Nolan was a guest speaker at the Princeton Univesity commencement ceremony on Monday. The Hollywood Reporter has most of his speech transcribed, and it’s pretty longwinded. In an attempt to inspire the school’s graduates to look ahead to their futures, he brought up the ending of Inception, urging them to chase their realities instead of chasing their dreams, which he says are subsets of our realities. Basically, if you thought he was going to reveal a clear cut answer as to how his film about dream-infiltration ends, you’re not really gonna get it. Instead, after verbally wandering around in circles, he revealed the main gist of his point. saying:
He [Cobbs] didn't really care anymore, and that makes a statement: perhaps, all levels of reality are valid. The camera moves over the spinning top just before it appears to be wobbling, it was cut to black. … The point is, objectively, it matters to the audience in absolute terms: even though when I'm watching, it's fiction, a sort of virtual reality. But the question of whether that's a dream or whether it's real is the question I've been asked most about any of the films I've made. It matters to people because that's the point about reality. Reality matters.
So, what’s the answer? Apparently, the answer doesn’t matter, but the reason why people want an answer does.
Inception follows Cobb and his team of dream stealers as they dive into the mind of the son of the head of an energy conglomerate. Their mission is to implant the idea in his subconscious to dissolve the company. However, in traveling to the deepest depths of his mind, Cobb is confronted by the memory of his wife, who committed suicide. After the mission, he seemingly wakes up with the rest of his team, though we see him greeting his children, thought to be dead. He spins a top, his trick to determine whether he’s awake or still dreaming, but he ignores the outcome to be with them. Before the audience finds out the truth, the screen cuts to black as the top appears to wobble.
Perhaps we'll never know, and perhaps that's the point. What better way to send off college graduates than with an obscure speech full of ambiguity?