is shown as accepting a dream over reality, in the most emotionally resonant scene in the entire movie! Except he doesn't do so shortly after giving a big speech about how dreams/movies weren't as good as reality, the way DiCaprio did. All the questions we care to contemplate about dreams/movies versus reality were raised in the climax of the Murphy arc. Having DiCaprio do the same adds absolutely nothing, but does it more stupidly with less emotion. The fact that everyone else universally ignores the Murphy arc, even to the point of denying its very existence,
shows how bungled the script structure really was. What should have plainly been a climactic moment just became a stepping stone on DiCaprio's journey to victory or defeat. I suppose DiCaprio fans find that rewarding, though I didn't care enough for Dom Cobb to be so enthralled.
All the arguments for interpreting the last sequence as a dream ending (or even intended to be ambiguous) fail logically, because the same kind of "evidence" purportedly showing the ending is a dream also shows that the entire movie is a dream. If there are no kids, or no Cotillard, or if Cotillard isn't
"mal," the movie says nothing. It just has a good free fall action sequence and three ticking clocks instead of just one. The rest is dull action sequences and lifeless characters.
On the other hand, the default, assuming the elaborately exposited rules are valid in the movie universe, has not just the merit of simplicity, but doesn't make Nolan an incompetent for wasting time on them (nor making fools of the people who paid attention to them. Which occurs to me might be the source of my reluctance to read the end as a dream: I just don't want to admit I was screwed.
) And it has the additional merit of counterposing an opposing viewpoint to the climax of the Murphy arc. Two opposing viewpoints expressed by the movie would be true ambiguity. If both Murphy and DiCaprio prefer dreams/movies to reality, there is in fact less
ambiguity. I would suppose people would notice this, but there are some dreadfully foolish "ideas" about ambiguity being deep floating around.
As to the intent to render the ending ambiguous, let us assume that Nolan is not a complete fool. Giving DiCaprio a happy ending is "the hero wins, the end." Intending that to be ambiguous means Nolan didn't want us to know how it ended. How does not knowing what happened make it better? It doesn't, which is an excellent reason Nolan didn't intend it to be ambigous. The second we knew the top was falling, it was over. Fade to credits.