Inception Totems Explanation

Inception Totem Explanation - Title

First and foremost, this is a spoiler ridden blog post. Beginning to end. If you haven’t seen the movie, you have wandered directly into the deep end of the pool without first getting your floaties off. If you would like to watch it – I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is definitely worth owning.  The extras are solid gold, the HD is completely off the hook and you also get a digital copy as well.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spun this disc while trying to answer questions that have come up on this blog.

Also, this blog specifically discusses Inception’s Totems only… if you want to discuss the movie itself, there is quite the conversation going on over here.  So let us away on our Inception Totems Explanation!!

Inception Totem Explanation - Cobb's Top

Cobb’s Totem – The Top

Early on in the movie Cobb asked to see Ariadne’s new totem and after demuring stated that she thought it an elegent solution for keeping track of reality. It was then that we learn that the entire idea of the totem was actually Mal’s.

Mal came up with the idea out of necessity to help differentiate between the dream world and the real world.  To that end, there were several rules to be observed with the totems – never let someone else handle your totem so as to keep them from controlling your perspective of reality by duplicating your totem perfectly.  The totem was also to be something small and intimate to you for reasons of portability.

Cobb’s totem is the top.  Basically as he describes it, it works fairly simply.  If the top stops spinning he is not in a dream.  If it continues spinning, he is dreaming.  Easy enough.  NEXT!

Inception Totem Explanation - Arthur's DiceArthur’s Totem – The Dice

Arthur – Ariadne’s guide through her beginning dream training – shows Ariadne his totem after she asks about them.  “Loaded Dice” he explains.  In reality they will come up as I expect them to.  In the world of dreams they will come up as anything but.  Arthur then explains that Cobb’s totem isn’t his at all, but Mal’s.  Mal is the one that came up with the device and after she died Cobb took them as his own.

Inception Totem Explanation - Ariadne's Bishop

Ariadne’s Totem – The Bishop

Soon before the Inception reverse-heist begins we see Ariadne milling something.  A golden Bishop.  Cobb takes an interest to the totem and asks if he can see it.  Ariadne demures and Cobb is impressed she is learning so well.  Never let another person handle your totem.  It is your only way to be sure no one has tampered with your perception and grasp on reality.  And with that little lesson tucked away we never see Ariadne’s totem again.

Inception Totem Explanation - Eames' Poker ChipsEames’ Totem – The Poker Chips

Our first encounter with Eames is at the Poker Table.  Cobb greets him with a hearty, “You won’t make them breed no matter how hard you rub them together”.  This is obviously a bit of a stretch, but it would make sense that Eames’ totem are his poker chips.  I’ve even heard it conjectured that in Dream World one poker chip will turn into two and back to one again.  Seems a bit of a stretch, but it is a dream, why not?  And now that brings us the most important totem of them all:

Inception Totem Explanation - Mal's TopMal’s Totem – The Top

Not fair!  I hear you crying.  You already did that one.  But, wait dear friends… no other totem is more important than this one.  This is the totem that began them all.  Mal is the creator of the idea of the totem.  She has need of a device that will keep her faltering belief in reality in check.  And so she devises a simple mechanism to inform her of her whereabouts.  A top.

A top that she cast aside when all her preparations for the final kick have been put in place and are ready.   The three psychologist’s signed witness statements a testing to her sanity are ready and waiting.  She’s pinned the blame squarely on Cobb for her murder by informing her lawyer of the threats he’s made against her.  All in order to get Cobb to jump with her and to head up to their children that are there and waiting for them to awaken.

As a recent Wired article so eloquently stated, all great literature is left open to the reader.  Similarly, all great movies are left open to the viewer.  Mr. Nolan has brilliantly weighted the evidence for and against the dream world conclusion so perfectly neither faction will ultimately know the answer.  But the evidence definitely is pointedly in favor of the dream world solution and here is why.

The totem is lying to Cobb

It tells him what he wants to hear.  It is his dream after all.  Everything else is controlled in this movie by Cobb’s psyche.  Even in other people’s dreams it is Cobb that dominates the dream with his head space and his perspective.  Runaway train in Level Two (more about the levels) – Layer one of the inception attempt?  All Cobb.  Ariadne sabotaging the inception attempt and basically dragging Cobb further down into the mire of dream layers?  All Cobb.  Limbo dream world?  Obviously all Cobb.  These dreams reek of our protagonist’s mental instability.  It seems odd we would think anything other than at least one more layer of dreams summoned by Cobb and controlled primarily by him.

And as others have noted elsewhere more eloquently than I ever could… why would you believe that a totem would work in the first place?  In a dream either your mind tells the top to continue spinning or your mind tells the top to stop spinning.  Its as simple as that.

I do believe that Nolan has conjured a very eloquent and tactile solution to the problem.  The interwebs are a buzz with discussions about what your totem would be.  (For the record, mine would be a modified heavier British Pound or a Poker Chip like Eames’.  Have you felt the brilliant heft of a nice clay poker chip – or a pound sterling?  Enough said.)  And well they should.  It is instantly recognizable and personal for every viewer of the movie.  But outside of a clever prop, I don’t believe that the totems work a lick.  Sad, but true.

The entirety of this movie is a dream.  A dream within a dream within a dream (seven total, at least).  And while that may tend to make most American viewers upset, I believe Nolan has stayed true to his artistic vision basically because, whether the epiphany is a dream or not – its still just as overwhelming and important as if it weren’t.  Having a cathartic awakening with your father as Fischer Junior did at Senior’s death bed?  Awe inspiringly real.  The rapturous feelings Cobb felt while waiting on the train track with his beloved – headed somewhere, though they don’t know where – enrapturing.  The walks shared in Limbo?  Precious.  That chats while building their childhood homes?  Treasured.  Cobb even says so much in answer to Ariadne, even if misguided.  “Why is it so important to Dream?”  Cobb replies, “Because in my dreams we are together.”

And ultimately Nolan’s metaphor of the dream is basically a thinly veiled allusion to the movie screen – to this huge techno-color canvass.  The movie is where we collectively share a common dream.  Where we shut down our logic cortex’s and visually succumb to the picture painted before us all.  And for that I tip my hat to Nolan for sharing his dream with us and causing us all to partake in this grand vision of collective catharsis.  Because I don’t know about you, but I was not right for several days after watching this movie.  My center of balance was thrown off and my perspective on reality was dumped upside down.  It was a great feat Mr. Nolan accomplished here and I am a better person for it.  Looking forward to the pleasant arguments below!  And remember that this post will make more sense if you read the Top 10 Inception Questions and the post that started it all, the 7 Dream Layers of Inception.

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110 Responses

  1. Tanya says:

    Was Cobb’s totem actually the top though? If it was Mal’s first wouldn’t she be the only one who knew how to use it? Everytime Cobb was dreaming he was wearing a wedding ring and awake, it would be off, in which the last scene, it was off.

  2. Petronela says:

    RE Tanya: great reply, the post is actually right on, but does the movie actually explain how Cobb knows the way that her totem works? Wouldn’t he have his own totem?

  3. Taylor says:

    @Tanya – I left the discussion of Cobb’s ring off the table – knowing though that it would be brought up here. And brought up it has!!

    The flaw with the wedding ring as a totem is that a totem is something you carry with you both in-dream and out. It makes no sense that he wouldn’t carry his ring in the “real world”. Maybe your rebuttal would be that the totem disappears when awake and he has it when he’s dreaming. Maybe…

    But I think that the wedding ring has a much simpler, and more emotionally raw, explanation. The only question we have here is – why wasn’t he wearing the ring? Think about it a moment – where did Mal kill herself? Not where, as in physical location, but where as in which dream layer? It was that same layer he wasn’t wearing the dream. I think his not wearing the ring was just a natural response to a betrayal from his best friend.

    So as to the ring being Cobb’s totem – I think its clever. But I don’t think its right. Having a totem not exist in one dream and exist in another is a bit of a stretch.

    @ Petronela – When Cobb and Arthur explain how their particular totems work they never say that others can’t know. They just say that no one else can hold your totem. So it makes perfect sense that Mal would have shared with Cobb this great idea she had for keeping herself sane. “Cobb, check this out, I was thinking about the problem of losing perspective and I came up with this…” They were in Limbo together for over 50 years for goodness sake! I’m sure they had plenty of time to share.

    ——

    I was talking with a buddy about the movie today and I realized something. Mal’s totem not only didn’t work for Cobb but it also didn’t work for her either. Think about it. The movie says she locked the totem away somewhere safe, but they were in Limbo for heaven’s sake. They were already lost. How did they get there? We were lead to believe they were lost there over time through a loss of perspective and reality. The totem wasn’t obviously doing its job up until this point or else they wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

    And up until this moment, I had been looking for Cobb’s totem as well. Obviously Cobb took Mal’s totem – so what was his original totem? I noticed the ring like everyone else. I considered the kid’s faces as a totem. I’ve considered numerous possible totems. But now that I think of it more – I think they shared that totem. And ultimately Cobb knew that it was the top that lead them astray originally (his wife’s suicide, years of limbo, etc etc) and even though he kept it he couldn’t find himself relying on it. That is why he didn’t even look at it as he walk towards his children at the end. Really? Even if it does fall over, can I trust that its telling me the truth?

    Maybe a stretch, but I don’t think I’m too far off. Definitely not 100% but I’d like to hear where I’m missing it….

  4. Laura says:

    This would all be great except you’re overlooking the fact that the totems don’t distinguish between the dream world and reality, they distinguish between your dream world and someone else’s…

  5. Taylor says:

    Ok so they can’t share totems obviously. But I just don’t think Cobb has one. I just can’t buy the wedding ring – as clever as it is. But everything else works here. Just sayin.

  6. Dan says:

    I realized after several days of puzzling over the ending that it did not matter to Cobb if he was dreaming or not.
    In the end he was where he wanted to be: with his children. He no longer cares if it is all a dream or not. It does not matter!

    Which I think is the ultimate message that Nolan wanted to give:

    Row row row your boat, gently down the stream ….

  7. eliot says:

    if he didnt care about being in reality or not why wouldnt he have stayed with his wife and children in limbo….

  8. Dan says:

    Hi Eliot,

    Good point.

    He had already lived in Limbo with Mal for 50 years or so. He could not take it there anymore, he could not accept Limbo as reality. That’s how the whole thing started.

  9. Taylor says:

    Looks like my graphic with the 7 layers has made it to MTV – who knew? Check it out here:

    http://clutch.mtv.com/2010/08/02/the-six-most-brain-scrambling-inception-infographics/

  10. Chris says:

    Yeah, I noticed that in the movie – the only thing the totem does is distinguish between your dream and someone else’s, not dreams and reality. If you use your totem in your dream, then, it only functions correctly if you imagine it to function correctly. At the end of the film, the top doesn’t fall because Cobb stops concentrating on it. If he concentrates on the physics of the top, it functions as it’s supposed to. If he doesn’t, then it doesn’t. The only reason the top might be falling in the rest of the film is because he is concentrating on its necessary function at that moment, because he controls the reality in his dream.

    If the argument is whether or not it’s his dream, then the argument you’re making is null and void since the totem doesn’t explain that.

  11. Zoya says:

    i think the point of the totems is so that if someone else has put you into a dream, then you can check your totem to make sure. being in your own dream isn’t a worry, its that someone might put you into a dream constructed by an architect and do something to you in the dream. so because they don’t let anyone else examine their totem, the architect of the dream will not know how your totem works, and they will not properly be able to simulate reality.

    Arthur’s totem is weighted dice, meaning they always fall on the same number no matter how you roll them. an architect would not know that, and in a dream they would react like normal dice and produce random numbers.

    for Ariadne’s totem, i think she hollowed out the inside but only one side. we see her tip it over when she is done making it, i noticed that it didn’t roll like most round bottomed chess pieces would. i think the made it so that it was weighted with one side heavier than the rest.

    for Eame’s totem, its that in dreams the words along the edges of the poker chips are blurred. why do i think this? because there is a scene where he is cashing them in and Cobb says “still haven’t learned to read i see” or something along those lines. i read somewhere that things with small print in real life, become blurred and illegible in a dream, but a person only notices this with close examination.

  12. dd says:

    I was glad to see at least one other person note this: we are only told the totem distinguishes whose dream world you’re in…NOT whether you are in reality. This seems to indicate that the question of whether on not Mal’s top kept spinning is irrelevant. It was a major red herring as to the end of this excellent film . Also,Saito spins the top in Limbo…Cobb doesn’t stop him…I think that it just doesn’t matter…maybe because it was Mal’s…

  13. Matt says:

    So you are saying that Cobb had no totem at all?
    If his totem wasn’t the wedding ring what was it?
    Surely he and Mal didn’t share a totem while she was alive?
    More holes than Swiss cheese in this theory.

  14. Taylor says:

    And you buy the wedding ring.

    The more I think about it the more I realize it doesn’t matter. He’s in his own dream – he doesn’t want know… and it wouldn’t have told him anyway. It won’t tell you when you are messing with yourself;

    Not with a top
    Not with a ring
    Not whith a hoop
    You Let Me BE!

    Not with a buck
    Nor with a truck
    Or with a …. click
    You Let Me BE!

    Seriously though. I just think the ring being gone in layer 2 is understandable. And he never invokes it. He was too busy spinning the heck out of his non-functioning top.

    Ready for your theory Matt…
    Taylor

  15. coexist says:

    There seems to be 2 different types of totems in the film.

    Totem type 1 – Special behaviour in the real world
    Special in one’s own dream
    Ordinary in someone else’s dream
    Arthur’s dice and Ariadne’s bishop belong here.

    Totem type 2 – Ordinary behaviour in the real world
    Special in one’s own dream
    Ordinary in someone else’s dream
    Mal’s spin top and Eames’s poker chips are of this category.

    These seem to be problems with both types. Type 1 can’t tell you if you’re awake or in your own dream. Type 2 can’t tell you if you’re awake or in someone else’s dream!

    Even assuming that one subconscious can’t manipulate one’s own totem, I fail to see how the totems can be useful. It’s strange that the characters don’t realise this too.

  16. M. Mohamed says:

    Sorry, this point may have already been made. Forget about the characters totems. What is the audience’s totem. We are also part of the inception as observers (or tourists). This is where the Cobb’s Wedding ring comes in. That is our totem. It is absent in the reality sections as Mal is dead but present in the dream sections as Dom is trying to hold onto her memory. You would think that Christopher Nolan would give the audience a totem as well since he makes such a big deal of it with his characters. Any thoughts?

  17. Barrett says:

    I really don’t think Eames has a totem…if you watch him with the chips- he rubs them, Cobb makes the breeding comment, and then Eames places a bet with both the chips, he loses and the dealer takes them- something I don’t think anyone would do with their totem. Also, when Eames is cashing in his chips, Cobb makes the comment “I see your spelling hasn’t improved…” which I believe means that, with Eames being a master forger, he was making and betting with counterfeit chips…just my two pennies.

  18. Barrett says:

    I just want to edit that a bit- I’m sure Eames DOES have a totem, since the other do…but I just don’t think it’s the chips…

  19. ceren says:

    there is one more hidden totem; the wool carpet imitated by a polyester one in the dream that saito was trapped. this illuminates the logic of totems, it has to have some hidden defo or characteristic that only the owner knows (referring to coexist’s totem type 1) and the architect missed. ıt is the ‘defo’ of the dream but not enough to make us sure as coexist has stated.

  20. Taylor says:

    Currently working on a blog entitled: “Top 10 Tricky Inception Questions”. I have pulled a few from right here already. What other beguiling questions would you like answered or that you have answers for already? Post them here and I’ll get them in to the blog – with credit going your way. (some of you already have more than our fair share of the credit!)

    Looking forward to those questions!
    Taylor

  21. coexist says:

    Could someone please answer this:

    When multiple people are sharing a dream, what happens to the others dreamers when the mark wakes up. Do they stay in the dream, or do they wake up as well? If they do stay in the dream, do the details populated from the mark’s subconscious disappear?

  22. Taylor says:

    Hey there Coexist – I answered your question here: http://taylorholmes.com/2010/08/11/10-inception-questions – Let me know if I did your question justice!

    Taylor

  23. Taylor says:

    Barrett – you are probably right about Eames’ totem. But 5 makes a more interesting blog post. Four (Three really) doesn’t cut it. Heheh. But yeah, Eames’ totem is a big big stretch. Almost as big as Ceren’s carpet totem! haha.

    Speaking of which Ceren, I wouldn’t say that the carpet is a totem, but rather it was a flub up by the architect. It in effect ACTED like a totem by tipping Saito to the reality he was dreaming. But I woudln’t call it a totem per se. If that makes sense.

    Taylor

  24. coexist says:

    Thanks for answering my question Taylor. It is pretty much how I think as well – that the Mark would take all creations of his/her subconscious with them when he/she wakes up.

    This brings me to another, more important question: who was the dreamer and who was the mark in Cobb and Mal’s shared dream (the upper layers, not limbo)? I think the answer has serious implications. Let’s consider 2 possibilities:

    1. Mal – Dreamer and Cobb – Mark.

    2. Cobb – Dreamer and Mal – Mark.

    Option 1 seems more likely to me because we see Mal’s totem. Given that the top is only useful in the one’s own dream (it would just behave like an ordinary top in someone else’s), it makes sense that this is Mal’s dream, and she intended to use it. However, if they were sharing her dream, wouldn’t its world start crumbling down when she killed herself? We see that it doesn’t.

    Now let’s consider option 2, which I think is what you believe, Taylor. But it has it’s own problem. In this case, when Mal kills herself to wake up, we should see the dream suddenly emptied of its content (or at least a major part of its content), yet that doesn’t happen either.

    So if neither case is true, wouldn’t it mean that the whole movie is not a dream and that Mal really did kill herself in the real world?

    Also, your rule about dying in limbo doesn’t seem consistent with your movie-is-a-dream theory. If dying in limbo wakes you up totally, then how can Cobb still be in a dream when he died in limbo, not once but twice?

    Now, I’m not totally sure that my logic is totally complete and succinct. There might be other possibilities that I missed. Do you care to comment?

  25. Taylor says:

    Sweet Comment Coexist. I literally had to sit down at a whiteboard and map the possibilities out to fully understand what you were getting at. So kudos to you for bending my brain into a double-backflip.

    I think there is a subtle problem in your logic tree here. But it is central to a logic error. I thought you were using the word MARK incorrectly until I fully understood where you were coming from. In your options – #1 & #2 I don’t believe either. I believe #3 –

    3. Cobb – Dreamer and no one is the mark.

    Remember when Cobb took Ariadne into the dream world for the first time? It was Cobb’s dream – and it was also his subconscious filling the space. It was his subconscious that was attacking her the architect, the foreign species in the dream. Similarly, I think it was this way when Cobb & Mal dreamed together. Maybe it was one time in her subconscious, maybe another time in Cobb’s. But at the end – the dream we find ourselves in now it was Cobb’s dream and Cobb’s subconscious.

    Neither Cobb nor Mal were the “Mark”. The Mark is the role of a person about to be conned or stolen from. Neither Cobb nor Mal stole from the other (save for the time Cobb Inceived the idea that the dream isn’t real, but that’s a different story). But I don’t think you used that term in that way. You meant Mark to be the one who filled the dream with their subconscious. But when you are co-dreaming with a friend or loved one I would assume that it would just be the main dreamer’s subconscious that fills the dream – not the person visiting. Does that make sense?

    So if it is option #3 (in your theory set) then Cobb is dreaming, within his subconscious. Mal commits suicide. It is a tragic loss for Cobb – but everything continues humming along like as if nothing happened. The dream doesn’t go off kilter. And the dream doesn’t empty itself like a vacuum. See?

    Now, as for your dying in limbo question. This is where I completely blown your mind apart. heheh. And people from here to China cry foul. But, alas, I have to do it.

    The Dream Rules… are a dream.

    The rules are very consistent. Cobb dies in Limbo – he heads to “Reality”. But since the whole concept of dream sharing is a dream, and since the rules of the dreams are a dream they won’t pop him to real reality. This may be baffling to understand, but I believe that one of the big tells that the whole movie is a dream, is the dream sharing concept. Fairly fanciful idea. Dream-like really.

    I personally believe that maybe Cobb just slipped and hit his head in the shower one day. Voila – Inception is conceived in Cobb’s brain and we have our summer blockbuster. Now, you may disagree with me that this is what happened – but it logically follows none-the-less. Yes?

  26. coexist says:

    Thanks for such a thought out answer. I am really enjoying this discussion.

    Yes, you interpreted my “Mark” the way I meant it. I know I should probably use another word, if only I could think of one – the “populater” or “filler”? Anyway, your first explanation does sound consistent. I still have some lingering questions about the totems – but my brain is struggling at 2am. I’ll post some more tomorrow.

    Your second explanation bugs me though… If the whole movie is just Cobb’s accidental imagination, how can all these imagined rules be so consistent? it’s very hard to accept. My brain struggles with it. I’m not saying that it’s impossible, just extremely improbable… I need more convincing : )

  27. David says:

    I agree with Chris (August 7, 2010 at 7:36 pm). The totem is clearly explained in the movie as a means of knowing you’re not in SOMEONE ELSE’S dream. Hence, the two times it fell in the movie are not proof that Cobb himself is not dreaming.

  28. Mallory says:

    Ok I’ve given this some thought and here is what I’ve come to believe of Mal/Dom’s top: Nolan is using it, less as an actual tell of what is real and what is dream but, rather, as symbolism.

    For Mal, it is truth. She locked it away in a safe deep inside her (where she hides it is also symbolic but I’ll come back to that) showing that she has chosen to forget that her “reality” is not true reality. Also, to me, this quite clearly shows that one cannot CHOOSE to manipulate one’s totem as she could have merely projected her delusion that limbo was reality onto the top as opposed to hiding it away so she could never see truth manifested.

    For Dom, the top is Mal. In reality, it falls. In dream, it spins and spins and spins. In reality, Mal is dead. In dream, he can keep her alive. SHE can “spin and spin and spin” in a manner of speaking. The memories can be kept alive as if on a video tape, going round and round on an endless loop. In the end, dream or not, he walks away from the top without seeing the outcome, symbolizing his acceptance of Mal’s death.

    Now, two things before I explain my perspective on the film:

    First, it bothers me that no one understands why Dom can use Mal’s totem and it still work for him. Let me say, this proves neither that he is in a dream or reality but either way, “who created the top” is of no consequence. The reason Dom can use Mal’s top, despite his and Arthur’s clear statement that only you can touch your totem, is because Mal is dead (or “dead” depending on your point of view). The point of that rule is that no one but the owner can know the exact balance and weight of one’s totem and, in effect, cannot fool you by mimicking the feel of it in their dream (a) but causing it to do what it would in reality (this would make you believe you are not dreaming therefore allowing them to perform extraction and/or inception or perhaps keep you from waking up), or (b) to make you believe you are in your own dream as opposed to theirs. The totems do… whatever they do (depending on the individual) b/c of their balance and weight. Dom knows these two things and therefore can use Mal’s totem. Since she is dead, manipulation is no risk.

    Second, the symbolism I said I’d explain earlier. I just feel it should be addressed. Mal hides her top, her truth, inside a safe, inside a dollhouse, inside her childhood home, inside her perfect neighborhood, inside her own world but lies it on its side, stagnant, not choosing to spin it for fear of what she will learn. Dom breaks in and spins it for her so she will see truth. Thus preforming inception. It’s exactly what they are doing to Fischer. Not counting Mal’s safe, that’s 4 layers. There are (unplanned detours not included) 3 layers of dream in the Fischer job and then a layer of reality (or, in your opinion, another layer of dream) making 4 layers. And in the end, the idea planted in Fischer’s mind is behind a locked door, much like Mal’s safe, with two alternatives: that his father is disappointed that he isn’t more like him or that disappointed that he tried to be so.

    But those were merely side notes. I apologize for deviating so far off my intended course. My belief is that Dom’s reality in the beginning is in fact reality (whether it is at the end, I am still unsure), and I would be remiss in not at least combating your justifications to believe otherwise.

    Why does Miller tell him to “come back to reality”? Not b/c Dom is dreaming, no, but b/c he’s telling Miller how Mal, his DEAD wife, won’t allow him to build. He believes Dom has begun to believe his dreams are real, losing focus of his children, the shadiness of his work, the allegations that he is a murderer, instead lost in the memory of his dead wife.

    Is it too convenient that Saito shows up right at the right moment? Not if he is true in his wish to “protect his investments”. A high powered businessman who is likely one of the wealthiest and most crafty men in the Inception world? Why would that be far fetched if, say, he were following him, making sure nothing fishy was going on given his risky and highly illegal offer? In fact it may be far more unlikely that he NOT be nearby.

    The narrowing hall when Dom is being chased at the beginning: those cities are designed that way. If you look at the street when he emerges, the houses are on a curve. And when two straight walls are next to each other but at an angle as opposed to parallel, well, the effects are obvious and exactly what was shown. It was why Dom chose that gap to run through (good way to temporarily to lose a trail) and was probably a detail Nolan noticed at one point and stored away for future use.

    Mal’s protest about him being chased by anonymous corporations was actually a simple attempt to convince him to stay. He was being chased by Global Engineering for failing in the extraction of Saito. It says so several times. They can’t risk him still being alive and were probably also fallowing him, tracking him down, etc. They are GLOBAL Engineering after all.

    Mal is a projection of Dom’s subconscious, a part that is guilty for her death and thinks perhaps he deserves to obey her last wishes. She’s influenced highly by her deranged state after awakening which is why we never see what she was like before. Arthur says she was lovely but we never see that side of her.

    Lastly, yes, being able to go into and share and steal and implant ideas into dreams is a very far-fetched idea. But how would he have gotten to limbo in the first place were it not possible in this world? How would Mal be attempting to retrieve him? It is possible in the realm of the movie. In fact the reason Nolan even began writing the script was b/c he wondered what would happen if we were one day able to develop the technology to go into a mind and steal an idea from the source.

    But here, at the end, is the point of the movie: ideas.

    We spend hours, pages, whatever it takes to explain what we believe is the meaning and attempt to get others to believe it too. Is he awake in the end? Is he dreaming? Has it all been a dream from the beginning? Perhaps not even Nolan knows! Perhaps he’s created a story in which all three outcomes are believable and justified. Just to prove this simple point. “An idea is like a virus.” I could ramble off until blue in the face to prove my point and you to prove yours but neither of us will succeed in convincing the other. Not when both of us have truly decided what we believe. If we were unconvinced? Perhaps. But not when have made up our minds.

    “Once an idea has taken hold in the brain, it is almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood…that sticks. Right in [your mind] somewhere.” Dom speaks on that subject twice: near the beginning and near the end. And any good movie buff know that means the author’s trying to get you to pay attention.

  29. Mallory says:

    Also, the movie does state that the totem’s purpose is to tell you when you are in someone else’s dream. However it ALSO says that it distinguishes between dream and reality and behaves differently in each environment.

  30. Mallory says:

    Oh and I hate to add another side note, but I saw the film again and I can’t be sure if they are saying “Global Engineering” or if the first word just sounds very close to “Global”. The point is they say the say the same corporation several times. I’m done now I swear haha.

  31. Taylor says:

    Mallory – real name?!?

    So I’ve spent the better part of my day in a car then a plane then another car and am only now getting a chance to post this. 250 miles of rental car and 1300 miles of air flapping latter I can paste this in…

    ———

    Alright – wow!  Loving this response.  The fact that people as thoughtful as you Malory are coming here to discuss this movie with such insightful comments is a serious honor.  And that we disagree and yet are open to dialogue on the various points is really cool.  I will try and address some of your larger points – I’d go into more depth if I weren’t typing this at 36k feet on a lame iPhone keypad with my thumbs!!

    1.  The TOP as symbolic device.  
    These ideas here are poetically gorgeous.  Absolutely loved your idea that inception was performed simply by spinning the top.  So obvious yet I hadn’t picked up on that.  In regards to whether or not one can manipulate one’s totem – I have actually begun to agree with this point of view as well.  I initially believed either the totem was done-busted or that he manipulated it unwittingly.  I’ve come to see though that the totem Dom uses is actually a valid and working totem even if it was Mal’s initially.  I’ll update the blog, (really need to update all three blogs I’ve written as I’ve subtly changed certain views as I’ve thought more about it and people like yourself have written such amazing perspectives on what happened.) accordingly once I get an hour or two of free time.

    Anyway, I also enjoyed your thoughts on Mal as Top.  I agree that this makes oodles of sense.  I see the ring similarly.  It’s an indication of Mal’s betrayal and death in “reality”.  In the dream layers Cobb still communes with Mal and treasures the memories they shared.  Still considers himself married and at one with his wife.  But in “reality” Cobb is despondent and at a loss what to do without her.  And like you I agree that his walking away from the top symbolizes his walking away from Mal and her power over him.  Which is even more sad and horrifyingly tragic in my theory seeing as though Mal was the one true voice throughout the entire movie.  Even worse, seeing as though I believe he spent the entire movie in a hospitable bed with Mal by his side, it’s even more of a downer.  Cobb has, in effect, betrayed his wife so thoroughly it is as if he himself committed suicide in layer 1 – reality.  (Could you guess I prefer Shakespeare’s tragedies to his comedies?)

    Circling back – the reason Mal’s top worked for Dominick is because it answered the wrong question.  We don’t need to know if Cobb is being manipulated by someone else in someone else’s dream.  What we really need to know Cobb’s totem can’t tell us – is Cobb adrift in his own dream labyrinth?  So, when we see the last shot of the top spinning the question is basically moot at the end of the day.  We know he’s not in someone else’s dream (unless you subscribe to the Yusuf as high jacker theory that is.) but not if he is in his own dream. 

    Now as to your “combating” my points.  All are well said and understood.  Just a simple difference of perspective.  Your comments regarding the dream state technology reminded me very much of a million different debates I have had around Nolan’s The Prestige.  (Which, as a side note, I would love to hear your perspective on if you’ve seen the movie.  Just bip over to my prestige post and comment the heck out of it.  If you think I’m over the top jere you’ll think me absolutely deranged over there!). The machine is a device to move plot forward not necessarily to be understood.  Just seems more like something I would invent in one of my dreams than a reality.  Granted, anything can exist in the world of the movie – but in this well constructed reality I don’t think Nolan is a 007 director… He’s a memento director.  So I  see this as memento… Dreaming of James Bond.  Thus my root understanding of the world as a dream.  Farfetched?  Maybe.  But it’s how I see it.  

    I will say this, I do think that we see the real Mal.  Not the literal, actual Mal jumping in to his dreams Mal (though I did at one time think so) but I still think she is more real than Cobb understands.  Everyone dumps on Mal as if she is the BAD GUY of the movie. Yes, she seems to be sabotaging the inception effort… But her understanding is better than Cobb’s.  She sees what is really happening.  That hurting Arthur leaves no long term damage and that thwarting Cobb’s dream missions actually could serve to wake him up to the reality that this is all one big sham.  Mal always speaks truth every single time she speaks including the very first time we seem them together at Saito’s.  But that is a pet peeve of mine and so I’ll stop there.

    And as to your synopsis as to the point of the movie… I totally agree.  Artfully argued and brilliantly defended.  So kudos to you for your thoughtful response and I look forward to hearing more!

  32. Mallory says:

    Firstly, yes, Mallory is my real name haha.

    Now, thank you for your praise of my response. I’ll have to check out the Prestige page you have and leave my own thoughts.

    Since we have agreed to disagree (just to let you know, my “combating” was meant to be, as you said, my point of view to the justifications you gave on your perspective), I feel they’re is no point dwelling on it when there are so many other details to be explored.

    The first that occurs to me: Arthur’s totem. Was I the only one that that struck as odd? Put aside that all the members of the team could presumably be projections of Dom’s subconscious. Ariadne’s is a chess piece. This makes sense. She seems to be the type to have an appreciation for the game not to mention it is a direct correlation to position on the team and in the plot. Dom’s is Mal’s top. Again, this makes sense. Given that we never hear what Eame’s true totem is I’ll leave that one out. (Though him not having a totem at all would make sense where his character is concerned as would poker chips.)

    But then we come to Arther, uptight, suit-wearing, stick-in-the-mud Arthur (who would probably not be teased by Eame’s for being boring were he a compulsive gambler). And his is a loaded die. It stuck out to me. This is a very well thought out and detailed story. My logical mind tells me that this point is out of place. Thoughts?

  33. Taylor says:

    Mal
    (heck, it is your name) first I must say that I’ve never had internet access at 35k feet before.  Pretty amazing this technology schtick and i do this stuff for a living!  Anyway, I do think that each of the totem choices are fascinating and i think the idea of the totem (rolls off the tongue better than shibboleth) may very well outlast the movie so I definitely think it’s worth exploring.  

    That Nolan went with all game pieces is interesting in itself.  That they generally are hefty and near on addictive to handle is even more interesting.  8 months ago sat down at a roulette table for the first time ever and got to handle very real, heavy clay casino chips.  I hefted them in my hand and absolutely loved the weight.  I immediately went looking for authentic chips online just to carry them around in my pocket.  And to give these totems the even more important task of divining between dream and reality is so huge.  Such a cool concept. 

    Now as to Arthur’s totem.  I do think the loaded dice concept is very cool.  But I do think you are right Mallory, odd.  But I can’t think of cooler game pieces that would say organized and together.  Bridge is a beautifully organized and analytical game (which I absolutely adore) but there are no specific totems to bridge.  Maybe a deck of bridge cards?  They are instantly recognizable.  But don’t quite have the panache of loaded dice.  If we left game pieces, what about a blotter?  An ink jar?  Mini-abbicus? Nah.  

    No idea.  Other ideas?

  34. Mallory says:

    It may not make any difference but since my name is Mallory, my nickname Mal, and it’s never stated if “Mal” is a name or nickname for the character, I would would like to point out that–in French (which I had presumed was nationality)–Mallory means unlucky. But on topic…

    Huh…you know I hope it doesn’t make me unobservant, but I actually hadn’t connected that all the totems were game pieces. Interesting. With that in mind, it does make a bit of sense now. A loaded die is really the only game piece that is more in control than the others. He’s the point man, his job is to make a game of chance in their favor. He is the loaded die of the team. I think if there hadn’t been a theme it would be quite random for Arthur’s character but with one, it’s actually quite accurate.

  35. hotei says:

    It’s not “Global Engineering” it’s “Cobol Engineering”. “Cobol” sounds very much like “Cobb All”.
    “Obviously all Cobb”

  36. Mallory says:

    Or just a name that sounded good for a company. Like I said, I don’t honestly think there is any way to know which of the 3 that I spoke of before (is he dreaming, isn’t he, has it been a dream all along) it is. It’s meant to be open to interpretation.

  37. Taylor says:

    I personally think that this one piece of information PROVES EVERYTHING! COBOL! How perfect!

    Or not. It obviously isn’t coincidence, but we can’t PROVE that. So it will just remain one more piece of tertiary/circumstantial data that continues to pile up in favor of the “EVERYTHING IS A DREAM” argument.

    Thanks for the detail Hotei – greatly appreciated.
    Taylor

  38. Nino says:

    Insufferable conceit.

  39. nick says:

    If the top doesn’t indicate anything nor does it work then Mal must have been an idiot for one, for two she’s an idiot that hid away a toy in her safe for no reason, Cobb is an idiot for making it spin in the safe, Mal was never incepted, Mal still having the top even the day she dies shows she double dumb, Cobb picking it up and later using it as his own is nonsense, the idea of totems becomes a joke, the suspenseful ending of the close up of the top and cut to black no longer becomes suspenseful but a joke also.

    And there is no way you can sweep the wedding ring under the carpet. Its a foolproof guide that remains consistent throughout the movie. Its an obvious manifestation of Cobb’s subconscious in the dream world. Nolan was cleaver with that one. Its no coincidence.

    And if u say he doesn’t have it at the end because He went through his catharsis I’d say well he had it on after his catharsis in limbo with Saito in limbo which occurs in the timeline AFTER his catharsis in limbo with his projection of Mal. But he isn’t wearing the ring when he wakes up in the plane after being with Saito in limbo….. no getting away from the wedding ring.

    If u say its all a dream and he just accepts “level 1″ as reality and thus doesn’t have the ring because his subconscious just doesn’t projected it…I’d ask why? His subconscious is severely messed up, both in scenes where he’s in reality and in dream world. His subconscious is UNCONTROLLABLE, so there is zero reason he isn’t always wearing the ring or just never wearing it.

    The ring is an indicator and so is the totem.

  40. Taylor says:

    The ring is definitely an indicator – but of what? Let me ask you this, if Cobb’s ring is his totem – what is it’s power to differentiate? It’s power is invisibility? This makes zero sense. Yes, the ring indicates oodles, but I don’t buy it as a totem.

    Makes sense that you do as you don’t believe he’s dreaming. Stands to reason – it’s easy. But I will never buy it that the numerous inconsistencies throughout the “reality” layer are just the movies. Nolan did not through in James Bond into this movie because James Bond is real. This movie James Bond’ed because that’s what happens in movies. Personally I buy it that Nolan built Two equally plausible and possible options into this movie. Dreaming/Awake. Both work. Both are fun to debate and argue. Both have holes, weaknesses and strengths. It’s all good. Makes these conversations entertaining.

  41. nick says:

    It doesn’t have to be a totem. Its an item Cobb is wearing that has obvious personal value yet only has it on in his dream states…. to go further in its explaination is unneccessary. To go less is to ignore the consistency of the rings appearance throughout the whole movie and relegate it to a costume mistake???. Or what a huge coincidence?

    Nolan didn’t make an equally balanced movie of its real/its a dream. Dream states are obviously portrayed and so are the awakened states. He cut the final scene where the totem drops to make for a better ending and leave it on a suspenseful note with us questioning even more the ending. He hardly makes any serious attempt to make the rest of the movie unclear.

  42. nick says:

    And besides how you NOT have the ring as part of your interpretation of te movie? You pull the wildest conclusions from What is not seen and what is not understood by you. Something so very much glaring in your face like the ring cannot be ignored.

  43. Truth38 says:

    Cobbs Totem is really his wedding ring, remember the totem rule, dont let anyone touch it. And he has taken Mols totem thus broke the rule and needing a new totem he wears a ring in dreams and doesnt when not in dreams. Look before he meets the girl architect then the training dream and look at his ring finger.

  44. Dana says:

    I NEVER NOTICED A THING ABOUT THE RING!!!!

    Now I have to go see the movie for a fourth timeeeeee?!

    ahhhhhhhh

  45. nick says:

    I wouldn’t go as far as to say his ring is his totem, although the theory of it being his totem isn’t far fetched. We just never see him acknowledge it and we see him using the top as his totem and also he tells others its his totem.

    The ring is definitely an indicator of when Cobb is in reality or a dream but whether the intention is to indicate to us the audience or to Cobb is debatable.

    Also I think people confuse the rules of totems. If someone touches it the totem only becomes void when you are in that persons dream. It doesn’t become completely void. But even Cobb’s totem if it spun and spun no matter who’s dream he is in it indicates being in a dream, because its impossible to keep spinning in reality. But if you were in another’s dream their subconscious or conscious could make it fall.

  46. Dana says:

    its not the act of touching a totem that instantly deactivates it, its the concept that if anyone knows exactly how your totem behaves you cant trust it anymore (because they could engineer a dream in which your totem acts as if you arent in a dream. this disables you from distinguishing dreams from reality). its not a magic device that becomes void if someone other than the owner lays a hand on it. cobbs (and arthur) tell ariadne not to touch it as a precaution. they need to be sure only they know the weight of the object

  47. nick says:

    better put Dana.

  48. nick says:

    Much better put Dana. Not touching it is a precaution against that person consciously or subconsciously manipulating your totem if you were in their dream.

  49. Taylor says:

    I posted a pile of long quotes from specific points in Inception that may be helpful in understanding the movie better. You can find them here:
    http://taylorholmes.com/2010/08/23/inception-quotes/

  50. coexist says:

    the ring’s special totem property could be its size. eg the ring only fits on his finger in his dream…

    but if the ring were his totem, why would he keep checking the top?

  51. Andreas says:

    Hey all! I was going through the comments and still, after watching the movie 5 times, i haven’t made my mind as to whether we are watching reality (with sub-layers of dreams) or a huge dream.

    I just wanted to share which points of the movie i find “disturbing”.

    1. Mal’s place of death. Wouldn’t be easier and more logical to stand on the window of their room?

    2. The only totem we see at work throughout the movie (assuming that Eame’s chip is not a totem) is Cobb’s. Didn’t the other characters feel the need to make reality checks? Of course somebody could say that they haven’t experienced limbo as Cobb presumably had done with Mal.

    3. Another thing is Mombasa. Let me explain. Cobb goes to Mombasa, Kenya where he meets Eames, Saito and Jusuf while Arthur stays behind in Paris(apparently?) with Ariadne. Now when Arthur is describing to Ariadne the technique of setting the dream level boundaries with paradoxes like Penrose stairs he is asked by Ariadne how big are the levels. He responds saying anything from a floor to a whole city (In limbo Cobb and Mal built a huge city). So accepting that we are actually watching a dream, it has to be a really really huge one and the characters are set apart from each other, something we don’t have a chance to watch in other parts of the movie.
    So in conclusion we have 4 characters talking in Africa (on top of that one of them,Cobb, briefly enters a dream at Jusuf’s basement using the strong drug) while 2 other characters are in Paris, talking inside another dream. Seems a little odd even if this two dream events don’t coincide chronologically.

    But as I’ve said in the beginning i haven’t decided yet. :)

  52. taylor says:

    Andreas,
    Great questions all. I’ll try and speak to each of your points in my response. Not because I would like you convinced one way or another but because from the “its all a dream” perspective I think there are answers.

    Mal’s place of death. Wouldn’t be easier and more logical to stand on the window of their room?

    After writing so much with so many people about this movie I can’t remember if I made this point in my original 7 Layers post or not. But this one scene was a BIG piece of evidence that it was in fact a dream. The same building next door? The same room with the same billowing curtains? Sure, she could have booked a room in the EXACT opposite room in the other building… but really? The dream-like qualities of this experience are way way too coincidental for me.

    The only totem we see at work throughout the movie (assuming that Eame’s chip is not a totem) is Cobb’s.

    Some people have posited that Saito and Yusuf didn’t need totems as they were just visitors and wouldn’t have normally come along for the ride. But everyone MIGHT have had one? We just haven’t been shown what they are if they do. Not sure, we only know what Nolan has shown us. The one that totally baffles me is Cobbe. Just makes zero since that he wouldn’t have one of his own. (At this I’m sure I’ll get 42 people saying that his ring is his totem. But I’ll reiterate that I don’t believe that “nothing” could be a totem. NOTHING that turns into a ring when in dream.)

    So accepting that we are actually watching a dream, it has to be a really really huge one and the characters are set apart from each other.

    This is a really good point. I hadn’t specifically thought of this before.

    I personally maintain that the whole concept of the dream sharing technology is a dream. That the architecting of dreams is a dream. That the whole Cobol run around the world business (as pointed out by Mal) is a sham that only a dream would conceive. And with this perspective I don’t have a problem trying to envision how hard it would be to create a dream of this size and magnitude because our brains create dreams of this size every night.

    But I will concede that if you believed that at dream layer 1 – the layer above the movie’s “awake” layer – the dream sharing technology works and Mal and Cobb have dreamed down to the movie’s awake layer… it would have to be one an enormous dream architecture to have been built. And for him to have forgotten creating (or Mal creating it) seems a bit of a stretch for sure. So kudos to you.

    But whether you buy it or not, hopefully that makes logical sense.
    Taylor

  53. Aru says:

    hey…
    first of all, i’m sorry for my poor english. I’m from Brasil, so I hope you all understand…

    well… we actually see the bishop working. It always fall “smiling” to you because of the weight difference.

    Cobb is wearing the wedding ring on the dreams, but in the real world/1st dream he isn’t

    and I don’t remember ever seeing the top falling. on the first scene that it appears, Arthur enters the room, and Cobb hide the top before it falls… in other scene, he is so nervous that he drops the top instead of making it spin… but there’s always somebody or something that don’t let us see if the top will stop or not…

    and if it really is a dream, the first inception was probably made on Cobb…

  54. Eddie Rush says:

    Hey Andreas,

    Re #1. You are correct. It just may be one of the clues that the sequence of events was a dream. What I find disturbing is that any junior grade detective would be able to tell that the jumper was NOT pushed from the window in the room that was in disarray.

    Re #1. Always remember that the Top Totem is NOT Cobb’s but Mal’s. Cobb took it as his own but it was made to work for Mal.

    Hey Aru,

    Good call on the wedding ring!

    I believe that the entire movie was Cobb’s dream BUT not a part of Inception. He may have been a regular guy with an idea. Think about it … if it was an Inception induced dream, and Cobb was the dreamer, then that would suggest that there was an architect. And if so then at some point Cobb’s projections would have begun to notice and attack the architect … who ever that may have been. Ever have a dream concerning some small idea you had and in the dream your idea becomes fully realized. I have.

  55. José Lopes says:

    Great text!
    I have one consideration about Ariadne’s Totem. When she finishes building it, she knocks on table. So, I think when she’s dreaming, her Totem never falls.

  56. taylor says:

    Eddie,
    I definitely agree with you I think he was a normal guy with an idea and we are seeing that fleshed out. But I would say that its probably deeper than a simple dreamer, dreaming an idea. I think there is a deeper state of dream here that allows for complexity of time and space that we see here. So I have always said I think he’s in a coma. But the difference in theory here is moot. I originally thought that the movie was a dream created by the dream-machine, but like you said, that quickly falls apart and becomes unsupportable.

    Aru,
    I like your theory of the smiling Bishop. Took me a while to fully understand what you meant. But I think I get it now. But we didn’t see Ariadne really using it other than her initial build of the totem.

    Thanks everyone for continuing the conversation. Its been fun reading everyone’s thoughts. Can’t get enough of this movie!

  57. Jre says:

    I am still confused as to why cobbs totem seems to act the opposite of others. The loaded die in real life will always fall on certain numbers because they have been tweaked and in someone elses dream they would act as normal die and throw up random numbers… Makes sense as the dreamer would want things to act as close to normal as possible… But cobbs one is odd, in real life it acts as any top in the world would act, it falls… But in a dream it goes forever, why would the dreamer do that?

    So in summary cobbs die seems to work in the opposite way from others? Any ideas why or am i missing something?

  58. Jre says:

    I am still confused as to why cobbs totem seems to act the opposite of others. The loaded die in real life will always fall on certain numbers because they have been tweaked and in someone elses dream they would act as normal die and throw up random numbers… Makes sense as the dreamer would want things to act as close to normal as possible… But cobbs one is odd, in real life it acts as any top in the world would act, it falls… But in a dream it goes forever, why would the dreamer do that?

    So in summary cobbs die seems to work in the opposite way from others? Any ideas why or am i missing something?

  59. Taylor says:

    Clever catch Jre,
    Yeah I hadn’t really thought of that but you are right. It does seem to be backwards for Cobb. But Mal couldn’t have done it the inverse no could she? Spin forever in the real world and stop in the dream… Hrnnn. Interesting catch all the same. Thanks for the post.

    Taylor

  60. Jre says:

    Yeah, it wouldn’t work in inverse either.. Just odd that the difference with the others is that it acts oddly in real life because it’s been tweaked and normally (to the average person) in a dream, purely because the dreamer won’t know what and how it has been tweaked. Cobbs just acts normal in real life and very oddly in a dream, there is no way the dreamer would create a dream where a to would spin forever.

  61. LeVar says:

    Im not sure its ever stated but the Top could be weighted in such a way where it falls quicker or even at a specific time…like it was always fall within 3 seconds.

  62. LeVar says:

    Do the Totem work in your own dream? Or just in other peoples Dream?

  63. Raven says:

    I think the opposite – I think there’s /loads/ of proof that the entire thing wasn’t a dream, and in fact I think the spinning top at the end proves he was in reality.

    1.) Arthur tells Ariadne that the layout of a dream could be anywhere from a floor to a city. They travel all over the /world/. Now, granted, maybe Cobb is just an absolutely amazing architect that can form an entire world of dreamscape, but then why would his father(-in-law?) say that Ariadne was better than him when she only did a city?

    2.) It repeatedly mentions that Cobb refuses to build layouts any more. In fact, he refuses to look at Ariadne’s. So, what? His subconscious is doing all of the building without his permission? Because remember, he was previously an architect, so if he’s asleep, it means /he/ was the architect for the project. I don’t see how an architect can be an architect without knowing it. Characters repeatedly refer to this. Is it /possible/ that Cobbs’ subconscious is so obsessed that people in his mind say that all the time? Sure, but it’s one heck of a stretch; far more of one than simply acknowledging that no, he really doesn’t build any more, especially when you consider my next point.

    3.) There are all sorts of scenes that don’t have Cobb in them. For example, the kiss between Ariadne and Arthur; when Cobb leaves the room after Mal kills Ariadne; when Arthur is telling Ariadne about Mal; etc. And all the while, Cobb is off doing something else. How can these scenes be going on without him in then – like the kiss? He’s busy talking to Fischer while they’re at work doing other things. A dream can have different levels, but can it be separated into different scenes at the /same time/? I doubt it.

    4.) Recall when Saito got shot, and Cobb tells them that if they die, they go to limbo and they’re /stuck there/ (unless they kill themselves). If Cobb is still stuck in limbo the entire movie, how could he be transitioning between levels of the dreams? He does it many, many times, weaving in and out of them, leaving some people behind. And if your justification would be that the actual levels don’t exist, consider when all of the coordinated “kick”s happened. That car falling back was used to /remind/ us of the different levels.

    6.) Mal /wakes up first/. Even if it’s only by a few seconds, this is essential. In Cobb’s flashback as he’s telling Ariadne what happened, it’s used as a flashback because it’s an /outside/ view, otherwise it would just be his voice telling the story and nothing more. From the outside view, Mal woke up first. This /can’t/ have been Cobb’s doing – he was still asleep for those seconds. So if it’s an outside view and Mal wakes up – doesn’t that mean she really did wake up, not just further dreaming?

    5.) This is nitpicky, but I think it’s vital. Do you remember when Cobb is talking about what he did to Mal and her sense of reality? He said that in the dream, the top /keeps spinning/. This was emphasized when he shut the door on said top spinning consistently. It never stumbled. At the very end of the movie, right before the screen goes black, the top stumbles. Now, sure, you could say “well, he never specifically said that it /wouldn’t/ stumble, and we never see it completely fall over,” right? Well, then, consider that at least once during the movie, instead of letting the top stop moving completely, he grabbed it as soon as it began to stumble and considered this proof that he was, in fact, in reality. So while he didn’t say it, the proof is there: if the top stumbles, it’s reality. And the top did stumble.

    Addressing a few points you yourself made:

    1.) Someone mentioned that it would make more sense for Mal to be in the same hotel window. You said that this was huge evidence for you, because the rooms were identical and it /would/ make more sense. Well, actually, it wouldn’t. If they were in the same room, he could stop her from jumping out the window. And as for the rooms being identical, there are two very easy explanations: One, there are looooads of hotel companies who build two right next to each other. It’s not only heard of, it’s common. Two, the director of the film could’ve bought the curtains from the same place instead of making a huge effort to buy different ones. In fact, since we never see the entire hotel room that Mal is in – nor what Cobbs’ room originally looked like, seeing as she destroyed it – it’s not really fair to say they’re identical in the first place.

    2.) You mentioned Cobbs’ conversation with Ariadne as proof: “Why is it so important to Dream?” Cobb replies, “Because in my dreams we are together.” Well, then, isn’t it the opposite of proof? If they’re together in his dreams, then why isn’t Mal there half the time?

    And just a little extra, for those who think, “Okay, so the whole movie wasn’t a dream, but it never shows him getting out of limbo, so he could be trapped there.”:

    1.) This fact remains clear throughout the movie: to get out of limbo, you have to kill yourself. Now, let’s remember, near the end of the movie when Cobb enters the room with Saito (who has grown old) in it. Saito has /armed guards/ with him. Now, it never specifically shows a gunshot, just Cobb grabbing the gun after Saito recalls their arrangement, so let’s take a closer look at this. Option one: Cobb shoots Saito and then shoots himself. Result? They wake up. Option two: Cobb fails to shoot Saito. Now, why would he fail? Because there are armed guards on either side of him that don’t want him killing him. So, seeing as Cobb already has the gun, how do you think they’d go about stopping him? By shooting him. Result? He wakes up, Saito doesn’t. Either way, Cobb wakes up, but on that note, obviously the former makes sense, seeing as once he wakes up, Saito’s there, too.

    Additionally, since killing yourself gets you out of limbo, there’s all the proof you need: he and Mal, while in limbo, killed themselves. Therefore, they must have woken up. And if the idea is that killing yourself does not actually let you out of limbo, then Mal killing herself the second time (in the “presumed” reality) would put her in an even deeper level of limbo, a third level. Now, assuming that Cobb is on the second level of limbo since he killed himself with Mal on the first, then when he died /again/, he /should/ have gone to the third level, too, right? But he didn’t. He went to what was /specifically/ referred to as “the crumbled remains” of the limbo he USED to be on with Mal, because when you go to limbo, the only thing built there is the remnants of whatever person sharing the dream had there.

    And my last and final point is about the totems. It’s not really necessary for my point, just a personal opinion. A lot of people are talking about how someone else even /touching/ your totem makes it invalid, but I don’t think that’s what Arthur meant when he said that. He meant that no one else can know how it works, that’s the point; and Ariadne was obviously grabbing at his dice to test it for herself. She couldn’t test it because he had to be the only one who knew what it landed on, not because she literally could not touch it; touching it couldn’t give her control over it. That’s also why she wouldn’t let Cobb have hers, because he’d reached to figure out what was special about it, and of course she couldn’t show him.

    I’m sure there will still be people who consider it to have been a dream, but for me, all of that is proof enough.

  64. Nick says:

    Last three paragraphs above by Raven killed you Taylor. Repent!

  65. taylor says:

    I love this stuff. So much fun.

    Arthur tells Ariadne that the layout of a dream could be anywhere from a floor to a city.

    You assume that layer 2 (your reality) isn’t just a generic dream or coma where anything and everything can happen. Including races around the world.

    It repeatedly mentions that Cobb refuses to build layouts any more. In fact, he refuses to look at Ariadne’s.

    I’m really not understanding this point – though I very much would like to! The rules as I understand it is that an architect designs a map and then a mark is brought in to inhabit it with their subconscious. Why does Cobb’s not being the architect resolve anything?

    There are all sorts of scenes that don’t have Cobb in them.

    This is a clever point – but its problematic not only for me but the entire movie and the rules around who the dreamer is and what can happen within their subconscious. This does need to be explained if it is a run of the mill ordinary dream. But if he has induced an Inception Dream from reality to the movie’s layer then the same rules would apply as with the rest of the movie.

    Recall when Saito got shot, and Cobb tells them that if they die, they go to limbo and they’re /stuck there/ (unless they kill themselves).

    Have you ever had a dream within a dream yourself? You wake up and then something truly horrific happens? (Maybe I need counseling, but I have.) Freaky Deaky. I’ve never said he wasn’t transitioning and moving from layer to layer – I’ve just maintained he didn’t go the final mile to wake up in reality.

    So if it’s an outside view and Mal wakes up – doesn’t that mean she really did wake up, not just further dreaming?

    Outside view? (You sure we aren’t debating the narrators of The Prestige and who is lying to whom?) Mal wakes up first into Layer 2. The same layer she kills her self. Yes? I’m not exactly sure why this wouldn’t be possible. It is possible to inhabit someone else’s dream while they are awake… it just gets thoroughly unstable, no? Or are you making a different point here? Trying to understand.

    So while he didn’t say it, the proof is there: if the top stumbles, it’s reality. And the top did stumble.

    I’ve heard others make this same argument. Could be. I personally don’t think so – but it could very well be. What’s funny is, even if the top fell I’d still believe he was dreaming. Heheh. You see, its insane to discuss this movie with me!

    Someone mentioned that it would make more sense for Mal to be in the same hotel window. You said that this was huge evidence for you, because the rooms were identical and it /would/ make more sense.

    I maintain that her being across the way in another window is a perfect dream device. Nothing more. Makes sense and is logical when we watch it happen, but when you think about it a millisecond it falls apart. As for Cobb stopping her – um, not really, all she had to do would have been to just jump before he got there.

    You mentioned Cobbs’ conversation with Ariadne as proof: “Why is it so important to Dream?” Cobb replies, “Because in my dreams we are together.”

    She isn’t there because she died in Layer 2. He would see that as an inconsistency to have her following him around. Layer 3 and lower – fair game. It makes logical sense that his brain would have her manifesting his dreams there. I used to believe it was really Mal dreamjumping in – but its too big of a logical leap to hold together.

    This fact remains clear throughout the movie: to get out of limbo, you have to kill yourself.

    I thought this to be true. That is how Cobb explains it anyway about when he and Mal are stuck in limbo. Train – blamo – reality. Unless he left out details.

    REGARDLESS, this truth does not bear itself out in the team’s leaving of Limbo (Cobb and Mal’s shared space limbo – to be clear.) Ariadne JUMPS and goes up ONE layer. Eames is NOT there with the paddles. There is no kick. Ariadne commits suicide and voila – ice fortress world. So this is far from a forgone conclusion.

    A lot of people are talking about how someone else even /touching/ your totem makes it invalid, but I don’t think that’s what Arthur meant when he said that.

    I 100% agree with this. Definitely doesn’t invalidate it – it just means someone could jack you over now that they know the details around the totem.

    Really well thought out ideas and points. And I enjoyed walking through the logical exercise. Definitely didn’t convince me – but it might have to others teetering on the fence. I basically think Inception is a rorschach test. If you are a pessimist and a defeatist… he’s still dreaming. If you are an optimist then voila – you believe he’s awake at the end. And that, dear Raven, is a good thing for you! hahah. Great comments. Really well thought out.

  66. Raven says:

    “You assume that layer 2 (your reality) isn’t just a generic dream or coma where anything and everything can happen. Including races around the world.”

    Isn’t that incorporating your own ideas? Inception never mentions a generic dream or coma where anything and everything can happen, and we can really only go by what we see in the movie.

    “I’m really not understanding this point – though I very much would like to! The rules as I understand it is that an architect designs a map and then a mark is brought in to inhabit it with their subconscious. Why does Cobb’s not being the architect resolve anything?”

    Because if he’s still dreaming, it means he was trapped in that original dream with Mal – the dream in which /he/ was in the architect. Therefore, if he’s not the architect, he couldn’t be in a dream where he was; therefore, by default, he couldn’t be dreaming.

    “This is a clever point – but its problematic not only for me but the entire movie and the rules around who the dreamer is and what can happen within their subconscious. This does need to be explained if it is a run of the mill ordinary dream. But if he has induced an Inception Dream from reality to the movie’s layer then the same rules would apply as with the rest of the movie.”

    I’m not entirely sure I’ve processed what you meant correctly, but if I have, the response is easy. If there are other people – not just projections, but people – in the dream, obviously they can be off doing their own thing. If not, he would be the only one. Since they ARE off doing their own thing, obviously they’re there, which means they aren’t just a figment of his imagination.

    “Have you ever had a dream within a dream yourself? You wake up and then something truly horrific happens? (Maybe I need counseling, but I have.) Freaky Deaky. I’ve never said he wasn’t transitioning and moving from layer to layer – I’ve just maintained he didn’t go the final mile to wake up in reality.”

    Where’s your evidence for that? If he could continually shift from layer to layer, why on earth couldn’t he wake up?

    “Outside view? (You sure we aren’t debating the narrators of The Prestige and who is lying to whom?) Mal wakes up first into Layer 2. The same layer she kills her self. Yes? I’m not exactly sure why this wouldn’t be possible. It is possible to inhabit someone else’s dream while they are awake… it just gets thoroughly unstable, no? Or are you making a different point here? Trying to understand.”

    How could you inhabit someone’s dream if they’re awake? But that wasn’t the point I was making, anyway. My point had to do with what I said earlier about scenes without Cobb in them. Mal woke up first, so Cobb could not have remembered her waking up – but when we saw the scene, we saw her waking up. Can’t be him remembering her waking up if he didn’t see her wake up, which means it’s a movie scene showing us that she woke up.

    “I’ve heard others make this same argument. Could be. I personally don’t think so – but it could very well be. What’s funny is, even if the top fell I’d still believe he was dreaming. Heheh. You see, its insane to discuss this movie with me!”

    Then aren’t you just being stubborn, in which case a debate is pointless to begin with because you aren’t willing to actually consider other points? To deduce the truth, we have to use the proof the movie gave us. To ignore that proof is to make the movie your own, in which case we aren’t talking about what happened, we’re talking about what you wanted to happen.

    “I maintain that her being across the way in another window is a perfect dream device. Nothing more. Makes sense and is logical when we watch it happen, but when you think about it a millisecond it falls apart. As for Cobb stopping her – um, not really, all she had to do would have been to just jump before he got there.”

    She had a little speech prepared for him, obviously she didn’t want to just hop out the window, and I don’t know about you, but if I saw my spouse hovering on a windowsill, I’d be marching over to get her down that very moment, which is hardly enough time for her to say what she wanted to.

    “She isn’t there because she died in Layer 2. He would see that as an inconsistency to have her following him around. Layer 3 and lower – fair game. It makes logical sense that his brain would have her manifesting his dreams there. I used to believe it was really Mal dreamjumping in – but its too big of a logical leap to hold together.”

    Why layer 3? No one ever said layer three specifically was fair game; that’s your assumption.

    “I thought this to be true. That is how Cobb explains it anyway about when he and Mal are stuck in limbo. Train – blamo – reality. Unless he left out details.

    REGARDLESS, this truth does not bear itself out in the team’s leaving of Limbo (Cobb and Mal’s shared space limbo – to be clear.) Ariadne JUMPS and goes up ONE layer. Eames is NOT there with the paddles. There is no kick. Ariadne commits suicide and voila – ice fortress world. So this is far from a forgone conclusion.”

    Whoa, whoa, back up. Who said Ariadne committed suicide? She jumped and /fell/ because the /sensation of falling/ moves you back up a little, hence all of the synchronized kicks. It’s not the same at all. Mal and Cobb laid on train tracks and were killed; we saw Ariadne wake up in the ice fortress layer before she actually died, because the kick woke her up in the next level. Therefore, my point remains.

    I agree, on some level, but when I spent all night trying to make sense of the movie after the first time I watched it and then the second time I watched it as well, I wasn’t being optimistic or pessimistic, I was open to either side; I was just piecing the facts together. In fact, I wasn’t even fully convinced myself until I recalled that last point I made about the layers, for which there’s really no counter-argument. That ended it for me; when I see proof, I accept proof. Evidence I can argue with, but something like that, I can’t.

  67. Dizzy Dreidel says:

    Let’s be nice and sparkling clear on something: The totems DO NOT tell you if you are in a dream or in reality. They tell you whether or not you are in SOMEONE ELSE’S dream. So whether or not the top falls only tells Cobb whether or not he’s in another’s dream. It doesn’t answer whether or not he is within his own dream.

    The totems:

    Arthur’s loaded die makes sense. My impression of Ariadne’s totem was that she was engraving something inside of it that no one else would know, and she toppled it over to get an idea of the weight and sound.

    I don’t think Eames’ totem was the poker chips. Eames was a thief and a forger. When he sat at the table, he had only two chips in his hand, and none on the table. Cobb offers to buy a drink. Then we see Eames cashing in a nice double stack of chips that came from nowhere. Cobb then picks up one of them, looks at it (you are not supposed to handle another’s totem), and says, “I see your spelling hasn’t improved, how’s your signature?” To this, Eames replies, “Piss off.”

    What I believe was happening here is that, being a thief and a forger, Eames had made his own bogus poker chips and was cashing them in to steal from the casino. Cobb then notices that Eames misspelled something on the chips. Eames quietly tells Cobb to piss off so the cashier won’t scrutinize the validity of the chips.

    As far as the spinning top goes, I also noticed that the logic behind it didn’t work. Considering how much time and thought Nolan put into his story, I find it hard to imagine he hadn’t realized this. If he did realize this, then what – if anything – does this belie?

  68. Anton says:

    Hello! Sorry for my english.. I’m from Russia and do not think a lot on this language=)
    I have one very important question for me that needs for understand of Arthur’s phrase meaning about totem’s features:
    Do you know how to tweak dice?
    I believe that if I know it I can suppose where is the reality and where is a dream.
    I’ve read a lot but there is so many ideas…Heh, ‘ideas’=)
    So, If the features of totems are not changeable by touching then it makes one step closer to the truth I think.

  69. GDT says:

    @Raven
    In the movie Arhur says “See only I know the balance and weight of this particular loaded die. That way when you look at your totem, you know beyond a doubt you’re not in someone else’s dream.”

    So even if the top did stumble and fall in previous parts of the movie as it did at the end that doesn’t prove reality, just that it isn’t someone else’s dream.

  70. Fil says:

    Why would Cobb’s totem be his wife’s? It is clearly stated that your totem is YOUR totem. No one else is even allowed to touch it.

  71. Taylor says:

    Fil,
    Cob’s totem is the subject of much debate – and yet, it is CLEARLY stated throughout the movie that Mal was the one who came up with the totem concept and that the top was hers. She left it behind on the floor of the tattered apartment the night she committed suicide. And afterwards he takes it and uses it for himself.

    Arthur warns Ariadne not to let anyone touch it only because that would then give them power over her. (power to con her into a dream she didn’t know she was in) It doesn’t break the totem – or invalidate it. So Cobb’s using his wife’s totem isn’t extraordinary in anyway save that it complicates the message the totem may or may not be telling us.

    If Cobb’s totem isnt his wife’s top – then what would you say his totem is? The only totem we ever see him use (or anyone for that matter) is his wife’s top. Many like to say its his ring – but that seems to me far fetched as I’ve stated throughout these comments.

    Until next time,
    Taylor

  72. James says:

    Gutted that I still cant find out why cobba totem acts differently to others as per my posts above. Any idea guys? Can’t be an error?

  73. Jamie says:

    Maybe you can solve that problem with the “Cobb was dreaming all along/’reality’ was actually level 1 of his dream” theory — It makes sense while we watch it, but after the film’s over we noticed it doesn’t make sense at all:

    “Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realise something was actually strange.”

    That bit of logic also applies to every other “hole” in the “Cobb’s dreaming all along” theory:

  74. Jamie says:

    Maybe you can solve that problem with the “Cobb was dreaming all along/’reality’ was actually level 1 of his dream” theory — It makes sense while we watch it, but after the film’s over we noticed it doesn’t make sense at all:

    “Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realise something was actually strange.”

    That bit of logic also applies to every other “hole” in the “Cobb’s dreaming all along” theory, conviently enough :P

  75. Taylor says:

    James,
    Currently posting from my phone and have scrolled through every post on this thread but cannot find your previous post. Maybe in mobile view I can’t see them all?!? Disturbing if true!

    Regardless, I do vaguely recall a post from a James that spoke to the backwardness of Cobb’s totem? Spinning when it should be stopped and stopped when it should be spinning? Maybe you could repost it for me to review? Would love to answer in detail…

    And Jamie,
    Your post was too clever for me. Not sure exactly your point. The “dream seems real enough when you’re in them” quote explains a ton wrt this movie – for me anyway. Maybe that’s your point? That it shouldn’t?

    Taylor

  76. James says:

    Am on iPhone too, jus spotted I posted under jre. Sorry about that.

  77. Riley says:

    The totem thing only worked if you were pulled into another’s dream and therefore you can’t change anything about the dream. You don’t need a totem for your own dream because you started it, you would remember starting it.

  78. Taylor says:

    I am still confused as to why cobbs totem seems to act the opposite of others. The loaded die in real life will always fall on certain numbers because they have been tweaked and in someone elses dream they would act as normal die and throw up random numbers… Makes sense as the dreamer would want things to act as close to normal as possible… But cobbs one is odd, in real life it acts as any top in the world would act, it falls… But in a dream it goes forever, why would the dreamer do that?

    Hey there James – in thinking through your comment above a little more I’m not 100% I fully understand. Arthur’s dice are loaded in real life – and are meant to be broken normally. So we can assume that they work as normal dice in the dream. It is this totem that doesn’t work as normal.

    Eames’ chips obviously don’t duplicate in real life. Cobb’s top stops spinning as normal in real life. So I’m a little unsure what you mean. It isn’t possible for the top to continue spinning indefinitely due to a little thing called physics. heheh. So I’m a little unsure how you figure that Cobb’s is the only one that doesn’t fit the pattern. And I’m also a little unsure as to your premise that the dreamer would want everything to work as close to normal as possible. The dreamer just wants to know that they are dreaming – it doesn’t really need to be covert in any way.

    Taylor

  79. Jeromy says:

    I just wanted to share something. I don’t think Cobb’s totem is really the top. If it was then telling Ariadne would have instantly made his useless. And as others have pointed out, the top as a totem works counter intuitively.

    In my opinion (and I’m sorry if somebody else has raised this idea but I didn’t read every comment) Cobb’s totem is actually the faces of his children. If he can’t see their faces then he knows he is dreaming, if he can see their faces he knows he is in reality.

    The biggest counter argument to this theory that I can come up with is that Cobb very early in the movie (right after the failed attempt at extraction from Saito) appeared that he was ready to “kill himself” if the top didn’t stop spinning. This was right before he was on a phone call with his children.

    I also want to add that theres a lot of great discussion on here.

    Cheers.

  80. Jeromy says:

    And to help explain how Cobb’s top works against the rules think about it like this:

    The normal behavior of a top is that after some time gravity and friction will cause it to stop spinning ( assuming theres no magnets or any tricks, of course). Cobb states that his top will constantly spin in a dream, and stop spinning in real life. Which is of course how a top would work.

    Now, the idea behind a totem is that nobody else would be able to recreate your totem in their dream. I.e. if you brought a loaded die into the dream the creater of the dream wouldn’t know its loaded or even if they knew they wouldn’t know what number it is weighted to land on.

    In the case of the top, if Cobb were in someone elses dream they would of course create all tops how they would act in the real world..fall over after so much time. But Cobb’s top would, in his theory, keep spinning while in the dream. The only dreamers who would create infinitely spinning tops in their dreams are people who know of Cobb’s idea or concept.

    In this case, if the top keeps spinning then it does not tell Cobb whether or not he is in a dream, but only tells him if he is not in the dream of someone that knows how his top works.

    ===========================================

    The other possibility is that Cobb purposely tells everyone that in a dream his top is supposed to keep spinning. In this case, every dreamer would create an infinitely spinning top and then Cobb would know. But that seems a little sketchy.

  81. James says:

    Hi guys on iPhone again so will keep brief. My thought is that the dreamer or architect would want to create a dream that appears to be real for whoever is in the dream with them… Like saito knew he was because of the carpet. So based on that the loaded die in a dream would fall randomly, adrianes chess piece would slide normally etc. In real life if course they act oddly and to me that’s the point. Two of course there is cobbs, if ihad him in my dream in order to extract info and knew nothing of his totem I would create the dream so things screened normally as possible. So if I took arthur into my dream the die would fall randomly (at which point he would know he was in my dream) and if I took cobbs in I would make his totem fall.

  82. Taylor says:

    Hey there Jeromy,
    Interesting ideas all – let me add one more rebuttal than the one you point out though.

    In my opinion (and I’m sorry if somebody else has raised this idea but I didn’t read every comment) Cobb’s totem is actually the faces of his children. If he can’t see their faces then he knows he is dreaming, if he can see their faces he knows he is in reality.

    This is a cool theory save for the fact that Arthur specifically states what a totem is to be in this conversation with Ariadne:

    Arthur: So, a totem. It’s a small object, potentially heavy, something you can have on you all the time…
    Ariadne: What, like a coin?
    Arthur: No, it has to be more unique than that, like – this is a loaded die.
    [Ariadne reaches out to take the die]
    Arthur: Nah, I can’t let you touch it, that would defeat the purpose. See only I know the balance and weight of this particular loaded die. That way when you look at your totem, you know beyond a doubt you’re not in someone else’s dream.

    So we clearly see here that a totem is meant to be something that is:

    1. Small
    2. Potentially heavy
    3. Carry-able
    4. Unique

    So, the top fits these characteristics, as does the ring. The problem with the ring is that if my layer 2 is reality (the movie’s “wake” state) then the ring can dematerialize in reality?!? Seems fishy to me. Now, if it were the other way around I’d buy it… but its not.

    Anyway – back to the liliputians as totem. Clever thought. But I just don’t buy it. The children seem to represent reality to him in my opinion. They are the things that are keeping him hinged – from unhinging, as it were. Seeing them at lower levels is just way too disorienting and potentially fatal. My 2 cents.

    Thanks for the comment!
    Taylor

  83. Anton says:

    Hm…What if totems do not gets weak when somebody in a dream touch them without knowledge about features of them?
    Saito didn’t know about features of spin when he was in limbo.
    Then happy end is got to be truth. Isn’t it?

  84. Champion. says:

    Why are so many people getting it all wrong! The original purpose of the totem was to check if you are in your dream or another person’s dream. Later, Mal and Cobb came up with the idea to make the top a checker to see if you are dreaming or not. Arthur, Eames, and Ariadne only use it to check if they are in their own dream or not by using the unusual weight distribution.

  85. James says:

    Taylor, sorry have been away. Here is my post regarding Cobbs totem working differently to others.

    I am still confused as to why Cobbs totem seems to act the opposite of others.

    The loaded die in real life will always fall on certain numbers because they have been tweaked and in someone elses dream they would act as normal die and throw up random numbers… Makes sense as the dreamer would want things to act as close to normal as possible (and they arent to know the die is tweaked) so Arthur would not know he is in someone else dream.

    But Cobbs totem is odd/oppsite, in real life it acts as any top in the world would act, it falls… But in a dream it goes forever, why would the dreamer do that? Surely they wouldn’t want Cobbs to know he is in there dream so would create physics where something like a Top would fall.

    So in summary, Totems are tweaked to act oddly in real life (die will always fall on same numbers) and in a dream with act normally (fall on random numbers)… and when they act normally our guys know they are in someone elses dream. But for some reason not so with Cobbs?

  86. Robert says:

    I regards to the Cobb’s totem being backwards, I don’t think it is. It doesn’t say that the totem in a dream will keep spinning forever, just that it’ll keep spinning (like a normal top any designer would put into the world). The “trick” is that it doesn’t spin like it should, just like a set if dice that doesn’t play fair.

  87. James says:

    Robert, good point and for a minute there I had a great aha moment… But, he convinced mal it was a dream by setting it to spin forever didn’t he?

  88. Robert says:

    Letting something spin forever is not a good test, because then you’d have to watch it forever to be sure it wasn’t just spinning for a very long time. I suppose once it started spinning for an abnormally long time, that’d be strong evidence, but no one trying to fool him into thinking it was reality (whether they new about the totem or not) would make tops that did that.

    He didn’t convince Mal by spinning the top and saying “look, it still hasn’t fallen down.” He convinced her by placing the spinnig top (the *idea* of a failed reality check) deep into her subconscious. As this was limbo, perhaps he did place an endlessly spinning one (with the tragic side effect that she never could give the idea up).

  89. Blood says:

    Why nobody realizes that you need both,the purpose AND the feeling of a totem! to trick someone?In the movie everyone just gives max. 1 hint to his/her totem.

  90. Saimeng says:

    Hi
    I have this question that has been bothering me for a while.
    After Cobb tried the strong drug yusuf gave him, he washed his face nervously and wanted to spin his top. He dropped it and never got the chance to spin again. That scene must have had a meaning right. why would nolan have built in the scene. Couldn’t it be that Cobb was dreaming everything that happened after including the end where he sees his children?

  91. LeVar says:

    I guess an argument can be made but there are a few tells. When he dreams he is wearing a wedding ring. In real life he is not. In his dreams he can not see his children’s faces. In real life he can. In a dream you dont know where the dream starts. In real life you know how you got to where ever you are.

  92. adm says:

    Cobbs totem work like so: when a dreamer makes a dream they would make it as real as possible so as laws of physics tops will fall over but remember cobs top isn’t part of the dreamers top set its a top of its own kind which will defiy the dreamers laws of physics therfore there is no friction that would stop the top from spinning so it would just keep on going…its like how aurieadne (or whatever her name is) defiyed laws of physics by flipping buildings she was an outside objest so to sppeak.

    as for arthurs dice it will land on a number its loaded to every time in the ‘real world’ but in the dreeam it will land randomly each time because the dremer doesnt know what its loaded to land on and towards the end of the film he breifly stats he rolls it 3 times whith only 1 die

    hopefully that will clear up any totem confusion and sorry for extreme lack of periods.

  93. O. H. says:

    Hi!

    Just a quick question-
    If all of the movie is a dream, does that mean that everybody the worked with-Arthur, Ariadne, Eames, Yusuf, Saito and Robert Fischer etc- don’t exist? Is it possible that when Cobb was once in the Real Real World, that he saw these people’s faces and subconsciously incorporated them into this huge dream of his?

    Thanks!

  94. Too many Brits here lol. I believe the totem works and I have one myself, a small green glass egg. I haven’t got a chance to try it in my dreams yet, but like the top, it never stops spinning in a dream. Btw this movie is AWESOME. Saw it 4 frikkin times alrdy love it. Say aye if u are with me about the totems really working

  95. O.H. says:

    Oh and also, if Cobb’s dreaming the whole time, why doesn’t Mal keep showing up in the ‘reality’ of the movie? Is it because Cobb believes Mal is dead because she jumped off the building in THAT dream level?
    Thanks :)

  96. I had almost forgot I sent a message here.

  97. Thored says:

    My thinking is that the top was purposely unbalanced to stop spinning rather quickly. A perfectly balanced top on a smooth level surface can easily spin for a minute or more.

    The “kick” in the snow fortress level was the compound collapsing. Ariadne jumped off the building to kick herself up to the snow fortress. Eames had to defib Fisher because he had died and they needed a way to “revive” his body. The building collapsing kicked her and everyone else back up to the falling elevator to kick back up to the van to kick when they hit the water.

    The other thing I would like to point out is that Cobb’s kids at the end of the movie are clearly older than they were in every other scene in which they appeared.

    And the final piece of evidence that tells me that he was in reality is this. If Mal killed herself and left him in a dream, why didn’t she come back to get him when he didn’t come out? It would have been easy enough for her to re-enter the dream and attempt to convince him that he was in a dream. But, to the contrary, in the original “level” the movie takes place, we never see Mal there. We only see her in the lower levels.

  98. Aknot says:

    I really hate to do this however your explaination of the use of the totem is incorrect.

    First off it is Arthur that explains the reason behind the totem:
    “So when you examine your totem…You know, beyond a doubt, that
    you’re not in someone else’s dream.”

    The only person that suggest it is a reality checker is Adriande and her being new to the whole concept of totems would have me second guessing her knowledge.

    Cobb never states: his totem spins forever in a dream.
    The statement is: “This one was hers. She’d spin it in a dream and it would never topple. Just spin and spin…”

    That means (based on the movie) she made it spin forever AND locked it away as she lost/wanted to lose grip on reality.

    I actually just posted a nice explaination of the totem on my site/blog. Feel free to check it out.

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  100. Mad Cow says:

    Eames’ totem is his watch. It changes from brass to silver in the dream. This subtle change is too consistent to be a coincidence. Yusuf’s is his reading glasses. He does not require them in the dream even though he needs them outside. It seems that the totem does not need to be an object used to test the physics in the dream, it’s a personal object that the owner knows well but the architect, or dreamer, is uncertain of.

  101. Nick says:

    hi, there, I was looking for a quick explanation for some points of the movie, so I would not have to see it many times till all my doubts, old and new ones, were answered.
    While reading about the totems, if I understud right, what you suggest is that it doesn´t matter if they do work in a dream or not because the mind of the dreamer (or people involved in the dream) could be playing tricks on itself. Although, I guess that the idea of the way totems work in a dream, is different. If I am in a dream and I want to check if it is real or not, I would not try, for example, to make the top stop, I would try to make it keep spining. If it stops even when I wanted to keep spining, then there is no doubt it is not a dream.

  102. Taylor says:

    Holy Crap… there are over a 100 comments on this post. Hahah. I became unsubscribed to this blog post somehow… I haven’t been out here since 2010? hahahaha. Makes me giggle for some odd reason.

    There is no way I’m going to be able to respond to 30 comments in one go. Just isn’t going to happen. Looks like you guys are doing a good job responding to each other! hahaha. Sorry again for going awol on this conversation. Not sure how that happened.

    Let me explain – no, there is too much, I’ll sum up. I personally don’t think that the top stops at the end of the movie. That being said – I have some explaining to do for the times in the movie when the top DEFINITELY is shown to stop. Either a) Cobb goes into a dream state halfway through the movie (India being the most obvious choice) or b) The totems are not reliable.

    As I believe the ENTIRETY of the movie is in a dream state (not the former, rather the latter) then I must not believe that the totems are reliable. Right? And so, in my mind, I believe it is fairly dependent on the person housing the dream. If its Cobb’s dream and everyone else is dreaming within Cobb’s dream, then his reality impacts the results of the totem(s). If it’s Mal’s dream… likewise, she would impact how things play out and thus how the totems react.

    So I personally believe that it was Cobb’s dream… that Mal was able to drop out of his dream by committing suicide. And Cobb refuses to believe that it is a dream at all… and thus his subconscious forces the top to stop… when in fact it was still a dream.

    Just sayin.

  103. Jane says:

    If you could have an object as your totem – put in your pocket in real life and expect it to be there in the dream as well (Then use the object’s behaviour to determine if its’ reality or a dream state) – you could carry a piece of paper as your totem, write “Entering so-and-so’s dream at this time and this place”…..
    Why would people make complicatedly designed objects as totems ?

  104. Gabriel says:

    Great work, really in depth.

    The only thing I’m not sure about it all being in Cob’s dream is that Mal says that Cob’s being chased around the world by anonymous cooperations, like the militarised projections in a dream. This confirms the theory. But if that’s true, then how can Saito stop the organisations from perusing Cobb, as he does to repay Cobb for performing inception. That’s a bit I’m a bit unsure about.

    Despite all that I find myself believing in your theory, it’s also confirmed further for me when they go to see Yseuf, the chemist, and they go down to his basement to see the effects of the sedeuctives. Eames asks if they come her every day to sleep. The old man looking after them replies:
    “No, they come her to wake up. The dream has become their reality.” He then continues to Cobb “Who are you to say otherwise, son?”

    I’m not totally sure if this confirms you theory or just means Cobb has been very confused.

    Please explain the quotes. Thanks :)

  105. trinity says:

    Soo if i make a totum it can’t be a top cause that’s what i underdtand that will work the most

  106. Andy says:

    I thought I’d check out your Inception analysis. Did not read the comments though. So of course you’ve probly all talked about how the movie is about moviemaking. Cobb is the director, Ariadne the screenwriter etc. The films biggest criticism is that there’s too much exposition. If you’re watching it purely as an action movie or just paying attention to the surface then yes there is a bit too much exposition.

    Where this film thrives is these exposition scenes though. They function as exposition for plot and the rules of the world, but also Cobbs subconsicious. The whole movie is a dream I believe which is why the exposition and rather “nomal Lines’ are interesting. Watch it again and pay attention to Ariadnes questions. Cobb is questioning himself. All the characters are part of Cobbs mind. Most of the conflict can attributed to Cobb fighting himself.

    BIG THINGS EVERYONE MISSES. Not sure if anyone above pointed these out.

    Think about everyone’s totem. Arthur’s loaded dice in the real world would always land on the same numbers. In a dream they would work NORMALLY.

    Eames poker chips are spelled incorrectly in the real world. His coin reads Mombassa. In a dream it would say Mombasa which is the correct way. It is actually NORMAL in the dream.

    Cobb’s is not however. In the real world it will stop spinning and in the dream it will keep spinning which IS NOT NORMAL.

    Cobb says to Ariadne that you should never tell somehow your totem works. Then he tells her how his works! She designed every dream in the movie so he will not be able to tell if he’s in a dream or not.

    The totem is wrong and has no value to the audience actually! At the end of the movie it doesn’t matter if it falls or not. You CANNOT trust it.

    Cobb has been in a dream since when Mal escaped or what he thought was suicide. They were experimenting with dreams within dreams. So after they left limbo they wake up not in reality but the next level up! Mal was right.

    To go even further. Note that in the dreams, part of the subconscious seep through from level to level. Numbers mostly. But also note that the movie starts in Saito’s dream which is a house on a cliff. Now fast forward to the end. Everyone is paying attention to whether the totem falls or not but in the top of the frame Cobbs is talking to his kids. Turn on subtitles and you’ll see Cobb asks “what have you been doing” to which the kids respond “building a house on a cliff”. Cobb is still dreaming and he will be for ten years in Saito’s mind.

    There’s even more theories in this film than The Prestige but just like the machine not actually working in the prestige (the correct answer I believe) Cobb is still dreaming in Inception and the movie is far more clever than people think. I also like the idea that Mal is performing Inception on Cobb with Ariadne.

    Ultimately the brilliance of the movie is that NOLAN performs Inception on everyone and noyone even knew it. So yes Inception is possible. Nolan did it too the whole world.

  107. Hans says:

    my theory

    you can’t read, use phones or switch lights in a dream.

    so it’s not about real dreaming in real life at all. the maker gives us a different concept of dreaming. because he doesnt explain his concept fully no1 will ever be able to prove wether the whole movie was a dream in the first place or not. if the top in the end would fall within reasonable time.

    if the movie went on for 5 minutes and cobb would walk back in, he would still be in a dream, but in whose and in what layer can’t be decided cause there isn’t enough information.

    the problem for cobb is (in this smaller made-up concept of dreaming) the top would never be able to answer the question wether he is dreaming or not. it can only give 100% proof of him, or someone else, dreaming.

    you cant make your subconscious pay no attention to the top, so even when it falls it might be due to some part of his subconscious. in the film there is no proof of ‘deepest layer’ of subconsciousness.

    so in the movie with the, narrower than in real life, concept of dreaming cobb wont ever be able to find out wether he is dreaming or not, nor in whose dream he is, nor which layer. even with the top falling.

  108. Hans says:

    the question about if we live in a real or dream world isn’t his, but comes from filosophers throughout history.

    it can’t be proven either way.

  1. January 25, 2013

    [...] surrounding Christopher Nolan’s wonderful movie Inception.  I’ve discussed the various totems within the movie and how they work.  The numerous dream layers and their possible meanings.  [...]

  2. January 25, 2013

    [...] Welcome to 7 Layers of Inception!  But before we begin, allow me the courtesy of informing you, that if you have yet to see Inception, please click the image there —> and purchase it directly. (not to mention that your simple click helps me continue writing great new content!) I cannot recommend the movie highly enough (as indicated by this OCD like post), especially on Blu-Ray. It is a sight to behold.  Also, if you are confused on how the totems work, you can find a great discussion about them over here. [...]

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