Christopher Nolan (Somewhat) Explains INCEPTION

     November 24, 2010

Inception is a fun movie to talk about thanks to its ambiguity.  If writer-director Christopher Nolan were to come along and tell you exactly what happened, he would only be destroying the ambiguity he built into the film.  In the latest issue of Wired (issue 18.12), Nolan provides a little clarification on some of the debated points about his film, but doesn’t spoil the whole thing.  Wired lays out the article as a chart with different arguments about the text (“The Entire Movie Is a Dream”, “Just the Ending is a Dream”) and the sub-text (“The Movie is a Meditation on Architecture”, “It’s About Movie-Making”).  Hit the jump for Nolan’s responses to some of the theories.  Obviously, spoilers ahead.

Thanks to Wired for this awesome article.  The whole issue is great and you should definitely pick it up.


What’s happening in the movie: After the first extraction fails, Cobb spins his top to check if he is in a dream.  It falls over.

“The Ending Is Not a Dream” Argument: This establishes context for the audience—the movie is not all a dream.

Nolan’s Comment:  “This gives Cobb a base-line reality.  But he’s an untrustworthy narrator.”


What’s happening in the movie: Saito says he’ll clear Cobb’s name if he takes the job.  He asks Cobb to take “a leap of faith.”

“The Entire Movie Is a Dream” Argument: The phrase “leap of faith” occurs over and over.  It’s an artifact of Cobb’s subconscious.

Nolan’s Comment: “I don’t think I’m going to tell you about this.”


What’s happening in the movie: Cobb starts assembling his team and trains Ariadne in dreamweaving.

“Actually, It’s About Movie-Making” Argument: All the roles correspond.  Cobb: director.  Ariadne: writer.  Eames: art director.  Saito: producer.  Fischer: audience.

Nolan’s Comment: “I didn’t intend to make a film about film-making, but I gravitated toward the creative process that I know.”


What’s happening in the movie: Cobb goes to Mombasa to get Eames the forger and Yusuf the chemist.

“Or Maybe It’s a Meditation on Architecture” Argument: A beautiful pan across the rooftops of Mombasa.

Nolan’s Comment: “I wanted to show the potential for the real world to have analogies to the dream world.  The mazelike city of Mombasa does that.”

“Actually, It’s About Movie-Making” Argument: Smash cuts, mysterious chases, implausible coincidences—the grammar of film is the grammar of dreams.

Nolan’s Comment: “I wouldn’t say that I tried to use the grammar of the film to tell the audience what is dream and what is reality.”


What’s happening in the movie: Cobb confronts Mal in limbo, and Fischer is incepted in the hospital.

“The Entire Movie Is a Dream” Argument: Mal challenges Cobb’s reality.  Faceless corporations?  Chased around the globe?  Really?

Nolan’s Comment: “For the ambiguity at the end to work, you need to see that Cobb’s world and the dream world are very similar.  And you need to doubt Cobb.”


What’s happening in the movie: Cobb washes up on the beach (full circle with beginning).

“Just the Ending Is a Dream” Argument: Saito honors his agreement.  They build limbo to be their reality together.

Nolan’s Comment: “Uh…that’s not how I would have read the movie.”


What’s happening in the movie: Arriving home, Cobb finally sees his children’s faces.

“The Entire Movie Is a Dream” Argument: The kids haven’t aged!  And they’re in the same clothes!  This is clearly all a dream.

Nolan’s Comment: “The kids are not wearing the same clothes at the end!  And they do age!  We were working with two sets of kids.”

“Or Maybe It’s a Meditation on Architecture” Argument: It’s the golden-lit craftsman dream home…with a house made of blocks on the dining table.

Nolan’s Comment: “The film is about architects.  It’s about builders.”


What’s happening in the movie: Cobb spins the top—it’s still spinning when the movie cuts to black.

“The Entire Movie Is a Dream” Argument: The top doesn’t matter—Cobb can finally see his children’s faces.

Nolan’s Comment: “The important thing is that Cobb’s not looking at the top.  He doesn’t care.”

“Or Maybe It’s a Meditation on Architecture” Argument: The top itself is constructed—topologically, it’s a pseudosphere, every point curving away.

Nolan’s Comment: “The prop guys just made a top that would spin for a long time.”

“Actually, It’s About Movie-Making” Argument: The audience has to “take a leap of faith.”  Nolan uses ambiguity as a storytelling tool.  There isn’t just one answer.

Nolan’s Comment: “Oh no, I’ve got an answer…”

Around The Web

Latest News


Sean Connery is surely thrilled.

BURYING THE EX: New Trailer Teases Joe Dante’s Horror Rom-Com

Anton Yelchin, Alexandra Daddario and Ashley Green star in the horror master's latest.

POINT BREAK Remake Trailer Dives into the World of Extreme Sports

Edgar Ramirez and Luke Bracey fill the roles previously played by Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze.

BELLE Director to Helm David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike in A UNITED KINGDOM

Amma Asante will direct the true story of royal family member Seretse Khama, who came under fire when he married a white woman in 1949.


Plus the posters for Woody Allen’s ‘Irrational Man’ and the patriot dog movie, ‘Max’.

SAN ANDREAS: 18 Things to Know About the Dwayne Johnson Disaster Movie

Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, and more spill the beans about their new film, Spielberg influences, and more.


Matt and Adam talk about the film's themes, flaws, goals, post-production, and how the movie relates to the careers of director Brad Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof.

Second Chance: Cameron Crowe’s ELIZABETHTOWN Deserves Another Look

"Manic Pixie Dream Girl" aside, it's time to reconsider Crowe's much-maligned 'Vanilla Sky' follow-up.

THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL: First Trailer For the Smash Sundance Hit

Writer/director Marielle Heller's feature debut tackles the tricky subject matter of the female sexual awakening.

New X-MEN: APOCALYPSE Set Photo Teases Caliban

The mutant has a strong connection to Oscar Isaac's villainous Apocalypse.

Page 1 of 3,96612345...102030...Last »