Michael Caine Explains the End of ‘Inception’, but Should He Have?

One of my most popular articles ever was the one I wrote following the release of Inception titled “Wake Up! Let’s Talk about ‘Inception’ – Here’s My Interpretation. It gave me an opportunity to work out my theories on the film and its ending and allowed readers to discuss their personal interpretations. At this moment it has over 440 comments and serves as the most read article on the site for 2010. Why? Not because my interpretation was some whirlwind interpretation, but because people wanted to read not only my opinion, but share their interpretations and read the opinions of others.

This was the beauty of Inception and Christopher Nolan’s decision not to end the film with a clear cut answer as to whether the top fell or continued to spin. It’s the reason you heard groans in the theater followed by laughter as audience members were waiting to see if it would fall and once they realized Nolan wasn’t going to tell them there was excitement and giddiness at the idea of the unknown.

Nolan was leaving it up to our imagination and our interpretation of what’s real and what isn’t. Who is the true architect and is Dom still dreaming or are those really his kids? Well, they look like the same kids but are they wearing different clothes? IMDb lists two separate sets of child actors for his kids. And so on, and so on. The debate continues and no one knows whether they’re right or wrong and that’s what makes it so great.

But wait. Hold on. Being the society we are, we’re unwilling to accept this idea of the unknown. Hell, we have our freaking iPads and WhatsamaGoogles and we damn well should be able to figure this out. So and so is on Twitter and he’ll probably tell us the answer.

First there were the endless number of charts made to “explain” Inception as if the dream levels were what was causing debate. Then there were the clever folks behind “plot hole” images that can’t even spell Michael Caine’s name correctly let alone understand Cobb’s wish wasn’t just to be the guy his kids visit in France on occasion, but to have an ongoing and active role in their lives and be their father again. I’m not positive, but I don’t think the authorities would take too kindly to a grandfather exporting his grandchildren out of the country to live with their fugitive father. The folks hunting Cobb down would certainly use that against him and something tells me this might raise a red flag. Moving on…

Next it was Dileep Rao over at Vulture adding his two cents, but this was merely his interpretation. Considering he was part of the cast his interpretation was interesting, but it was nonetheless an opinion no better than the rest of ours and doesn’t necessarily take things too far. However, costume designer Jeffrey Kurland began pulling the curtain back in early August and now Michael Caine has attempted to reveal the whole shebang as if Nolan handed him his playbook. And yes, if you don’t want your interpretation of Inception spoiled you should probably skip the next paragraph and continue reading below the image.

In an interview with BBC Radio’s The Chris Moyles Show (via Screenrant) Caine is quoted saying, “[The spinning top] drops at the end, that’s when I come back on. If I’m there it’s real, because I’m never in the dream. I’m the guy who invented the dream.”

So there you have it. Mystery solved. The key to Borden’s journal has been revealed and the magician’s trick explained.

Ironically, just as I was reading Caine’s quote I was watching Criterion’s upcoming Blu-ray release of Ingmar Bergman’s The Magician and on the disc there is a short interview in which Bergman is asked about the “intention” of his latest film, Persona. You may find Bergman’s answer interesting:

If I’ve really managed to make a film that has sparked a debate it would be very tactless of me to barge in on that debate and talk about what I really meant by the film.

It would be tactless toward the audience, because I’m sure they all have their own interpretations, and tactless towards those commenting on it in the media, who might feel hurt if they found they’d misinterpreted the film.

Therefore I prefer not to say anything at all.

I played my part in this debate when I made the film.

As far as being “hurt”, as Bergman puts it, it isn’t that I feel hurt as much as I feel Caine is cheating people who may now find it useless to explore the film further, as they look for their own explanation and find it impossible to shake Caine’s words from their head. Personally, my interpretation suits me just fine and I will be watching the film again looking for further evidence to either back it up or shoot it down in support of another theory. So while I agree with Bergman’s statement, I think the one thing he’s missing is that no matter what, an artist’s intentions may be when it comes to their art, it doesn’t mean it’s the “only” way to view or interpret said art.

Sure, Caine is just one of the actors and it isn’t as if Nolan started blabbing, but considering Caine’s role in the film many will take his word to be the final word. Fortunately, I don’t think we’ll be hearing Chris Nolan explaining the ins and outs of Inception or confirming Caine’s statement any time soon. I would expect to hear him talk about Inception‘s ending just as much I anticipate he’ll offer a final explanation for the existence of a certain tattoo in Memento.

As for Caine’s interpretation, I’ve already swept it under the rug. In my interpretation of the film it doesn’t matter if the top falls or not so I guess his reasoning makes no difference either way to me. In fact my interpretation could actually shoot his down in terms of explaining whether or not the end of the film is a dream or not.

Nevertheless, that’s besides the point, I only hope anyone that reads his opinion does the same as I have and just pass it off as another opinion and leave it at that. When movies leave the door open for the audience to make their own interpretation, and engage us along the way, there are few things better if you ask me.


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