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Welcome to 7 Layers of Inception, wherein we have been discussing this movie since its release.  Also, if you are confused on how the totems work, you can find a great discussion about them over here.

Let me just say that when I first walked out of the theater – I was pretty clueless. I was still coming down from the euphoria that I’m sure washes over most any normal viewer:

“Awww, he got back to his kids. How fantastic is that?”

“Oh, But what was that one bit – and why did that happen – and how the heck did he… “

And eventually as I continued to ponder the movie more and more the walls came tumbling down. I mean, really, this is a Nolan movie after all. What was I expecting? So this is just one man’s opinion of what actually might have happened right in front of our eyes. The layer below the layer, if you will. And to walk you through it the most succinct way possible let’s go down to the bottom dream layer and work our way back up to the “top”. From the deepest dream all the way back up to the very “realest” reality experienced.

7 Layers of Inception - Level 7
After dying, Saito goes adrift in his own limbo world

DREAM LAYER 7: I can hear you now. “SEVEN? What the HECK?!” Trust me. It’ll make sense soon enough. But yes, I believe there are seven (not counting the splinter levels that run parallel to the main dream layers we see, mind you. Like the two initial dream layers we see with Saito, etc.) stacked levels of Inception goodness piled one upon the other. I could actually argue for a couple more without much effort, but I’ll stick with the ones I know I can easily prove with facts laid out from the movie.

So, remember with me for a second. Saito gets shot in layer 1 of the Inception gig. Right? He’s hurt pretty badly. The lower he goes in the dreams the less impact it has on him… but none the less, he’s not in good shape. Then comes the final stand in the Inception gig’s level 3 – the Alps fortress. He tosses the hand grenade down the ventilator shaft and dies. From there we are told that those who die that deeply sedated go into a limbo world potentially never to return and their minds turn to mush. Cobb knows that he either needs to get Saito back from Limbo or he will spend the rest of his life in jail for killing his wife.

The reason I believe this dream layer is a completely different layer than layer 6 – “Cobb & Mal’s Limbo layer” because it is the same dream layer that we see earlier (both sequentially and chronologically) in the movie that is within Saito’s dream. And even though the movie states that Limbo is a shared void populated by the last inhabitant (Cobb) I still think that we’ve crossed over into Saito’s own dream-limbo world somehow. Visually it is very clear that this is the same location we visited earlier.

7 Layers of Inception - Level 6
Level 6, Mal & Cobb’s Crumbling Dream World

DREAM LAYER 6: Level Six is a fascinating world. We catch glimpses of it on and off throughout the duration of the movie. But its only at the end we learn the true reality surrounding what happened in this place. Ariadne and Cobb dive down one more layer in the hopes of finding Saito before slipping off to never-never land. They encounter Mal – and she implores Cobb to wake up. To come back to the world of reality. Cobb dismisses her as a projection of himself. A shade of a memory that he is unable to do justice to.

And remember the very sad truth we learn here? Cobb knows inception is possible because he’s done it before. Right? He’s done it to Mal. And that idea festered there in her brain until she finally agrees to take the train to anywhere – as long as they were together. So, after getting the kick, they arrive at the “real” world – but Mal for some odd reason is still plagued with the idea that it isn’t the real world BECAUSE IT ACTUALLY ISN’T. Cobb watches his wife go insane only because his implanted idea is working – they have not woken up and she knows a truth that even he isn’t aware of. She can’t take it anymore and she seemingly jumps to her death – but in fact this is just her kick – her escape to the very real world awaiting them above.

7 Layers of Inception - Level 5
Level 5 – The Final Inception Dream Layer where the idea is implanted.

DREAM LAYER 5: This level is pretty straight forward. Well, as straight forward as anything in a Christopher Nolan storyline anyway. The final goal here was to implant the idea in Robert Fischer Jr.’s mind – that his father actually did love him. That he was only disappointed in the fact that he worked so doggedly to follow in his own footsteps. The team successfully accomplishes the goal – with the final scene there in the vault with Fischer’s father dying and recreating everything Jr. understands about himself.

The only thing I would like to add here is the fact that Fischer Jr.’s catharsis in the vault is about as real as it gets. It’s no less real if he were dreaming – no less real if Cobb is dreaming. Jr. comes to an awareness and to a reality that leaves him absolutely changed. That is the overriding theme in this movie – catharsis and change. To be moved to a new understanding and to a new perspective that was misunderstood before. I believe this is Nolan’s one true goal for everyone in this movie – and Cobb is the only individual that hasn’t come to this much needed catharsis – this grand awakening.

7 Layers of Inception - Level 5
Level 4 – Inception Layer 2 the gambit doubles back on itself

DREAM LAYER 4: Definitely one of the coolest Dream Layers in all of Inception. This is the one we see so much of in all the trailers. The fight scene in the hall way of the hotel as the van is falling off the bridge sends everything into a gravitation-less state. Zero Gravity high-jinks ensue including a bucket load of dynamite and an elevator shaft. This layer complicated matters in that this is where they told Robert Fischer Jr. outright that they were in his dream and only they could protect him.

7 Layers of Inception - Level 3
Level 3 – Inception Layer 1 where the heist begins all wrong.

DREAM LAYER 3: “WHO PUT THAT THERE!” Cobb yells wondering why the heck there was a train barreling down through the center of downtown LA. Thus begins the beginning of the most ambitious plot yet, to deposit an idea into the victim’s mind and get out without alerting him to their presence.

7 Layers of Inception - Level 2
Level 2 – The Movie’s

DREAM LAYER 2: The movie – or Christopher Nolan rather – leads us to believe throughout the course of this movie that this layer is the true awake state reality. We are given clues that it is in fact that by seeing Cobb’s totem stop spinning as well as other corroborating details as we return time and again. But think about it a little more carefully and you’ll realize that things in this layer are off.

But don’t dreams seem logical and commonsensical while dreaming them but they don’t add up afterwards? What about the chase scene where Cobb barely squeezes through the collapsing alleyway? Or the fact that Cobb’s children are still wearing the same clothes as the last time he saw them? Remember Cobb’s father’s impassioned plea? “Wake up Cobb! Come back to reality.” And what about the vagueness of this dream-technology that allows people to share dream-states? The only explanation we are given is that it was created by the military to create a place for training. Other than that its completely fanciful idea. But when we wake up it just doesn’t seem right. And what about his being an “extractor” at all. Don’t forget that in dreams we experience exciting and truly exceptional things – like Cobb’s being the best extractor in the world who is so good he could not only steal ideas, but he could also implant them as well.

Nolan places absolutely everything in his movies for very specific reasons. If you have any doubt of this then please go and watch Nolan’s movie The Prestige. And if you have already seen this masterful work of art and haven’t had your AHA! moment, then feel free to have your mind altered here. Or if The Prestige doesn’t grab you – then feel free to get messed with by Nolan’s Memento. Then come back and read my review here. But without further delay – let’s move on to the man behind the curtain – Layer #1!

7 Layers of Inception - Level 1
Level1 – The Truly Real World

REALITY: And layer 2, was exactly that – a dream layer throughout. Reality is without a doubt the saddest and most troubling layer of them all. In layer 2 – the top continues to spin… and he chooses to walk off into the sunset with his children and accept that as his reality instead truly pushing to understand what his wife had so clearly spelled out for him.  And while Cobb continues to reside in layer two oblivious of reality one layer away, Mal is by Cobb’s bedside pleading with him to wake up.  Mal continues to hope that Cobb will wake up from the dream that has swept him away into literal disillusionment.  Mal wants nothing more than to have her love return and only if Cobb would take the final leap of faith…

Regardless of how you view the Inception or whatever your theory might be… it is a fantastic movie. The only slight ding I would give it is that the entire movie is a falsehood. The quest to deposit an idea in the Mark’s brain – dream. The attempt to save Saito from the Limbo world – dream. His reunion with his father, mother and children – dream. Normally when heist movies pull this one on us (the painting was stolen before the movie began) I cry foul and pan the movie. But this time, it seems right. Sad, but right. Really? International dream thief? I mean, really?

And all the while, the only constant in this ever-shifting world is Mal. Everything she did was justified, if a bit extreme. She wasn’t the silent saboteur of Cobb’s dreams. She was the true friend and consistent love of his life. She wanted nothing more than to be by his side again and have him come out from inside this dream of hers they were having together. So at the end of the day – this isn’t a summer blockbuster movie… this is a love story. Its a story of madness and loss. All deep and dark refrains that the Academy should reward – though their memory is fairly short and their vision fair too myopic. Would love to hear your thoughts or arguments to the contrary! If this left you wanting more do check out my Top 10 List as well as my Totems Discussion.

And after thousands and thousands of words of discussion below (that have profoundly shaped my opinions above) there is still room for your thoughts and insights.  Yeah, I know my theory is far-fetched, but the romantic in me won’t have it any other way.  What is your opinion – does the top continue or fall?  Is Saito in a lower layer of Limbo or the same one as Cobb’s?  How did Cobb traverse the layers back up to the top?  Was he awake in layer one and only failed to awaken from Limbo at the end?  So many possibilities here and each one with nuances and different spins as seen below.  Bring your opinion to the table and leave a comment below.

Edited by, CY

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148 Responses

  1. Ben Goertz

    Taylor, I like your article and I agree with you about “level 1” as you call it. I just saw the movie for a second time and I am still confused by the different layers of limbo. If Fischer Jr. and Saito both die in layer three how are Cobb and Ariadne able to follow them? Wouldn’t Cobb go down to “level 4”?

  2. Taylor

    Hey there Ben,
    Brilliant question. I have been toying with very similar questions since watching it a second time myself. I’m a little unclear about your definition of layer three and level four. It is my thought that when anyone dies in a dream where they have been heavily sedated they go to limbo. OR, if they just dive too deep they may get stuck in limbo. I believe Mol & Cobb went to limbo not because they died necessarily but because they dove too deep and got lost down there.

    Where I get a little confused in this space is – is there more than one limbo? Does each person have their own? Is it a shared limbo space? After thinking more and more about it I’m leaning more towards limbo being shared for everyone. When they talk about the consequence of dying in a deep dream state they talked about limbo being inhabited by the remnants of the last person that inhabited limbo of the shared dream state. So maybe for everyone in the shared dream (fisher and all the team?) limbo is colocated?

    The questions going around in my head right now are:

    1. Why was Saito so old when Cobb washed up on Saito’s limbo shore? Was it just because of the delay in going there. Every minute of delay after Saito’s death equals several years? Don’t know.

    2. What does “Find Saito” even mean? Does he need to drop another layer deeper? Is it a lateral exclusive limbo exclusive to Saito? Is it a collective limbo state that everyone in limbo shares?

    3. I’m still really deeply pondering on why Cobb & Mol are shown as being old in limbo, but young when they kick from under the train?

    4. If layer 1 exists, whose dream is layer 2? After one viewing I believed it was Mol – which was convenient in that it allows her to also inhabit the dreams occasionally to try and pull him back to reality. But after my second viewing, I think Layer 2 is actually Cobb’s dream. And the reason is because when Mol & Cobb are arguing about whether Cobb is dreaming or not he says – “IF I’M DREAMING WHY CAN’T I CONTROL IT?!?” and Mol’s response was – “Because you don’t know you’re dreaming.” Which implies to me that its his dream.

    And tons more. But its probably enough to get you thinking!! hahah.


  3. Brian

    Taylor – what about the last shot of the film? The top spinning…it never falls (or at least we don’t see it fall)…which would strongly support your theory that he is in the dream world.

  4. Taylor

    Layer 1 in my theory is the layer below the movie waking world. Ergo, he was dreaming throughout. Guess I didn’t make that be clear!


  5. Taylor

    Oh! You’re just saying it’s one more proof! I get what you are saying now. I didn’t list it as Nolan left it intentionally vague. Maybe it’ll drop, maybe it’ll run.

    But after two viewings i don’t think the top is trust worthy at all. I think the top tells him whatever he wants to believe. And it isn’t even his in the first place.

    Another complicating bit o trivia is the wedding ring – which may or may not be Cobb’s totem. It’s off in (my) level 2 and it’s on in level 3 and below. This bit so much reminds me of Sammy Jenkis in memento it’s not even funny. Maybe she doesn’t even exist thanked I think of it. Though the romantic in me wants to believe she’s waiting by his bedside waiting for him to awaken. Craziness.

  6. Jeremy

    Support that Cobb is in a coma

    Some background info on Mol (Marion Cotillard) …

    Marion Cotillard portrayed Piaf in La Vie En Rose.

    Where the movie ends

    “ends with her death, and the performance of her song, “Non, je ne regrette rien” (No, I regret nothing)”

    Marion Portrayed as Mol or w.e in Inception

    The same version (by Marion) from the movie “La Vie En Rose” is played throughout the movie.


    As if Mol is telling Cobb to wake up.

  7. Taylor

    That youtube video literally gave me chills – goose bumps the size of houses. Very cool little insight.

    Yeah, the more I think about it the more I’ve begun to think that the entire premise of dream-traveling is a dream-like (unexplained) idea. He and Mol never go traveling downward together at all – its just a devise of the dream. And basically Cobb is a normal guy, with a normal family, and he’s slipped into a normal coma and his wife is by his bedside beckoning him back to the real world.


  8. Nate

    DUDE! I guess I should check your website more often because this rocks! Very well said . . . I’m convinced.

    Two other reasons why I think he’s dreaming. 1st is when Cobb is trying to extract info from Saito and Mol shows up and he has her sit in the chair to help him repel down the side of the building. She gets up and he falls a little. It’s minor, but was she trying to kick him? Also when they are in Africa and they go into the basement and see all the people dreaming the old man looks right at Cobb and says “who says this isn’t their reality”. Hmmm.

  9. Taylor

    Love your thought on the old man tripping people out in his basement. First viewing I couldn’t even figure out what he was saying… “Is THAT ENGLISH?” was my only thought. The second time around I was like oooooh. hehe.

    Currently crafting a theory that interweaves Sammy Jenkis, Bordon & Fallon and Cobb all into a unifying theory of all things. Basically this theory posits that Memento was the first movie in this story line. The Prestige is the next. And Inception is the final – the cap-stone to this larger oeuvre. You’ll see. It’ll be brilliant!

  10. adioz

    So I was wondering to which level Cobb went when he did inception on the Mol projection. That still confuses me.

  11. Taylor

    I just assumed it happened when they were both in Limbo together and Mol began to not want to leave. They were deep enough and he was motivated to get mol to want to leave. In my layers map this would be layer six – te Cobb & Mol Limbo layer.

  12. adioz

    But dont you have to go several layers deeper for inception? So that Mol accepts the incepted thought.

    Following that logic Cobb had to go deeper than limbo. Maybe I am just getting something wrong.

  13. Taylor

    Limbo is implied to be the lowest one can go and you can only end up there after already going several layers deep plus a death or a loss of perspective? So when Cobb chooses to inceive (?) a thought in Mol’s inner mind he just walk down the street to the house Mol grew up in and opened the safe and implanted the idea.

    Maybe it was more complicated than that – involving misdirection and intrigue – but you get the idea. No?

  14. Grace

    I think there are more layers, and if this is so, taking all are theories together;
    He might be in a coma and the background music that is slowed is Mol trying to wake cobbs up.
    Mol’s/cobb’s Limbo is where he did the inception. So they could fully wake up in reality.
    Then why did they stop in your layer 2? There might be more layers then just seven. What if Layer two was the middle? Or that the train didn’t give them a big kick at all, that they didn’t even get close to the reality layer, that they are still deep deep down in the dream layers?

  15. Andrew

    Rules of the totem: It only distinguishes whether or not you are being manipulated by someone else’s dream, or if you are in your own dream. Top keeps spinning means Cobb is in someone else’s dream. Top falls down means he is in his own dream.

    I only watched it once, but from what I remember Cobb doesn’t mention anything about the totem separating reality from dream state, but only distinguishes your own dream from someone else’s dream. right?

  16. Taylor

    Totally agree with you – completely and totally.  I even mentioned in my review I thought there had to be more but that – “I’ll stick with the ones I know I can easily prove with facts laid out from the movie.”. Like what about the whole old woman and man business and the train kick when they are young?  Just too many obviously not continuity movie errors – ie intentional looking loopholes that probably make sense in Nolan’s messed up (and brilliant) brain.  

    Love your music theory on Mol trying to wake him up.  Gorgeously done.  One random thought – the size of the kick does not determine the number of layers you leap.  It’s seems to be always one.  So the bigger the train, or leap, or fall – no difference.  Just make sure you don’t kick past reality – that’s the only gotcha.

    Andrew –
    Your rules of the totem make perfectly good sense to me – but that isn’t how the movie/Cobb explains the totem concept.  Cobb said that the totem was Mol’s way of keeping track of reality – that she designed it to never stop spinning if she was in a dream but that it would obviously tumble if she was in reality.  Later Ariadne said as was staring at her just finished totem: “An elegant solution for keeping track of reality.”

    So the problem of the totem for us THE WHOLE THING IS A DREAM theorists is that the totem can’t work the way Cobb explained it to work – OR Cobb’s totem is busted.  One or the other.  Seeing as though he picked up Mol’s totem from the floor of their anniversary suite room where Mol kicks out to reality (or a layer closer to reality – thanks Grace) ie commits “suicide” by jumping, we know that wasn’t Cobb’s totem originally.  Using Mol’s totem may have busted how it should work and the times we see it stop spinning in the movie are therefore unreliable.

    Another totem possibility to consider is the dream controller perspective.  Remember that the DREAMER of the inhabited dream is the one ultimately controlling reality.  If Layer #2 is created from Layer #1 via a dream of Cobb’s then it makes sense that he really is the one making up the rules – and doesn’t he feel like he is?  His desire to hold on to his believed reality would single handedly be enough to force the top to stop even if this was a falsehood.  Does that even make sense?  Seemed to in my head but now that it’s on paper I’m less than certain.  This would be very similar to the journals within The Prestige creating an unreliable version of reality… But I digress.

    Are there other ways to deconstruct Mol’s top totem? Just curious if anyone has other ideas.

  17. Grace

    I find it strange that Cobb isn’t using his own totem, but someone else’s. I thought it doesn’t work if someone else touches it. So maybe the totem doesn’t work anymore. So it doesn’t really work for cobb, so (this might be irrelevant to the movie information and me going off on a limb) when he looks at it, it does what he wants to see, but when he doesn’t and he is unaware of it, it does what it would have done for Mol; tell her if she is dreaming or in reality. Since the totem itself is stuck in that layer it still spins like it would for Mol.

    On the music front from more pondering;
    The music gets slower everytime you get into a deeper layer. So the faster the music is the closer to reality you are.

  18. Rambling Mind

    Question: If he’s still dreaming in The Truly “Real” World aka Level 1, why does the top stop spinning?

  19. Taylor

    Just a response or two ago I answered this question. But I am presently working on an entire new blog entry specifically around the totems and how they work. Patience is a virtue.


  20. Toddnay

    Hey, I just saw the movie a second time and these were some of the big points I noticed:
    The fact nothing weird ever happens in “reality”. Take the scene where Cobb is acting as Mr.Charles and he’s describing to Fischer why the dream is not reality because of its strangeness.

    The movie does show they are old when run over by the train.

    At the beginning, she asks “do the children miss me?”

    The children are wearing different clothes in the reality that Mol thinks isn’t reality, but Cobb believes it to be.

    Cobb says whoever is sharing the dream (if they go into limbo) will go into the same limbo.

  21. Toddnay

    After posting, I felt like I needed to clarify a little:

    I believe that what Cobb thinks is reality, IS reality, not another dream state which Taylor believes is “reality”. I was using the Mr. Charles scene to prove that in dreams, weird stuff happens.

    You cannot trust the top totem because it is not his, therefore anytime he uses it, its use is not reliable.

    The movie initially shows the couple being run over by the train as young people because of the shock factor you get later when it shows a little clip of them growing old and getting run over as old folk.

  22. Taylor

    Thx for clarifying because you had me more than a little confused. My totems blog will be posted tonight late. So wait for it.

    But I did want to say one thing – Nolan likes to create two possibilities and balance the evidence equally between the two. Toddnay – you may be 100% correct. He lives happily ever after with his kids and voilà we know everything there is to know. But like with the Prestige – really? You believe magic works for real? You believe that shared dreams are possible? That alleys shrink on you while running through them? That inception really is possible?

    Just seems more plausible to me that the whole movie was a dream. But most American audiences would fail the movie for that explanation and therefore most just blindly take what they are given as fact to avoid that possibility.

    Regardless, I totally get where you are coming from – I just don’t personally buy it. Anyway, we should have more discussion fodder on the totems later tonight. Love the dialogue!

  23. Grace

    One of the big reasons that I find it difficult to believe that he is in reality at the end is not because of the totem, but because of what happens in the reality layer (as toddnay says) does not seem really realistic. From all of the reason stated before, but also how he willingly trust all those people that were helping him. Cob met Eames in africa who said he knew a guy (Yusuf) that was a chemist, and Cob instantly trusted both guys. Cob doesn’t tell us how he knows Eames. He just knows him. Saito who Cob was trying to steal a thought from, tells Cob not to trust everybody in that helicopter scene and what does he do? He believes Saito, and gets another architect, which was just a random girl in his father’s class. I just find it really odd that considering this is a really important and dangerous job, that he can just trust everyone instantly.

    So if he is infact in a dream, who is Arthur, Eames, Saito . . .etc?
    Are the projectiles? It would make sense if they were because projectiles are not real and can shift into what Cob wants them to be, which is his allies.
    But ARE they projectiles? It would also make sense that they are not projectiles. They are too smart, to be projectiles, they have feelings, and emotions. They are intelligent, and projectiles are not portrayed like that.

    So what are they?

    Okay this is my last comment, and the only reason why I posted it right here was because it had nothing to do with the totems, and I was still a little confused.

  24. Taylor

    First let me say – brilliant comments regarding the unbelievability of it all. It was definitely way way way too far fetched to be real. My favorite example is Saito’s arrival in India just in time to save Cobb and Eames. “I have to protect my investments!” Pshaw!

    To your points on the projections though… The Projections are remnants of Cobb’s mind. They are faint memories still outstanding from a life lived before. Remember when Eames follows the projection of Fishcer’s uncle in Inception Layer #2? They wanted to know what Fischer THOUGHT of his uncle… not necessarily how he really would act. They needed to understand how Fischer viewed his uncle and therefore how to best impersonate him via a projection of this man.

    Cobb specifically stated that they created the landscape and the architecture and then they brought the mark into this world and allowed him to fill it with his projections and his psychic reality. Does that make sense?

    And by the way – I published my review of the totems. Not that it is specifically relevant to this discussion – it is an important question that must be answered. You can see it here:


    And with that, good night.

  25. Aredt

    Thanks for the brilliant article. I came here from the short summary you wrote on deviantart. I want inclined towards the ‘whole-thing-is-a-dream’ bit. But you present the point beautifully & now I need to see the movie again to decide. LOL :-P

    You put forth your view while not rejecting all others that are there. That is classy. Please keep penning. You are awesome.

  26. Taylor

    Awww. Aren’t you so nice? Definitely see it again and let me know what you think watching for the tells.

  27. Critu

    Hi TaylorHolmes

    I would like to agree with what you said but there is this nagging thing. Lets suppose Mal was right. She wasnt Cobb’s projection but was actually in his dream wreaking havoc with his plans in order to make him realize that all this is a dream & he needs to come back to the real world (which according to you is level 1.)

    But then at the end, why does she say something like “You infected my mind. You betrayed me. But you can make amends. You can still keep your promise.We can still be together here…in the world we built”

    What’s that? she is talking about the limbo! Why would a person who is obviously trying to wake someone up say something bizarre like that? Any logical explanation??

    Waitng for your reply :-)

  28. Taylor

    Great Question Critu…
    Out of all the things she said to Cobb throughout the movie this is the only one that gives me any sort of pause. Remember the first thing she says to Cobb – “If I jump will I survive?” which at the time we didn’t know Cobb was in a dream, or that dying in a dream doesn’t kill you, OR that she actually did jump right in front of him previously. So yes, she was correct then.

    To the quote you bring up though – I believe she and Cobb were ultimately happy together even in isolation within Limbo. She would have taken him back even if it meant staying there in the Limbo dream space. Which was her original plan before Cobb inceived the idea that this wasn’t the real world within her mind. Right? But ultimately she knows if she can’t get Cobb to stay, she can help him kick his way all the way back up to the top. But otherwise he will stay on the path to just below the surface and separation forever.

    With that in mind, I’ll leave you with yet another quote of hers that was prophetic: “Your world is not real!”

  29. Critu


    Ahh! I dont know. That one bit really is the odd man out in the way tht doesnt make sense unless you agree Mal comitted suicide.

    Anyways, the one point I noticed during the movie & that resurfaced to strongly agree with you while going through your article was about the ending. When they wake up on the plane, Cobbs was totally weird. We can attribute some part to mental exhaustion but he was in that state for far too long. There wasnt a single expression of relief, satisfaction, anticipation, joy or such.
    I thought it was more of a cynical expression. One riddled with doubt (“Is this real for sure?”)
    So even before the movie went to inconclusive spinning top I was all unsure about his reality for the 1st time.

  30. Ben

    Hi Taylor,
    Excellent blog! I love your points! The only question I have is- If Mol is not just a projection, why didn’t she kill Cobb in order to save/wake him? Or would that put him into further limbo? Why didn’t Mol in “true” dream reality, kill Cobb before she jumped off the building?

    If Cobb is dreaming this whole time and sedating people into dreams is too “fanciful” to be a reality, then wouldn’t Cobb’s “dreaming/limbo” not have a reason. If sharing dreams isn’t in the real world, there would be no explanation why Cobb would be in a limbo in the first place. If exploring dreams doesn’t exist, there is no means for Cobb to be in a limbo.

    Now, I personally believe everything you said earlier, but these questions popped into my mind. I would love your thoughts.



  31. Taylor

    Great questions all. Think I should do a write up just of the dream rule paradoxes and how crazy they can get. Like:

    1. Dying in dream is a kick & wakes you up, one layer anyway.
    2. Dying in a deep dream sends you to limbo
    3. Dreaming in too many layers too deeply sends you to limbo
    4. Dying in limbo wakes you up totally

    There are more but I’ll stop there. So basically, Mal kills Cobb and commits suicide? Cobb heads to Limbo and Mal wakes up a layer higher. They are ten further than they had ever been. It would have defeated the purpose of what she originally intended. Completely.

    Your 2nd question is perfectly understandable but 100% logical fallacy. He dreams that he can share dreams so he can. Well, in his dream anyway. He dreams of the rules of limbo – so he must abide by them. If he doesn’t his brain sends him to the logical conclusion – Limbo. Which is also a dream as well. He nabs Saito and gets him back on the plane – good for him… Dream. He is still a layer below where he needs to be to see his one true love again. That is the real tragedy. And Mal continually coming in after him is the most emotionally raw thing I can think of. To believe you are right 100% when in fact you are dead wrong? Harsh. Have you nipped over to see the totem rules post I did as well? Marries nicely to this conversation. Ta ta!

  32. quincy

    What caused Cobb and Saito to “wake-up” when Saito presumably remembered that he was sleeping? Wouldn’t they both have to die or receive a kick to return to the flight?

  33. quincy

    To clarify, I’m talking about the end “limbo” scene when Saito’s an old man.

  34. Taylor

    Good question. My assumption has always been Cobb killed Saito then himself. Or vice versa. The rules on moving between layers and into limbo are pretty complicated and contradictory at times.

    1. Death/Kick at the top dream exits you to reality.
    2. Death/Kick at a lower level exits you up a layer.
    3. Death/Kick while deeply sedated causes you to go to Limbo.
    4. Death while in limbo exits you to reality.

    So unless Cobb and Saito chose to build a train … I’m guessing the gun was the kick back to reality. Any other ideas out there? I’m assuming that’s really the only option, no?


  35. Barrett

    Taylor, I THOROUGHLY enjoy your posts on the movie…I saw it for the 2nd time last night and will probably see it a 3rd…at the end of the movie, I was wondering: In the last Limbo to find Saito, how did Cobb get from the room where Mal was shot to the beach where he is being picked up by Saito’s guards? Do you think that’s the same as the other dreams where they could not remember how they started? Is that why they don’t show what happened? Looking forward to your reply…

  36. ceren

    i have only seen movie once which was yesterday morning. after the movie, i did not think that it was all dream, but something was not right, some scenes were rambling in my mind. one of them was the most disturbing. it was one or two seconds not more but when cobb had tested the mixture prepared by the chemist, in his basement he had seen mal in his dream again, but after he wake up in the basement for one or two seconds he saw her again surrounded with a yellow light similar to the daylight. at that point my mind blow up and i have lost the sense of reality in the universe of movie. that specific scene was what i was thinking of up until seeing your theory. this could be my misunderstanding and may be my mind makes up things, or i am remembering the sequence wrong, i can only know by watching it again.
    another thing that makes me irritated is between the different scenes we are not informed how he went there, i mean the whole film is like an eclectic composition of different moments, it is not flowing, it is leaping; at that point i am honored:) to remind that when cobb was explaining the job to adriane he said that the dreams starts right from the middle (so the film, i mean saito scene) you do not remember where you come from, when and how. the whole film was same actually, we were never informed how he had gone there and when. so I mostly agree with you that the movie awake state is also a dream but i have some doubts about the kicking and killing process in order to leap different levels of dreams or reality. killing wakes you up if you are not in a deep state of sleep, kicking also wakes you up to one level above, so in order to go one level down you have to sleep in the dream, but if you are killed in a deep sleep you will skip all levels and directly go to limbo. so after your time is up down there i mean like 50 years passed, the impact of the sedative will expire and by kicking yourself you can turn to reality i think (but i am not sure for this one again, watching it only once in cinema is not enough i guess:)). but the question here is what if kicking and killing can be used for waking up in a deeper dream? if its possible then mal can be waiting in not an upper level or reality but the deeper one. which explains the last sequence of the two, that mal trying to convince cobb to stay at limbo. i repeat, these can be the combination of products of my own mind and some misunderstandings.
    and another obvious fact that supports the dream theory of yours is the phonetic similarity between cobb and the name of the company cobol. it can easily be a production of his own mind or others. for a film like this with a high effort spent on details the similarity is too obvious.

    thank you, and i hope to read your answer soon:)

    p.s.: i can not stop myself haha, one possible theory can be the reversing all of the layers upside down, i mean it is a science fiction movie, in the distant future the human race had undergone a dramatic disaster and had become extinct, the only remainders are cobb and mal, but cobb does not want to believe that, so he intentionally fall into dreams, the deeper he goes the more diversity of ‘projections’ become so the number of people, which feels like the world is like in the old days, so the ‘wanted’ state of mind is the deepest level which was the movie awake state. i even do not believe it but why not?

  37. Taylor

    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!

  38. Greg

    Couple of things still bothering me that haven’t been mentioned…

    So, if your level 1, the “true reality” is just Cobb dreaming about level 2 somewhere, does this make Ariadne, Eames and the whole crew of the inception just his subconscious projections?
    If so, how could he be going into their dreams? That would be like going into your own subconscious brain’s dream. Would that work?

    And thing, when Cobb wakes up on the plane, he doesn’t speak to any of the other people there. Saito makes a call, but we aren’t definitively told that he is making a call to let Cobb go free. Could this not be a clue to yet another dream layer, in which he has just filled his whole dream on the plane of what we are told to be level 2, with the last faces he saw before he fell asleep? That he doesn’t actually know any of these people? Just a theory.

    Why did Ariadne and Fisher have to kill themselves in layer six? I thought this was just a dream about Cobb and Mal’s limbo that Cobb and Ariadne went into to save Fisher. Surely death at that depth would just send them straight to limbo?

    So many questions and theories about totems, but I think that if we treat the whole film as a dream, we can rule them out as being biased, not working consistently, and generaly being a bit dodgy.

  39. Bridget

    I love the idea that it is all a dream and that Mol is trying to wake Cobb up, but then how is she in his dreams? If she is a projection of his subconcious then why would she be trying to wake him up if he truly thinks that his world is real?

  40. Greg


    Because as he said in level 6 to her, on top of that building before she stabs him, he can’t perfectly recreate her in his dream. His subconscious portrays her with all her negative aspects trying to keep him there with her. He creates a dream version of Mal that is not accurate. The real Mal is up in level 1, trying to wake Cobb, but this vision of her he has follows him throughout levels 3-7, when in the film’s reality he thinks he is dreaming, trying to persuade him to stay and be happy with an imperfect memory of her. Is my theory.

  41. Taylor

    Having a hard time keeping up with you all!!  But I absolutely have enjoyed the running dialogue.  Keep it up!  I’ll try and hit the highlights of your qs here real quick like:

    Barrett- have you seen my response to your question over on http://taylorholmes.com/2010/08/11/10-inception-questions/ ??  Just making sure you knew I wasn’t leaving you hanging.

    All my rules regarding the dream world are supported by the movie itself.  The one area you were confused a bit is that you don’t have to await an allotted amount of time before you can kick out of limbo.  If you realize and fully understand your situation (which is hard to do apparently) you can commit suicide and leap all the other layers and skip straight to the surface.  (of the larger dream world anyway).   We saw Ariadne and Fischer do this.  And it was also implied wrt Cobb and Saito as well.

    Yes the whole crew are dream-mates.  Maybe old friends from level 1 he’s dreaming about.  But dreams they are all the same.  Also Ariadne & Fischer were in Limbo proper.  Thus the killing kick worked to get them home.  

    Bridget – 
    Wonderful question.  I wish I could find the evidence to defend a theory about Cobb inhabiting Mal’s dream so as to make these visitations the real deal.  But that doesn’t work.  I’ve tried from every angle.  But I do think if she were at his bedside talking in his ear it could manifest itself in dream a million times.

    Until next time,

  42. Barrett

    “Barrett- have you seen my response to your question over on http://taylorholmes.com/2010/08/11/10-inception-questions/ ?? Just making sure you knew I wasn’t leaving you hanging.”

    I DID see that! Thanks! I’ve been MIA for a few days and it looks like I have some catching up to do! I will most likely see it a 3rd time sometime next week after I have a chance to soak everything in…

    How many times has everyone seen it so far? I can’t get enough of it- it’s a strange feeling, enjoying a summer blockbuster THIS much! I think it may be my new all-time favorite…

  43. Phil

    A less-than-well-thought-out theory here; the way I took the ending, with the ambiguous totem spinning – was that Cobb had ‘died’ in limbo and simply gone into an even deeper dream level. By this of course, I mean that the majority of the film was set in reality – only to have him not wake up on the plane, having achieved inception.
    I’ve only seen it once so far; but didn’t all of the other characters wake up through each individual level? Whereas Cobb woke up only on the plane?
    Anyway! That was just my initial thoughts after seeing it:P

  44. Bob Silverberg

    I’ve just finished reading your three posts and all of the comments on this post. Great and very interesting ideas indeed. I’m going to go read the comments on the other posts, but first I wanted to share a couple of thoughts.

    I think I have to agree that there is a level 1, above the movie, as you posit, but I’m not sure what it is. I think I want to believe it is a dream, but not an ordinary dream or a coma. Perhaps it is a shared dream as described in the movie, so the idea of shared dreaming does exist, but pretty much everything else in the movie is a fabrication of Cobb’s mind.

    One additional piece of evidence, or doubt, if you will, to reinforce the idea that the reality of the movie is still a dream: why can Saito fix everything with a single phone call? I was questioning that throughout the film, but especially once we know why Cobb cannot go home. Saito can fix things with both cobol and with the American justice system with a single phone call?

  45. Taylor

    Three times here.  I’d go again if i could get the time.  Just crazy busy.  Your comment about it possibly being your favorite movie made me wonder what other’s think on this vein.  If you read this and comment on anything else could you throw down your top 5 favorite movies of all time?  Whatever they may be.  Even if it’s Ishtar for heaven’s sake.  The reason I’m asking is because I have another blog percolating talking about the best mind-job movies ever.  And I’m wondering if you guys like other tricky/complicated movies other than Inception.  Here are my top five:  

    1.  The Prestige 
    2.  Inception
    3.  Good Will Hunting
    4.  Memento
    5.  Pulp Fiction

    Notice a bit of a theme there?  Hehe.  Now it’s your turn… And if you know of other mind-numbingly-intense-to-follow-movies like, Primer, Reservoir Dogs, The Game, etc – I would love hearing about those too. 

  46. Taylor

    Thanks for the post.  I too thought the dream sharing worked down into layer one for a while there but there’s a significant problem with that approach.  

    Remember that suicide in Limbo sends you screaming all the way to the surface right?  If you believe in the dream sharing really exists then why didn’t Mol and Cobb head up to layer 1 instead of 2 when they kicked out from under the train?  Dude, no stress!  Would totally prefer that to disassembling the entire movie construct!  Heheh.  So, I’d love to hear your ideas there!

    Regardless, thanks a ton for reading.  Glad to have your here.

  47. claire

    Hi everyone,

    Don’t forget that the ‘kicks’ to make you wake up were specifically FALLING, as death in their sedated dream state wouldn’t have worked.

    The film states that dying/falling at a early level will wake you up, whilst dying whilst sedated in a dream will take you to limbo, because you are too sedated to wake up. Therefore only Falling will get you out once you are in a sedated dream state, no matter how many or few levels down you go. Death in a sedated dream state should take you to Limbo according to Cobb.

    Mol did not jump off a building to kill herself, nor did Ariadne fall out of the window to kill herself.

    Mol / Adriane did not die, they fell. If level 2 is really level 2, Mol’s fall (not death) would’ve woken her up to level 1. She would’ve woken up before she hit the ground.

    Level 6 – Adriadne fell out the window to get to level 5
    Level 5 – can’t remember this one.. have to watch the film again!
    Level 4 – They fell in the elevator to get to level 3
    Level 3 – They fell in the van off the bridge to get to level 2
    Level 2 – Reality ((or not?)
    Level 1 – may or may not exist…

    However do the ‘kicks’ have to be caught in order, so Adriadne fell out the window in level 6, woke up in level 5 in time to feel that ‘kick’, waking up in level 4 to feel the falling of the elevator, waking up in level 3 to feel the falling van hitting the water, waking up in level 2 in the plane (level 1 may not exist…).

    As Cobbs and Saito were in Level 7, would someone in level 6 need to ‘set-up’ the kick to get them back on the ripple effect? The only other person left in level 6 was Adriadne, and she didn’t set up any kick.

    OR, can you ‘catch’ any of the kicks as a ripple effect, so the falling van from level 3 could wake you up in any of the later levels? So you could travel straight from any level to reality on any kick that happened in any level above you. If so, why was he so intent on setting up the falling elevator in level 4? Or did he have to do this because he ‘missed’ the falling van kick of level 3 and had to create a new one? Can’t remember…

    Therefore, maybe Cobbs / Saito caught a ripple effect of the kicks that radiated out from the upper levels.

    This makes the most sense, as death in Limbo would not have woken Cobbs / Saito up, they were sedated. Unless when you fall that far and there’s no where else to go, death takes you right back to reality in full circle. Which means none of them should’ve feared Limbo in the slightest through out the whole movie, quickly kill yourself and you are back to reality, no worries at all.

    Therefore i think the only way Cobbs / Saito woke up was catching a ripple kick from the upper levels, which potentially you can only catch if you KNOW you are dreaming. If you think you are in reality you don’t feel the kicks, maybe this supports the fact Cobb is trapped at level 2, and is not in reality at all throughout the whole movie. Mol in level 1 can’t wake him up with any kick, because he doesn’t know he’s dreaming…

    Which leaves us with Mol and Cobbs ‘death’ in front of a train when in Limbo. Firstly, how could they grow old together for 50 years in this level, and be young again lying in front of the train?

    Maybe death in their Limbo woke them up because they weren’t sedated back in reality?
    Does death = waking up, or going to limbo? The rules seem to be tied up to the sedation element.

    Therefore I don’t understand how Cobbs could die in Level 7 (Limbo) and (A) wake up at all, or (B) only wake up in Level 2, why not all the way?

  48. Taylor

    Hey there Claire
    Great thoughts. The only thing I would differ with you on is that kicks come from a higher layer. Which you sort of come to later in your discussion of the ripple. The first kick we see is Cobb strapped to a chair going into a tub of water. Right? He was asleep. And as he went in the water we watch as Saito’s dream gets filled with water. He doesn’t fall. He doesn’t jump. The kick that woke him was from the layer above.

    Also, you are right we are told that if you die while deeply sedated you go to limbo. But as I’ve said before Cobb showed us another solution he and Mal accidentally discover. Killing themselves under the train while in limbo. It’s the only way to impact your layer from within. All other kicks require external assistance.

    If I were to walk through the layers (which my latest blog talks about a new infographic that might be helpful here: http://taylorholmes.com/2010/08/19/new-inception-infographic/) it would show the kicks go top down.

    Layer 5 – Eames’ defibrillator tips Mal and Fischer he’s blowing the snow fortress and causing them to fall – kick from layer 6

    Layer 4 – Arthur’s rigged elevator explosion causes kick from layer 5.

    Layer 3 – The Van’s fall to the river causes a kick from layer 4.

    Layer 2 – the dream machine on the plane was timed to wake everyone up – so they sat on the shore and waited.

    Right? Does that not logically follow? So that being said, Mal jumping didn’t cause her kick but her death did. Otherwise there would be no way for Cobb and Saito to return from Saito’s Limbo. At least that’s what makes sense to me anyway. Thoughts?

  49. Barrett

    Ohhh man- top five movies? haha I don’t know about that one- I love all kinds.

    In no order they would be: (this is TODAY’S list ofcourse haha)

    1) Se7en
    2) Inception
    3) The Departed
    4) OldBoy
    5) Dumb and Dumber

    I’m sure I lose all kinds of credibility with that last one, but don’t care! Can’t watch serious movies ALL the time! lol and that’s my favorite comedy….

  50. Sabrina

    I only just found this article, and I loving all of the discussions ya’ll are having. I have mixed views on the ending of the movie, so the theory that Cobb is still alseep and the suggested idea that all is well are both open in my mind. I wanted to mention some stuff that keep popping up every here and there that I want to answer to…

    Old Under the Train – It was explained earlier Toddnay, but I saw the issue getting mentioned again so I’ll re-quote it:
    “The movie initially shows the couple being run over by the train as young people because of the shock factor you get later when it shows a little clip of them growing old and getting run over as old folk.”

    Shrinking Alley in India – Skeptical about whether or not this was something put it to hint at the possibility of Cobb’s dream. I’ve traveled a little and I know, especially in small city areas of south and south-east Asia, uneven or asymmetrical alleys and streets are fairly common. It might have just been placed there for the purpose of causing thrill in the chase scene. Feel free to call me out on this one.

    Unchanging Kids – This is arguable. Although I’ve only seen the movie once, I don’t recall Cobb saying how long it had been exactly since he saw his kids. Mol’s ‘suicide’ could have all been recent, and therefore Cobb’s guilt and trauma from Mol’s death would have been an understandably powerful ring in his mind, and therefore her ideas and her ‘madness’ would be much more potently personified. Once again, feel free to call me out on this.

    “I have to protect my investments.” – Saito’s roll is supposed to be a very, VERY powerful one. It is not uncommon for high ranking CEOs to have a private security ready and following particularly valued… “investments”, so to say. Also, with that line… I dunno, but Saito seems to have a larger quantity of awesome lines to say… (C’mon! As if YOU didn’t at least smile when he said “I bought the airline”!)

    One Phone Call – Now this… it /does/ seem unrealistic for one phone call to change Cobb’s whole situation in America. But, then again, this may be a hint to Cobb’s 2nd Layer, or it might just be a quick-fix loophole on Nolan’s part. Nolan is too brilliant for this to be a loophole, but–like I said–I’m open to either being the truth.

    Accessing Dreams is Unrealistic – It’s the setting of the movie, if it did not exist, then how would everything else in the movie happen…? I dunno, can’t go in-depth with this except say that it’s the main concept of the movie… *waves continuity flag*

    I quite liked the idea of Cobb’s happy ending, but then again, I’m also open to the idea that he is stuck inside a 2nd layer. Also wanting to give this an honorable mention, but (assuming that all the people in Cobb’s 2nd layer are all projections) is Cobb’s father, Miles, also a projection? Cobb mentioned that his father was a the one who taught him how to access the human mind. So was Miles ACTUALLY there, trying to persuade him to wake up (as quoted)? If not, then why does he drop hints and quotes? But, if so, then why does he not tell Cobb straight up as well? I don’t think we gave enough attention to Miles’ character, because I believe that this is crucial. Remember that Cobb and Miles’ relationship as a father and son could easily be representing some sort of reflection on Fischer Jr and Snr’s relationship as well, seeing as on one hand, we have a son who was convinced to make his own future somewhere away from his father, and we also have a son who made his future based on what his father taught him.

    Also, if there was a layer 1, how did Cobb get so heavily sedated and so deep into layer 2? There are theories of his coma, but then there is lacking evidence of how that happened. Usually, there would have been some sort of flashback or memory floor showing something dangerous being done to/by Cobb that would result in it… Can’t take a “leap of faith” without any evidence, now can we? :P

    Also, if they really were in a dream, why didn’t Mol pull the Mr. Charles move on Cobb in the 2nd layer? Well, she does not even appear to be in the second layer at all, so how could that be a dream if Mol had access to Cobb’s dreams?

    Also, another honorable mention I just remembered now is Mol’s suicide. As a forensic student, I feel that her condemning Cobb using suicide seems a little feeble in its depth… Allow me to explain:
    Although she stated that she had sent her lawyer a testimony of Cobb’s threats and such, we all know that if it really were looked into–interviewing family, kids and such–reports would show that they did have, in fact, a loving relationship, and their kids would even mention that their mother was acting strange (quoted from the movie, by Mol to Cobb in front of their kids “They aren’t our children!”). Also, the flaws regarding the hotel. If looked into, it would have been uncovered that that Mol’s time of death was very near the same time Cobb would have been reported to have checked in. If it was that hotel room was prepared by Mol beforehand, she should have gotten there earlier, and that would have been reported as well. There would have also been no reports of loud noises coming from that room after Cobb’s arrival, which would have been necessary if all that furniture and glass was toppled over, there might only be reports taken of loud noise BEFORE he arrived. Also, there would have been a serious lack of Cobb’s fingerprints in the crime scene, also it would have shown in the morgue that Mol’s body fell without having the marks to prove a struggle against Cobb… well, without any marks on it at all, which would greatly contrast the room being torn apart.
    With Cobb having a pretty solid alibi against his wife’s accusations, it would be pretty difficult for the system to pin Cobb down with his wife’s murder with only her written statement as evidence.

    Oh! I just remembered again! I wanted to ask…
    Do any of you know what Mol meant when she said to Ariadne in the Cobb’s basement level,
    “Do you know what it is like to be a lover? To be one half of a whole?”
    (I think that’s how it goes. I can’t remember off the top of my head…)
    It seems to be a little out of place, if you ask me…

  51. nick

    Mal is questioning the depth of the experience of Ariadnes experience of being on love. Ariadne is honest in her answer and remains humble in front of Mals overbearing presence.

    Mal is also saying their love is a true love where both partners are one half of the other. Which explains severely Cobb’s messed up brain over her death and his involvement in her death.

  52. nick

    I’d agree with your shrinking alley view. This scene isn’t trying to get is to doubt if Cobb is dreaming or not. Its a chase scene between him and COBOL who he has failed twice (once in the prologue comic and again in the movie) and has consequently been on the run from.

    The kids do change from all his memories of them to the ones at the end. They are similar though as intended to make the final scene more dramatic and suspenseful. There are also two sets of kids in the credits.

    The protecting my investments and the one phone call are scenes showing Saitos power. He is in the energy business and very successful. Cobb questions his power in the helicopter scene and says he has to take a leap of faith then goes on to wanna grow old alone filled with regret and die alone stuff that is repeated throughout the movie. This is a movie with a device that can dream share…. its a movie and in movies not everything will be realistic especially in a sci-fi, suspense heist movie. Saigon is powerful. Has to be taken at face value otherwise movie makes even less sense

    Miles is an important character just not shown how important in the movie or comic. Would be cool to see a movie sequel that shows miles teaching Cobb. But to say Miles in actually in the dream share of the movie to try to get Cobb to see he’s dreaming is stretching it sooo much. He has barely any lines in the movie and is in two short scenes. Taken in the context of his character role and Cobbs and the conversation they are having his statement to Cobb ” come back to reality, please” makes sense. Cobb just confessed to not being the architect because Mal wont let him….Mal is dead….They both know this. Cobb does need to come back to reality.

    Mal could have done a thousand things to get Cobb to wake up had this all been a dream and she was trying to wake up Cobb. But that theory is so flimsy. If its based on Male character in this film his wife is a complete um b-word. She’s not trying to help Cobb. She is the antagonist of this movie as stated by Nolan and portrayed in the film. She’s a crazy projection from Cobb’s messed up mind.

    The murder set up scene can be over analyzed (just as the rest of the film has been). The idea Nolan has to us is Mal was incepted by Cobb in limbo to get out of limbo but the idea continues to grow like a cancer in Mal’s head until she is certain she is still dreaming even in reality. Mal trys to convince Cobb its all a dream, specifically that they are both in his dream, but she fails because Cobb is the sane one at this point. Mal then plots to compelled Cobb to jump off the building with her by giving him an ultimatum to jump or go to jail forever. Either way he never sees his kids so Mal hopes he jumps to be with her. She gets declared sane by 3 psychiatrists, writes a letter to her lawyer that states Cobb threatened her and she fears for his life, then makes a struggle scene on the hotel room Cobb just checked into that Mal has also checked into thus her body on the concrete would be assumed to have fell from Cobb’s room. This leads Cobb to have to flee the US. That’s it. We could pick it all apart and say Cobb over reacted and the idea is crazy, but its what the writer has from us to explain the movie and to accept. To not accept it is just to see the movie for what it is…..a movie.

  53. Taylor

    Loved your question regarding Mal’s two halves of a whole statement. Definitely stuck out like an enormous sore thumb to me too. Nick is spot on in his response that it’s indicative of their gi-normous they have for one another. But I’ll go one more and entertain the fact that there might be tons more going on here. And none of it has anything to do with whether or not Cobb is still dreaming or not. So Nick, you can breathe a sigh of relief there! Heheh.

    Ariadne is an interesting character for a million reasons. The standard female interest is the love interest – right? She’s broken the stereotype there. There seemed to be a bit of an odd chemistry between the two that led to think more about their roles and involvement with one another. Take for example Ariadne’s constant questioning and probing into his life. Does the idea of Ariadne as Cobb’s shrink not cross anybody else’s mind? (Adam Rosenberg takes it another step further when he posits not only is everything a dream but it’s one big extended therapy session – check it out here: http://moviesblog.mtv.com/2010/07/19/inception-attempting-to-address-the-big-wtf-questions/ . Rich Knight at Cinema Blend even goes further to say every character is a slice of Cobb and they are all striving towards catharsis – http://www.cinemablend.com/new/What-If-Inception-Were-Analyzed-By-Dream-Experts-19638.html – which is basically just Jacob’s Ladder all over again.)

    But I would go even further than the shrink concept to say that I think between Ariadne and Mal we have his wife’s true combined character. The goodness of Ariadne and the compassionate care we see along with the biting truth of Mal gel to give us a perfect picture of how Arthur described her as truly beautiful. Ariadne plays the role of innocent neophyte too perfectly to be legit. I won’t say it is Ariadne that is inceiving Cobb as some have said – but I do think her role is way too archetypal to be real and true.

    So when Mal asks Ariadne if she knows what it means to be a lover it is laced with meaning. Extra-Meaning that you’d be a dolt not to see. Is Mal upset with her? Jealous? Is Ariadne innocent in her motives towards Cobb? Purely platonic? It’s complicated obviously. None of the above options ring true and yet none of them ring false either.

    Cobb/Ariadne/Mal = a very complicated theorem with a near infinite number of possibile outcomes depending on how you fall on the original equation inputs. Fascinating conjecture and nothing else. If conjecture isn’t your thing then please just move along, there is nothing to see here – these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

    As a side note Nick – I’d love to hear your response to this: http://www.chud.com/articles/articles/24477/1/NEVER-WAKE-UP-THE-MEANING-AND-SECRET-OF-INCEPTION/Page1.html

  54. nick

    Its sad but true. Ariadne is real and true. I know that breaks with your is all nonsense theory of a movie but nowhere do we get the impression Ariadne is false. She’s a curious young college woman invited to take part in something she never dreamed possible. She is the only woman on the team and the most likely to not take Cobb’s “don’t worry” blockade that aurthur keeps accepting when he tries to probe. Ariadne is new to the team and this dream sharing. She notices the insanity of Cobb when she gets stabbed by Mal, and her feeling is only confirmed the more time she spends with Cobb in and out his dreams.

  55. nick

    I read the church article around when it came out. I would say the article sure jumped the gun…

    Right now the movie is mainly in theaters. When it gets released on DVD there will be less who go with your and chide explaination. The majority of people have seen this movie once. Then there are those who seen it twice. But limited are those who have seen it far too many times like you and I have. When they get the chance to rewind and pause and read subtitles people will come out of the darkness and out of the theory of a movie that is not seen, not written by Nolan, and not in theaters. That’s the beauty of my movie I saw. You can see it also. Its actually in theaters!! Other theories exist online and in peoples heads only.

    If you want to know I do believe Nolan has made a movie that exposes clearly what type of thinker a person is. A feeler and an analyzer. All the people who claim its all a dream are feelers. They really don’t have a theory based on what happened, What was seen, and what was heard…its based on what didn’t happen, was wasn’t seen, and what wasn’t heard.

    Also it would have been wiser to post an article or interview of someone who was involved in the movie say Yusef?? Haha but I’m sure you read that one already!!!

  56. Taylor

    Yes I’m aware you believe everything is real and literal. Got it. But even if I agreed and thought he was awake at the end there would still be room for discussion around motifs – themes – etc. But regardless, I get it. I do like your movie as Rorschach Test. And totally agree.

  57. nick

    Or you could have referenced the Unscripted Moviefone interview with Leo and Ellen. Leo states the move takes place in four levels of he subconscious….he must not really “get” the film huh….

    Also Ellen describes her character in a strikingly different way than your theory of her…. she must be confused also.

  58. nick

    It would make sense to doubt the ending. Its the part where Nolan wants you to doubt it. From just waking up on the plane, to nobody talking, to miles being there, to being reunited with his kids in the same house as in his memories and the kids almost wearing the same clothes and being in the same area to the spinning of the top and cutting to black. Great ending. If there is a realistic debate its the ending. But only the ending. What gets me is the ending got people questioning the WHOLE movie. Similar to Mal questioning reality people started to question the things try saw and heard then totally flipped the movie on its head and came up with a movie that doesn’t exist on screen at all. I thought that was kind of nuts to an extent but also fun debate.

  59. Dana

    “Really? International dream thief? I mean, really?”

    Haha Taylor! You’re doing it again! You have the same problem with the Prestige as you do with Inception. As odd of an explanation (and quite unbelievable) as it would be in the real world, in a movie it’s perfectly plausible, if undesirable.

    That having been said, I’m no longer sure what we agree/disagree on anymore haha I keep flip-flopping.

  60. Sabrina

    Sup all,

    Let me put my thoughts in chronological order as I read them…

    Frankly, I was actually surprised at the answers I got to my question about the whole Mol/Ariadne/Cobb thing… It took me this long to try and think of an answer myself, but if Cobb since it was Cobb’s dream, why didn’t anyone mention that perhaps Mol knew she was a projection in his dream and was voicing her loneliness by rhetorically questioning her own purpose in Cobb’s mind. “I’m his wife, but I’m not actually… it breaks me inside, and here is a girl who does not belong here… she knows no shame to come and hurt mine and my husband’s subconscious relationship!” is what I thought was going through Mol’s head… if that makes sense to all of you!

    Also, totally loving how Nick is really veracious on the anti-7 layer theory. We need a devil’s advocate to allow others to argue. It’ll make a really heated debate, so as to result with something with more depth.

    Something else I want to clarify, and tell me if I’m wrong. Yusef is not a “dream thief” so to say, right? He just went along with the group because they needed a chemist who could make a heavy sedative. He doesn’t have a totem, right? Therefore, he does not normally infiltrate dreams? I know Saito was the tourist of the group, but was Yusef, too (technically speaking)?

  61. nick

    I cannot see how Mal could be seen as a good Guy or saying the truth in anyway. She’s the bad, troublemaking anogonist of this film. She’s always causing trouble, always. She brings nothing good to the table. She merely brings doubt, regret, guilt, frustration and trouble to the movie. But then again that is her role in the movie as Cobb’s confused and dead wife projected by Cobb. Mal is in no way in the reality going in to Cobb’s dreams to save him. We can easily see Ariadne trying to help Cobb, but Mal trying to help Cobb…that’s a huge stretch and maybe even more than just a stretch….it holds no evidence and is ludicrous

  62. CS

    sorry, you’re missing some mechanics of the world. If everyone was awake around Cobb, they could employ any number of ways to wake him up. Kicks, Inception or their own gambits. You’re assuming he is impervious. They would have done so, long ago.

    • Taylor

      I’ve been trying to stay out of the discussions and lay low, but this one is too pervasive a question to let slide.

      Who’s to say they aren’t inceiving Cobb right in front of our eyes? Some popular theories propose that exact thing (Ariadne as counselor, Saito as co-collaborator, inception team as therapy group … the list goes on.) and those are some of the less extreme theories. But yeah, I actually do think Mal is visiting him somehow. I mean really, she did stab the guy in the middle of all this… If that isn’t an overt attempt I’m not sure what is. Obviously her dream visitations are weakly supported but in my more romantic moments I do dig the concept of Mal injecting herself into Cobb’s dreams for that very reason.

      But as far as the mechanics go – I don’t think we see eye to eye. In my diagram I show that Cobb is currently left in level 2 at the end of the movie. So close, yet so far away. And sure all they would have to do is roll Cobb’s body out of his hospital bed and voilà, Mal has her Cobb back. Right?

      But I don’t think we really have any clear idea of where Cobb is at the end of the movie. None. Truly, honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if he we burrowed into Limbo like a tick. And the closer to the “surface” he gets the further away he is. I am sure this is driving the more literal of you out there nuts. That’s fine, just buy into the idea the top stopped and be on your way. No big thing.

      So, just as rolling Cobb & Mal out of their beds wasn’t an option to get them home from 50 years of Limbo purgatory similarly, it’s not an option for Cobb at the end either.

      Being trapped in limbo actually nicely coordinates with the whole forgetfulness, absent mindedness, loss of time space that occurs there. And similarly it makes sense that either others would/could parachute in to attempt to save him (similar to how Cobb works to save Saito as well). Or splinters of Cobb’s personality (projections) manifest themselves in varying ways throughout his time in Limbo. Either way makes sense.

      By the way, I never said the guy was impervious. But he is working his tail off to get a grip on reality, that is for sure. To hold fast to what he thinks he knows of reality. I had said once and I’ll say it again, I am convinced that Mal (whether real or a projection) was the voice of truth throughout the movie. Sure, she was biased and fairly hacked… But truthful and very insightful.

      I’m sure you aren’t happy with that answer at all, but it is what it is.

  63. Taylor

    She brings nothing good to the table… She merely brings doubt, regret, guilt frustration and trouble to the movie…

    I agree with Sabrina, and love it that Nick, you and I are exactly opposite of one another. You are like my doppleganger or something! You complete me! Two halves a whole! Ok, so that’s a bit much. But your obvious disdain for Mal so obviously juxtaposes with my absolute love her… and my believing she is the only one who understands what’s going on. Its brilliant. You and I should take our conversation on the road – MSNBC, CNN, Larry King, etc. We’d knock ’em dead. But it makes

    I’m his wife, but I’m not actually… it breaks me inside, and here is a girl who does not belong here… she knows no shame to come and hurt mine and my husband’s subconscious relationship!

    As for your thoughts on Mal Sabrina, I personally wouldn’t have thought of that because that would mean she was self aware. Either you need to believe that Mal is actually dream-sharing into Cobb’s coma-dream, what have you…. or you believe she’s just a projection of Cobb’s subconcious. I would love to argue she’s actually visiting Cobb, which would then allow for that kind of recursive/selfawareness logic that you are presenting here. Then heck yeah, I totally would think she’d be at least a little bit jealous of Ariadne. (Whether warranted or not.) But I love the logic flow you present here.

    Makes absolute and perfect sense to me. And it isn’t just that Ariadne’s young, and pretty, etc… its that they are now sharing something that Mal and Cobb shared together before. Mal and Cobb were the initial explorers of his uncharted world. They invented new ways of thinking about dreams and exploring them. They did it all together. And now Cobb is marching around this landscape with some other woman? Totally think that’s valid. Well said.

    Yusef is not a “dream thief” so to say, right? He just went along with the group because they needed a chemist who could make a heavy sedative.

    Right. Yusuf, totally was just along for the ride. We aren’t sure if he even dreams much himself. But like you said, there were a number of tourists on this trip: Yusuf, Saito and even Ariadne. She was only coming because Cobb didn’t want to tell the others about Mal. Architects don’t normally go apparently. They are just there to design the levels. But she is such a big player in the movie she designed her own totem. (Which looking back could have been huge seeing as though she quickly finds herself in Limbo.)

    Recently just watched it another time and I just love the emotional power of this movie. Oh, I will say this. I watched very specifically for a coupl things that really stood out in all of your comments here. For example Cobb seeing Mal vaguely out the window after waking up in the basement at Yusuf’s. The old hands/young people, and the young hands/old people bit and finally I know how Mal & Fischer kick out of Limbo.

    I can definitively say that the hands don’t switch. It may look like old hands because DeCapprio’s hands are chubby, but they are definitely young when they should be. Both walking together in Limbo and also while on the train tracks. Then later in the movie – as Cobb is telling Mal they’ve had their time together it reviews scenes of the past where they were young (walking together, and on the tracks) and they are all old then.

    In regards to the scene after Cobb dreamed in Yusuf’s basement, Cobb is standing at the sink and it could very well be that he is seeing the anniversary appartment out the window of the bathroom. It could equally be argued that he is flashing back to what he saw in the dream. Each option is viable.

    And finally, with regard to the kick for Ariadne and Fischer out of Limbo… they definitely didn’t get defibbed out. It was the jump that did it. Eames is nowhere near them as they awake. Eames must have used the defibrelator for signaling them of the coming kick up a layer… and then it was the jump that brought them up a layer. Makes zero sense in my mind though. But I saw it with my own two eyes. It definitively shows what happened if you watch for it. Hrmm. Going to have to go bang my head on a wall for a few minutes and come back to see if we can patch together the rules of this place. Oh OH oh OH!? (I’ll wait to describe this theory later. Want to piece it all together first.)

  64. nick

    Yes me and Mr. Nolan appear to have that in common. We are your complete opposite. Nolan himself said he didn’t know what character was going to be an antagonist at first. Then decided it should be his wife….. antagonist….opposite of protagonist as you describe her.

    Also you quote Mal from he scene where Ariadne without permission goes into Cobb’s “dream” and snooper around. She runs off from Cobb and sneaks to he basement where he has his projection of Mal locked up. So the quote you use makes complete sense in context. But take any quote out of context and anything makes sense. Also when they both wake up Ariadne yells at Cobb for keeping his projection of Mal locked away.

    If you need any help understanding this movie don’t be too prideful to ask!

  65. Taylor

    You make me chuckle. Which is always good – so thanks for the humor! Never too prideful – I will always ask when I don’t know. Which is rare! heheh.

    Hey, you are right, I agree with you… Fischer was defibbed… but only just to let them know that Eames was about to blow the building. (Remember the lightning in the sky?) But, no one was near Fischer’s body in the Snow Fortress before or after he jumps from the building in Limbo. The way he transports back up is DEFINITELY through his jumping off the building. Guaranteed. And you know I’m not making this up because it contradicts like 9 theories of mine. And I can’t make any sense of it. (Well, I have a working theory… but nothing that gels, or sings anyway. So where I want to understand the movie Nick – and you can help with this – if killing yourself in Limbo only moves you one layer – how the flip does Cobb & Saito get all the way back. They can’t kick themselves at a layer up. Not to mention the fact that Cobb is DEAD in Limbo and also by drowning in the van!! It makes no sense unless committing suicide in Limbo bounces you all the way to the surface. So Cobb & Mal died under the train… THEN WHAT? They still couldn’t have been at the surface. And suicide doesn’t work when you are that deep – it just sends you to Limbo, where they just were. It’s illogical.)

    Bottom line – the defib was only a communication tool. Like the music in the other layers. Watch it closely it is as clear as day.

    Now as for Ariadne – believe you me, I understand the meaning of the word, antagonist. I get it. And I don’t disagree she’s the antagonist in this movie. But that’s only because Cobb hasn’t had his Philosopher’s Cave moment. The shadows on the wall aren’t REAL (please, don’t start again, I’m just explaining my point) he doesn’t know which way is up. So of course she doesn’t make any sense to him or to us.

    So go through a thought exercise with me for a moment. Let’s say I’m right. You (Nick) are dreaming. Your whole life long… dreaming. (As much as that pains you to consider.) And you aren’t aware you are sleeping. If someone walks in and says that you are dreaming – obviously they are going to instantly become your nemesis. That guy has to be INSANE, for goodness sakes, right?!? Exactly. You don’t understand them. And at first they try to be reasonable. But they become more and more frantic as time goes by. Which is understandable – they care very much about you, but you aren’t getting it.

    To put it another way – Mal is basically Cassandra from Greek mythology. She was blessed with the gift of foresight, but cursed with the fact that no one would listen to her. She was basically labeled as a head-case too.

    I’m aware that Nolan has also labeled his movie as SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER ACTION MOVIE. Of course he’s not going to say its a heady-mental-mind-bender that’s complicated at times and other times very difficult to understand. That doesn’t SELL TICKETS.

    I get it Nick that you don’t agree. Its all good. Really. I promise. But just understand where I’m coming from. I totally understand you believe its literal. Makes perfect sense. Got it. Could be. Definitely is one option.

  66. nick

    You have to listen to what Ariadne says at the snow fortress to understand how she and Fisher get out. Its her idea and she explains how its works which convinces Cobb to try it. The defib does make lightening which is how Ariadne new they had to hurry up.

    There is a big difference between Ariadne and Fisher and Cobb And Saito. Remember Yusefs sedative is too strong to get back to reality without synchronized kicks in each dream level they are on. Ariadne and Fisher ride the kicks back to level 1 then wake up in reality when the sedative wears off. Cobb and Saito die in every dream layer and are in limbo. But the sedative HAS worn off. They are in different circumstances. Their route back is realizing where they are and then dying. They would go straight home because no dream layers are left to go to (the dreamers are all awakened) and they weren’t under any sedative.

    Now if they do get out of limbo is another question…..

  67. nick

    But where I think you may have gone astray is Fisher was brought back to the snow fortress by Dames and the defibbing. That’s why he ended up only in level 3 at first before the other kicks. Ariadne got to limbo via the dream machine. So she goes back to where she’s hooked up to it which is level 3 also.

  68. nick

    Lets pretend I were stuck in a Dreamworld and my wife was trying to communicate with me she wouldn’t spoil all my plans, shoot my friend in the leg, remind me constantly how I broke a promise that we’d grow old together and try to talk me into staying in Dreamworld in the basement and in limbo with my fake limbo kids, she wouldn’t grab a broken glass and try to kill my other friend Ariadne who is just trying to understand and help, she wouldn’t scale down from the roof and shoot Fisher.
    Shed be nicer and more to the point.

  69. Taylor

    Ok, here is the exact transcript of the conversation Ariadne, Cobb and Eames have in the snow fortress before Cobbe and Ariadne head down to get Fischer.

    Eames: “What happened?”
    Ariadne: “Mal killed Fischer…”
    Cobbe: “I couldn’t shoot her. There’s no use in reviving him, his mind is already trapped down there. Its all over.”
    Eames: “So that’s it then, we failed.”
    Cobbe: “We’re done. I’m sorry.”
    Eames: “Well, its not me that doesn’t get back to my family… is it? Its a shame, I really wanted to know what was going to happen in there. I really thought we had this one.”
    Cobbe: “Let’s set the charges.”
    Ariadne: “There’s still another way. We just have to follow Fischer down there.”
    Eames: “We don’t have time.”
    Ariadne: “But there will be enough time down there. And we will find him. Look, as soon as Arthur’s music kicks in, just use the defibralator to revive him. We can give him his own kick down below. You get him in there.” (pointing at the vault) As soon as the music ends you blow up the hospital and we all ride the kick back up the layers.”
    Eames: “Well its worth a shot.”

    So, Nick you are correct she says give him his own kick to bring him back. But that isn’t what happens on screen. We never see Eames paddle Fischer at all. But I will concede that that is how it works, even though it isn’t what is shown. But even so – it doesn’t make sense that Ariadne jumps, Fischer is kicked and Cobbe and Saito shoot themselves and proceed all the way back to the top.

    Yes, the individual has to be conscious of the fact that they are in limbo before they commit suicide… but that still doesn’t clear up why sometimes its 1 layer and other times its 4 that the individual jumps. I don’t necessarily buy the “they jump to the next open layer” business. Just doesn’t make sense. Either they were there or they weren’t. But that’s just me.

  70. nick

    We saw the lightening in limbo remember and we know that is from eames trying to revive Fisher.

    Also you don’t go to the next open layer. Aridane got to limbo via the dream machine and so, according to the movie logic, she gave herself a kick by jumping and “awoke” in level 3 where she was hooked up to the dream machine that doesn’t follow the rules of being under yusefs extra strong sedative (because its a dream machine in a dream…don’t ask me how that works) so she wakes up from the kick as she normally would.

  71. nick

    Do u got a bootleg copy? Can you transcribe the two conversations about how totems work. I remember there’s a conversation between Cobb and Ariadne where Cobb explains how his top works and then the scene with Aurthur and Ariadne where Aurthur shows her his dice. Does one of the specifically say if the totem indicates you are in someone else’s dream or is it just generally if you are in a dream at all?

    • Taylor

      Do u got a bootleg copy?

      Nah, I wish. Nothing as elegant as all that. But I do have a friend with a copy of the audio somehow. So I ask her to toss transcripts my way when she gets a chance. Helps to win/lose arguments we are having about how the logic works anyway.

      Can you transcribe the two conversations about how totems work.

      I did, in my quotes blog – didn’t I? I think its there anyway. If it isn’t just yell and I’ll rectify that post haste.

      and then the scene with Aurthur and Ariadne where Aurthur shows her his dice. Does one of the specifically say if the totem indicates you are in someone else’s dream or is it just generally if you are in a dream at all?

      I will post the transcript over in the comments section of the quotes blog just from an organizational standpoint. You can find it here: http://taylorholmes.com/2010/08/23/inception-quotes/

  72. Taylor


    You know an image is good when you find your noes pressed against the glass of your laptop screen… and you were willing more pixels to coagulate right before your very eyes. Dana. You are my hero… very cool picture.

    to say the least.

    Thanks for sending that along!

  73. Eli

    If your theory on level 2 is correct then when mal killed herself and entered the real world, why didnt she just awake cobb?

  74. Taylor

    We can’t know this – but maybe Cobb fell off his roof while putting up Christmas lights and is in a coma? Could be anything. (By the way – I fell off my roof once… while putting up Christmas lights. thus the joke.)

    By the by – just got my hands on the blu-ray version of the movie. Really was good to see it again after a dry spell. Noticed a number of small nuances I didn’t catch previously. Maybe I’ll post a few…

    Until next time…

  75. Dana

    haha no problem

    i only recently found out that there even WAS a book of the shooting script of inception and, OF COURSE, i want it. …right now.

    but i found this image online because i knew someone had to put it online somewhere lol

    also, GOTTA love how even nolan got confused and crossed out “arhtur” and “eames” to switch them!

  76. taylor


    you have just had your nerd badge removed for saying Star Wars isn’t real. Seriously uncool.

    Outside of that – your paper with said insightful theory can’t be proven wrong. It may get lame points for its cheesy concept – but that is basically irrelevant. If its all a dream – its all a dream. Granted, any movie can be explained away utilizing this excuse – whole fields of philosophy have this as their bedrock premise. (Not to derail us here but Descartes’ entire career was based on his rebuttal of these types of philosophies.)

    I don’t mind the dream machine and its thin hold on reality. What I do contest are the dream-like realities of this movie. Its Hollywoodness is thick in areas and would be easier to explain if it were a dream. (The skinny alley, the “nameless police forces chasing Cobb around the globe”, “bizarre weather patterns tormenting the dreamer”, etc.)

    I personally like the idea of Mal not being dead. I am a hopeless romantic – and if there is a chance that Cobb & Mal have a chance to get back together again – I’m going to take it no matter the mental gymnastics necessary to pull it off. So heck yeah – I could definitely be wrong here. Where I KNOW I’m not wrong is in my prestige theory. With that one I am 100% spot on. hehe.

    No seriously.


  77. Aredt

    Taylor, I need your view on this one. Just watched inception for the 4th time. If we agree that all this was just a dream & Mal is actually trying to wake Cobb up – “Why does she not show up in the Movie-reality level (the level where they are on plane n stuff). That would thn be level-1 of Dream for Cobb, rite? Why Mal doesnt show-up there”

    I think that itself put a doubt over the theory that this is all a dream. Plz respond.
    Btw, Merry x’mas.

  78. Wilt

    I love it all, but there are just too many flaws in calling it seven levels instead of six. I mean, for one, there’s the lack of Cobb’s constant when he is awake (his wedding ring), which is the real gamebreaker of calling it all faux. Either way, it’s still so enigmatic, and I can’t say I love the movie any less either way.

  79. Taylor

    Hey there Aredt,

    Taylor, I need your view on this one. Just watched inception for the 4th time. If we agree that all this was just a dream & Mal is actually trying to wake Cobb up – “Why does she not show up in the Movie-reality level (the level where they are on plane n stuff). That would thn be level-1 of Dream for Cobb, rite? Why Mal doesnt show-up there”

    I think that itself put a doubt over the theory that this is all a dream. Plz respond.
    Btw, Merry x’mas.

    So the basic question is this – why the heck doesn’t Mal make an appearance in the top dream layer? Here’s a question back first. What layers did she make an appearance in? Let’s review:

    In Saito’s initial dream where Cobb and Arthur were proving to Saito that they were the best at their craft Mal shows up in the second dream layer (really my level four) but not in the first induced dream layer (really my level three). Right?

    Similarly, in the Inception Heist – Mal makes an appearance first in the third inception layer (really my level five) and obviously also in Limbo as well (my layer six).

    So my question is this… why doesn’t Mal appear in dream layer 1 (the movie’s “awake” layer) dream layer 2 and sometimes even dream layer 3? This question has been asked before here and I haven’t really understood the question at all. Seems to me that Mal doesn’t appear until lower levels of his dreaming.

    Answer me why she only shows in lower levels of dreams and I’m sure I’ll agree with you. heheh. Love to hear your thoughts.


  80. Taylor

    Hey there Wilt,

    I love it all, but there are just too many flaws in calling it seven levels instead of six. I mean, for one, there’s the lack of Cobb’s constant when he is awake (his wedding ring), which is the real gamebreaker of calling it all faux. Either way, it’s still so enigmatic, and I can’t say I love the movie any less either way.

    I completely agree with you – I don’t think I would love it any less regardless of the answers to the number of layers involved. The movie would be perfect regardless of whether my theory works or not it was some other answer. I’ve even gone on record as saying that I am not certain about Saito’s dream layer being a separate layer… but I can’t explain it any other way. (Never mind the fact that its a beautiful parallel with Dante’s inferno to have Seven layers instead of the more boring number six! haha.)

    To your point about Cobb’s wedding ring – I think you are indicating that because he is different in my layer two – w/ no wedding ring there – that that is reality? That the top actually stops spinning at the end of the movie, yes? Possibly. I personally disagree, but I’ve discussed this elsewhere before. We can definitely find common ground to agree that the movie is gorgeous either way.

    Thanks for the comment.

  81. JT

    I have a question. If mal is not just a projection of Cobb’s and Cobb is actually still dreaming. Then why when Mal was with Cobb in Saito’s dream at the beginning, did she ask if the children missed her is she wasn’t dead?? If she was real then obviously she would be with them.

  82. Taylor

    Hey JT,
    Good question. I mean – I think I know where you are going but I don’t fully understand your question.

    I just rewatched it the other day and the one quote that really stuck out like a sore thumb was that one:

    Mal: “Tell me, do the children still miss me?”
    Cobb: “You can’t imagine.”

    Just baffled the heck out of me. And I don’t mean from a, I want my theory to hold up standpoint. I just didn’t understand it. You can’t imagine? Is that like another way of saying you have no idea? Baffling.

    Regardless, back to your question JT… can you explain it a little more clearly? In this scene she is either saying this ironically… So Cobb, are you still believing the children are missing me? Or she’s having a rare moment of sympathy for his misguided-ness. If I understand.

  83. ragball

    “And layer 2, was exactly that – a dream layer throughout.”

    Let us not make the movie complicated as it is already.

    I don’t think one can just assume that the whole duration of the movie was simply layer 2.

    There are three reasons:

    1. Let us not forget the fact that once a person dies in a dream, he/she immediately wakes up unless influenced by certain catalysts formulated by chemists such as Yusuf.

    Cobb saw Mal jump down the building that caused her death. If that layer was a dream the whole time, then she would just have disappeared the very moment she died. Now, it may be fair to say that what Cobb saw falling down the building was just his projection of Mal, I would say projection because that simply contradicts the basic concept of the movie, “when you die in a dream, you wake up”.

    2. The top always stops on the layer reality layer, which the author of this topic still considers to be a dream.

    3. Let’s do the math. 5 minutes in real life is equivalent to an hour in a dream. Second dream layer will be equivalent to 12 hrs. Third will be 144 hours or 6 days. Fourth will be equivalent 72 days. Fifth will be equal to 864 days or 2.36 years.

    Now, with that in mind, I believe you will agree with me that at least a few days have passed before they began “extracting”. My point is, to keep it short, just think about Saito’s supposed age when he and Cobb were both in Limbo.

    If there were indeed 7 layers, then how old would have Saito been? More than a thousand years old? Of course, not.

  84. Blood

    First of all there is no point in believing this “Mal is by Cobb’s bedside pleading with him to wake up” thing,because if she were awake the only thing she would have to do is giving him a “kick” like they did with the water or playing music,so he realizes he is in a dream.In the appartment she wanted him to believe that they are dreaming and that this was not the “real world” and she “killed” herself what obviously would bring her back to reality where she could wake him up manually,what she didn’t do,so she is dead.You’re the romantic type like you said and you can believe what you want,but don’t try to solve things the way you wanted them to be,because you could fool others to believe what you believe and that is not right,if you ask me.Another thing is that you are prejudiced by specifically that trait of yours.And that shows you don’t have the ability to judge in a neutral and scientific way but only philosophic.

  85. oneil

    how do you know that this is not a dream – right now?
    it’s actually the last layer of the dream within a dream within a dream within a dream

    lol im just trolling

  86. ragball

    @blood: Right, you are. I hope there’s only a few people fooled (or ideally, no one at all).
    @oneil: I’ve my token out and it stops when i try to spin it lol

  87. Taylor

    @blood – scientific question for you.

    Let’s just assume that the plane ride was layer one – the real world. (Or layer zero… I don’t care what you call it.) While Saito was stuck in limbo – in the oriental looking place, waiting for Cobb to remind him he’d forgotten – if you walked up to him while he slept on the plane… and gave him a kick… WOULD HE WAKE UP?

    Obviously not. Kicks are progressive in nature. If you are in layer three, you’d need a kick from layer two. Where this gets even more weird is with regard to Limbo. We are lead to believe that the ONLY way out of limbo is to do it yourself. To commit suicide.

    So, if that is the case, then Mal’s tossing him into a bathtub wouldn’t work. Unless of course he was at layer 2 and Mal was in layer 1. Which we really don’t know. And can’t know. Another reason this wouldn’t work is because he may very well still be in limbo – and never left. He only THINKS he’s left. But I digress.

    @Oneil – your question about knowing if this reality (of you commenting on some random guy’s blog) is a very well discussed philosophical concept. Descartes did exactly that only to build it back up again from a “I think therefore I am” beginning point. So yeah. Exactly. What you said. How do we know?

  88. ragball

    The setting where the movie started happened years (and yes, that includes the scene where Cobb and Saito were both in limbo) after Cobb was found guilty of “murdering his wife”. 5 minutes in real life is equivalent to an hour in a dream.

    If we use your example where Mal is in layer 1 and Cobb is still in layer 2, then I think what blood is trying to imply is that if that plane ride was indeed a dream layer, then it would have ideally taken Mal for just 5 minutes to an hour to wake Cobb up (or one hour to twelve hours in the “plane ride” layer), which is technically days or even months before that inception mission began. So if we analyze further, it’s just ridiculous to wait for someone to wake up that long.

    If I were Mal and the layer where she committed suicide was in fact, a dream layer, then I would have forced a “kick” on Cobb while he was still sleeping because then I would be so excited to rub it on Cobb’s face that I was right in taking a leap of faith after all.

  89. ragball

    The setting where the movie started happened years (and yes, that includes the scene where Cobb and Saito were both in limbo) after Cobb was found guilty of “murdering his wife”. 5 minutes in real life is equivalent to an hour in a dream.

    If we use your example where Mal is in layer 1 and Cobb is still in layer 2, then I think what blood is trying to imply is that if that plane ride was indeed a dream layer, then it would have ideally taken Mal for just 5 minutes to an hour to wake Cobb up (or one hour to twelve hours in the “plane ride” layer), which is technically days or even months before that inception mission began. So if we analyze further, it’s just ridiculous to wait for someone to wake up that long.

    If I were Mal and the layer where she committed suicide was in fact, a dream layer, then I would have forced a “kick” on Cobb while he was still sleeping on the upper layer. Because then I would have been so excited to rub it on Cobb’s face that I was right in taking a leap of faith in the lower layer after all.

    Sorry for double-posting but this is the valid reply (=

  90. Blood

    layers only exist in a dream,and if it is reality there can’t be layer zero,it does make a big difference.

    this thing you mentioned that you need a kick from layer 2 to get out of layer 3 just works IN a dream.you can also kick someone in reality to wake them up no matter in which layer they are,maybe except Limbo.If you assume that Mal is the one who woke up because she jumped out of the window and committed suicide to get out of Limbo,she couldn’t know if her plan would work and Cobb jumps with her,especially not if she is the one jumping first.My logical thinking leads to the fact that she would never leave him behind,because if you love someone you would do anything that he believes you,no matter what.Jumping out of a window with, in my mind, you believe that it will wake you up and just hoping for my partner to follow me,is just stupid.Even if she woke up,she would go back to get him out!So she must have really died.

    Just something aside,if you were in limbo and i knew that and i am in reality,i would throw you into a bathtub and press your head under water,your instinct would tell you what’s wrong and wake you up,before you die.

    If i were in a dream too,well it wouldn’t matter if i try it,right?

    • Taylor

      Hey blood – let me try and systemically respond:

      layers only exist in a dream,and if it is reality there can’t be layer zero,it does make a big difference.

      Yes, I understand. I was basically saying it didn’t matter if you agreed with me or not – that the reality of the movie was actually layer 1. I was pitching that aside for a moment. I understand.

      this thing you mentioned that you need a kick from layer 2 to get out of layer 3 just works IN a dream.you can also kick someone in reality to wake them up no matter in which layer they are,maybe except Limbo.

      So, at first blush it would seem you are correct. But after looking at it deeper you will realize this isn’t the case. Let’s listen to Cobb as he explains how the kicks work:

      Arthur – “So once we’ve made the plant, how do we get out? I’m hoping you have something more elegant in mind than shooting me in the head.”
      Cobb – “A kick.”
      Ariadne – “What’s a kick?”
      Eames – “This, Ariadne, would be a kick…” [tips Arthur’s chair]
      Cobb – “It’s that feeling of falling you get that jolts you awake. Snaps you out of the dream.”
      Arthur – “Are we going to feel a kick with this kind of sedation?”
      Yusuf – “That’s the clever part, I customized the sedative to leave inner ear function unimpaired. That way, however deep the sleep, the sleeper still feels falling. Or tipping.”

      Right? Totally supports your thought that a kick can go all the way to the bottom layer. But, as they continue talking you realize that this isn’t the case. Here’s the continuation of that quote:

      Cobb – “The trick is to synchronize a kick that can penetrate all three levels.”
      Arthur – “We could use the musical countdown to synchronize the kicks.”

      kickS. Plural kicks. Down the layers. So the sedative allows subsequent kicks to flow from layer to layer. Not that it allows a kick to go to the bottom and back to the top. If that were the case then the movie would be a lot simpler. The van drop would have pulled them all the way to layer one. Or better yet, they would have just had someone standing next to them to kick them on back to the plane. But we NEVER see an example of a kick from “Reality” moving more than one layer… always to and from the first dream layer. If I’m wrong on this one I would love to be reminded.

      My logical thinking leads to the fact that she would never leave him behind,because if you love someone you would do anything that he believes you,no matter what.Jumping out of a window with, in my mind, you believe that it will wake you up and just hoping for my partner to follow me,is just stupid.Even if she woke up,she would go back to get him out!So she must have really died.

      Except that Cobb shoved the desire to get to the surface by incepting the idea of the dream. Cobb accidentally gave Mal the desire to get to the surface – and so she tried her best to suppress the truth and stick it out with Cobb. But ultimately she couldn’t live the lie anymore. To her credit, she tried her best to force him to join her. Manipulative, yes. But if she was right and desired him to know the truth as well it was for Cobb’s benefit that she draw up the legal documents proving her sanity and corner him in effect.

      Just something aside,if you were in limbo and i knew that and i am in reality,i would throw you into a bathtub and press your head under water,your instinct would tell you what’s wrong and wake you up,before you die.

      I definitely disagree with this. And there are a pile of reasons. Do you remember when they were discussing Saito dying in a dream that deeply embedded – Cobb states that when he awakens he’d be a vegetable.

      Ariadne: “And if he dies?”
      Cobb: “Worst case scenerio, when he wakes up his mind is completely gone.”
      Saito: “I Will still honor the arrangement.”
      Cobb: “I appreciate that but when you wake up you won’t even remember we had an arrangement. Limbo’s going to become your reality. You are going to be lost done there so long you are going to become an old man…”

      Now, that isn’t specifically what you are referring to, but if someone is that deeply embedded in a dream, you have to kick all the way to the surface in order to be there and ready for the kick that will bring you to reality. Thus all the work to get the timing of the music. The timing of the kicks. The timing of everything was so very critical. Otherwise, they could have just let the dream machine wake them up and gone about arriving in LA without any stress or worry. Half of the movie is embedded in this assumption on how the kicks work. You take away this assumption and most of the movie is superfluous and unnecessary.

      My two cents. Now, obviously I think that Mal accidentally committing suicide is tragic and deeply moving. That Cobb caused his own wife’s death by trying to save her is brilliant. I understand. But I also think there is an even deeper irony possible if Mal actually has the truth and Cobb has given it to her. And she is simply acting out this truth… and Cobb is the one who is hopelessly lost in limbo and only believes he is awake. Both are good interpretations. I just think the latter is even more elegant.

  91. ragball

    I don’t understand why the layers are still an issue to discuss about. There wouldn’t even be a movie if:

    Mal forced a kick on Cobb right after she jumped off that building – if she was indeed “dreaming” and woke up after “dying”.

    [quote]To her credit, she tried her best to force him to join her.[/quote] If I am to entertain your idea that Mal is awake and Cobb is still dreaming, I don’t think I agree to the fact that she tried hard enough. ‘Cause if she did, I guess it would be utterly stupid for her not to try to wake Cobb up after the moment she “died” when in fact, she was the one who had the utmost desire to “wake them both up”.

    Your interpretations are creative and excellent and I would also support these if not for the tiny, logical detail that simply supersedes everything. Let us not complicate things further and we’ll simply assume two scenarios:

    (1) Mal is alive.

    The most logical thing for her to do is wake Cobb up. All she needs is a few seconds to a few minutes to force a kick on Cobb right after “dying”. Cobb may still be seen mourning for hours because of his “wife’s death” and I don’t see any technical, let alone, logical reason why he would not wake up in a few more hours knowing the fact that Mal has the capacity to wake him up.

    In all honesty, I would say it (“Inception”) has a bad script if Mal would not have, at least, taken the liberty of freeing Cobb from the agony she caused by letting him see her jump off a building. She left Cobb into thinking that he just lost his wife. Personally, I would never do that to my wife. I don’t think any sane person would.

    (2) Mal is dead materializing every now and then from Cobb’s subconsciousness in dreams.

    Well… nothing to say really. The moment we entertain the fact that Mal is already dead, the movie begins… and continues.

  92. Joe C.

    Yet another great conversation! Boy am I glad I stumbled onto this blog after watching the Prestige lol.

    Anywho, there was a question that someone already asked earlier that I feel was never really addressed and it dissapointed me. But in the beginning of the movie when they are in Saito’s dream, Cobb is once again confronted with Mal, where she says to him “Tell me, do the children still miss me?” If she was awake and was trying to help Cobb wake up in reality, then why does she ask this question–and with such sincerity?

    Someone else also said something that I agree with as well–If your “Mal’s in Reality” theory is true–(which never even occured to me, I was actually fascinated when I read it! :P)– then all of her attempts to get him to realize this were just plain awful and seemingly gave her the cognitive abilities equal to that of a 5 year-old. She did nothing but make herself look like an evil projection! She certainly did not act as though she was trying to help him.

    Also, I’m so happy you created that Top 5 mind bending movies list. You rightfully guessed that I have indeed never heard of Primer, and now I am dyingggg to watch it. And so I will. That is all. :)

  93. Taylor

    Ive been wrestling with Mal’s comment to Cobb since the first time I saw the movie. The other problematic comment she made for me was the one where she asked Cobb to stay with her in Limbo with her. I think I answered that one already here but I do believe you are right that I let slip the whole “miss me” comment in Saito’s initial dream.

    So my only logical explanation was that she was being sarcastic. “so… Do the kids MISS me…?” But it wasn’t overtly sarcastic in the delivery except that if he knew her one desire was to get him to join her up a level (suicide for him, ultimate reality for her) and she asks about the children he knows what she’s doing. He hasn’t seen them, they might as well be phantasms for all he knows. Thus his response – dude, no idea… – I can only imagine. This actually comes up as an issue in Limbo when she tries to get him to look at their faces while in limbo. But ultimately my only a swear here is a deeply layered sarcasm. “So how’s is ‘reality’ thing working out for ya? Kids doim well? Oh ya. They are projections and you haven’t even seen them to know. Right. I forgot.”

    As for her coming off as an evil projection – exasperated is the more appropriate word here. She’s gone off the deep end tryIng to convince him to join her. But yes, I agree… There are times she does. But she is also aware in dream that it just doesn’t matter. The politeness, the social bits… It just doesn’t really matter when you are dealing with fiction. But you are are right she definitely does come off that way. Regardless.

    As for Primer, epic movie. Just know, that the moment you start the movie … Before anything happens on screen… You are already behind… You are already irretrievably lost! Heheh. Brilliant move. I intend to write up my own theory on that one, just haven’t taken the time to tackle it and put it on paper. Love to hear your thoughts over on that post once you’ve watched it.

    Thanks for swinging overe here too! Until next time.

  94. O. H.

    I know this is awkwardly a year late…but I still have a question.
    I’m not sure how it’s possible for everything to be a dream, because if you kill yourself in limbo, and you are the dreamer for each level, don’t you wake up completely?

    Also, about the theory that everything after Cobb’s sedation in Yusuf’s lab, then he would have been dreaming within dreaming himself which makes the dream extremely unstable. Yet the movie’s reality seems very stable, though he really may be sleeping up above with Mal by his bedside trying to shake him awake.

    Lastly, if everything is a dream, then how is it that his projections aren’t after him consantly (please exclude Cobol) in Paris, on the Airplane, etc?

    Thank you!

  95. Taylor

    Hey there O.H…
    First off, its never ‘awkwardly late’. A good movie discussion is a timeless thing of beauty. I haven’t commented as much of late just because of my schedule, but I still have really enjoyed the comments out here and the insights.

    I’m not sure how it’s possible for everything to be a dream, because if you kill yourself in limbo, and you are the dreamer for each level, don’t you wake up completely?

    We’ve discussed this in varying levels of detail throughout the comments of this and a few of the other posts about Inception on the blog. Here’s the problem – we are told one reality, then Cobb tells us another and finally we see a third.

    The first time Cobb explains it he explains that when you die your mind wakes you up and voila you are back at the surface. But in this discussion during the heist we get a very different perspective:

    Eames: “I’m going to put him out of his misery.”
    Cobb: “Don’t do that. Don’t do that.”
    Eames: “He’s in agony I’m waking him up.”
    Cobb: “It won’t wake him up.”
    Eames: “What do you mean it won’t wake him up?”
    Cobb: “It won’t wake him up.
    Eames: “When we die in a dream we wake up.”
    Yosuf: “Not from this. We’re too heavily sedated to wake up that way.”
    Eames: “Right, so what happens when we die?”
    Cobb: “We drop into limbo.”

    And then finally, we are shown a third perspective. Remember when Ariadne jumped from the building in Limbo? Where did she wake up? At the ice fortress, ready to follow the kicks all the way to the surface. She didn’t wake up on the plane. Right? You have to watch it closely… over. And over. And over. Again. Its very clear though. Nothing ambiguous.

    So to answer your question – no, not necessarily. The movie showed us Cobb & Ariadne dying under the train and then waking up in their living room. (Did we miss any intervening levels?? Or kicks in that process? Maybe.) And then we see Ariadne’s path out of Limbo. Two totally different perspectives. I personally think that it moves the dreamer a layer at a time. But that’s just me.

    Also, about the theory that everything after Cobb’s sedation in Yusuf’s lab, then he would have been dreaming within dreaming himself which makes the dream extremely unstable. Yet the movie’s reality seems very stable, though he really may be sleeping up above with Mal by his bedside trying to shake him awake.

    I can understand this perspective and like it intellectually as it stands up, but it definitely isn’t my opinion. But in regards to a dream within a dream being unstable… we don’t really start seeing instability until much deeper down than two. And I’m of the mind there are kinds of tips that he’s dreaming at layer 1 (or layer zero depending on your opinion).

    Lastly, if everything is a dream, then how is it that his projections aren’t after him consantly (please exclude Cobol) in Paris, on the Airplane, etc?

    I love that. BESIDES ALL THIS EVIDENCE… please explain how it possibly could be! hahah. Mal explained it best when she incredulously asked if he thought it could possibly be real. But, that is using evidence you told me not to use. What about the shrinking alley way? Or the paranoia? The dream machine itself is pretty silly fantastical itself! haha. That alone proves its a dream. But now I’m beginning to point out that we are watching a movie! heheh. Which we are.

    Here’s a theory. Cobb is sitting next to you in the movie theater. Layer Zero. And nods asleep. Wakes up in the movie you two are watching together at layer 1. Voila! hahaha. Sorry, I merely jest.

  96. MPA

    i go by the simple theory of when he is awake he is not wearing his wedding ring and when he is dreaming he is. check it out when he is spinning the totem or stuff like that. that is my take on it.

    so to me he is actually awake in the end. i guess it is all up to the watcher. i really hope inception 2 isn’t going to be corny

  97. Scott Donaldson

    I think the fact we are still having this discussion is a celebration to the power of this movie. Lately I’ve watched several movies that deal with characters who struggle with altered reality (Existenz, Primer and the superb Avalon), and have returned to Inception after a year or so to be reinvigorated by its craftsmanship. The movies I mention above are good, but offer very simple narratives compared to Inception. Often we encounter movies that demand we suspend belief at key points in the plot; usually where the director needs to introduce something random in a story to “turn” the plot towards the conclusion either he, or a screentested audience, requires. Inception is that rare exception of a beautifully crafted piece of art.

    As Nolan has said in various interviews, without the ambiguity (and the final cut on Cobb’s spinning top is a good example) the movie would be more simplistic and not nearly so powerful. Thanks Taylor for taking the time to share your thoughts, and providing a forum for fans to communicate and puzzle through the layers of ambiguity together.

  98. seo

    The very crux of your writing whilst appearing agreeable originally, did not really sit properly with me personally after some time. Someplace throughout the sentences you were able to make me a believer unfortunately just for a short while. I still have a problem with your jumps in logic and one would do well to help fill in all those gaps. In the event that you actually can accomplish that, I would undoubtedly end up being impressed.

  99. Taylor

    Hahahaha!! SEO… you rock!
    I don’t even know what you said! But I love it. If you would like to point out the “jumps in logic” I’d be happy to shore them up – or clarify. I probably need to rewrite the blog from top to bottom to account for some of the comments in this thread. And to change some of the key assumptions.

    I think I really was only positing one thing throughout this entire blog – and that is, Mal was right. Cobb is dreaming actually dreaming. All the rest is semantics. Are there actually 7 layers? No probably not… because Limbo isn’t a layer. And also because Cobb’s Limbo and Saito’s Limbo should be the same. But seven is so much snappier concept to sell than 5. heheh. It is the perfect number. Just saying.

    Thanks for writing SEO!

  100. Andy

    Hi Taylor

    I am posting again after a long time. I have a question about the editing choice in the opening sequence. This thing pricks me each time I watch Inception. Why did Nolan not allow a punch when revealing that the riotous city was a dream as well?

    What I mean is this. In the opening sequence, when Saito says, “That you’re here to steal from me or that we are actually asleep?” a music follows. (We are thus told that this is an ongoing dream.) That is a great shot. Now when they come out of the dream in the riotous South American city we are told after sometime that this is a dream as well. They show the architect sleeping with his headphones on a train. This totally lacks any punch. And always seems like a missed opportunity to me wherein 2 back-to-back jolts could have been given to the audience by progressing something like this…

    Saito falls on the carpet.
    Delivers his dialogue. “Which means I’m not lying on my carpet, in my apartment. You have lived up to your reputation Mr. Cobb. I’m still dreaming”
    Architect looks at Arthur.
    Cut to Architect sleeping on the train with headphones on.

    Now this could have been so much cooler. The edit is however of course the Director’s choice but I would like to know your views.
    Thanks :)

  101. Bea

    I really like your theory and admittedly, until now, I didn’t even consider that the whole film was a dream. However, as elegant and well thought out as your theory is, I am still having trouble reconciling certain details from layer 2 with your theory. Most of them have been addressed by other people, but there is one I still haven’t seen put into words yet. If the whole story is Cobb’s dream, you pointed out that this would explain why Mal keeps showing up to try to get him back, which is fair for every other layer in the film except layer 2. Now, I am unclear as to whether you are arguing that the Mal in this story is a projection of Cobb’s subconscious or if Mal actually enters the dreams to try to get him out. If it is the latter, then why can’t she appear in layer 2. Sure Cobb imagines he sees her, but she never solidly appears as she does in the other dream layers. If it is the former, why would it bother telling him to wake up. Would that be the reality of layer 1 (where Mal is pleading with him to wake up) seeping through into his subconscious? It could go either way, and I figure with out talking to Nolan, we will never know what he truly intended, which is fine too. Just thought I may ask incase anyone had any theories on this particular matter.

  102. Taylor

    Hey Bea,
    Great question and I appreciate your taking time to dive into the discussion. And to everyone else up the chain, my apologies. Been a bit busy of late, and haven’t had nearly enough time to respond to all your in depth treatises here!! But I read them all – and its the best part of my day to see the comments still rolling through on this post. Its obviously struck a nerve! hehehe.

    If the whole story is Cobb’s dream, you pointed out that this would explain why Mal keeps showing up to try to get him back, which is fair for every other layer in the film except layer 2?

    I am not sure if I’ve spoken to this point before or not. The comments on this post have become completely unwieldy, and next to impossible to wade through! But there are two distinct possibilities to this point. The first possibility (and least likely to me) is that Mal is a manifestation of his subconscious and just doesn’t filter all the way up to layer two. Right, I don’t really buy it either.

    The other more plausible possibility would be that in layer 2 (the movie’s reality layer) Cobb believes her dead… and so she is. Let me put it another way. Cobb is dreaming – and in his main dream layer (layer 2) he watched his wife die after inceiving the idea within her they needed surface to the “top” … only they never made it all the way to the top. And in this dream layer – which Cobb believes is reality – he is certain she is dead. He watched it happen. So even if Mal materialized in front of him by dream jumping into Cobb’s reality his brain would explain her away in the dream. And I would argue, maybe she did try to phase into his layer 2 only to be rebuffed by Cobb’s subconscious. Ie – she never fully took shape… it was only in the form of memory that it resonates with Cobb. Not her actually physically manifesting herself in the dream.

    Anyway, I’d love your thoughts on that idea Bea. Kinda makes sense to me, and I’ve thought this for a while now, but not sure if it completely holds up or not. Again, thanks for the quesiton!!


  103. Taylor

    I am posting again after a long time.

    Hey Andy, I remember your posts from back in the day!! Welcome back my friend.

    I have a question about the editing choice in the opening sequence. This thing pricks me each time I watch Inception. Why did Nolan not allow a punch when revealing that the riotous city was a dream as well?

    You asked this question a long time ago and I never really understood it. I’d love for you to reask it another way – but let me take a stab at it anyway… and you tell me if I’m even in the right ballgame. I personally just think it was an editing choice by Nolan. He’d already revealed that it was a dream and he was teaching us something different about the rules of the dream world. He had just used a kick to bring Cobb from Layer two to one (my three to two) with the bath tub. So he taught us that rule already. But having Saito deduce he was dreaming from the weak replica of his apartment teaches us the importance of a good architect… and Ariadne’s role later on. Right? Sure, it lost some of its punch to have the layers bleed into each other, but it also taught us different rules about the dream layers Nolan was creating. (Am I even close to on track here?)

    Feel free if I am missing it!! Again, welcome back Andy. Great to see people coming back occasionally. HEY!! If any of you are getting email updates from the early days of this post can you swing through and say hello? I’m just curious if there are still people getting these updates every day like I am, and reading them even if they haven’t posted in a while.


  104. Craig

    You hear the top start to stop spinning as the credits role hence he is not dreaming

  105. Taylor

    No no no – this is a myth. Just watched the end of the copy i have on my iPhone version (ripped from the blu-ray) as well as a theater video cap and both did NOT have audio of the top spinning down.

    Anyone else have a copy they can check real fast? This rumor needs to be squelched rapidly. It makes no sense that Nolan would have done that at all…

  106. Rag Ball

    OMG! And we are still… HERE.

    The top stopped spinning after Cobb gave Ariadne a “dream” tour. What does that tell you?

  107. Val Gunn

    Late to the game, but wanted to say this a very good and thoughtful thread. I loved the movie and believe somewhat similarly that the entire film is Cobb’s dream.

    Here is a brief rundown of what, in my opinion, has possibly occurred.

    Mal is real, and she is the one trying to wake Cobb. But feelings of regret, despair, and guilt stand in the way of his waking. I’m unsure, but thinking that they went through a nasty divorce and Cobb sees Mal as an antagonist.

    Cobb is in a coma. This was the result of a car accident that [inconclusive] took the lives of his two children. He was initially awake at the time of the incident, before shock and injury slipped his body and mind into the coma. In that state of limited awareness, he believes that his children to be dead. Awaking from the dream will force him to face the reality and horror of the consequences suffered in the accident. He cannot bring himself to do this. By staying in the dream, he can always be with his kids.

    There was a cool short film called World Builder that is a very interesting watch:


    There are strong Jungian aspects to the film and lets suppose that these innermost characteristics exist within the collective unconscious (the deepest state within ourselves). The other characters in the film were just different segments of himself. Jung lists seven such archetypes:

    1. The Persona is the image you present to the world in your waking life. It is your public mask. In the dream world, the persona is represented by the Self. The Self may or may not resemble you physically or may or may not behave as your would. For example, the persona can appear as a scarecrow or a beggar in your dream. However, you still know that this “person” in your dream is you.

    2. The Shadow is the rejected and repressed aspects of yourself. It is the part of yourself that you do not want the world to see because it is ugly or unappealing. It symbolizes weakness, fear, or anger. In dreams, this figure is represented by a stalker, murderer, a bully, or pursuer. It can be a frightening figure or even a close friend or relative. Their appearance often makes you angry or leaves you scared. They force you to confront things that you don’t want to see or hear. You must learn to accept the shadow aspect of yourself for its messages are often for your own good, even though it may not be immediately apparent.

    3. The Anima / Animus is the female and male aspects of yourself. Everyone possess both feminine and masculine qualities. In dreams, the anima appears as a highly feminized figure, while the animus appears as a hyper masculine form. Or you may dream that you are dressed in women’s clothing, if you are male or that you grow a beard, if you are female. These dream imageries appear depending on how well you are able to integrate the feminine and masculine qualities within yourself. They serve as a reminder that you must learn to acknowledge or express your masculine (be more assertive) or feminine side (be more emotional).

    4. The Divine Child is your true self in its purest form. It not only symbolizes your innocence, your sense of vulnerability, and your helplessness, but it represents your aspirations and full potential. You are open to all possibilities. In the dreamscape, this figure is represented by a baby or young child.

    5. The Wise Old Man /Woman is the helper in your dreams. Represented by a teacher, father, doctor, priest or some other unknown authority figure, they serve to offer guidance and words of wisdom. They appear in your dream to steer and guide you into the right direction.

    6. The Great Mother is the nurturer. The Great Mother appears in your dreams as your own mother, grandmother, or other nurturing figure. She provides you with positive reassurance. Negatively, they may be depicted as a witch or old bag lady in which case they can be associated with seduction, dominance and death. This juxtaposition is rooted in the belief by some experts that the real mother who is the giver of life is also at the same time jealous of our growth away from her.

    7. The Trickster, as the name implies, plays jokes to keep you from taking yourself too seriously. The trickster may appear in your dream when you have overreach or misjudge a situation. Or he could find himself in your dream when you are uncertain about a decision or about where you want to go in life. The trickster often makes you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, sometimes mocking you or exposing you to your vulnerabilities. He may take on subtle forms, sometimes even changing its shape.

    Now the trick is trying to link the film characters to these archetypes.

    Here is another link that delved into this very subject:


    Highlights from the article:

    Mal/The Shade as The Shadow Archetype

    One of Jung’s most prominent archetypes is the shadow, which is mostly the darker side of oneself projected into an entity. This archetype can be represented as many different figures, from people to animals that might have haunted you in your childhood. The way archetypes work is like this: they aren’t really the shape that you see but more a feeling or emotion that is transformed into an entity that we can relate to, and the shadow archetype represents the worst parts of ourselves and the evil that lurks within us. So, if you’re still following me here, then you’ll know that Mal is certainly the evil that lurks within Dom. I mean, it’s even in her name, (Mal in Latin means evil, after all).

    But let’s look even deeper. As we know, Mal is already dead by the first time we see her in Saito’s dream on the Shinkansen. She killed herself after she thought that limbo was still reality and that the world she lived in was all a lie. As we know, she only thinks this because Dom Cobb performed Inception on her and he feels that he is the cause of her death, so his dark side is manifested in Mal, who might as well just be a literal shadow because she follows him everywhere he goes, much like a shadow would. This leads to disastrous results, like in the form of a freight train through the streets or as an assassin in the snow. Mal in every way is the darker side of Cobb that he can’t contain, and that’s what makes her such a threat, because deep down, he knows that she’s really the worst side of himself, and everything she does affects the rest of his innermost archetypes.

    Arthur/The Point Man as The Hero Archetype

    Let’s face it, even though Dom Cobb is the star of the show, he’s hardly the hero. He’s more like a broken down sad sack dealing with shameful emotional issues caused by his dominant shadow (See above). But Arthur, who is willing to take on an onslaught of bad guys in a constantly shifting hallway so his friends can enter into a deeper dream state, is pure hero material, especially when he runs the risk of being “killed” and sent to limbo in such a heavily sedated state.

    Arthur is everything Dom wishes he could be but can’t because he has so many ghosts following him around. He gets to kiss the girl, save the day (Notice that he’s one of the first ones to wake up in the submerged car and pull the others to safety), and doesn’t fail in his mission to lead the bad guys away from his friends. While Dom, on the other hand, fails in every way, even allowing his shadow/Mal to “kill” Fischer Jr. from behind, which compromises the entire mission. So, if we’re keeping track of our Archetype discussion, that would mean that Arthur is also Dom, but the part of him that is brave and courageous and willing to put his life on the line for his friends. He doesn’t have any excess baggage. He’s just all business, and all kickass.

    Saito/The Tourist as the Father Archetype

    The father archetype is a very strong figure in the human psyche, as it’s one that gets what it wants and has a great deal of control in the person he inhabits. And in every way, that’s what Saito is, acting almost as a dues ex machina by the end of the film with his ability to literally overturn the law so that Dom can return to America. Saito would be the side of Dom’s character that would be authoritative and demanding. In other words, he would be the boss when it got right down to things. We already see that Dom’s not the boss of his own team as his second architect doesn’t even follow his instructions when he tells her not to go deeper into his mind. She does just that and sees what Mal is really capable of doing within him. So in that way, Dom has very little control over his circumstances, while Saito is exactly the opposite—he gets what he wants and knows how to get it.

    Note that not only did he convince Dom to plant inception in a business competitor’s mind, but he also got to tag along with the others as a tourist, which is highly dangerous and a definite risk factor in a mission like this. Saito gets whatever he wants. So is it any wonder why he gets shot so early in the mission? Dom can’t deal with a figure like that right now within himself, as he has his own problems to deal with. If anything, he needs a strongly based mother archetype, one who will take care of him and not demand too much out of him. Unfortunately, there isn’t one to be found in this movie, making his catharsis that much harder.

    Eames/The Forger as The Trickster Archetype

    The Trickster Archetype is deceptive and shady, and Eames is the shadiest of them all. Working as a forger in reality and as a shape shifter in the dream world (even switching genders at one point to lead the target off-guard, which is VERY Trickster-esque), Eames is the side of Dom that can still laugh at itself and crack a smile, but also the great deceiver that can’t tell reality from a dream. The Trickster is very prominent in the film in that Dom lies to not only his team but also himself, believing that he has everything under control when he knows deep down that he’s a complete and utter mess.

    It’s in Eames’ dream in the snow fortress that Dom is truly confronted with his shadow, and it’s at that point that he knows that he can’t lie to himself anymore. The Trickster proves it to him by putting his shadow front and center there for him. And with his shadow “killing” Fischer, she is also killing the child within him (More on that in a second).

    Robert Fischer Jr./The Mark as The Child Archetype

    Robert Fischer Jr. just wants acceptance from his father, and like the child archetype, he is the side of Dom who desires to be innocent again. Note that when Fischer’s safe opens, he pulls out the pinwheel that he had in the picture with his dad. This side of Dom is very tricky to discuss as Dom actually deceives the child within him by lying to Fischer at the bar and claiming that the images he sees are really trying to kill him when their purpose is to actually save him from dream thieves, Dom being one of them.

    This leads me to believe that Dom is trying to move on from the helpless side of himself by this part in the movie and doesn’t want that innocence to hold back. He wants to be more like the father archetype and have control. But Dom can’t reach catharsis by subduing his archetypes, and by bringing Fischer back from the dead in the end, it allows him to open his safe, which I definitely think is tantamount to Dom’s rebirth, which is a part of what the child archetype represents within the dreamer, a new beginning. So yeah, it’s some pretty heady stuff.

    Ariadne/The Architect as The Anima Archetype

    The Anima is the feminine side within a male (Whereas, the animus, would be the male side within a female) and she represents who a male truly is rather than who he presents himself as in reality, and in many ways, what that’s what Ariadne represents for Dom. Out of all the other characters in the movie, she’s the closest to being who he really is—note, all of the details he tells her are basically the same details he’s telling us, too, with the audience being a part of who he is, as well, being that we’re living inside his head while we watch the movie—and she’s also an architect, which Dom once was too before his shadow became overbearing.

    Think about it, it’s Ariadne who goes with him into limbo when everyone else has to stay behind. She’s the one who tries to pull him away from his darker side and get him to move on so he can be himself again. She’s basically a young Cobb with a vagina. I don’t know how else to explain it.

    Miles/The Mentor as The Wise Old Man Archetype

    Miles, Dom’s father-in-law, is the wise old man within himself, and believe it or not, this might be the most complex archetype of all to explain. This is almost a paradox of sorts really (Like those twisting stairs in the movie), in that he is both knowledge incarnate, but also the teacher within himself that is able to take in his anima as a student. I don’t know. I really can’t wrap my head around this one. Maybe you can do a better job.

    Yusef/The Chemist as The Self

    The self represents both the conscious and the unconscious worlds within oneself, and that’s what Yusef is in this mission for Dom. He is both the link to reality and the also harbinger into the dream world. By being the initial dream that his team enters within, believe it or not, I think Yusef might be the closest to who Dom really is as an individual by having all of these archetypes swimming inside himself. Remember, Yusef is the only other one who knows about Limbo on the onset, as Dom must have been dabbling with chemicals himself to get to that sort of state with his wife. So it is in Yusef that we have the whole to the other segmented sections of Dom, and by allowing his other archetypes to sink deep within him, he is allowing them to all come to grips with each other.

    Anyways, some food for thought!

  108. Eames

    I don’t agree.
    There are only five. The two limbo’s are one – but separate since Cobb and Saito’s buildings are different.
    The real world IS the real world – we can see it in the end. It wobbles. And the ring is not there in the end scenes, which is the ultimate proof that the real world IS the real world. Sorry for the spoiler… :)

  109. Taylor

    Hey Eames,
    One question – if my layer 6 & 7 are the same then why does Cobb wash up on the shore of Saito’s world? If Limbo is a collective layer why does it appear to travel there in the same
    method he arrived at his own limbo? As far as your ring observation goes that bit o trivia has been so widely discussed throughout these comments I can’t bear recovering the topic again.


  110. Gloria

    Loving the thread. A little late but this movie never stops me from thinking. I am almost convinced that Cobb was dreaming the whole time, just that, why do they wake up on level 2 after they die in limbo? (‘They’ being Cobb and Mal) If your level 1 is their reality, then shouldn’t they wake up there?

  111. pocket gopher control

    I do consider all the concepts you’ve introduced in your post. They are very convincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are too quick for novices. Could you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

  112. Jane

    I too am convinced that Cobb is in a dream/delusion the whole time. And I think the ‘real’ reality is –
    Mal died by committing suicide.
    Cobb was injured in his attempt to prevent her death and passed into a coma.
    Their children are in hospital by his side trying to wake him.
    Part of Cobb’s mind wants to die and go away to Mal wherever she is.. And part of his mind wants to wake up for the sake of the children.
    The movie/delusion is a depiction of this mental struggle.
    Anyone else made the same inference ?

  113. Taylor

    No – think about it a minute. If Cobb is dreaming about spies and technology that lets them dream jump – when they wake up they will bounce to the level where dreaming jumping is allowed. Which is the base of the dream – my level 2. Right? It wouldn’t drop them off in real reality – that would only happen if he woke up… But there is something wrong and he isn’t waking up. Coma?

    And Jane, I buy your theory but prefer to think that Mal’s suicide just woke her into reality and she is waiting there beside him. Or more consistent would be that Mal was always there by his side and she was just a dream construct (like everyone else) throughout.

    But there’s apart of me that doesn’t want to go that deep into the rabbit hole. Can the dream technology exist without saying everything is a dream? I think so, but then the technology takes them arbitrarily to l2… But that’s lame. So dream it is!

  114. Jane

    The reason I think Mal died in reality is because there are repeated references to her suicide in the movie. In contrast there are no references to the children dying in any of the dream levels.
    Another theory would be : Mal & Cobb attempted suicide together. Mal died but Cobb survived and is being treated in hospital.

    We don’t realise we are in a dream until we wake up. Maybe we won’t know what life really is until we die. Death is the true awakening ?
    I know I am rambling but this movie makes me go on & on..

  115. Simon

    There’s just one thing holding me up from subscribing to the “Cobb is still dreaming” interpretation and that is as follows:

    If Mal is alive in reality (or level zero), by Cobb’s side, then why wouldn’t she just play music or throw water on him to “kick” him awake?. Has this been touched on?. Maybe I haven’t read closely enough.

  116. Taylor

    Hey Simon,
    Yeah – we have talked about that at length. Didn’t I even speak to that a bit in the blog itself? If not, I should update it. Regardless, its a critical question definitely.

    If Mal is alive in reality (or level zero), by Cobb’s side, then why wouldn’t she just play music or throw water on him to “kick” him awake?. Has this been touched on?. Maybe I haven’t read closely enough.

    But once someone has dropped into a deep enough state to head to limbo – then all bets are off from a reviving standpoint. We see Cobb and Saito fighting for their lives to remember and the crew can do nothing to help them out. Right? So it is completely up to Cobb to remember and wake up.

    Or accidentally kill himself trying to get to level zero! hahah.

  117. theauthor

    So are you saying that Mal enters Cobb’s world as Saito???
    If so, why isn’t this more clearly shown? (other than the leap of faith part)

    I have always felt that Cobb’s world is a bit askew.
    His view of going up or down levels in the dream world are based on his concept of reality.
    (For example, the elevator…was it going up or down by the charges?)

    Who stabbed Ari if that level was not just one level below reality but two?
    Why did Arthur fully believe that Mal was dead?
    (Is Dom actually Arthur?)

    Great stuff here. How did I not find this until now?)

    Also, is it possible that Eames has entered the final level with Dom, fischer, and Ari and is pretending to be Mal? (Reverse psychology..’Stay here with me’ helps implant the idea in Dom that he has to leave this Mal for good and not stay in Limbo to be with her.

  118. Taylor

    Hey author… What?!

    So are you saying that Mal enters Cobb’s world as Saito???

    I have no idea as to what you are saying here at all. Sorry. You are too quick for me by a factor apparently. The basic premise is simple – Mal was right, they hadn’t awoken to reality yet from their ascent from Limbo. They were one shy. And her suicide returned her to reality. And Cobb is still trapped. That’s really all it is.

    No? Too simple?

  119. Zachary

    I’ve a WordPress blog with Arras theme. This site strangely shows different on different computers. On some computers, I see all 3 columsn, on other PC, I see only 1. On other PCs, some wiered things. Please somebody help me..

  120. Taylor Holmes

    It just depends on the screen resolution size. If you go to a computer where you can see all three, then resize the window to be half the size. What happens? The third column disappears, right? And by the way, you landed on my Inception blog chief – definitely an off topic post! hahaha. Possibly the most off topic posts ever.


  121. Shin

    Hi taylor! First of all sorry for my poor english, not my mother language.
    I have 3 questions for you

    1.Based on your theory when Mal and Cobb commit suicide in the limbo they don’t wake up totally. Why? And if they are stuck in the dream, it’s possible that when Saito and Cobb killed each other in the final scenes, they don’t wake up, but are in a dream again on the plane?

    2.If Mal is awake and Cobb not, why she doesn’t simply dream again or send someone to kill him in the first level in attempt to wake up him?
    Maybe he simply can’t wake up because he’s in a coma?

    3.If Cobb is dreaming… are Arthur, Ariadne and others a dream, or they are real? But more importantly, she’s Mal real or not?

    Sorry again for my bad english!

    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey Shin,
      Your English is brilliant. You don’t even want to see my try pig-latin, let alone a second language. Great job! Let me see if I can try and answer your questions:

      1. That is probably the single best question that could blow a hole in the theory. It’s good. I’ve discussed else where in the comments section this problem I think. I think that the only real solution to this question is that you have to traverse each level all the way back to the top in order to return to reality. It is weird that Limbo seems to not follow the normal rules… and it would make more sense if it did.

      2. That is exactly what she is doing. Every time we see her she is joining into the dream in order to convince him to return home. Yeah, coma, could be it… And she did try to kill him more than once! haha. You agree with me! hahaha.

      3. They may or may not be real. It would be impossible to know if we have never actually seen reality – the top layer! haha.

      Thanks again for swinging by and saying hello Shin.

  122. Shin

    Thanks for your response Taylor, Appreciated!

    The more i think about the movie, more questions pop on my mind…

    1. If in order to escape the limbo you have to travel all the levels back to the top, when Mal and Cobb commit suicide, they wake up in the superior level, not in the supposed reality. If Cobb didn’t realize it (because the top is influenced by his mind), then the movie reality is located in pre-limbo level, not in the top level before real world… this make no sense for me, because in the inception job, they traverse 3 dream levels. Really can’t understand!

    2. When Cobb perform inception on Mal, he plant the idea in her that she’s dreaming. And when they supposedly wake up, she still have the doubt on her mind. She commit suicide another time in order to wake up. At this point, if she’s in real world, maybe she’s not satisfied and want to suicide one more time because she think is another dream. How can we tell that Mal is still alive?

    Thanks for your time Taylor =)

  123. Taylor Holmes

    Hey Shin,
    Yes – you are getting it. Question 1 is correct. I believe that the job started on level 2 and went from down to 3 – 5. The main reason I believe this is because of the paranoia and the unreal “movie-like” quality of his life. That feeling that everyone is out to get him etc. So ultimately it may be that all of the dream layer technology is a dream altogether and our poor Cobb is in a coma waiting to wake up. I don’t really like that answer, but it could be. I prefer to think that he just missed his stop and needed one more exit to get there.

    And yes, you are right, if you committed suicide one too many times that would be a problem. But that’s the whole point of the dilemma. Is he at the top or not? She’s convinced they aren’t and exits. She tried to trap him in to making the right decision. But ultimately he prefers the world of the dream instead. I love that he believes he is the enlightened one, when actually its Mal who truly understands.

    hahah. It’s a fun movie to discuss anyway. Did you see The Edge of Tomorrow? Awesome movie. Check out my spoiler filled walk through after you see it!

  124. Shin

    Hey Taylor,
    Edge of Tomorrow is on my list, but not right now.
    I’m looking for Memento and The Prestige, never seen them!
    By the way right now i’m watching Primer, maybe we can discuss it in your related blog after i’ve finished.
    See you Taylor, and thanks again for the explanation

  125. Taylor Holmes

    Don’t talk to me! Don’t talk to anyone! Concentrate on the screen Shin! Primer is the best movie ever! Don’t ruin it by reading here! hahahah. What a great movie.

  126. Taylor Holmes

    Hey there everyone –
    long time no talk. Hopefully you are doing well. I finally posted my Interstellar review out at http://bit.ly/18OhUOw – I’m sure if it even got half the conversation going that we had here it will have been a success. Take care gang! And don’t be a stranger.


  127. Dissembly

    I did a bit of a read-through of the comments, and I am not sure if what I’m going to say is covered here, but it occured to me on re-watching this movie the other week.

    Whatever the nature of the “real” world in the movie is, Cobb is absolutely unreliable: we see his memories, and they are false! Especially the memory of Mal’s suicide by jumping.

    Remember, he walks into the hotel room, then sees her threatening to jump from a window across the way. Not from the hotel room he was in – from an opposing hotel room window. The movie slips this past us, Prestige-like, in plain sight, without questioning it.

    If he is remembering a real event, then she must have jumped from the window that he was at, and then his memory distanced himself from it by editing itself to place her in an opposite window. memory absolutely works this way. It’s also a perfect example of dream-logic!

    Otherwise you are claiming she rented out two opposing hotel rooms, then tricked him into coming into one of those two rooms, to fake her murder by then jumping from a room that he doesn’t have access to. Or: she rented a massive hotel room that bends around the corner, and instead of going to the window to save her, Cobb hung around at the opposite window and made no effort to actually physically reach her. Both of these interpretations are unbeleivable.

    So his memories are fake. This opens the strong possibility that Mal is absolutely alive even if you *don’t* think that the “real world” in a dream.

    The next memory we keep revisiting in the movie is Cobb leaving his home and his children. It seems pretty contrived too. The obsession with not seeing their faces. The idea he has to leave “right now”, the convenient presentation of the plane tickets. Real life doesn’t work like that. Overdramatised, emotionally charged false memories work like that (and dreams).

    I think Mal left him in some way, their marriage is broken somehow. His speech to her projection, at the end, about how the projection doesn’t even come close to how intelligent or subtle the real woman was, felt like it had a massive amount of truth in it. I think he really has lost her – as in, some kind of break-up.

    The element of her framing him for her murder makes me think of a messy divorce where love has turned to hate, where the formerly loved partner plays dirty – and there are kids involved, so some sort of custody battle probably happened. Why couldnt she really have framed him for murder? Beleive it or not, murder is illegal outside US borders as well. I highly doubt the globe-trotting Cobb is just unable to get back to the US (and the US alone) because he’ll be jailed for murder there, and only there. Interpol exists.

    Either he is dreaming about that break-up, and this is what the entire movie really is, or the first level really is reality, and he has tricked himself (like Teddy in Memento) by messing with his subconcious to the point that he remembers an emotionally devastating separation of some kind as an elaborate suicide plot where he is framed for murder.

    I think Inception is a natural continuation of Memento (crossed with The Prestige). Nolan knows (because of Memento) of the idea that memories are not “recordings”, they are “reconstructions”. Many of the descriptions he has characters give of the way dreams work are also descriptions of the way memories work (the emphasis on powerful emotions being good at fixing your ideas, and the idea that positive emotions trump, but also the basic idea of tricking someone into thinking they came up with something when it was actually put there by someone else).

    I am also completely convinced of the interpretation that Inception is about movie-making (Yusuf the special effects guy “did you guys see that?!?” who dreams about a car chase, Arthur the producer who dreams of a swanky hotel, Eames the actor who dreams about being James Bond, Ariadne the student set-designer, Cobb the director, Fischer the audience), and that the title, “Inception”, is a literal description for the whole point of film-making. I forget where i first read this intepretation, but I think it is spot-on.

    But going FURTHER with that, lets look at the movie’s “reality”, which you argue is the first level of Cobb’s actual dream. The chase scene, with the alleyway closing in around Cobb, blew me away in the theatre – I remember turning to my partner and whispering excitedly “thats exactly what dreams feel like!”

    The characters comment that you know you’re dreaming when you can’t remember how you got to where you area, and this seems to happen over and over again in the “real” world.

    So I think there is some truth to what you’re saying, but I don’t think it is really a dream inside the world of the movie. I think the movie’s reality is reality. Cobb escapes international conspiracies, he has some estrangement with his wife (though I doubt she is dead and I doubt he is wanted for murder) that he feels intense guilt about, and can’t let go of her. He is a dream thief pulling off a heist with a bunch of cool characters. I think this is meant to be real, and I know Nolan has said that people who obsess about whether the top stopped spinning at the end are missing the point of the sudden cut-off of that shot.

    So if I beleive that Cobb’s reality is the movie’s true reality, but I also beleive that many aspects of that reality are deliberately presented to us as being dream-like by Christopher Nolan, then how do you reconcile these two contradictory views (another recurring motif, by the way)?

    I think what Nolan is saying is that MOVIES ARE DREAMS.

    Inception is amazing. The psychological insight of memento combined with the misdirection of The Prestige.

  128. Jak

    Hi, I liked your theory, but there are questions I want to expose:

    If Cobb is lving inside a dream, and Mal is outside. Why wouldn’t she just wake him up in the same way other were awaken from their dream?


  129. Deadpool

    Taylor – Great theories for the initial release of the film. However, Nolan himself has stated that there is no ambiguity and that the totem at the very end does stop spinning, AND that Cobb is most definitely in the real world with his children at the end. It was cleverly crafted to crate doubt but he has since put all other theories to bed. So that’s it, Game. Over.

    Goodnight and good luck.

    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey there Deadpool…
      Remind me where I can see this? This quote of Nolan’s that unequivocally shows he said that the top stops spinning? He would never ever say that. Obviously. Because it ruins the magic of his movie making. He instills doubt in absolutely everything that he creates in order to make you think. By telling the audience the “answer” he would be neutering his own creation.

      Oh I’m sorry, I’m prattling on. You were getting a link to a video, or a post or some evidence somewhere that we could all read?

      • Deadpool

        Comments were made during an interview for a European news outlet while promoting the film Interstellar. Took me all of five minutes to find it online. I’m not your lackey so feel free to find it yourself since you appear to have a lot if time on your what hands, having taken the time to create such absurd theories such as this one.
        FWIW, I have a personal connection to Nolan as he is a close family member on my brother in-law’s side. Believe what you will but this topic has come up at gatherings and he has candidly revealed the true ending. Be skeptical if you want but I wouldn’t dare leave any info that is traceable back to me or him. So believe me or not. Your choice. (I know a stubborn SOB like you will choose ignorance btw).

        Once again, your theory is fun, but dead wrong.

        Good night and good luck.

  130. Deadpool

    Apologies for the typos, lads. Still getting used to this mobile phone. Happy Sunday!

    Goodnight and good luck.

  131. Christopher Nolan's Ten Movies Ranked Top to Bottom

    […] THinc. Take: Inception is an inside out question about what if reality is really real, and how real is a truly awake dream state? What is reality really? And what happens when you invert reality layer after layer after layer? It is a mind blowing ride. More info here. […]

  132. Rishabh

    So the only question I’ve always wondered whenever I’ve watched this movie(3 Times now), Is if Mal & Cobb, just got out of the Limbo by just killing themselves, Why can’t Saito do the same?.. And why do they make a huge deal of getting stuck in the Limbo, Specially Cobb. He said in the movie, the only reason he incepted the idea of “Dying together, to go to reality” into Mal, was coz she was getting too comfortable in the limbo. So he knew all along, that dying in limbo takes you back, then why be scared of Limbo in the first place! And why was Saito stuck there at all!

    And about the argument, of they took such a “sedation”, [that’s why dying takes you to limbo, and you’ll be stuck there, until the limbo time is up(which never ends supposedly] was present here, and wasn’t in Mal & Cobb’s case, how can that be true, because, they mentioned specifically, in order to get to even layer 3, you need to be heavily sedated, which means Mal & Cobb also used similar kind of sedation. Am I wrong?
    Am I missing something?

    P.S. – You Idea of a separate “Reality” Layer, and all the movie was just a “dream” in itself, is so compelling, that I’m sure, everyone reading this had their mind tickled! And it surely can be one of the possibilities of why did Nolan cut the film before the totem fell(or didn’t fall). Moments Like these, where completely different and completely plausible explanations can co-exist for a movie’s ending, make you admire the Brilliance of the Man’s Direction skills!

  133. mahmood

    hi. who can tell me about people, in first layer and after fall of van in water? all the crew must wait for one week in first layer? or some of them awake ,and just cop and syto , were sleep for 10 hours?

  134. Soloman

    Hi Taylor,Interesting Blog this.
    I saw the movie back when it released,and decided to watch it again very recently.It’s quite easily the most creative and artistic film made(probably ever be made,only nolan can top this),apart from being incredibly emotionally engaging with the cinematography and most importantly the Background music throughout the film(which I feel was underrated).

    I saw the film again,and like almost anyone there is no certainty about what actually happens in the film.I’ve read about three hours of your various blogs on this film with the arguments and I need to ask the basic questions which have not entirely been verified and there still seems to be some confusion.I do hope you/anyone else answer these questions with your knowledge of the film with references/quotes/finest details within the movie as that’s our only tool to possibly come to a conclusion.I want to come to a conclusion,but I can’t if I can’t even get past the basics.

    1.The totem – What exactly is the purpose of the totem.You’ve confused me in your blogs to saying that the totem makes you realise whether your in your own dream or someone else’s dream(is there a reference within the movie that says this).However,from the movie and other comments it seems that it helps you realise whether your in a dream or in a reality(Ariadne says when she hols the chess piece in her hand).There’s a u huge difference between the two.
    2)Cobb’s totem – What exactly is his totem?How can you all assume that the spinning top is Cobb’s totem.Dosen’t he say that totem is actually Mal’s creation and as a result it’s her totem.a totem is unique to one single person,as only him/her must be able to feel the weight/balance of the object.So when Leo is spinning the totem,how do you know it works for him?But again Nolan confuses the hell out of us by giving so much significance to it.he ends the movie with the spinning top(presuming it to be leo’s totem).But how is it his,if it’s mal’s.For all we know that totem was being duplicated/manipulated by mal the entire time if they shared the totem.
    3)Mal’s inception – It’s clear the cobb wanted to incept Mal’s mind with the idea that she was still dreaming and had to come out of reality.But HOW DID HE ACTUALLY DO IT?He says that she had kept something hidden far away in some safe in the house.There a totem is shown to be inside the safe.So was the totem actually Cobb’s creation in order to incept mal?(I’m guessing).
    4)Limbo – Is there only one or more layers of Limbo.When someone is in Limbo it’s almost impossible to distinguish it being a reality or a dream.So can you realise your in limbo and still continue to stay there.He says cob and mal were in limbo for 50 years(during this time did leo know that he was in limbo,Did mal know?It seems she was too detached which is why leo decided to try inception.If yes,how does one go into a deeper layer of Limbo.Taylor presumes that there are two layers of limbo in the end but Cobb is quoted as saying “I have to find saito HERE”.You do raise good points about him being washed away on the beach like that though.How does one come out of limbo.Is it natural death/is it suicide/is it a kick.How does ariadne go back to the van jumping level whereas fisher goes back to the snow layer.First of all – When cobb and ariadne decide to dream share(do they actually go into Limbo) which is where ariadne pushes fisher and a few seconds later jumps herself.If that’s limbo,how do they know that they are in Limbo.Isn’t the whole point of Limbo not being able to figure out that you are in it(or atleast quickly enough).

    Obviously,I have a lot more questions but i’d appreciate it if you could overcome the basics.Please don’t refer some other blog,if you want to answer it in short it’s fine but do so.

    Believe you me as I’ve said I’ve spend a lot of time reading on your various blogs.I think your theories of it all being a dream is a tad too far fetched.There’s not solid enough Proof.

    Although anything is possible which is the whole point of the film in order to keep the audiences guessing.


  135. chris f.

    “Currently crafting a theory that interweaves Sammy Jenkis, Bordon & Fallon and Cobb all into a unifying theory of all things. Basically this theory posits that Memento was the first movie in this story line. The Prestige is the next. And Inception is the final – the cap-stone to this larger oeuvre. You’ll see. It’ll be brilliant!”

    Has this come to fruition? Its been so long since I’ve seen Memento(which stars Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano aka Trinity and Cypher from the Matrix movies). Not too long since I’ve watch The Prestige.. but I had not realized Christopher Nolan is behind all three movies. Also premise of a magic trick as described in The Prestige is about 3 “acts” vis a vie the three movies! As you can see I really need your mentioned theory for sake of my sanity.


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