What the hell happened at the end of Inception?

Ever since leaving the dark cinema room, my mind has been uncannily spinning like the proverbial top. Below are thoughts that are screaming, pounding on the door to be let out – and they are too unstable for me to will otherwise, lest my sense of reality keep wobbling. Anxiously wobbling. Deliriously wobbling. And wobbling some more with no end in sight.

**You need to watch the movie before reading this**

So here come the big questions:

Did the top keep spinning in the end?

Did Cobb end up in reality or in limbo?

My answer is: It doesn’t matter. Remember the river bank scene, when most of the team got the Kick and make it to the shore? Why does Ariadne say that “He [Cobb] will be alright”? Why does she think so? Is it simply just another faith-in-your-teammate line in action movies?

As we’ve all known by now that Inception isn’t just another action movie – the answer is No. She is so damned certain, because she knows that Cobb has finally shed all of his subconscious guilt (incarnated by Mal) and has come to be content with the state he is living within. Once that is done, whether the state is reality, dream, or limbo just doesn’t matter. Think about it – as long as you are happy, would you really care what state you are in? Would you take the leap of faith right now if I somehow convince you that this isn’t reality?

No you would not, and neither would I, because what we really seek is not reality, but happiness. (Who isn’t annoyed when waken up from a sweet dream?)

If you don’t agree with the statement above, please note that I have Mal on my side of argument (a pretty formidable ally to have, eh?) The limbo she built with Cobb for decades seems so comfortably real because it makes her so happy, while reality seems so disgustingly phony because it turns her distressed. The only option then left for her is to escape this world – “you knows where you want to go”, to a better place, “but you can’t be certain where the train will take you.”

And how do we know that Cobb finally achieves his bliss in the end? Remember how in the beginning he spun the top with one hand, holding the gun in the other?

Cobb would blow off his head as soon as he realized the top kept spinning - how paranoid and guilty he was about dreaming.

But in the end he doesn’t care anymore. He rushes to his kids without waiting for the top to topple. Because whether this is real doesn’t matter. Because, dare I say it again, we seek happiness, not reality.

So I think people should really stop saying “Get Real!” and start saying “Get Happy!” or “Get guilt-free!”

Because, you know, the reality is not necessarily a premium in and of itself. Just as the limbo is only scary if you are “filled with regrets, waiting to die alone.”


Do you know that French song used to wake them up? Coincidentally (not), it is “Non, je ne regrette rien” – “No, I regret nothing” by Edith Pilaf. You don’t wake up to reality. You wake up to the guilt-free here and now.

(And that’s some good old Zen for your breakfast.)

Non, rien de rien – No, nothing
Non, je ne regrette rien – No, I regret nothing
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait – Not the good they’ve done onto me
Ni le mal, tout ça m’est bien égal – Neither the bad, all are just the same to me
Non, rien de rien – No, nothing
Non, je ne regrette rien – No, I regret nothing
C’est payé, balayé, oublié – It’s paid, swept away, forgotten
Je me fous du passé – I don’t care about the past

Avec mes souvenirs, j’ai allumé le feu – With my memories, I lit up the fire
Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs, je n’ai plus besoin d’eux – My chagrin, my pleasures, I don’t need them anymore
Balayées les amours, avec leurs trémolos – Swept away the loves, with their trembling
Balayées pour toujours, je repars à zéro – Swept away for everyday, I start at zero

Non, rien de rien – No, nothing
Non, je ne regrette rien – No, I regret nothing
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait – Not the good they’ve done onto me
Ni le mal, tout ça m’est bien égal – Neither the bad, all are just the same to me
Non, rien de rien – No, nothing
Non, je ne regrette rien – No, I regret nothing
Car ma vie car mes joies – Because my life and my joy
Aujourd’hui, ça commence avec toi – Today, everything begins with you


Note how I said “My answer is…” and not “The answer is…”? For this whole discussion, and this whole world for that matter, functions like a dream – we share the same structure, yet we fill it differently with our different subconscious. This is the answer in my world – hence, my answer. How about yours?

  1. shenkichi93 said:

    ‎”You’re waiting for a train
    A train that will take you far away.
    You know where you hope the train will take you,
    but you can’t know for sure.
    But it doesn’t matter,
    because we’ll be together”

    Yes, it doesn’t matter if the top kept spinning or not. I hear people say “You don’t need what you want,” but isn’t life just a long string of days and days? We’d better enjoy life without worrying too much.
    Dream everyone ♪

  2. ldao90 said:

    I made the same answer when I first finished watching Inception.

    I confused myself a little after though.

    Saying it’s not necessary to distinguish dreams from reality is like saying “It depends…..” don’t you think? The borderlessness between dream and reality is just too attractive, but sometimes the society’s and your own standards cannot accept that uncertainty. And sometimes it’s just dangerous too. For example, I have 2 dreams, both look kind of real, one I could see, the other I could feel. They however contradict each other sharply. And only one could be right. So does it help to say it just doesn’t matter to distinguish?

    That yeilds a bunch of other questions.
    What defines reality? Is it your reality? My reality? Relative reality (if such a thing exists)? Is it what I think is reality? or what you think I think is reality? or what I think you think I think is reality? (and by the same token, what the hell defines dreams?)

    One can say “to me and myself only, what feels real is reality, and what dreamlike is dream, regardless whether they are in fact dream or reality or whatnot.”

    However, I don’t want to lure myself into unpredictable dreams just to wake up not being able to accept reality. It’s attractive and all just to search for happiness, but it hurts incredibly much when you find out that the happiness you search for only exists in your unreal world.

    • anhqle said:

      Yes, absolutely – I immediately sense something problematic too. If it is truly acceptable for us to live within our own constructed world (or, as in your own words, to accept the notion of relative reality), then a lot of friction ensues and common sense collapses.

      In a way, your last concern sums up nicely the crux of the confusion.
      “However, I don’t want to lure myself into unpredictable dreams just to wake up not being able to accept reality. It’s attractive and all just to search for happiness, but it hurts incredibly much when you find out that the happiness you search for only exists in your unreal world.”
      This is absolutely the source of all the inkling: Yes, we can go on and dream and not care and be happy. But wouldn’t we be hurt if it turned out to be, well, only unreal?

      Mark this however: all those “what if” and “wouldn’t we” are the very symptoms of guilt and worry. The reason why we cannot practically go on dreaming happily ever after is that that we still feel the menace of “what if”, still cringe at what comes after – or in other words, still not truly guilt-free.

      And since it seems that we are never able to be, I am not an advocate of relative reality – I’m not telling all of you out there to quit school, get drunk, yell at parents and then construct a world in which you’re a role model. It seems impossible to do so with absolutely no guilt.

  3. anhqle said:

    Then what is left of my message is this: no matter in dream or in reality, happiness can live near neither guilt nor worry. Let past mistakes be gone – after lessons have been learned, really think, think, think: what use is there to torture yourself over things that matter no longer. And let future comes at its own pace – worry is a problem that, thanks to us, arrive before itself.

    I often marvel at how popular it is to ask: “Picture yourself in the next 5 years.” If it is so fun and imperative to think about the future, why don’t “Visualize yourself in the next 80 years.” Need help? We’ll all be either ashes in a bottle tucked away in a nameless hole, or a decaying corpse ridden with worms and bacteria crawling all over. What fun is there to keep thinking about what comes next, when the final next is, well, death?

  4. Minh Trịnh said:

    Have you watched The Matrix? In one particularly symbolic scene, Cypher, a bald antagonist (the type of antagonist that invariably dies at the hero’s hand in every film he appears) shares his thought on the “unreal” state of happiness he enjoys:

    Cypher: You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?
    [Takes a bite of steak]
    Cypher: Ignorance is bliss

    Even until now I have never understood why Cypher is the only human wishing that his memory be washed and his mind returned to the “happy” Matrix. Personally, I would not mind if my existence is in fact just a heap of brain plugged with wires that transmit computer-generated images of reality, as long as those images are happy and I have absolutely no idea that the wires exist.

    • anhqle said:

      Yeah I remember that scene too 😀 😀 It left a pretty heavy mark on my thinking regarding the issue of reality.

      I don’t know. That makes me wonder too.

      Well, actually if you have absolutely no idea that the wires exist, then the Matrix is already the only reality to you. The question is, how would you act if you did know that the wires exist.

      But hang on. If you would be willing to stay happily in the Matrix even though you knew the wires exist, wouldn’t it be only logically consistent for you to give up your life now and get hooked up to a bunch of wires? (provided that it’s technologically and financially feasible – which isn’t that futuristic.)

      Even though the two scenarios are equivalent, don’t you feel more hesitating towards the second option?

      • anhqle said:

        Ahh I haven’t fully understood your comment though. So you’re saying that once we know the wires exist, we can’t enjoy the Matrix fully anymore (Cypher is “wishing” that he didn’t know.)

        Well 😀 think about it this way. If you found out that your girlfriend was cheating on you (conditional mode emphasized), would you wish you hadn’t known? So that you two could live happily ever after just like before you found out?

        Some would say yes. But the majority wouldn’t, I think 😕

      • HK said:

        This reminds me of a thought experiment by Robert Nozick:

        Suppose there was an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Super-duper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life experiences? […] Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think that it’s all actually happening […] Would you plug in? (Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 44-45)

        Do you want to plug in? As Nozick puts it, “What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside?”
        So, clearly there are things which matter to us more than simply having certain experiences.
        1. We want to do certain things and not just have the experience of having done them.
        2. We want to be certain people – to plug in is to commit a form of “suicide.”
        3. We are limited to a human-created reality.

        oh, I do miss Inception and the Matrix >.<

        • anhqle said:

          Why are there “things matter to us more than simply having certain experiences?”

          Why shouldn’t or wouldn’t someone want to plug in? What ground do we have to support the first and second claim that you make? I’m genuinely and infinitely curious.

        • Minh Trịnh said:

          I think asking the “do you want to plug in” question is not the right approach, because by giving an answer to it we are already acknowledging the difference between having the experience of doing something and actually doing it. People answering negatively to the question probably do so because they are aware of this distinction and find the idea of brains floating in tanks gross.

          Mr. Cobb and his wife do not enjoy happy lives because they know the dream world and the reality are distinct. In the Matrix, however, most people (fortunately?) had no idea they are merely experience-machines, and therefore feel no urge to put a bullet through their brains.

          I would also like to point out that Neo chose the redpill because he’s already aware of something wrong with his world:

          “You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me.” – Morpheus

          Other people who are happy with their lives not knowing about the wires and stuff would probably dismiss Morpheus as a mad meth dealer, stereotypically black, shady and well-equipped with obscure pills as he is (no racism meant!).

          Knowledge of a dream world existing independent of the real world, therefore, determines our choice. It makes the dream world less attractive, and the real world more lovable. That probably explains why many people feel negatively towards the plug-in idea.

          Another factor is no less important: level of satisfaction with current life. To think about it, most people who are presented with this “would you do it” dilemma are at least exposed to some level of academic knowledge. And because, as we all know (or, would like to believe so), knowledge is good and desirable this is no way a representative sample.

          Try asking the question to really desperate people, telling them that there’s a way they can entirely change the way they experience life, I believe we might get a better answer.

          An alternative would be to suppose that you know terrific kungfu, get to wear cool black shades and leather coats, and can pull out machine guns anytime you deem fit: would you give that up for an iron bulk bed in that sketchy underground homeless shelters and an eternity of fighting homicidal robots?

          Well, at least there’s that hot girlfriend.

          • anhqle said:

            I personally agree with him 100%. If we are not even aware that we’re living in the dream world, that’s the end of the discussion. We have no choices to make, no inkling, no “splinter in our mind” to worry about.

            If we are indeed aware of the independent dream world and real world, then the question of which world we choose depends much on the “happiness” variable. As I radically claimed in the entry, “we don’t seek reality, but happiness.”

            P/S: You can easily imagine up any ideal girlfriend that suit your taste 100% in the Matrix though 😀 it’s not gonna be harder than having kickass kung fu. I mean, everyone already got a lot of practice in dreaming about the ideal soul mate in this world, don’t we? lolz

            • Minh Trịnh said:

              The magic of the real world is that it is not limited by our imagination 😉

              Seems like a weird thing to say (“is imagination supposed to be limitless?”), but there certainly people who are blessed with partners who they “won’t even meet in dreams” or who are “beyond all wildest imaginations” 😉

              We as desirous humans do dream a lot about the ideal soul mate, but when the soul-mate-who’s-supposed-to-be come across our life, isn’t he/she more often than not far from the ideal we create in our mind, but capable of bringing so much more happiness? 😉

              • anhqle said:

                Seriously, people in love just talk weird. Lmao.

                Not exactly a bad thing though 😀 Good for you.

                • Minh Trịnh said:

                  Honestly là không biết em ăn phải cái gì =) chắc đang high on chocolate =)

  5. Stacia said:

    Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads
    up. The text in your content seem to be running off the screen in Ie.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.
    The design look great though! Hope you get the issue solved soon.

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