobb asks to try out the sedative that Yusuf claims is very powerful. I believe from this point on, the movie is Cobb's dream and the real Inception is his team trying to make him get over his issues with Mal. That is why that at the end of the movie, only after he has finally come to peace with everything and is literally ready to face his children again, he wakes up and will be able to successfully complete jobs again.
My favorite part of this ending (or any interpretation of Inception) is that is uses the "it's all a dream" cliche and makes it meaningful. I have always had a problem with scenes in movies that turned out to be dreams or when certain characters turned out to be hallucinations. I believed that it negated the importance of said scenes and/or actors and was a waste of time. Inception is what finally made me realize how stupid that argument was and that I was looking at movies the wrong way.
The reality of movies is about as realistic as our own dreams. We are watching actors playing parts for our entertainment. Even though we know what's on screen is fake, we still follow along and are interested in the well being of the characters. Yet we get upset if this fake character has a dream where something happens that we thought was important. But why is this upsetting? Is it because we ourselves get upset when good things happen in dreams but turn out to be false? The character's "reality" and "dreams" are equally fake in our world so it seems silly to get upset over saying one part is worth your attention and the other is not. The purpose of a movie is to tell a story and to see a character go through a journey of discovery. It should be the end result that matters and that is what I think Christopher Nolan is trying to say with Inception. We are invested in Cobb as a character and even though most of his arc takes place in a dream, his character still achieves what he desired and is therefore better off in the end. In fact it is only through dreams that he is able to attain that.
There are so many other ways to view Inception that I could go on forever but I think this is enough to chew on for now. Other interesting ideas such as Inception as an autobiographical story about making movies (similar to 8 1/2) is another fascinating take that I feel has already been explained to perfection by Devin over at Chud.com. If you have a chance, go read his article as I think it is exceptionally well written and gets across the point a lot better than I could. I hope I haven't turned anyone off to their own view of Inception because I think this movie is purposefully ambiguous. I love hearing other people's take on the movie as I am not one who gets defensive over the way I see it. We all bring personal baggage to films that distorts our view but it's important to stay open minded about what others have to say. Always make sure your "Mal" doesn't take over and ruin the experience for others.