10 Troubling Inception Questions

Welcome to the biggest 10 Inception Questions – Over the past several weeks I have found myself in the middle of numerous discussions surrounding Christopher Nolan’s wonderful movie Inception.  I’ve discussed the various totems within the movie and how they work.  The numerous dream layers and their possible meanings.  I’ve discussed various infographics and debated the best infographics online.  And I’ve even charted the various totems used throughout the movie.  All this to say, we’ve had a great time discussing this movie in its entirety.  And if you’d like to, grab this amazing movie.

So, after all this chatter and theorizing I thought I’d assemble the most interesting and intriguing questions about the movie right here in one easy to read post.  Obviously – I’m open to including the questions and answers you think are the most beguiling.  All you have to do is list them below and I’ll pull them together for a round two.  So with all that said – let’s start our quest investigation of the 10 Inception Questions that are the stickiest…

10 Inception Questions - #1

What are the dreaming rules within Inception?

[ANSWER] – There are very specific rules surrounding how the world of the dream works.  Rules as to how you enter and leave a dream.  Rules surrounding Limbo and also for leaving Limbo too.  Basically they amount to:

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

Obviously these different rules fold back in on themselves as the situation becomes more complex and the location of the dreamer becomes in question.  Some of these will come up later on in the list here – but for now this is a good basic framework to work with.

10 Inception Questions - #2

What exactly is Limbo?

[Answer] – Limbo is defined within the movie as “Unstructured Dream Space”.  The only way Limbo is filled is if there was previous inhabitants who filled it from previous visits.  Which, of course, Cobb was the last visitor there.  So it has been filled with Mal’s disintegrating city and it is that city we see falling into the ocean upon Ariadne & Cobb’s arrival.

10 Inception Questions - #3

Who dreams each dream in your dream diagram?

[Answer]- The dream within the dream within a dream business can get pretty confusing really very fast.  And even some of the characters within the movie even comment on it – like when Ariadne objected – “Wait, who’s dream exactly are we going into?”  So, in an effort to clarify the various layers and their dream spaces here is a list of the dreamers for each.  And please make sure, if you get confused, to consult the 7 layer dream diagram I created.

– Level One – Reality – Dreamer: No one

– Level Two – Inception’s “Reality” – Dreamer: Cobb

– Level Three – Van Chase – Dreamer:  Yusaf’s

– Layer Four – Hotel/Bar – Dreamer: Arthur

– Layer Five – Snow Fortress – Dreamer: Fischer Jr.

– Layer Six – Cobb’s Limbo – Dreamer: Ariadne?

– Layer Seven – Saito’s Limbo – Dreamer: Saito

Obviously it is unclear which of the two, Ariadne or Cobb actually execute the dream when leaving the Snow Fortress – so this is unclear.  Others have argued that neither Limbo locations have a dreamer as they are shared dream space.  Which very well could be true.  Which leads us to our next question.

How do Ariadne & Cobb get to Limbo?

[Answer] – Think back to the Snow Fortress.  There on the floor as Ariadne begins to posit how they could salvage the entire mission – they could dream down another layer, find him, and kick back all the way to the surface with everyone else.  We saw a dream machine on the floor.  They basically intimated that they didn’t commit suicide to get down to Limbo (which is possible) they actually dreamed down another layer into Limbo.

Now as for the Saito bit – that is a little more complicated.  There are three different possibilities here and it basically depends on how you think Limbo works as to which one is the correct answer.  But ultimately either Cobb shot himself, dove another dream layer deeper or hoofed it on foot to find him.  Cobb’s shooting himself makes zero sense if Cobb really is in Limbo and not in a dream state.  We just watched Ariadne jump and wake up in the Van Chase layer.  So this option can’t be right.  Cobb’s dreaming himself another layer deeper is very plausible, but we don’t see a dream machine near by like we did in the Snow Fortress.  Cobb’s hiking himself around Limbo until he found Saito is a bit of a stretch.  The walk-about option suffers dramatically in that we actually see Cobb get spat up on the beach of Saito’s Limbo layer at the beginning of the movie.

So, with that said, now you know why in my dream layer map I went with the second option.  Even though we don’t see a dream machine it’s the only option that really makes any sense.  Cobb must have dreamed down one more layer to get Saito back.  Definitely open to hearing other theories here, but it makes the most sense to me.

10 Inception Questions - #5

What happens when the main dreamer wakes up?

[Answer] -You would think that either everyone would wake up, or that everything populated by the dreamer’s brain would disappear.  But what happens is a little different.  Basically the dream begins to unravel and it takes more sedative to try and keep the mark under.  Remember the initial dream sequences at the beginning of the movie?  Two layers, one was the architect, the other was Arthur.  But Cobb cuts his time in his own dream short with a bullet to the head.  This sends him up a layer.  But that then means that the dream gets unpredictable and all wobbly-like.  And Arthur goes running to Saito while he was dreaming in an attempt to juice him up a bit more and keep him under.

The second bit of the question is brought to us by Coexist – and its quite a bit more theoretical than the previous answer.  Because we never saw the Mark wake up first, everything we posit here will be conjecture.  But my guess is that it would be exactly like when the team went to inspect a dream space?  They walked the streets of the dream and there was no one there.  The Mark enters the dream and fills it with his psyche & projections.  If he were to awaken, the team would be left standing there with an empty architected dream space on their hands and no one to bamboozle.

10 Inception Questions - #6

How do the totems work?

[Answer] – This is such a huge question I wrote an entire blog to discuss the various Totems throughout inception.  But, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.  Totems were created by Mal as a way to keep track of when you were in someone else’s dream and when you were in reality.  Because dreaming was so realistic it became possible that you maybe getting manipulated by a dreamer and you would never know.  Without a totem that is.  The various totems identified in the movie:

Mal – Spinning Top

Eames – Poker Chips

Ariadne – Chess Bishop Piece

Arthur – Loaded Dice

Cobb – Mal’s Top

One thing you must note.  Many people get this wrong.  Totems do not tell you whether you are in your own dream or not.  They only tell you if you are in someone else’s dream.

What caused Cobb and Saito to “wake-up”?

[Answer] – Quincy brought us this question over on the 7 Layers blog – and it’s a good one that delves into those pesky dream rules.  So, lets review Question #1’s answer above.  What are the rules on which the dream layers are governed?  The final rule being that death in a dream layer causes one to wake up.  Sow with that in mind, 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.  But remember the head on the track business?  Definitely their only way back to the surface was by killing themselves.  So unless Cobb and Saito chose to build a train in Saito’s living room and lay on the tracks… I’m guessing the gun was the kick back to reality.

Why is Saito so much older than Cobb in the final dream level?

[Answer] – There are two potential explanations for this.  The first is that Cobb took a while to find Saito.  And it was during this time where Saito aged 10 times faster every layer you go deeper.  If you don’t believe that Saito’s world is a sub-layer of Limbo, then the only other option is that Saito had forgotten he was in Limbo and therefore he aged while Cobb held on to the truth of where they were and subsequently he did not age.  Actually another option now that I’m sitting here staring at this one – is that since we are seeing all this from Cobb’s perspective, his vision of himself could have been of himself as a young man.  So I guess there are THREE potential explanations here.

10 Inception Questions - #9

How do Mal & Cobb end up in Limbo the first time?

[Answer] – The only evidence we have here is Cobb’s explanation of how he came to need an inception.  Basically he tells us that Mal & he jointly experimented on the various ways to fully utilize the dream machine.  They continued to push the limits of the dream states and ultimately ended up going too far.  Either they used extremely deep sedatives and then killed themselves intending to kick back up a layer or they pushed too deeply and lost perspective.  But I would argue that the movie seems to suggest that going too deep is how Ariadne & Cobb arrived in Limbo after going to find Fischer Jr.  So it was most likely that they just went too deep and completely lost track of all reality while they were there.

If the whole thing is a dream – why did the top stop earlier?

[Answer] – This question is the whole crux of my entire argument for blog 1 & blog 2 so it is really near and dear to my heart.  Its the premise upon which I got so fixated with this entire movie.  But its also the question that has alienated me from my friends, my family and roaming street salesmen.  If the movie’s a dream – then why the heck does the totem stop spinning two separate times in the movie?  COUNT THEM – TWO!

Well, this is actually easier than it would seem to explain.  But within my dream layer map I show the top layer to be Cobb’s dream – which is the whole Inception Movie. The reason for this is simple.  Although I found that thinking of Cobb being trapped in Mal’s dream more romantic and gorgeous a thought – it was not supportable as his dream would have been WAY WAY unstable.  And Mal would have had to work to keep him a sleep – and in fact she is working for the opposite so this made no sense.  But Cobb being adrift in his own dream is elegant in many ways.

But, basically because your totem only tells you when you are in someone else’s dream, not when you are in your own dream Cobb wouldn’t know if he were stuck in his own dream state.  By why did it specifically STOP spinning in his dream, and continue to spin in dream?  Well, that is explained by the fact that it’s his dream, it’ll do whatever he thinks it should do.  Remember when Cobb asks Mal, “Well, if this is a dream, why can’t I control you?”  What was Mal’s response?  “BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW YOU ARE DREAMING.”  Right?  Same with the top.  His brain just tells it to do what he thinks it ought to be doing.

So therefore, if you ascribe to this theory, that all of Inception is a dream – like I vehemently do – then you believe that Cobb has lost grasp of reality with all his various dream-comings-and-goings.  Mal continues to wait for him in the upper most reality layer and Cobb’s mind continues to weave fascinating tableaux’s for our summer box office amusement.  Can’t wait to see what Cobb’s mind weaves for us for the sequel!  If you have others to add to this post – don’t hesitate to drop them in below and as we define their answers as canon I’ll add them here.  Thanks!

Edited by, CY