This following theory was thought up by TrueJournals, and he was the originator of the end theories idea.
The ending of Inception is left very open. Dom Cobb's totem is seen spinning for a long amount of time, but appears to wobble slightly before the movie cuts to black and the credits. Therefore, there are two possibilites to what happens after: either the top becomes unstable and falls down, or it regains its stability and remains spinning forever. This page serves as a discussion of the moments in the movie that lead to both theories, as well as any more evidence for or against the theories. Please discussion theories on this page's talk page.
The Top Keeps Spinning
If the top keeps spinning, this means that what we are seeing at the end is a dream world -- possibly limbo. This does not mean that the whole movie has taken place in the dream world. It simply means that we at some point entered the dream world without exiting it.
Getting into the Dream World
First, here are the possibilites for how we got into the dream world:
- We are in the dream world the whole movie. This would mean that we never actually get to see reality. This also means that Mallorie Cobb was right, and is possibly still alive.
- We never leave the dream world when Cobb tests the new drug from Yusuf. From this point forward, we never actually see the top fall on its own accord once spun. Cobb immediately tries to use his totem to determine if he is awake, but the top falls and Saito interrupts Cobb before he can test again.
- We never see the top fall after visiting the chemist. As stated above, once Cobb visits Yusuf, we never see the top fall on its own accord.
- We never see anyone get anywhere. As Cobb notes to Ariadne, the simplest way to test if you're in a dream is to try to remember how you got to wherever you are. The fact that we never see anyone getting anywhere, only scene cuts, is either a clue to the dream world, or simply the magic of Hollywood.
- Cobb doesn't see Mal in what we believe to be reality. If Cobb was stuck in limbo, either for the whole movie or from the time Yusuf puts him under, it would seem that Cobb should see Mal in every day life if he were actually in limbo. However, due to the way limbo works, this might not be true at all.
- Cobb isn't wearing a wedding ring at the end of the movie. If you look carefully, Cobb is seen wearing his wedding ring any time he is inside a dream. However, he is not wearing his wedding ring in the last scene. This could be explained by him coming to terms with his wife's death.
- We see the top wobble at the end. However, this is vague, and hardly leads to evidence that the top is going to fall. Some have also reported not ever seeing the top wobble.
The Top Falls
This means that at the end of the movie, Cobb is in reality. His wife is dead -- she killed herself jumping off a hotel balcony, and Cobb is free to live the rest of his life safe at home with his kids. This is the "happy ending" alternative.
- The top wobbles. At the very end, right before the cut to black, the top can be seen and heard wobbling slightly. This points to the top falling over right after the cut, and would mean that Cobb's reality test worked -- he's in real life.
- Cobb isn't wearing a wedding ring at the end of the movie. Any time he is in the dream world, Cobb is seen wearing his wedding ring. In the real world, however, the wedding ring is absent. The fact that the wedding ring does not appear on his hand at the end of the movie points to what we see being the real world.
- Mal doesn't appear. In every dream he has, Mal appears somewhere, due to Cobb's subconscious about the death of his wife. However, Mal doesn't appear in the final scene.
- We see Cobb's children's faces. In every other dream, we never see Cobb's children turn around. It's difficult to say if this is due to Cobb not remembering their faces, or, as Cobb says, the fact that he doesn't want to see them until he knows it's them. However, Cobb's children turn around and run up to him at the end of the movie.
- Cobb's children are played by different actors, ones at a younger age, and actors for the children at a slightly older age.
- We only see the top fall once, near the very beginning of the movie. Cobb's classic test to check for the dream world only tells him that he's in the real world once, near the very beginning of the movie.