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The Leonardo DiCaprio movie that he doesn’t understand

(Credits: Far Out / Alamy)


Mon 11th Sep 2023 16.15 BST

Over the last three decades, Leonardo DiCaprio has delivered a wide range of acting performances. He’s made audiences laugh in Don’t Look Up, cry in Titanic and engrossed us in the likes of Gangs of New YorkDjango Unchained and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Quite simply, there’s nothing that the monolithic actor can’t do.

It’s fair to say that throughout his career, DiCaprio has starred in his fair share of mind-bending movies, too. Take, for instance, Martin Scorsese’s 2010 psychological thriller Shutter Island, in which the actor’s character is tasked with finding a missing patient from a psychiatric facility.

DiCaprio also starred in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which is so confusing that even DiCaprio himself still doesn’t quite understand the ending. The film was released in 2010 and also starred the likes of Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Michael Caine.

“What happened? I have no idea,” DiCaprio once stated on the WTF podcast with Marc Maron. “Sometimes you’re just focused on your character, man. I actually do get involved, but when it came to Chris Nolan and his mind and how that was all pieced together, everyone was trying to constantly piece that puzzle together.” 

DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, a man who steals people’s secrets from their subconsciousness. He uses a silver spinning top throughout the narrative in order to determine whether or not he himself is dreaming; if it spins without end, he’s dreaming, but if it falls, then he is living in the real world.

At the end of Inception, Cobb is reunited with his long-lost children, but he has doubts about whether or not he is dreaming. He spins the top on a table, and just as it begins to wobble, the film cuts and the credits roll, leaving audiences across the world bemused as to whether Cobb was in reality or in a dream. “Depends on the eye of the beholder, I guess,” DiCaprio noted.

Christopher Nolan once attempted to give the definitive answer to the correct understanding of the end of his film in an interview with Wired. “I choose to believe that Cobb gets back to his kids because I have young kids,” he began. “People who have kids definitely read it differently than those who don’t. Clearly, the audience brings a lot to it.”

The “most important emotional thing” for Nolan with Inception’s conclusion is that Cobb is “not looking” at the spinning top. “He doesn’t care,” Nolan said. “I’ve always believed that if you make a film with ambiguity, it needs to be based on a true interpretation.”

“If it’s not, then it will contradict itself, or it will be somehow insubstantial and end up making the audience feel cheated,” the director noted. “Ambiguity has to come from the inability of the character to know — and the alignment of the audience with that character.”

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