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Why Michael Caine is Wrong About the Ending of "Inception"

By Christopher Campbell | Spout October 1, 2010 at 12:02PM

Just when you thought nobody was talking about "Inception" anymore, one of its stars has come out and uttered another theory. And just in case you didn't figure it out from the headline, if you haven't yet seen the year's biggest movie you just don't like movies you might not want to read this post. Because there are obvious SPOILERS about its ending.
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Just when you thought nobody was talking about "Inception" anymore, one of its stars has come out and uttered another theory. And just in case you didn't figure it out from the headline, if you haven't yet seen the year's biggest movie you just don't like movies you might not want to read this post. Because there are obvious SPOILERS about its ending.

And if that wasn't enough, I'll be rebutting the theory a bit with additional SPOILERS. So you're hereby warned if you decide to continue.

In a heavily circulated quote, Michael Caine defends the idea that Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is back to reality at the end of the movie. Not because his copy of the script stated this, necessarily, nor because Christopher Nolan told him so. Rather, he forms this conclusion on what we can gather from the film itself. His remark on BBC Radio's "The Chris Moyles Show" [via ScreenRant]:

“[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.”

First of all, the top doesn't stop spinning, at least not on screen (and in cinema that's all that matters). Second, and this is no criticism of Caine or his opinion or the fact that the ending could indeed be reality. But the actor's reasoning is faulty, and here is why: Michael Caine's character might actually appear in the dream earlier. There's not enough evidence to confirm otherwise. Even if we ignore the belief that the entire movie is a dream, Caine's paternal professor seems to be in the dreamscape when he introduces Cobb to Ariadne (Ellen Page). I was pretty certain of this, anyway, because in this scene the young student appears to be wearing the same clothes she's wearing a few moments later when Cobb reveals she's in a dream via those spectacular Paris-folding-upon-itself effects.


I know, the whole costume thing is becoming a bit of an annoying element to base theories on, especially when the film's costume designer chimes in. But I was sure that unlike the debate with the children's clothing that Ariadne's sweater, scarf, black jeans, etc. were most definitely the same. Then I went back and checked (you can see both scenes in the trailer above), and just as with the kids, the outfit is in fact very, very close, but not quite identical. Obviously this is meant to trick us, and to make us look twice, or more. So, unfortunately, this doesn't necessarily prove Caine's character is also in that dream (though I do wonder how exactly they got Ariadne to the warehouse and put her under without her realizing that the sequence didn't in fact directly flow the way it seems to in the film). Still, given the loose rules the movie works with, in spite of the interruptive moment inserted between Ariadne's first scenes in which Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is seen setting up the warehouse, there's no reason why it can't still all be part of the dream(s).

Really wanting to challenge Caine's argument, I went back and watched more. And this time also caught the line Caine says in his first scene when he solemnly says, "come back to reality, Dom. Please." In the context of the conversation it seems as if he's just saying the equivalent of "let's be serious." Within the whole narrative, though, the phrasing comes off as something more akin to a literal plea to "wake up." It's like the part in "Total Recall" when the scientist from Rekall (Roy Brocksmith) shows up to tell Quaid that he's still experiencing the false memories. But I guess aligning this with that scene confuses it even further since that's the moment in "TR" that you know you're watching reality (right?). Dang, now I need to re-watch the whole movie and look for any characters that sweat, especially nervously.

Whether or not the line makes sense applied to the theory that the film is all Cobb's dream and the other characters (particularly Ariadne) are all there to pull him out, I do think Caine's own claim is debatable. It was a good trick to get me to go watch part of "Inception" again, though.

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