The ending of Christopher Nolan’s mindbending thriller Inception is one of the most hotly debated in contemporary cinema. But the movie’s most experienced cast member has now revealed some new information that may completely alter your perception on the matter. Here’s a look at how Michael Caine has blown some film fans’ minds.
Born in London in 1933, Michael Caine started on the stage before making his big-screen debut in 1956’s A Hill in Korea. However, his big break wouldn’t come until nearly a decade later, when he was cast in the 1964 epic war movie Zulu. Then, two years after that, Caine gave an Oscar-nominated performance as the leading man in Alfie.
Caine started to make waves in Hollywood, too, after he starred opposite Shirley MacLaine in 1966’s Gambit. And the star appeared in other iconic films throughout the decade, such as The Ipcress File and The Italian Job. The latter movie was responsible for arguably his most famous catchphrase, “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.”
Caine continued to enjoy success in the 1970s, fronting movies such as Get Carter and The Last Valley. He also picked up a second Oscar nomination for 1972’s Sleuth, in which he co-starred alongside Laurence Olivier. And by the end of the decade, the British actor had also added classics such as The Man Who Would Be King and A Bridge Too Far to his filmography.
The 1980s saw Caine enjoy his most critically acclaimed period, however. During that decade, he won the Best Actor honor at both the Golden Globes and BAFTAs for 1983’s Educating Rita. The star then finally got the chance to make an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards when he was crowned Best Supporting Actor in the Woody Allen-directed Hannah and Her Sisters.
But apart from the leading role in The Muppet Christmas Carol, Caine struggled to find parts worthy of his talents for much of the 1990s. Ultimately, though, he did enjoy something of a career rejuvenation towards the end of the decade thanks to his appearances in Little Voice and The Cider House Rules; the star even picked up the second Oscar of his career for his supporting turn in the latter movie.
And Caine enjoyed some of his biggest box-office hits in the 21st century, including Austin Powers in Goldmember, Children of Men and Cars 2. He also developed an enduring working relationship with Christopher Nolan, starting with his role as Alfred Pennyworth in Batman Begins. Caine went on to work with the acclaimed director in The Prestige, Interstellar and, of course, Inception.
Thanks to his decades-long career, Caine is now among the top 20 highest-grossing film stars of all time; his movies have raked in excess of $7.8 billion across the globe. Alongside Jack Nicholson, Caine is also among the only actors to have picked up Oscar nominations in every decade from the 1960s onwards. And to top it all off, the star received a knighthood for his contributions to the film industry in 2000.
But it’s Inception that remains perhaps the most talked-about movie of Caine’s recent career. The twisty sci-fi thriller sees Leonardo DiCaprio play Dom Cobb, a seasoned crook who intrudes into people’s subconscious states in order to access certain information. Caine, meanwhile, portrays Cobb’s father-in-law and confidante, Professor Stephen Miles.
Caine also appears in the film’s famously ambiguous ending, in which Cobb joins up again with his family. In fact, ever since Inception’s debut in theaters, there’s been a debate over whether that closing scene is based in reality or in Cobb’s dreamland. And that’s largely due to a spinning top.
The top in question had previously been used to signify whether the action on screen is pure fantasy – if so, it spins continuously – or entirely real – in which case it eventually falls over. However, the shot of the top at the end cuts to black before revealing whether the object falls or not.
And Nolan has been vague when asked to confirm the spinning top’s fate. Speaking at a Princeton University graduation ceremony in 2015, the director said, “The way the end of that film worked, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb – he was off with his kids, he was in his own subjective reality. He didn’t really care anymore, and that makes a statement.”
Nolan then added, “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 [the ending is part of] 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.”
But while Inception’s director may want to keep things open to interpretation, one of the movie’s cast members doesn’t appear to have got the memo. In fact, Michael Caine appeared to settle an eight-year-old debate while chatting at a special screening of Inception at London’s Somerset House in 2018.
At the event, the Oscar winner revealed that he’d been told by Nolan as to which scenes were a dream; initially, Caine had been left bamboozled by Inception’s script. The veteran actor went on to tell the crowd, “I said [to Nolan], ‘I don’t understand where the dream is.’”
Caine continued, “I said, ‘When is it the dream, and when is it reality?’ [Nolan] said, ‘Well, when you’re in the scene it’s reality.’ So, get that – if I’m in it, it’s reality. If I’m not in it, it’s a dream.” This therefore appears to confirm that Cobb’s family reunion was actually real.
It should be known, though, that Caine isn’t the only Inception cast member to have sought clarification on the movie’s script. Leonardo DiCaprio once admitted that he had struggled to understand its complexities, too, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “I needed to know implicitly where we were. It got incredibly confusing at certain points in the beginning, but the more we talked, the more I understood.”
As for the response to Caine’s explanation? Well, it was mixed, to say the least. One fan commented on Twitter that she was “weirdly relieved to finally know.” Another was even happier, posting, “Michael Caine confirming that Leo and his kids got the happy ending in Inception has just removed an eight-year-old stress knot in my back.”
But not everyone was so won over. As one individual wrote on Twitter, “Michael Caine did not write, direct or edit Inception. His comment on the ending is not a definitive answer. The ending is, and always will be, up to interpretation. That is what makes it brilliant and memorable.”
Nevertheless, Inception’s ambiguous ending certainly didn’t harm the film’s box-office appeal; it raked in nearly $830 million across the world to become the fourth most successful movie of 2010. The feature also picked up four Oscars – for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects – and received a nomination for Best Picture.