The  motion: “The top stopped spinning at the end of INCEPTION”

For the motion: Read Mark Maccora’s opening argument here.

Here, we have Zaki Hasan against the motion:


“So, did it topple over, or did it keep spinning?”

It’s a testament to the profundity of forethought with which writer/director Christopher Nolan has imbued Inception, his masterful mindjob of a summer blockbuster, that a simple question like that has prompted such impassioned commentary both for and against its validity. Indeed, it speaks volumes about how effectively Nolan has seeded the terrain and laid the pipe for analysis and introspection that so much time, energy, and oxygen has been spent weighing this seemingly unanswerable conundrum as if the solution will somehow provide validation not just for the time we’ve spent watching the preceding events unfold, but also our investment in them.

Still, while both sides’ interpretations are equally nuanced, they either willfully ignore or remain blissfully unaware of the larger “truth” that it’s utterly irrelevant. Whether the top spins in perpetuity or whether it succumbs to gravity’s siren song is immaterial to the broader reality that Inception is a dream, from beginning to end. At no point do the characters in the film ever occupy the “real” world, making the entire experience one more level of dreaming — furthest out, and this time one that we in the audience are complicit in along with Nolan and his co-scenarists. It’s a meta-textual gambit as risky as it is rewarding, and it’s one more reason that Christopher Nolan is one of the most talented filmmakers working today.

Throughout the story, we’re told at various points by different characters about the nature of the dream realms that they flit in and out of. As mentioned in my review of the film, the line between the dreamed and the experienced is so nebulous as to be rendered virtually meaningless (both in design and in execution). To this end, a totem is carried by each of the characters to remind them where they are. In the case of our lead character Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) his totem is a small metal top that belonged to his wife (who is either deceased or simply departed based on which interpretation you choose). This top, Cobb explains, will continue to spin endlessly while inside the dream world, thus allowing both he and we a kind of visual shorthand — a compass, if you will — telling them where they are at any given moment.

At film’s close, having accomplished his assignment and conquered the personal demons that have bedeviled him at every step, Cobb is joyfully reunited with his family. Or is he? While he embraces his children for the first time, the camera pans ominously to the kitchen table, where the top is still spinning…and spinning…and then…black. Does it topple over, or does it keep going? The answer to this question will definitively answer, we believe, whether we’ve wasted the preceding two hours-and-change. But the totemic rules we’re basing our judgment on are rendered meaningless if the “reality” in which they’re presented is an imagined one. And if that’s the case, what does that say about everything we’ve just witnessed? This is the question Nolan very deliberately raises, the mere pondering of which becomes a kind of answer in itself. Continue reading


THE GOATMILK DEBATES” will be an ongoing series featuring two debaters tackling an interesting or controversial question in a unique, irreverant manner.

Each debater makes their opening argument,  followed by a rebuttal.

The winner will be decided by the online audience and judged according to the strength of their argument.

The first motion: “The top stopped spinning at the end of INCEPTION”

For the motion: Mark Maccora

Against the motion: Zaki Hasan


“Talking about dreams is like talking about movies, since the cinema uses the language of dreams; years can pass in a second and you can hop from one place to another. It’s a language made of image. And in the real cinema, every object and every light means something, as in a dream.” -Federico Fellini*

Is Inception all a dream or what? I can debate this point all day. Actually, it’s been over a week so far, and the debates keep coming. You’re probably reading this to better understand the resolution- it’s why I’ve seen Inception three times. That’s exactly the filmmaker’s desire. Christopher Nolan worked hard to sow visual ambiguity into his picture. This seductive confusion creates a demand for repeat viewership, endless analysis, and public debate. Kubrick achieved the same thing with the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nolan is a Kubrick fan, as cited in his quotations section on IMDb. It is quite admirable that Nolan tries to use a communal dream with a hidden message, sorry, I mean a major movie with a theme to inspire thought. Wait, movies are a lot like communal dreams, huh? Hold on to that idea. I’ll get there. Thought provocation has been missing from tent pole pictures for, oh, 2 decades or so. Upon my first watch, I thought the whole thing was a dream. I found it thrilling. Then, instead of getting caught up in my own thoughts, I went reinspected the movie without so much awe at the crosscutting action sequences. I revised my conclusion because the images did not support it. Visual evidence exists to conclude that what we are told is true. The film ends in the reality of the near-future. Clues to the truth are purposefully opaqued, both by the style of the filmmaker and the language of cinema itself, but they exist. The main confusions & clues are in the costuming & casting of the child actors and the repeated test of the spinning top. They prove that despite his purposefully ambiguous, debate inspiring style, the story is that Dom Cobb ends the picture awoken from his dreams, free of his neuroses, and enjoying a real moment with his children. In his life. Not in a dream. Really. I promise. Continue reading