Friday 13 August 2010

Inception (Christopher Nolan, USA | UK, 2010)

The final moment of Inception may well become known as one of the most powerful in cinema. Not simply for the image itself, but because of the cut from that image to black. The image is of Cobb’s totem, a spinning-top, gyrating on his kitchen table. And the cut makes the ending ambiguous: we do not know if it keeps on spinning, endlessly; we do not know if it is subject to entropy, and so will eventually topple and fall, lie still. To know seems essential. If the top were to keep revolving, it would be clear that Cobb is lost in a dream (as his wife believed). If the top were to fall, Cobb has completed his mission successfully, returned to the real world, his real home and his children. Everything seems to be dependent upon the state of the spinning-top. Yet this is where director Christopher Nolan cuts. And there is something really essential at stake, although it is not a question of knowing the actual outcome. Rather, it is the condition of not knowing either outcome – of the ambiguity in-itself. We want closure. We cannot abide the ambiguity the final cut seemingly imposes. This is not as naïve as it may sound, for this is the very theme of Inception and exactly the situation Cobb finds himself in. This is why he has the spinning-top. He needs to know, throughout the film, exactly where he is, dream world or real world. The final moments of the film places the spectator in exactly the same position as Cobb, it generates the very crisis of knowledge that will be exploited by that cut. The question is, can this ambiguity be resolved?

To explore this question we can turn to Deleuze’s Cinema books and his exploration of what he calls dream-images... ‘movement of world,’ the ‘implied dream’ (C2:59). Here ‘every world and every dream, closes up around everything it contains, including the dreamer’ (C2:63)...

To read the full exploration of Inception through the Deleuze's sign of the 'movement of world,' see Deleuze's Cinema Books: Three Introductions to the Taxonomy of Images...


  1. "The final moment of Inception may well become known as one of the most powerful in cinema."

    Pretty ballsy statement.

  2. Hi Anonymous...
    Well, nowt wrong with being a bit ballsy now and again... tho tempered with a 'may'... which may make it less ballsy than it should be!

  3. I believe the statement was not at all 'ballsy' as you seem to centre your understanding on the crucial final shot. And indeed it is a powerful moment in cinema and very much crucial to Deleuze's dream-image I imagine.

    The focal point, as you say, is in fact the last cut which (annoying - for me) divides the viewer from that final understanding whether Cobb actually does escape the cyclical dream world.

    Great stuff Deamer. I'm a fan

  4. And the implantation of an idea is made amazingly concrete to understand. consider all the ideas implanted in people's brains.

  5. Fantastic article, thankyou for posting this David.