Part one–where I discuss how I don’t think the end of Inception is a dream, but that Christopher Nolan doesn’t want us to be certain–is here.

Cards on the table: I’m of the camp that endings where “it was all just a dream!” are so stupid they should be stuffed in a sack and then chucked in the river, and then you need to watch over the river with a .308 in hand just in case they bob back to the surface and start wriggling around. This isn’t exactly a small camp. I’m sure that, even if Nolan isn’t a card-carrying member, he’s at least heard of this camp, and is familiar with its platform, i.e. that dream endings should be suffocated, drowned, and, if necessary, shot.

So I don’t think he’d be satisfied with your standard dream ending. Alongside all the evidence that suggests we’re in reality, but oh wait maybe we aren’t because Leo just appears at home just like how you instantly arrive somewhere in a dream, and hey, don’t his kids’ clothes look awfully similar?, the main proof Nolan hasn’t constructed a clear dream ending is the internet is still arguing about it left and right.

Obviously, it’s not clear. To paraphrase Marsellus Wallace, it’s pretty fucking far from clear.

Frankly, Christopher Nolan’s too good of a director and a storyteller to unintentionally leave his ending ambiguous. If he wanted to be sure one way or the other, we would be damn sure by the time Inception cut to black. Theorize about how it was all Saito’s conspiracy or Mal was right all along until you’re blue in the face because people are so tired of your ridiculous rants that they bruise your face with a mighty two-fisted blow, but there’s no serious evidence to prove anything beyond the following:

a) it’s real, or

b) DiCaprio never escaped limbo, or was only kicked up to one of the higher dream-levels, and would rather reunite with his children, even if they’re figments of his imagination, than risk discovering he’s back in crummy old reality

In other words, sometimes our desires and fantasies are more powerful–and more meaningful–than the objective facts. Based on the conclusion of the final scene, Christopher Nolan doesn’t want us to be able to leave with 100% certainty that DiCaprio’s made the right choice and will now live happily ever after with his flesh-and-blood kids.

I’m tempted to argue that if he’s happy, that’s all that matters, but you have to consider that if he’s still in a dream, his real-life kids are still stuck without their daddy. Ethically, then, that he doesn’t do all he can to ensure he’s not in a dream (like spent five seconds more watching his stupid top!) is a selfish, immoral decision.

But he’s wanted to come back to them so long, he’s lost his ability to know what’s real and what isn’t. DiCaprio got lost in his fantasy a long, long time ago. Now, he’s willing to do anything, including deprive his children of ever seeing him again, to get it.

That’s a pretty goddamn dark ending right there. I think it’s reality, and he and his kids can now be happy together. But the fact DiCaprio doesn’t even check the top means he doesn’t truly care. He just wants the feeling that he’s back with his kids, no matter the consequences. Does this make him a bad person? I don’t think so. But he is a deeply compromised one.

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