In dreams, the mundane often takes on some sort of cosmic meaning. A placid lake equals a clear mind. A key indicates new starts. And a spinning top? Well, in Christopher Nolan’s world Start, it means it’s time to question your reality.
More than a decade may have passed, but the film’s final shot – that little gem spinning for a few seconds, before the film goes black – looks no less provocative today.
Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief trained to enter other people’s dreams and wrest secrets from their subconscious. He was asked to do the impossible: not to steal a thought, but to plant one.
The mission forces him to dig deeper – a dream within a dream within a dream – but carries the risk that somewhere along the way he will lose his understanding of the truth and the deception. In his eyes, it’s worth it. His client, Saito (Ken Watanabe), has the power to clear the criminal charges against Cobb and finally let him find his children.
To protect himself, he carries a totem: a spinning top belonging to his deceased wife (Marion Cotillard’s Mal), who now stalks him in the dream space. If he spins and falls, he’s in the real world. If not, he is asleep.
Cobb succeeds in the heist and returns home. Before running to embrace his children, he puts down his totem pole for a final test. It spins and spins and spins – then all of a sudden there is darkness. Credits are rolling. The public asks: is this still a dream?
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This is the most frequently asked question of Nolan since Start“What’s funny to me is that people really expect me to answer,” he said. Weekly entertainment at the time.
It has become a full-fledged film-buff fixation, cemented by 10 years of Reddit threads and YouTube analysis. The pro and anti-dream camps are equal in their conviction.
Much of the debate centers on the summit itself. It wobbles for a few seconds before the screen goes black. This, many would say, is definitive proof that Cobb is in the real world. But there’s a catch: it spins almost twice as long as the other tests featured in the movie.
Others, meanwhile, claim that the totem pole is actually a red herring. It doesn’t belong to Cobb, but to Mal. As he explains to his team rookie, dream architect Ariadne (Elliot Page), totems should be entirely unique to their owner. Only they should know their look, feel and weight.
And, given that Mal has developed a post-mortem habit of playing with Cobb’s mind, it’s hard to trust the Spinner – who knows what she might have done there.
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A popular theory claims that Cobb’s real totem pole is his wedding ring, which he only wears when in a dream. He is missing in the final scene. However, this doesn’t quite correspond to what we know about totems – all of the ones we see appear in both the real world and the dream world, but with different properties. The ring is a bit of a wild card.
The appearance of Cobb’s two children, James and Phillipa, is another major topic of discussion. He hallucinates them throughout the film, reliving his last memory of them in the garden, his back turned, the sunlight bouncing off their golden locks.
Contrary to popular belief, they are different in the final scene. They are older (represented by a second pair of children) and are dressed in new outfits. But the similarity in their poses is odd, especially after the revelation that they’ve been busy “building a house on a cliff” – an apt description of Saito’s Fortress, the last place Cobb visits in the Dream World.
So who can we trust here? Michael Caine, who plays Cobb’s stepfather, has repeatedly claimed that Nolan offered him the solution.
“When I got the script for StartI was a little puzzled about it and told him “I don’t understand where the dream is,” “Caine said at a screening of the film in 2018.” I said, “When is the dream and when is it it’s reality? He said, ‘Well, when you’re in the scene it’s reality.’ So understand that. – if I’m there, it’s reality. If I’m not, it’s a dream. ”
Surprise, surprise – he’s in the very last scene.
Leonardo DiCaprio, meanwhile, took to Marc Maron’s podcast last year and admitted he had “no idea” what the ending means.
Nolan himself elegantly tiptoed the subject. In an interview with Wired, he revealed that there is a definitive answer – “I’ve always believed that if you make a movie with ambiguity, it has to be based on a real interpretation” – but he will never say it.
His brother and frequent collaborator, Jonathan Nolan, warned him not to reveal such secrets at the time. Memento was released, after offering a detailed point-by-point explanation of the plot to the festival audience. “You don’t understand, nobody hears that first passage where you say it’s really to the viewers that you then give your interpretation,” his brother told him.
As fun as it may be to tumble down the rabbit hole of fan theories, focusing on whether Cobb is dreaming or not is losing sight of what Start is really on.
“The real point of the scene… is that Cobb isn’t looking up,” Nolan explained. “He’s looking at his kids. He left it behind. That’s the emotional significance of it.”
Whether or not it is his totem pole, the spinning top serves as a physical manifestation of his guilt for Mal’s suicide.
As adventurous young lovers, they made the choice to descend each subconscious layer and reach the “unbuilt dream space” known as limbo – a world of complete freedom, which also threatens to erase your. feeling of who you are and how you got there.
To escape, Cobb implanted the idea in Mal’s head that this world was not his reality. But, as he will explain later, “once an idea takes hold of the brain, it is almost impossible to eradicate it”. After they woke up, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was still stuck in a dream.
Cobb confronts Mal and makes peace with the fact that she only exists as a projection. He has two children who are still alive at home and who need a father far more than his guilty conscience needs a spirit to feed himself.
According to a 2015 speech by Nolan at Princeton University, Cobb is now “in his own subjective reality.” He doesn’t care if the place he ended up in is just another dream – it’s where he feels he belongs. “And that makes a statement,” added the manager. “Maybe all levels of reality are valid.”
Start is available to watch on Prime Video and iTunes.
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