There’s been a lot of interesting news about Christopher Nolan’s latest jaw-dropper Inception – that its brilliant, that its kind of sexist, that its kind of not, that one of its stars is probably bisexual. All of these I could write about. But the truth is I wasn’t as blown-away by this movie as so many others people seem to be. I often judge a movie’s greatness by how long it stays with me after. I found that the only thing that stayed with me, the only part that I really kept pondering, was the ending. And as it turns out, the end is very relevent to our interests here on this blog.
(Spoilers ahead, obviously. I’m writing this for those who have seen the movie, those who haven’t aren’t getting any context, jsyk.)
The ending of Inception has been called stereotypical all over, and narratively I suppose it is. What I liked about it was that deliciously long drag of the top spinning, that almost imperceptible wobble and then the black screen just before it might have toppled. It made me smile. As result, I perhaps appreciated Inception more as a piece of work, rather than a story. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t emotionally invested. I relate more to Nolan’s detached approach to emotion as opposed to the usual tearjerker, so the fate of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, was important to me.
However, as much as I wanted him to be really home with his family rather just dreaming of it, I realized that if the latter is the case, the implications are far more profound. The former is the typical happy ending, the lone wolf returned to his family, back to nurture them and protect them where he belongs. The latter creates a whole new kind of male fantasy.
All throughout the movie, Cobb’s dead wife begs him to join her. He wants to – he constantly recycles his memories of her, trying to make the version of her in his head more and more real. In the climax of the film he finds himself in limbo with her, just as he had been before. He has the opportunity to stay there with her. Legends, myths and, yes, Hollywood movies, have thrived for centuries on men searching for their lost loves. They’ve struggled through hell and been tempted by paradise, and in the end they either win the girl, or they fail and live alone or often replace her with a younger female. How often do you see the hero turn away from the wife he lost and choose his children instead?
The conclusion is a sweet one if it truly is real. However, if we are still in limbo at the end of the film, that takes away the real world issues of duty and responsibility that Cobb feels for his family. Cobb’s real children would still be without a father, and would find their mentors elsewhere, and as such Cobb is not fulfilling any imperitive dictated to him by society or biology when he dreams of being reunited with his family. What he sees and experiences are purely out of his own desire for happiness, and apparently he feels he would gain that more from his mental projections of his children and parents, rather than the projection of his wife.
Not surprisingly in a movie that debates between fantasy and reality, much is made about making objects into subjects. Cobb struggles to alter the last memory he has of his children, in which he sees them at a distance, but not their faces. With their backs turned, in a halo of sunlight, they are still His Children, rather than Phillipa and James. One of the things that almost annoys me more than the objectification of women in the media is the objectification of children. Children frequently lose their identities to simply “the baby” or “my son/daughter,” which to me is one of the elements that lead to people acting like they’re entitled to have a child and once they have them to treat them like trophies. In Inception, its not just the fact that they are his children that’s important to Cobb. Its their identities that he wants to remember, to get back to.
All of this creates an astounding new portrait of a man, whose greatest desire is not based on his sexual interest or his desire to fulfill his masculine duties as a protector, but simply to be with his family. Just for that I’d be happy to let that top keep spinning.