Christopher Nolan’s Inception has widely been hailed as a masterpiece, a magnus opus that explores themes of the human mind, imagination, “leaps of faith,” and most importantly, the concept of reality. It’s an interesting reputation, seeing as the majority of the film’s proponents have admitted that they have no idea what the conclusion of the movie means in context of the whole concept, and they’re ultimately left happily confused. It proves something that the movie itself wants to illustrate for the viewers: our understanding or certainty of a thing doesn’t really dictate our enjoyment, or even our participation. After all, we willingly become parts of things and institutions that we don’t understand: do most of us really understand how our own bank accounts, investments, and retirement plans work? They’re often the things that we count on to sustain us and our families into the largely uncertain future, yet we often don’t look deeper than what we’re told by so-called advisors and experts.
The question, in the movie and our lives, is whether or not we actually need to. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how the ambiguous end features a dreidel spinning but appearing to falter as the screen goes black suddenly. If the dreidel continues spinning, it means that the world that the protagonist Dom has successfully made it to is actually a dream, and if it stops it signifies that Dom is in fact, still dreaming. And the interesting thing about this end is that earlier in the movie he watches the dreidel intensely waiting with gun in hand to quite frankly (blow his brains out) if the dreidel stops spinning, he now spins the dreidel with quite some force and walks away from it; after all he’s been through, he honestly doesn’t care what’s reality or not. He’s been reunited with his children after two years, back in his home country after being kept out as an international dream-thief. And there’s a delicate balance in this. The lesson in the movie isn’t to blindly stroll through life believing everything you’re told and accepting everything as concrete. After all, with this mindset nothing would ever be innovated because no one would ever question the status quo. However, there is merit in knowing when to be patiently content, to take what is as what should be without rocking the boat in every matter. Living life like this, we’d probably all be quite tired and insane.
That balance has to come with learning to “accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference." The balance isn’t clear-cut, and like with most things, there is no manual to figure it out on the go. Our manual is knowledge by way of experience, and sometimes failure. So there’s wisdom in both of the ways we can see the end of the movie, whether that be accepting a reality or continuing to question the world around you. It all depends on if you’re a Dom or a Mal when you wake up.