What Does The Ending Of Inception Really Mean? – 5 Possible Solutions

This is a companion piece to a previous article in this series, though this time we take a look at…

Alex Leadbeater

Film Editor


This is a companion piece to a previous article in this series, though this time we take a look at 5 more endings hinted at during the closing moments of Inception.

If there is ever any need to state the best neo-sci-fi of all time, I’d have no qualms in naming Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Originally a small personal project, a reward for reaping over a billion dollars for Warner Bros. with The Dark Knight, Inception evolved into one of the biggest movies of 2010, sealing a prime July release date and a box office haul of over $800,000,000. Its effects have been felt over the past couple of years, with more smart, original sci-fi movies appearing and Joseph Gordon-Levitt a permanent fixture on cinema screens (both combined in Looper). Inception was proof that there was, after all, an audience out there for smart films.

What really kept audiences talking about the film was its open ending. The impossible job was finished and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb was reunited with his children, but the final shot, Cobb’s spinning top wobbling but neither falling nor staying up, left audiences gasping; was he actually asleep? Nolan’s traditional tight-lipped nature towards finished films (over ten years on and there’s still no official solution to Memento) has only helped increase the mystery, leading to various fan theories.

Today we’ll take a look at the various pieces of evidence that point in either direction. I’ve written before on this, but there’s a lot more than my short conclusion, so here we’re going to present five possible theories as to the ending. Each one uses various types of evidence, but the overarching proof is totems.

Totems, of which the spinning top is one, are personal items the characters of the film use to check whether they’re in reality or not. We see three (or as will be discussed, maybe four) in the film; Arthur’s weighted die (shown once), Ariadne’s hollowed chess piece (which falls a certain way, also seen once) and Mal’s spinning top. The first two are shown only to explain the concept and aside from presenting a bit of subtext about the characters (Ariadne is a bishop in Cobb’s plan), have little importance.

The spinning top, however, is the most important and will be what many of the theories in this article hinge upon. Without further ado, let’s take a look at 5 possible solutions hinted at during the ending of Inception…