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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

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95 Responses

  1. Taylor

    And already I’ve realized that I’ve forgotten one of the most bedeviling questions of them all. BLAST IT. And it is – If Mal & Cobb live in Limbo for 50 years, why do they look young when they kick out on the train tracks?!? Ah well, I will add it in the next round. I have a pretty good theory – anyone want a go at it?

  2. Eugen

    Piece of cake.

    The way you look like in your own or someone else’s dream (including your age) is your own visual projection of yourself.

    So as long as you know that you are dreaming you would probably keep projecting your young appearance, even if you stay in your dream for 50 years.

    This is why Cobb and Mal didn’t age during their 50-year dream experience while Saito aged absurdly. In Limbo Saito didn’t know that he was dreaming (until Cobb reminded him) so Saito expected to get older just as he would have in real life.

    And because Saito expected to become older, his own projection of his appearance started to gradually get older until he looked like 120.

  3. Taylor

    Nice answer Eugen.

    But what was the deal with their faces being young and their hands being old on the tracks – and their hands being young and their faces being old while walking through limbo?!? Seems all jacked up! (Am I doing a good job switching roles here?!?)

    Thanks – Taylor

  4. Eugen

    You serious?

    If so then I totally missed that for some reason.
    (The old hands young face and vice versa thingy)

    Or maybe I didn’t miss it while watching, but I sure as hell don’t remember it anymore.

  5. Taylor

    Oh yeah. Serious as a heart attack.

    I don’t think these details lessens your argument in any way. (You argument is exactly how I assumed it went as well). When they are old, they walk along as if they are young and Nolan shows us they are young by showing their hands as young. And on the tracks they are old – but in their hearts they are young – and so their hands are young. Makes perfect sense. If you go and see it again I’m sure you’ll notice it. I saw one of them my first time through and the second one my second time through.

    Until next time…

  6. Taylor

    Everyone –
    Say hi to Brian. Brian, everyone. Brian is currently watching inception again but loves debating movies like this with me. He was one of the first to discuss my Prestige blog with me in detail.

    So B?!? What’d questions did you see the second time around you are still trying to wrap your head around? Talk to us goose.

  7. Taylor

    Hey gang,
    I’m having a crisis. Help me understand something. I’ve started diagramming the layers and the individual characters transportation amongst the dream layers, right? Simple.

    EXCEPT – Eames & Ariadne. The go all they way to layer 6 and then jump, right? But then they ride the kicks back to layer 3 and then are awakened back to the plane, no? BUT THAT MAKES NO SENSE. Dying in Limbo sends you back to the top. Or does it? If it doesn’t, then explain exactly how Saito and Cobb arrived back on the plane.

    Very confused presently. Anyone? Anyone?

  8. Taylor

    Nm. I figures it. The rules still work. Ariadne and Fischer were kicked by Eames and the defibulator before they died. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Otherwise they would have bounced to the surface like Mal and Cobb had done with the train in the original visit. Shew. That was stressing me out there for a moment.


  9. Dana

    I’m not entirely sure that works, Taylor. If Eames kicked Fischer and Ariadne (making the rules work), her jump would have to be perfectly timed with Eames’ decision to kick her, and they had no way of communicating. However, if at the end Cobb kills himself with the gun and “wakes up” on the plane (simply a deeper version of limbo, perhaps Cobb’s true subconscious in which his world is exactly the way he most desperately wants it to be), it would makes sense that Ariadne and Fischer’s deaths would either lead them to Deeper Limbo or…nothing. They are projections of Cobb’s mind, remember? The rules only apply to real people. Projections can appear as Cobb needs them to (ie Saito rescuing him in the car at the last second).

    One major aspect of the movie I use to argue that Cobb was dreaming the whole time, too, was that in the helicopter Saito asks him to “take a leap of faith”, a phrase that obviously has deep meaning to Cobb. Are we really supposed to expect that it’s a coincidence that Saito said the same thing Mal (with the idea given from Cobb himself) said, in the movie’s emotional climax? I don’t think so.

    However, if you could escape limbo simply by killing yourself, why is it so dangerous to go down (other than the fact that it’s difficult to keep track of reality down there, a problem elegantly solved with the advent of the totem)? I don’t know if I believe Cobb escaped limbo by dying. It seems too easy. Also, if you die in limbo, your brain is allegedly turned to “mush”, as said in the film. My friend brought up the fact that this is true perhaps only if you die a natural death, but I don’t think limbo would draw the distinction. ALSO: why does Saito have all of his cognitive faculties upon “waking” on the plane? If you die in limbo, your mind is gone, remember? It doesn’t add up.

    As much as I love nergasming over this movie (oh, and how I do) the truth is that the top neither falls nor stays spinning. This is a crucial thematic element to the movie: the whole point is that no one (not even the audience) should be absolutely certain as to what is reality and what is the stuff of dreams. In addition, INCEPTION refers to more than the driving goal of the movie, but to what the movie itself does. Once the idea is planted in the heads of the audience (“This all may not be real?! DID THE TOP KEEP GOING OR FALL????”), it is inescapable. See the movie multiple times as I have (once in Imax, which was insane. I felt like I was seeing a movie for the first time), and you realize that there is too much intentional contradiction for a clear solution to exist. And therein lies the genius of Nolan, naturally.

    By the way: I read your Prestige argument, and I’ve got a bone to pick with you! Haha it was nothing short of brilliant, and we share similar theories but there are some holes.

    Here’s to finding someone who will listen to me rant about the minutiae of excellent movies!

    • John O'Neill

      Ok. heres the way i see it. if you die in a dream, you wake up. if you die in a deep dream you go into limbo. this is because the dream has ended, but you are still sedated. So when Cobb and Saito are in limbo at the table. Saito thinks he’s in reality because hes been living there for a lifetime. Now Cobb goes to tell him that he’s not in reality and to wake up. A way to wake up from limbo would be to die. But he can’t just do this at any point in time because he’s still sedated. However, when Cobb shows up, and Saito kills himself, they wake up on the plane. this makes sense because when they wake up, it is near the very end of the flight which means the sedative will have worn off. Basically, if you are in Limbo long enough, you can kill yourself to escape because in reality, the sedative has worn off and you just need to wake up. Saito didn’t kill himself though, because he’d been in there for so long he thought it was reality and needed reminding it wasn’t.

      Then you’ve got the question of why they went straight back to reality, instead of the previous levels. Well, the previous levels didn’t exist anymore, and they had died in them. for example, saito died in the snowy place and then cobb did aswell when the explosions went off, whereas the others got out of that level with a kick. but when thay went back a level to the hotel, cobb would still have been alive because he only dreamed that he was in an explosion. basically, as the layers cease to exist, you end up with limbo being the first layer, or the closest layer to reality, which means that when you wake up from this you would simply be in reality. if cobb and saito had died in limbo before they drowned in the van, they would have woken up in the van and then woken up with the rest of the people.

  10. Taylor

    Really nice rebuttal – but – “Objection Your HONOR!”
    Sure, I could cop out and say that everyone is a projection and Cobb’s subconscious will manipulate events to fit the dream… but as much as possible Cobb’s mind is going to logically order events. And so I have to assume there is a logical solution to the paradox.

    We are given two juxtaposed rules regarding dream travel and limbo:
    1. Die deep inside a dream – and your mind is mush-a-fied.
    2. Die deep inside a dream – and you get catapulted to reality.

    But it was the second rule that was told to Ariadne by Cobb as a higher truth. Which reminds us of Arthur’s comment about Cobb always breaking his own rules.

    I will admit that it was this bit, the lack of mush-a-fication that ultimately tipped me to our being stuck in dream limbo more than anything. This rule got tossed away like it didn’t even matter. Be careful you don’t go to deeply!… what do they do? 6 layers deep by my count. Be careful you don’t die in a deeply embedded dream. And what do they do? Piles of them die only to come back unscathed.

    And while this may very well be the path to our ever-deepening dream layers and the unending maze of somnambulism, I still think this has to make sense. This is no po-mo exercise in chaos theory. Nolan has created these layers to exist in two planes – the dream world and the world of reality. So it should make sense if solely only for the latter.

    I believe Ariadne and Fischer could have jumped – and it would have worked. But their arrival location is all jacked up. They should have arrived on the plane. Not at the snow fortress, etc. And the only solution for moving a single layer is the kick. And the timing issue isn’t much of a problem seeing as though they were tipped to the kick by the lightening and the storm. Remember that? Either way, the timing could easily be chalked up to a convenient Saito-esque arrival. So there are no issues there.

    I do agree with the third option camp – but I would argue that is more of a quantum physics type discussion that isn’t a real discussion at all. Yes, the movie is about ideas and viral ideas at that. Great. Its about catharsis and deep-felt changes of the soul. Epiphanies and inner-revolutions caused by ideas. Right. Got it.

    But ultimately I also believe that the actions of the movie are knowable. Thus my belief that Ariadne & Fischer kicked from Limbo to the Snow Fortress.

    Can’t wait to see your bone picking commence re: my fledgling attempt to understand the Prestige (which can be seen here if others are reading this – http://taylorholmes.com/2009/08/26/the-prestige-explained/) – I’m sure you will easily dismantle my argument. It is the dialogue of ideas that it is ultimately all about.

  11. Dana

    Haha the prestige discussion cant wait.

    As for Inception, my other major problem with the “it’s all a dream theory” (which, even in the face of my next point, is what I’m leaning toward) is that certain scenes were shown in the absence of Cobb (the only specific example that comes to mind is the one where Arthur and Ariadne are talking after in the basement thing). As you addressed in the prestige discussion, the point of view from which movies are told, especially Nolan’s movies, is important. the movie wouldn’t be playing fair with us if it were Cobb’s dream the entire time and there were whole scenes and discussions taking place when Cobb was elsewhere. while you could argue (at a stretch) that in the real world when a person dreams, they’re not always a character and they may be watching the action, that assertion is not supported anywhere else within the movie. if you’re dreaming, you’re there; not in another room, not asleep on a couch in the same room. you’re there, observing the action, and usually participating. Cobb, in at least one scene, was not.

    so this poses a problem for the “this is taking place all in his head” theory.

    as for the rules of limbo, it’s hard to find a solution that isnt paradoxical, as you have above conceded in a way. either Cobb’s understand of limbo is flawed (which is VERY possible considering everyone was afraid to go down there and he and Mal were doing exploratory research in a new field), in which case the dream idea still stands. OR Cobb was right and his earlier assumption about your brain decaying in limbo is wrong. OH WAIT A MINUTE.

    haha i just realized something!! the problem with limbo wasnt dying down there, it was what happens to your body in the real world. let me explain:

    i am dreaming. then go down several dream levels until i hit limbo. obviously, in order to keep stable i am under sedation. unless im “ready” to come out of limbo (my mind choosing to exit, by whatever means), when the sedation wears off and/or i am artificially awoken, my physical body is awake but my mind is still in limbo, thereby creating the “mush” effect. and, since limbo time runs ridiculously slower than real time, it is generally assumed that you wouldnt die a natural death/have the presence of mind to kill yourself or kick back up. and therein lies the danger: once in limbo, you cant get out (until like 100 years realitime, where your body will have died without your mind being present). you would be in a coma state until your mind and body were reconnected (where Cobb is at the end of the film perhaps? with Mal at his side?)

    the problem is, while this makes sense, it is never fully addressed on-screen, creating a veritable truckload of possible holes.

    in addition (because ive been thinking), we COULD make the argument that limbo is so deep that dying only kicks you back up, MAX, one layer. and, because all the other layers had disappeared by the time Cobb and Saito “resurface”, they went straight up to the closest remaining layer with one kick (their death). where else would they go? so the rule about dying in limbo bringing you back to reality isnt true, and never actually stated in the movie, but a conclusion drawn as a result of what we saw at the end–besides, if getting out of limbo were as simple as dying, it would not have been seen as such a dangerous place. a well-trained person going down there quickly without messing around in the preceeding layers would have a fighting chance, as long as they also got out quick (Cobb and Mal fell victim to limbo merely because of the duration they stayed).

    BUT AGAGIN. no hard-and-fast rules given on-screen. so, as much sense as this makes, it can never be proven. and it kind of looks like we’re grasping at straws, as supported as our claims may be.

    ALSO: the kids wearing the same things/looking the same/ the house looking the same? i doubt it. the argument, once again, could be made that he was only gone a short while, but then why would Cobb’s father say “it’s going to take more than a few stuffed animals to convince those children they still have a father”? children wouldn’t forget they have a father in such a short amount of time that they also will have not aged a bit. and, on a much more subjective note, Cobb’s desperation (and implications that he has sent multiple gifts prior) is itself an implication that he has been at this a while. he wouldnt get that desperate in a few weeks, months, or maybe a year. and it CANT have been more than a year since he left. he is a man at the end of his rope, even though he appeared to have been level-headed at one point. desperation needs time to flourish if it is to be authentic, and it must be for this movie to work. its all about motivation.

    ALSO (haha last time, i promise): if they make a sequel i will move to canada. which would do nothing. but it is the most severe form of protest i can think of. a sequel would do to this what it did to the matrix: carry the plot too far, latch on to the action, abandon the metaphor (and, thereby, the original intent) and destroy the symbolic mystery of the ambiguous ending. and i dont know if i can take the death of another masterpiece.

  12. Taylor

    Great response. Haven’t forgotten your clever rebuttals to my once thought unassailable ideas. But as I’ve been spending every spare moment trying to crack a better way of visually depicting the layers and the primemovers for each layer transversal by each of the characters I’ve had little time to respond.

    1. Your dream sans dreamer dilemma is explained by Nolan. Remember Arthur confusing Fischer’s projection for being Eames acting as Fischer’s uncle? “let’s watch him and see how Fischer perceives he would act in this situation.”. They were able to move through the dream without the dreamer and they were also able to interact with the dreamer’s subconscious without neding to have the dreamer resident in order to do so. Granted, I don’t recall any oft dreams being like that – but we see it work none the less.

    2. Loved your mushed brain explanation. Yes I grasped that was probably why but you describe it much more succinctly than I understood it.

    3. Your 1 layer per death theory is clever in the extreme. Previous dreams disappear your suicide jump collapses to the final inhabited layer. The reason it’s so clever is because we can assume that Mal and Cobb never left lower layer dream levels open with an attendant of some sort when they went exploring. So it works for them and it also works for the team/Saito/Cobb as well. I personally prefer the rules to work but it is an elegant explanation jealousy aside.

    4. Sequel? Nolan is much too clever and original to make a sequel. Never happen. I think Canada is safe for now.

    5. You can’t toss hand grenades at my magnum opus and expect me to be patient. Discussing Inception is fun frivolous banter because all the answers really have to be right. With the Prestige though that is definitely not the case. There is one correct answer and the rest are wrong. Unfotunate as that might be. So it’s a totally different playing field as far as antes go that is for sure. So bring your “holes” and your evidence A-game cause it’s definitely a whole different set of rules out there. Heheh.

    Until next time,

  13. Dana

    Just saw inception for the third time (twice in imax):

    dicaprio calles saito “say-toe” for the first half of the movie and “sigh-toe” for the rest…

    and it’s raining outside the helicopter window when saito first makes his proposition to cobb, but it clearly is NOT raining on cobb, arthur, or the goons who carry their old architect off (goof, or proof it’s a dream? cobb DOES specifically cite changes in weather as part of the strangness of a dream)

    just thoughts.

  14. nick

    Question1 : I agree with your answer except my understanding is you cannot escape limbo unless you first realize as it being a dream, “become awake”, in limbo. THEN secondly you die while not being under heavy sedation THEN you are awakened to reality.

    Here’s my breakdown of the ending:
    In the case of Fisher and Saito they enter limbo by dying in level 3. The difference between them is Fisher is simultaneously being zapped back to life by Eames in level 3 while dying from being pushed off the building by Ariadne. Fisher was only in limbo a very (relatively) short time. He is not shown to realize he is in limbo but this means of a kick results in Fisher being shot back up to level 3 rather than reality itself. Then you have Saito who also died in level 3 as well but was far dead too long to be brought back to life and the result was he went down to limbo and lived long enough to build his own area of limbo.

    Now you have Cobb and Ariadne who get to limbo, unconstructed dream space, aka no architect, by going down another level by dream-sharing to a fourth level, when 3 levels were said to be too unstable to exist save a heavy sedation. Both arrive in limbo still conscious of it being a dream and limbo itself. Ariadne dies by giving herself a kick by jumping off the building. This results in her also only being shot back to level 3 where she was hooked up the the dream machine. Cobb is stabbed by Mal, part of his subconscious, thus he actually stabs himself unconsciously, as well as dies on level 1 in the van. At this point Cobb is dead in level 1, 2,3 and limbo. This results in him instead of being transported back to reality or level three, being sent to Saitos limbo who was the only person left in limbo as Cobb dies and gets reborn in limbo. Cobb this time is not conscious of where he is or who he is having gotten to limbo by being dying in all the dreams still sedated in reality by the dream machine.

    Saigon and Cobb have the conversation that is partly shown at the beginning of the movie, hinting to the scenes importance. This conversation results in both Cobb and Saigon becoming conscious of where they are and how to get out. Saigon picks up the gun…. they both die, awakening from limbo to reality already unplugged from the dream machine.

    Where do I go wrong. Plz help.

  15. nick

    Question 3: I disagree with this analysis of the levels. There are only four levels in this movie. Reality, level 1 dreamt by Yusef, level 2 dreamt by Arthur, level 3 by Eames, and limbo by anyone there, and designed by the people who been down there before who are connected by your dream sharing device. Thus Cobb was an architect (and Mal) and then Saito was.

    • Taylor

      Just using your math alone you believe in five levels. You forgot to count Limbo.

      We already established we disagree that Cobb is dreaming so I’ll leave one off. And then in your analysis of Limbo earlier you talk of traveling via death from cobb/mal limbo to Saito Limbo (you called it Saigon limbo for some reason?) that is one more. So just counting the layers you’ve discussed here in these comments alone we are already at SIX! Add the one I believe exists via the extra dream layer above and voilà seven. It really isn’t a stretch. You don’t have to buy it but it makes sense none the less.

  16. nick

    Question 10: I can’t go with this one either. If Cobb were dreaming then the “reality” level would also have parts of Cobb’s subconscious bursting through as we see on other levels of real dreams. We never see Mal, trains driving down the street, his kids randomly playing in odd places, his wedding ring, or the top continuously spinning. There is zero indication that reality is not reality. Nothing out of the ordinary ( outside of the movies anyhow) happening there. One theme of this movie is Cobb’s uncontrollable subconscious when he’s in a dream (Where his subconscious can manifest itself). You may say that he doesn’t know he’s in a dream like Mal, but that would only mean he couldn’t consciously control “reality”. His subconscious is uncontrollable by him thus has no reason to hold back, and as messed up as Cobb is you have to expect him to manifest crazy things. He also didn’t believe 100% that he was in reality which is why he’s always sneaking off to spin the top. He is confused and has doubts and is paranoid. Mal as a projection of his subconscious attempts to get him to ultimately go insane like the real Mal did by repeatedly trying to get him to doubt himself to the point of trying to get him to stay in his memory elevator and in limbo with the projections of his kids. Cobb is crazy. No way he can control himself in “reality” if its not in fact reality.

    Also that would mean everything and everyone was in Cobb’s dream and not even real. That would include Mal when she went crazy in reality and jumped. She would have been a dream projection. Then there was never an inception on Mal or Fisher. How would the movie even make any sense? You’d have to question if he and Mal even went to limbo, that she even existed And had kids. Movie would become a logical nightmare.

  17. nick

    You’re counting places that are not levels. Reality isn’t a level. Neither is Saito’s and Cobb’s different areas of limbo. (Its written as Saigon due to my phones auto spell check). But really this is just splitting hairs. You could also add more by seperating the scenes of reality into: cafe level, chase level, on plane level, etc…. that is your level logic you are using for limbo. But even if we do count reality as a level we never reach the stretched out theory of seven.

  18. Dana

    In re: “I can’t go with this one either. If Cobb were dreaming then the “reality” level would also have parts of Cobb’s subconscious bursting through as we see on other levels of real dreams”

    This is a VERY good point. And you can’t use the excuse that he doesn’t know he’s dreaming so everything would seem normal, because Cobb himself makes a point of saying (to Ariadne) “It’s my subconscious, I can’t control it” when she playfully asks him to tell his subconscious to “take it easy”. This movie (like The Prestige, UNFORTUNATELY) has problems with either of the opposing theories. If Cobb is dreaming, this is a huge plot hole. If he isn’t, there are things like the children’s appearances that are holes.

    This worries me…

  19. Dark

    Just like to point out one small thing, Cobb’s totem is not Mal’s top, although he does use it. Cobb’s totem is his wedding ring.

  20. KC

    Saito aged rapidly because he died in the snow fort, sending him to limbo. He must have lived a lifetime until Cobb shows up all of a sudden on the seashore. Saito was dead for maybe a split second while dreaming on the airplane, but it was exponentiated to decades. ” you remind me of a man from some half remembered dream who had some radical notions.”

  21. KC

    “You remind me of someone… a man I met in a half-remembered dream. He was possessed of some radical notions.” …

    That’s more accurate!

  22. Charlie

    I hope this thread isn’t dead yet. Ive read the majority of every post on here and i see that yall are saying that each level dream is dreamnt by different people. Yosuf>arthur>eams. I need to go watch the movie again cause i thought they were all under fisher jr subconsious.

  23. Taylor

    Definitely not dead! The levels were definitely dreamed by different people in the group. It’s well documented that each dream was populated by someone else’s dream consciousness. Watch it again and see if you can tell who the dreamers are yourself for each of the dream layers.

  24. Neo7602

    Hi all, I saw the Inception 3 times and still cant get enough of that! Anyway, I got sick of thinking whether Cobb is in reality or dreaming….so… what if the whole Inception thing (the whole movie except for the ending) is his dream?! Imagine yourself being in the plane, waking up after 8 hours and you see the faces you were dreaming about. Could it be? What if there is no dream machine and it was just Cobbs dream in the plane while traveling to LA?

  25. Charlie

    @Taylor. Okay ill bite and agree that each dream was indeed dreamed up by different people but they were all filled in with TJs conciousness because they kept getting chased which is TJs self defense system. If thats the case, does that mean those different people are their own *architect* for their dreams.

  26. Shalmanezzer

    I had a thought. Feel free to poke holes in this theory. Nick mentioned that there seems to be a lot of logical errors if we see the entire movie as being Cobb’s dream. I agree with this. The most glaring of errors is the top stopping when he spins it earlier in the movie, twice. I don’t agree with the idea that his subconscious made the top stop earlier, but then kept it spinning at the end. I think then we could explain any plot hole as “Cobb’s subconscious made it happen,” which is kind of sloppy writing on Nolan’s part. And I don’t think Nolan is a sloppy writer.

    But what if the whole movie isn’t a dream, but the end IS still a dream? This would mean at some point in the movie Cobb enters a dream state and doesn’t come back out again. Perhaps he gets lost in Limbo when he goes after Saito—creating his own reality in which he can finally get back to his kids?

    This might not make as much sense to me either because emotionally a lot of the movie seems to be about the journey Cobb takes in order to let go of his baggage concerning his wife. Does it make sense for him to just replace that with some sort of other emotional baggage with his children that keeps him trapped in his dream? Or is that dramatic irony that he wants to get back to his children so much that he is able to let go of his fixation on his wife, but that same obsession with getting back to his children is what traps him in his own version of limbo where he can be with them again. Like how his wife earlier said he could be with his kids again if he would just look at their faces and he refuses—maybe his brain came up with another way for him to accept the dream as reality.

    Or is there another point where it would make sense that he had entered a dream and gotten stuck? Does he get lost in one of his many solo trips using the machine? Is any of this making sense to anyone else, or giving anyone some ideas?

    And on a side note, I had a question. This might be a clue to something else. When Cobb enters the room on their anniversary and everything is trashed and he walks to the window and see’s Mal on the ledge, why is she across the way? How did she get over to the other ledge? Is the building U-shaped and she walked along the ledge all the way to the other side? It looks like the room next to her has an open window, and I was trying to see into that window to see if it was the same room that Cobb is standing in. If that were the case then it would be obvious that this was a dream of Cobb’s, and Mal is just standing on a wierd mental reflection of the ledge next to the same window that Cobb is standing in. Anyone know what I’m talking about here?

  27. taylor

    Ariadne was the architect for the three inception layers. We even see Cobb and Ariadne discussing her architecture of these layers throughout the movie as it goes. It is even a huge plot point for pulling her in to create the layers they would use so that Mal couldn’t sabeoutage the dream because she knew the layout. Right?

    This is actually the most widest held perspective of the “It’s a DREAM” croud. The two most common theories of where the dream begins is either at Limbo at the end or in Yusaf’s basement. The reason Yusaf’s basement is a good option is because we never see the top work again after that point. We also see how deeply Cobb is impacted by the dream and even he is unsure he’s made it out again.

    I agree it is sloppy to say it is Cobb’s subconcious making it fall. But I have always said that a totem will never tell someone that they are within their own dream, only someone else’s. So, I rely on that first and foremost as a defense. And still believe the entire movie was a dream from beginning to end. But yes, there are theories that allow for the dream to begin midstream post totem droppings.


  28. Mikko

    Nice discussion, I think I need to watch this movie again.

    Shalmanezzer, I think Mal was on the other side simply because she had planned it that way. She had reserved a room (or gotten there otherwise) right across the street, so that when she jumped, Cobb wouldn’t have had any way of stopping her. If she was in the same room as Cobb, he could’ve just grabbed her and prevent her from jumping.

    But that raises the question, why during the crime investigation they didn’t notice that she had fallen to the wrong side of the street, or that she had reserved a room from the other side. Unless, of course, it was all just a dream.

  29. Marvin

    If the rules are as you explained at question 1. And Cobb is in limbo with Saito, he has 2 options:
    1. remaining in Limbo
    2. waking up in the REAL world.
    In your theory Cobb goes from Limbo to Cobb’s dream layer (layer 2). This is not possible within the rules.

  30. Taylor

    Well I don’t ever think Cobb wakes up, so I’m ok with option #1. Could it be that Cobb seems to be waking up when in fact he hasn’t actually escaped the tractor beam of Limbo?

    Just a thought.

    There are inconsistencies with pretty much any theory out there. One person committing suicide to escape limbo and move up a layer while another person gets kicked up one layer. Which is it? Do you kick out or commit suicide out as we saw in the train scene?

  31. Marvin

    Let’s call it room for discussion. I like most hypotheses, except the happy end one. That would be too easy. It’s a pitty that he has to safe Saito from (his) Limbo otherwise your explanation would fit like a glove.

    I do believe that Cobb is in a dream all the time and that Mal is in the real world, and that people are coming in and out to help persuade Cobb to snap out of it. Maybe the whole inception plot is a plan to get Cobb deep enough to incept him. Mal was waiting for him in “pre-Limbo” as a final intervention attempt. But Cobb dismissed her too fast for that to be real. Then Nolan would have given them more dialogue I think.

    Another inconsistency is the timeline of the group coming out of the inception attempt and Saito + Cobb. Unless people argue that there is no passing of time in Limbo and you wouldn’t realize any time had lapsed when you leave it. But that would contradict Mal in the real world sitting besides the bed of a Cobb in some dream state.

    In any case. Mind blowing film!

  32. Marvin

    Another thought: if Cobb is in a constant dream state, then who is to say that his “rules” are the actual rules. The same as the totem being able to do whatever the mind wants it to do (believe), so could Cobb’s rules be rules the brain wants it to believe. I find it more plausible that you always need a kick back to the next levels, and need to move up as long as it takes.

    The difference between pre-limbo and limbo is also too far fetched for me. I think Mal and Cobb were in Limbo and killed themselves and went up one level. Time in Limbo has no link to time in the other dream layers and therefore you could be there 100-years and still come out and be the same age. When Ariadne and later Saito and Cobb check-out of Limbo they automatically kick-up by the explosion to the hotel, and kick-on by the blast in the elevator and kick-on by the car hitting the water. But still and up in the final dream state.

    I do wonder how Cobb can kick out of this dream state. There seems to be a big inconsistency between Mal killing herself in Cobb’s primary dream state and waking up in real life, and Saito being shot in inception state nr.1 and dying to go to Limbo. So the question is, why does dying have different results for different people?

  33. anonymouse

    I have a few questions that maybe someone can help me with.

    Taylor: Do you believe the movie ends in a dream too?

    In the beginning of the movie when Cobb gets away from Saito (on the heist job) Mal looks happy… smiling. Whats up with that? Her intentions seem very ambiguous.

    If she is still alive then she can come kill him to get him out, unless he has to kill himself to get out of the “limbo” of his dreams… which i think fits better. But we see her in other scenes wanting him to stay with her in the dream world, but never in his “wake world”.

    Shouldnt Mal be able to join Cobbs dream like Ariadne does?

    When cobb goes after fischer (leaving the snow fortress) why would cobb find fischer in his dream… wouldnt it be fischers dream (or if he is almost dead – his limbo?)

    Does the inception cobb does to Mal spinning the totem automatically take effect or does she have to see it spinning to think it is her idea?

  34. Nick

    It would be cooler of the “its all a dream” cult if Mal wasnt alive in “reality” but rather another figment of his imagination.

    But that’s not what happened in the movie either! Haha
    No really

    If she is coming into the dream isn’t she bound by the rules of dreamsharing?

    How is Mal in these dreams?? Is she also invisible that we never see her hooked into the machines to even share a dream with Cobb or anyone else? She just jumps from dream level to level by magic????

    If you get past that question then where is Mal now? Shouldn’t she have ended up in in Saitos limbo since Mal died in the snow fortress and in her/cobbs old crumbling limbo………or is Mal magical????

    Why does she never appear in the “real” world???

    If the movie is all a dream, how on earth is Cobb designing all these dream worlds. He can do that but can’t tell if he’s in a dream?

    if cobb is a mark or if he is in a dream and doesnt know it then the world is filled with HIS projections….. How come his subconscious never suspect the foreign nature of the dreamer????

    Who is the dreamer?? Cobb??? Can’t be since that would make him the architect, dreamer AND mark!!!

  35. anonymouse

    Cobb doesnt have to be the architect per-se since he and Mal did everything together… so i am assuming what we see of her is just his crazy projection, but i dont understand Mals smiling when cobb gets away (mentioned above).

  36. Mira

    Though it can also be used as evidence to support the “it’s all a dream” theory, or the (to me) more plausible “the movie was reality up UNTIL waking up in the plane” theory, I like to think that everything perceived to be reality IS reality, and the way Cobb’s exit from Limbo is shown makes me think that.

    That was a very convoluted sentence, so let me explain.

    When Fischer dies in the snow fortress, the impression I get when Ariadne says they can find him is that it is using the machine. In such, they enter Fischer’s dream, which is Limbo, much in the same manner that Ariadne ‘jacked in’ to Cobb’s dream of moments he regrets. In Cobb’s dream, he was subject, architect, and dreamer, all in one, thus he had ultimate control of that dream.

    With Fischer being in Limbo, and Limbo being raw subconscious with only the leftover imprints of anyone who had been in Limbo before and was currently sharing the overall dream, the pieces of what Cobb and Mal had built were left there.

    When the thunder and lightning started going off, Ariadne knew that it was Eames using the defibrillator on Fischer (since they were in Fischer’s dream) and that she needed to initiate her end of the simultaneous kick needed to move up through the levels of the dream. Due to the time dilation, they had a teensy bit more time to kick out and still be “simultaneous”.

    When she grabbed Fischer and jumped from the building, the sensation of falling is what caused her to kick out from Limbo since it’s not her Limbo, she just hitching a ride in Fischer’s. And Fischer feeling the fall in Limbo as well as the defibrillator one the layer above was enough to pull him up to the Snow Fortress layer -because- it was during the time frame of the simultaneous kick.

    She kicks out of Limbo, wakes up in the Snow Fortress, falls in the building there, gets kicked up to the hotel, falls in the elevator, gets kicked up into the van, and they remain on that level til the time runs out. All of these need to be “simultaneous” (with a little leeway for the time dilation) in order for the kick to actually work and bring them all out into the first, safest, and most stable layer of the dream.

    So anyway, that’s why we don’t see Saito and Cobb kicking back up through the dream layers, and why they aren’t in the 1st level of the dream at all (except their bodies) after the van falls into the water.

    When Cobb finds Saito in Limbo, they go out the simple way, actually dying, and thus they skip the layers and wake straight in the real world, just like Mal and Cobb got out of limbo by killing themselves and then they woke in reality.

  37. Danya

    Hey. I just saw the movie 1 1/2 time, and I’m wondering something. Maybe the world where Ariadne and Cobb and Fischer go isn’t the limbo, just the 4th level. Maybe after Ariadne goes back, she believed it was Limbo. That is why she woke up. Cobb then kills himself to get to the REAL Limbo, or where Saito is.

    Thanks, and confused!,
    Danya 🙂

  38. Danya

    Do you guys think any of this is possible? Like is the machine real?
    Thanks 🙂

  39. Alex

    We do not know if the whole entire movie is dream or reality. we will never know at the end if the top keeps spinning or if it stops. The point was that Cobbs didn’t care about reality any more because he is with his kids. Due to the cleverness of the director we will never know. So he leaves us to decide whether or not its reality or a dream. There is no distinct answer

  40. Kay

    I believe why Cobb and Saito could shoot themselves in the head and just right back up to reality is because by that time,the seditive is wearing thin, and the will wake up if they die in a dream. I’m sorry, it’s easier to explain by talking for me, or drawing out a diagram or graph, there’s more to it then that, please excuse my breif discription. I also think that the movie is not all a dream, we do see the real world. I think this because
    1.)If Cobbs totem works that means two things right? Either it’s his own dream or it’s reality? Well, if it’s own dream that totem can fall, but don’t you think Ariadne, Arthur, and Eame’s totems would have behaved strangely and they would have pointed it out? I mean obviously they use their totems, and if they are in Cobbs dream, it couldn’t have possible behaved normally? Right?
    2.) Lets say it is a dream. . and Molly is right, and she’s alive all happy happy! Don’t you think she would have woken up Cobbs at some point? Or reentered the dream to prove to him that he is in a dream level and she is alright? Unless- like you have pointed out before- she is somehow working for bad guys and she is keeping him under blah blah blah. . . there would be no point? That is not part of teh movie, obviously if thats what had happened they would throw in more information to leave viewers even more bauffled.
    3.) In the end, Molly would have shown up if it was a dream. Please don’t say, “No she won’t because he thinks it’s reality and won’t bring her there!” By now, it’s to the point where Mal was bursting from his subconsious. He wouldn’t be able to control it even if he tried. But Mal failed to show up, but that may be because he has finally embraced his guilt and came to terms with her death.
    4.) In a dream, the top spins perfectly continuously. I don’t think it wobbles, and regains balance. That’s just not how I imagine it to work. But what do I kbnow? I think the ending is reality. The kids are even aged, I don’t think Cobbs would have been able to project them like that if it were a dream. I shouldn’t saw able to, more liek he would refuse to.

    There’s so much more I want to say, I love this movie and my friends haven’t seen it and I’m dying to discuss it with them 🙂 I’m quite fond of it really because last year I started to research lucid dreaming and I love dreams and I like the idea of learning how to control them. So this movie takes that and turns it into something amazing that you can actually apply to the real world.

  41. Kay

    I think something that we all want to do is spend a day with C. Nolan xD I so wish I could, and record it and ask him questions, explain my theories, ask more deatails and on-sight about the characters and the hidden messages and secrets of the movie to the point where he will be shoving me out of the door! 😛

    And to Nick: “How is Mal in these dreams?? Is she also invisible that we never see her hooked into the machines to even share a dream with Cobb or anyone else? She just jumps from dream level to level by magic????”
    Mal is just a projection that is escaping from Cobb’s subconsious. Since she isn’t real she doesn’t need to be hooked up to anything, she goes where Cobb goes. This is why she can be at any level, if Cobb is there, his subconsious will project her.

    “If you get past that question then where is Mal now? Shouldn’t she have ended up in in Saitos limbo since Mal died in the snow fortress and in her/cobbs old crumbling limbo………or is Mal magical????”

    Haha, no Mal isn’t magical. She doesn’t go to limbo because she is a projection. Once again, not a real living person. the real Mal commited suicde and since she was in reality she is dead. (unless you choose to believe everything is a dream, in which case she is awake and alive, but not a part of anything in the dreams taking place. Just the projection of her is in the dreams. If that makes sense?)

    “Why does she never appear in the “real” world???”
    this is simply because in the real world, images and projection don’t escape your mind. Since Mel is dead, she isn’t going to walking up into the room any time soon.

    “If the movie is all a dream, how on earth is Cobb designing all these dream worlds. He can do that but can’t tell if he’s in a dream?

    if cobb is a mark or if he is in a dream and doesnt know it then the world is filled with HIS projections….. How come his subconscious never suspect the foreign nature of the dreamer????

    Who is the dreamer?? Cobb??? Can’t be since that would make him the architect, dreamer AND mark!!!”

    This is exactly why I choose not to believe it is all a dream. Please check out my previous comment for a few explanations why I think that the scenes that are featured to be in reality are actually the real world. Not some twist to make you think that the whole movie is a dream. I hope I answered your questions 🙂

  42. Kay

    Whoa, I had a LOAD or spelling errors and typos. Please excuse those, I was in a hurry. I called Mal so many things haha, including Mel, and Molly. Wow. No more dicussing movies at one in the morning for me!

    Thank you Taylor, I really enjoyed reading that interview! Sadly, the questions that I were really excited to hear about were vauge on the answers, but that’s what makes it so interesting right?

  43. Taylor

    Hey there Kay,
    You mention so many comments/questions it was daunting to get back to them all – but let me give it a go!

    I believe why Cobb and Saito could shoot themselves in the head and just right back up to reality is because by that time,the seditive is wearing thin, and the will wake up if they die in a dream.

    Could be. No idea on this one. I assume you mean, after Saito had been there years and years and years, right? It’s a theory anyway. Seems like a bit of a stretch – but who am I to say?!?

    If Cobbs totem works that means two things right? Either it’s his own dream or it’s reality? Well, if it’s own dream that totem can fall, but don’t you think Ariadne, Arthur, and Eame’s totems would have behaved strangely and they would have pointed it out? I mean obviously they use their totems, and if they are in Cobbs dream, it couldn’t have possible behaved normally? Right?

    Sure, but we never once see anyone ever use their totems save for Cobbsy (to follow your naming theme! Haha.) So we don’t have any direct evidence to support this – except that they wouldn’t have assumed they were adrift in a dream if they were actually projections of Cobb’s subconscious – right? And if he were dreaming in his own dream (thus his top not showing any issues) then the others manifesting his dream (Arthur, Eames, Ariadne – etc) then their totems are just manifestations like they are! Haha.

    Lets say it is a dream. . and Molly is right, and she’s alive all happy happy! Don’t you think she would have woken up Cobbs at some point? Or reentered the dream to prove to him that he is in a dream level and she is alright?

    Yes, she would have. Or has she already? We are never quite sure if she did – or if Mal was always a projection of his reality.

    In a dream, the top spins perfectly continuously. I don’t think it wobbles, and regains balance. That’s just not how I imagine it to work. But what do I kbnow? I think the ending is reality. The kids are even aged, I don’t think Cobbs would have been able to project them like that if it were a dream. I shouldn’t saw able to, more liek he would refuse to.

    I’m sure many many people agree with you on this one. Definitely could be the case. But we do know (both from that Wired/Nolan interview and other interviews) that Nolan did intend for both possibilities to be acceptable. Both the waking ending as well as the dreaming ending.

    And in your second post you talk about Mal being magical?!? The concept of her being killed in the ice fortress and not moving to limbo is a very good catch. I think somewhere around the 10th comment on this (or the other one, not sure now) blog post I realized that Mal couldn’t be dreaming into Cobb’s dream using the dream machine because of a number of issues like this. I originally thought that was the case because I LOVED the idea of Mal dreaming in to try and save him from this dream coma he was in. But the more I watched the details of the movie unfurl the more I realized that this had to be impossible. Yes, Mal is a projection from his subconscious mind. No, we never meet her for real. But I still prefer the 7 dream layers theory – and the dream that Cobb is stuck in. But now I believe Cobb to be in a coma and Mal is by his bed trying diligently to get him to wake up. Yeah, it’s a stretch. And a bit of a cop out. But, as I’m ever the eternal romantic I prefer the movie with this spin – maybe they’ll get back together again?

    One thing that I found extremely interesting from that Wired article (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/11/pl_inception_nolan/)
    was his comment on the intentional ambiguity in the film: “The ambiguity is very much a part of the substance of the film—I’ll put it that way. The film does not specify one way or the other.”

    Definitely proves (as we’ve always known – from al his various movies as evidence if nothing else) that Nolan has created an intentionally open ended movie with at least two potential interpretations. Probably the most significant detail in my opinion from that article though was this one:

    Wired: Let me try another reading on you: When Cobb and Saito are in limbo, they agree to a reality where Cobb can see his kids again—and at the end of the movie we’re still in limbo. Care to rule that out?
    Nolan: If I start ruling things out, where do I stop? I will go as far as saying that wasn’t the way I read it.

    In my opinion there are only three really significant readings of this movie. The first is that he’s awake at the end. The second is that he was dreaming throughout. And the third is that he never left Limbo. This quote seems to put the third to bed, no? Or maybe Nolan was refuting the agreement piece? Seemed to me like he was taking a significant possibility off the table – no? Love to hear thoughts on that one.

  44. Kay

    Yeah, I think for sure, Cobb is either in the dreamstate or reality. I’m choosing reality, but I do agree with plenty of key points for the dream theories. I think in the end, this is exactly what this movie was suppose to do, inspire you to think, and try to understrand and grasp new ideas. Obviously Nolan didn’t want this to be another movie where you stare at the pixels on a screen, go home and post on facebook, “OMG THAT MOVIE WAS FLIPPIN AWESOME!” And be done with it. This is exactly why I like this movie, you need to interpret, think, and discover for yourself. I know I can be way off on my theories and reasoning, but I never would have thought a movie would get me going on so many different ideas and possibilities.

    I also have been insterested in lucid dreaming and dream control, and this movie also helped me take that step into practicing these subjects. I just love dreams so a movie about them that isn’t Disney is just awesome for me. 🙂

    Yes, I do think that Nolan is ruling out Cobb being stuck in limbo.

    There are so many ideas I would love to be right! Haha, but I also think, no one is wrong. I like this because someone could even say, “Just because Cobb is the main character, doesn’t mean he’s the dreamer, who knows, its all a dream, and it’s Arthur’s dream.” Pretty far fetched ahaha, but it’s not a /wrong/ guess, it’s just not very plausible.

  45. membersound

    I bet Nolan did not use the wedding ring thing by accident in his film. How does it fit if Cobb is dreaming the whole thing?

  46. Phobovien

    Question#4 Theory:

    It could be that instead of being in Limbo, this was just a 4th layer of Inception.

    Previously Mal stabbed Cobb in the torso region, and we know that dying within a deep dream sends you to limbo, so it could be stated that Cobb is not in limbo but in Inception-L4, but dying from bloodloss,sent him to limbo, but since originally Saito and Cobb are connected, their Limbos are “shared” and Cobb ends up on the beach of Saitos fortress. Then they kill themselves and return to the top layer

  47. Taylor

    Makes perfect sense – except one little detail. It is made abundantly clear that the location Ariadne and Cobb arrive after leaving the Ice Fortress is the same location that Mal and Cobb lived for years and years. Building and Destroying. This was definitely Limbo for Mal & Cobb.

    Otherwise your theory makes perfect sense.
    ps – just finished a blog about the top 5 mind bending movies of all time. would love to hear from you all. I’m sure I’ve missed a ton! http://bit.ly/e0hgnd

  48. Taylor

    Hey Membersound…
    Not sure to be honest. I’ve always seen the ring as a fascinating emotional hint as to the pain and hurt Mal caused Cobb by committing suicide.

    So let’s just assume I’m 100% right. That there is another level. That Mal committed suicide to get to her real children awaiting her a level up. Right? But he doesn’t believe Mal traversed another dream layer. He agrees with you – not with me. That he was in reality. So, if he was betrayed by his wife in the most dramatic way imaginable – by suicide – then even if dreaming, it would be logically consistent that he’d ditch the ring.

    Does that make sense?

    Again, I know that Nolan meant there to be two meanings inherent within this movie. One that says Cobb was right and one that says that Mal was right. We aren’t able to know. So either Cobb’s wife killed herself while he watched. Or Cobb’s wife teleported to their children and was the only one wise enough not to be trapped by the lie.

    Either way, Cobb was very hurt by what Mal did. So his ditching the ring at level 2 (or level, 1 whatever) is consistent to what he believed was real.

    My thoughts. Glad you didn’t ask (yet again) why I didn’t believe Cobb’s ring was his totem. I dislike that question very much. Your question made me think. So kudos to you.


  49. Amy

    There is no question that Mal committed suicide and is dead. That was reality. It was clearly explained that Cobb planted the idea that her world was a dream so that she would leave the world they created for themselves and return to the real world and their children. Unfortunately by planting that idea in her head, Cobb caused her to continue to believe her life was a dream even when she was living in reality. She believed that by committing suicide she would wake up in the true reality, but she was already in reality and just died. I think you are over thinking this movie a bit. It was very visually stimulating, but mind-bending no. I thought the story was pretty cut and dry. The only thing that is left up to interpretation is the very end when Cobb and Saito are sitting across the table from each other trying to remember what they are supposed to do next. Once they remind each other that this current state of limbo is not reality, I assume Cobb shot Saito and then himself or vice versa. Bam they wake up, Saito makes his phone call, Cobb is no longer under arrest, and he is able to be with his kids and live happily ever after. He is finally at peace with his wife’s death, and was able to get some closure. I’ll be very surprised if there is a sequel.

  50. Taylor

    Hey there Amy,
    I completely understand. Makes perfect sense. That reading of the story is the most obvious answer. Which, with Nolan, makes me the most leery.

    What if the idea Cobb planted in her mind made her see things more clearly than even the incevier (to make a new word) could have ever hoped for? She now has a desire for the real world – and she doesn’t stop until she’s there. Where as Cobb, having been adrift in dream-ville for so long, has no idea where reality is.

    Have you read the Wired interview with Nolan? http://bit.ly/hd02W3 – he seems to make it pretty clear that there are definitely two ways of reading this movie. Be interested in your take on the interview.


  51. Taylor

    That is the best comment I have ever seen. I love it! Hahah.still laughing out loud. Too perfect!


  52. Marios

    Here are some question about the spinning top totem. Suppose I am in someone else’s dream. In the dream every object (cars being driven, liquids being pured in glasses, birds flying) is simulated perfectly. How hard is it to simulate a spinning top? The architect has simulated thousands of objects but not a spinning top? On the other hand, a loaded dice is a better totem. The architect, even if he knew that the dice was loaded, he had 1 out of 6 chances to guess right.

    Here is a more fundamental questions that makes the whole concept of totems flawed. When you go into a dream you carry with you only the objects that the architect wants you to carry (explosives, guns, etc.). If I had $1000 in my pocket before I went into a dream, I wouldn’t have $1000 dollars in my pocket in the dream, the same way that I am not wearing the same clothes in the dream. Hence, physical objects do not carry from reality to dream to dream. This means that the totem in my pocket will not also appear in someone else’s dream, especially if the architect of the dream does not even know what my totem is (I am supposed to keep it secret!). So, if I reach into my pocket and I don’t find a totem, I already know that I am in the dream 🙂 Very simple. Totems are inelegant (not elegant as Ariadne suggests) and flawed.

    Now here is a better way to find out whether you are in a dream or not. We know that the dream map is finite, made to look infinite. What I need to do is to find the end of the map. Here is a simple (but not very cost-effective way) of finding whether I am in a dream: Go to a random airport and take a plane to a random location. If you ever make it there, take a plane to a 2nd random location and then a 3rd and so on. The more random locations you get to, the more unlikely it is that you are in a dream. Why? Because it is statistically improbable that any architect would have incorporated into the dream map, so many random locations on the globe 🙂 Unless they have simulated earth, which we know is impossible, since Ariadne herself claims, while in limbo, that what Cobb had built there (the size of it) was incredible. And that was just one city!

    Now, based on the above, here is why Cobb is NOT dreaming. In the movie Cobb travels from Japan, to France, to Kenya, to the U.S. In between trips he uses trains, helicopters, planes, cars to travel long distances, in very very complex cities. Mind you he is the one that chooses to go to France and Kenya. Nobody suggested that to him. These are somewhat random locations. What are the chances that any architect would have anticipated and built such an elaborate map of all these complex locations? Virtually zero. Thus, high extremely high probability, Cobb is not dreaming 🙂

  53. Stephan

    Suggestion for #4: How does Cobb get to Saito?
    Saito got to Limbo because he died in the “first” layer (van ride), right? So when the van crashes into the river, everyone wakes up and escapes except for Saito who’s dead and Cobb who’s still dreaming. So what I think is that Cobb drowned during this scene and then got to Saito a little bit after Saito died form the shot in the chest, which means there’s a big time difference in Limbo. This would also explain the age of Saito and the youth of Cobb.

  54. Dee Dee

    3 unreconciled concepts of mine.

    1. Projections are supposed to be creations of the dreamer yet Cobb’s projections enter dreams that are supposedly not his. (Mal, The Train, His Kids)

    2. He wouldn’t be satisfied with only a “dream version (or shade)” of his kids after such an emotionally cathartic ending with Mal. Therefore, the significance of him being in or not in a dream at the end is very relevant. (or at the least, a need for a sequel)

    3. While in Limbo, (right before Ariende “improvises” and shoots Mal) Mal stabs Cobb in the chest/abdomen area, yet he doesn’t kick back to reality. In fact, we see no evidence of blood or even pain on Cobb. Even if she is just a projection it should have killed him by the same logic that Saito dies of a wound inflicted by a projection sending him to Limbo. And if Cobb & Saito have to kill themselves to leave Limbo, why doesn’t Mal’s stab kick Cobb home or at the very least wound him enough to cause blood?


  55. Simen

    To Mario

    The reason why Cobb can travel around the world while still in a dream is because he is alone in his own dream. The dream is not architected by someone else. He went into his own dream with Mal and Mal left, he is now both the architect and the one producing projections. He is dreaming the world as he sees it, just like any other person would dream up the world of there own dreams. =)

  56. Dana

    So. Freaking. Confused.

    But, I have to go with the whole thing wasn’t a dream. Why?
    Because in every part in the movie where it was another’s dream, it stayed perfect, no wobbles. However, did this happen at the end? No.

    Now I might not be right, but hey, it’s just a movie.(:

  57. Cross

    so you have never heard of the theory that cobb’s totem is actually his wedding ring which dissapears when he is supposedly not in a dream?

  58. Taylor

    Oh, definitely have heard of it. And we’ve discussed it in detail in one of these different posts, though I can’t remember which:


    REGARDLESS, here is my standard response to this theory. A totem can’t NOT exist. This isn’t an option. It makes no sense. Here – try this bit of fictional dialogue on for size:

    Cobb: “So, Ariadne, you need to select a totem that is small enough to keep with you – and only you should know its weight.”
    Ariadne: “Got it. I’m done.”
    Cobb: “You have a totem already?”
    Ariadne: “Yep, sure do.”
    Cobb: “Can I see it if I promise not to touch it?”
    Ariadne: “Sure can. There it is, right there on the table.”
    Cobb: “There is nothing there.”
    Ariadne: “CLEVER? EH? But when I’m in the dream world its a vacuum cleaner. Pretty sneaky, isn’t it?”
    Cobb: —
    Ariadne: “Wah?”
    Cobb: — blink. “I don’t think you are understanding the point of this exercise.”

    It just doesn’t make sense. I totally get it as a leitmotif. As an indicator of his emotional distress. I get it as a sign and as a deeply significant metaphor for his pain. But it just doesn’t logically follow as a totem.

    Maybe you could explain it to me in a way that I can get it. But so far it just doesn’t follow for me.

  59. Cross

    it could be a different kind of totem only he uses, a mental totem since he is a pioneer to many aspects of dream sharing. he knows his subconscious will project it whenever he is in a dream which can work because he uses the top as a diversion totem so no one would think to recreate his ring as a totem to distort his reality.

    even if this is not true your theory leaves still his ring unexplained since there are times he is in emotional distress and there is no ring such as in hotel room after he fails his mission and when hes on the run in mumbasa or that foreign country

  60. Cross

    Or the ring is for the audience to know when he is in a dream since unknowingly to him, his subconscious projects the ring whenever he is in a dream and the totem may still be his totem but this would mean that he is not in a dream the entire time

  61. ajs

    When Cobb tests Yusef’s abilities as a chemist in Mombasa, he gets really freaked out, “wakes up,” and runs to the bathroom to get some air. He attempts to spin his top to make sure he’s not being duped into someone else’s dream. However, Saito enters and startles Cobb causing Cobb to knock his top to the ground. Basically, we never get to see the top fall on its own or if it keeps spinning. This could suggest that Cobb is actually in someone else’s dream.

    The next time Cobb uses the top is at the end of the movie, and again we don’t see if it falls on its own or continues to spin.

    So, it’s a possibility that Cobb is in someone else’s dream while in the basement in Mombasa. In this interpretation, he’s actually the mark and inception is meant for him. The goal — to finally release Cobb’s guilt of the events surrounding Mal. Presumably this is so Cobb can do the real job unimpeded by his emotional baggage. So instead of the inception being “I will break up my father’s empire” it’s really “I am not responsible for my wife’s death.”

    The major hole in this theory is that if the inception is truly “I am not responsible for my wife’s death” then Ariade is the true extractor. This is a problem because Ariade never goes to Mombasa, she’s in Paris. Soooo, the only other option would be that Ariade is sometimes a projection, and sometimes being played by a “forger” (who could possibly be anyone in the basement). This is plausible because the apparent inception is setup by the forger faking Fisher Senior’s right-hand man. The other problem is that Cobb’s father would have to set-up Cobb by introducing him to Ariade. His possible motivation would be empathy for his severely depressed son.

    • Taylor

      This is definitely one of the more solid theories running around. Deciding that it’s in Mombasa where Cobb goes AWOL solves several problems immediately… The biggest if which is the falling top earlier in the movie.

      I have heard also that it might be Saito highjacking Cobb and it’s his inception job on Cobb not the other way round. But I love your – “I am not responsible for my wife’s death” take on the job/movie. Which I think is the larger point anyway. But to formalize it as the job is fantastic! Love it.

      I personally Cobb could have gotten stuck several places and not realized it: Limbo, Mumbasa, Limbo part 2, Saito’s Limbo, any of the layers on the way back… And most importantly in the movie’s “awake” layer!!! Hahaha. Great comment AJS.

  62. suomiXOX

    Ok, so i read some of your entries and i have a question regarding this rule:

    4. Dying in limbo wakes you up totally

    So, if that is to be true, then every person who dies in Limbo should have been “sent” to reality, or not? And , as we know, following people dies in Limbo : Cobb(twice), Mal, Saito, Ariadne.

    That means that, after they dies, the found themselves in reality, so the whole movies shouldn’t actually be a dream !

    So, what do you think ?

  63. Phee

    This is all interesting. I have a hunch. That’s all it is, a hunch. Anyone affiliated with Cobol Engineering is a Cob projection, hence the name. Cobb’s dad, Ariadne, and Yusef all seem real to me. The rest of the characters have this awesome poetic quality to them that is too awesome to be real.

    I also think that death in limbo would only wake you up after the sedative had worn off. It’s the sedative that makes limbo possible.


    They’re supposed to have a week’s time on what you call level three. When the van hits the water, they haven’t even been through one day on level three, right? How did they survive the rest of the week with Fisher’s projections trying to kill them? Cobb seemed certain they were all going to die, but they all woke up in the plane. If they had died, they’d be stuck in limbo. So how did they survive a week on level three without getting killed?

  64. Phee

    Ah. I think I figured it out. The kidnapping charade was over, because Fisher was under the impression that his “Uncle Peter” was behind it to trick him. So since Fisher didn’t feel like he was in danger, his projections didn’t try to protect him? Still, that must have been a really boring week just sitting around waiting to wake up.

  65. D

    I was talking to my friend about all this the other night and he made two points to me that I thought were interesting.

    1-It was a dream, if so then only person whose dream it could have been (logically) is Mal’s.

    2-The Rules are actually reversed. The Dreamer if it is a dream would decide them anyway, but what if Mal set the rules for Cobb &Co. So that instead of dying going up, as he assumes it would happen, it takes them deeper. Thus, they end up in Limbo, which might the in between state, i.e. DREAM–LIMBO—REALITY, where things are most real. So my turning the rule she forces Cobb out, into reality.

    Biggest flaw I can see is if this is the case where is Mal? The movie is obviously about Cobb, so it would make no sense for me for it to be Mal’s dream.

    Also, I tend to agree with its a dream, but with a twist. We are the dreamers. That is the inception.

  66. Dan Suttin

    Around the time of “Inception”, there were several commercials with inception-like special effects – crumbling buildings, fold ups, impossible stairs etc. I have forgotten what these commercials were for. Can you help me identify them? I would like to find them on YouTube.
    Dan Suttin
    San Antonio, TX


  67. Dan Suttin

    Besides the main inception of the idea into Fischer, there is also a kind of inception made into Cobb in that he was made free of his guilt. Miles gave Cobb the help of Ariadne who was not only a better architect than he, but also a better dream navigator who, unbeknownst to Cobb, I believe had already been trained in dreaming by Miles and had, I think, before they went on their trip, been in communication with Miles about the mission and about Cobb’s inner struggles. Perhaps she already knew from Miles that Cobb had not murdered Mal, so she didn’t need to ask him if he had. Near the end, she could say that, “He’ll be all right,” because she saw he had been freed from all his demons, and expected that he would be able to find and bring back Saito. Saito had “died” in a dream as opposed to Mal who had died in top level reality and so she could not be brought back; Saito just needed to remember. I think Miles gave Cobb the assistance of Ariadne not only to help accomplish the mission on behalf of Saito, so that Cobb could return to the States, but also to facilitate the resolution of Cobb’s personal issues. Miles, knowing from Ariadne, the time of the flight, knew to be at the airport to meet Cobb in the final scene. I think Miles is Mal’s father rather than Cobb’s. The top stops spinning; Cobb is truly home.

    Arthur: [Getting out of the water after the kicks] What happened?
    Ariadne: Cobb stayed.
    Arthur: With Mal?
    Ariadne: No, to find Saito.
    Arthur: He’ll be lost.
    Ariadne: No, he’ll be all right.

    • Taylor

      I love this theory about Mal being Cobb’s savior. An inception an inception. Or as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, maybe she was brought into his life (and dreams) as a therapist who got him to dig deep into his psyche in order to come to terms and healing with his wife’s tragic death and the subsequent separation from his children. I’ve always thought Ariadne was highly suspect as the naive unwitting accidental helper. Love you theory. Especially since it still meshes with my larger over arching theory!! Heheh, I jest.


  68. Bea

    With regard to Question 4: How did Cobb find Saito?

    You posited three options and went for the 2nd which is a total possibility, but dare I posit another? I got the feeling that dreaming works a little bit like movie time with all the cutting and editing to get passed the boring bits, like when everyone is asleep and there is no dialogue or action. Cobb mentions that in dreams, you always end up in the middle of things, never at the beginning. This works to explain both your theory of going under another layer, but I think may also work with mine. Again, pesky dream rules make this complicated. I know from my dream experience that not only do you always begin in the middle of things, you can also move between “scenes” without perceiving any problems in terms of space-time impossibilities. I see no reason why this wouldn’t hold true in Nolan’s world. Of course this entire theory is hinged on whether this is a possibility or not, and because the rules of the dream world are so vague and never fully explained, this can be nothing more than a stab in the dark. However, I shall continue to posit the theory anyway. My guess is that limbo is a shared world, and Cobb simply has to will himself to where he wants to be. Considering your theory that the entire movie takes place in his mind, I also don’t see why this isn’t a possibility. In this way, the dream world behaves like a film to the dreamer. It just cuts out and edits things together so the “boring bits” get passed over, and the dreamer doesn’t even realise it. So Cobb could find himself washed up on a beach where Saito is located in Limbo straight after his little speech to Mal without any logical explanation of how he got there.

    That is just my theory anyway.

  69. Josh

    Interesting theory. One thing that came to mind (not sure if anyone in the comments addressed this) is if the “Inception reality” is really Cobb’s dream layer 1, why doesn’t his projection of Mal wreak havoc like it does in every other layer?

  70. Marios

    To Taylor:

    Taylor we got it the other way around. Totems exist outside of the dream, but disappear inside the dream, because the architect of the dream could not possible know what the totem was, in order to recreate it and also recreate its physics. In your dialog:

    Cobb: “So, Ariadne, you need to select a totem that is small enough to keep with you – and only you should know its weight.”
    Ariadne: “Got it. I’m done.”
    Cobb: “You have a totem already?”
    Ariadne: “Yep, sure do.”
    Cobb: “Can I see it if I promise not to touch it?”
    Ariadne: “Sure can. There it is, right there on the table.”
    Cobb: “There is nothing there.”
    Ariadne: “CLEVER? EH? But when I’m in the dream world its a vacuum cleaner. Pretty sneaky, isn’t it?”
    Cobb: —
    Ariadne: “Wah?”
    Cobb: — blink. “I don’t think you are understanding the point of this exercise.”

    the conversation should be the other way around. Ariadne chooses something that exists in the real world (a real vacuum cleaner), put’s it in her pocket, goes into the dream, and the vacuum cleaner is not there anymore.

    Any way I look at it, with the current dream architect-ing rules described in the movie, totems do not make any sense at all, unless if they disappear inside the dream.

  71. Kaon Gre Malous

    Question no 4) My thought is that Cobbs ends up in limbo (for the second time) by drowning in the van (thus dying in each susequent level) – he let Ariadne return and he just waited till the van submerged (he was aware that the second kick was imminent), so that he would drown in it as he was asleep and be resent to Limbo

  72. Taylor

    hahaha – I love that. I have always thought that the Limbo jumping business from the bottom to the top problematic. I mean… why all the hijinks to layer up if all you have to do is kill yourself, go to Limbo and then kill yourself again? Odd. Really problematic.

  73. Ken

    Really may I ask that. In the second level of the dream(in the hotel ) they were all in the state of losting gravity, but why there is still gravity in the third level? ( snow ) thx!

  74. Taylor Holmes

    Hey there everyone,
    Just thought I’d mention that I finally posted my Interstellar review, which can be found here: http://bit.ly/18OhUOw – and would love to hear your opinion of it. Took me long enough to write because I just had the worst time grappling with the various gaping plot holes in the movie. Hope you are all doing well!

    And Ken, that question has always troubled me. My only thought that came to mind was that maybe level two (or three or four, depending on how you count) was close enough to the fall to be effected by the lack of gravity. It is a bit of a plot hole… but I think that that would be Nolan’s answer… no? Sorry for the delayed response.

  75. EM

    The two things that I want to add (rather late) are time dilation and sedation. As stated in the movie there are two versions of time dilation, 12 times via regular PASIV chemicals and 20 times with the bonus sedative.

    The sedative is easier: if you are using it killing yourself sends you to Limbo because killing yourself doesn’t create the inner ear effect of the kick to send you up. That’s where Mal and Cobb got screwed, because as Cobb said they were using a sedative. In addition this means that unless the airplane lady turned off the sedative or told the pilots to dive the plane enough to alter inner ear balance they get stuck at the top level for a while.

    (The movie time skips the week they were stuck on level 1 because once they leave the mark alone the projections don’t care anymore and/or he’s been incepted so his brain is busy with that and his projections are weaker or whatever. Man, I hope Adraine included some books in their safe house or that it was a wild sex party or something. Cobb and Saito simply spend enough time messing around that by the time they kill each other the top layer of the dream is already done, and they skip straight to the plane, otherwise Saito would have woken in a dead body and that probably just sends you back to Limbo, but now he knows to keep killing himself every little while until he winds up in an airplane. Or something, top level time waiting is actually my biggest problem–none of that silly was it all a dream thing for me :).)

    (Math from here: https://paulgude.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/inception-time-dilation )

    12 times, regular PASIV use
    1 hour real time = Twelve hours at dream level 1
    1 hour real time = Six days at dream level two (144 hours)
    1 hour real time = Around two and a half months at dream level three (1728 hours)
    1 hour real time = Around two and a half years at dream level four. (20,736 hours)
    1 hour real time = Around 30 years at dream level five. (248,832 hours)
    1 hour real time = More than 340 years at dream level six. (2,985,984 hours)

    Not that it matters because only two layer dreams are stable without a sedative.

    20 times, PASIV + sedative
    1 hour real time = 20 hours at dream level one
    1 hour real time = 16 days at dream level two. (400 hours)
    1 hour real time = Almost a year at dream level three (8000 hours)
    1 hour real time = About 18 years at dream level four (160000 hours)
    1 hour real time = About 365 years at dream level five (3,200,000 hours)
    1 hour real time = Over 7,000 years at dream level six (64,000,000 hours)

    Therefore to get 50 years (Mal & Cobb, Saito is already 50 so he’s probably on 50 plus extra years at the end)
    Level 1: About two and a half years reality
    Level 2: About a month and a half reality
    Level 3: A little over two days reality
    Level 4: A little less than three hours reality
    Level 5: About eight minutes reality (NOTE: I consider this the most likely Limbo level, because I don’t imagine Cobb/Mal would put themselves under for more than an hour, and they spent time working their way to Limbo, this implies Cobb/Mal went 4 layers down and then Limbo, or that 4 dream layers is the max period and layer 4 is skipped on the way to Limbo)
    Level 6: Around 24 seconds reality

    Mal & Cobb were sedated so only a kick would send them up. However they weren’t using a modified inner-ear sedative, since clearly Yusuf makes a point of using one in the movie. Therefore they could not escape Limbo to a nicer/faster dream space until the sedative wore off, I imagine if they killed themselves in Limbo they’d just wake up again on the shore. Cobb & Mal now know they have a few decades to play around in Limbo before they kill themselves. Between the two of them likely each dreaming 1-2 levels they made their upper levels unstable since there is no one left behind to keep it working so even a modified inner-ear sedative wouldn’t work. So after Mal tosses herself off a building or kills herself but keeps waking up in Limbo she loses her mind.

    L1: Mal Dream
    L2: Cobb Dream
    L3: Mal Dream (top Mal dream collapses or becomes unstable as there is no one dreaming it anymore)
    L4: Cobb Dream (top Cobb dream collapses, whole thing probably collapses, sending them into Limbo)
    L5/Limbo: stuck until sedative wears off and killing yourself works again.

    Same thing with Saito–at the beginning he’s probably like “sigh, how long do I have to wait to kill myself” but then it’s been 50 + years and he maybe never had a totem in the first place, so after a few times killing himself (which likely helps you to forget it’s a dream) he’s just lost. Yes, you say, but inner ear kick should wake him up except that top level Saito (the only surviving dream layer) is dead and so is top level Cobb–I like the let himself drown in the van theory to get back to Limbo, but doesn’t matter either way once his top level body is dead, he is stuck until the sedative wears off.

    The movie obsession with timing it all is because Yusef has no idea about how lower layers are going, but he still needs to give them a kick to get them out before they wind up in Limbo and are stuck there.

    Minor aside:
    I’d also point out that any experienced dream sharer would be able to crack the code of it being a dream super easy (much like Saito, with his (comic book canon) dreamcade experience does fairly fast in the movie hence double-level for him. I think Arthur just carries the die because he was friends with Mal and gets Ariadne a totem to keep Cobb happy–one could easily argue Eames and Yusef don’t bother and have training/militarized subconscious anyway so once their projections start shooting they promptly suicide as Fischer was about to do before Cobb stops him in the movie.

    Interesting that Saito has dreaming experience (comic book) but no militarization, I imagine it is illegal and Arthur missing it was an incredibly easy mistake to make because Fischer would hide it super-carefully and/or it’s super-rare and more on the criminal/government side, is only starting to spread to corporations (limited number of non-government but still military trained dreamers).

  76. Mik73

    Well 5 years later, what can I say. I wrote my theory on this on Screenrant waaay back when. So this is my attempt at regurgitating my points from memory. I must sadly insist that your theory of ‘Cobb was still dreaming’ must be incorrect. I won’t say it IS incorrect, because Nolan intentionally performs his own brand of Inception on us at the very end. But it must be from a storytelling standpoint. The movie falls apart in either logic or artistic integrity (maybe both) if you go with the Layer 1- Layer 2 theory.

    Cobb is not trapped in his dream, and Mal is quite dead, for the main reason that your theory would logically destroy the 2 other main emotional story arcs in the movie. I’m too fond of them to just chuck them like that. You admit as much on your blog: There is no real Fischer and no real Saito in your theory. There cannot be. They are merely a) subconscious projections (no evidence for this). Or B: Accomplices to Mal, which means they invented this story to try and trick Cobb. No evidence for this within the movie either.

    To send the viewer on such beautiful emotional character progression for these 3 protagonists, just to say, “Ha! It was all a dream!” is, as I said, artistically unforgivable really. Nolan was having his fun at the end, it was a nice flourish to a great movie….but the ‘happy’ ending is the only one that makes any sense both within the logic of the movie, from a storytellers point of view, and does honour to both the characters and their worthy actors.

    Fischer must be real so there is actual meaning to his story, his father’s death, his relationship to his father, and his personal revelation over what he must do…as well as the intricate plan, character study and attention to detail of Eames, Cobb, Arthur, Ariadne, etc. No Fischer then what’s the point? To go through all this just to imply a ‘gotcha’ at the end is crass at best, downright deplorable on Nolan’s part at worst.

    Saito must suffer for his crime of orchestrating one of the most elaborate, and criminal, corporate takedown of all time. And suffer he does. He’s shot early, feels great pain through each dream layer, then has to grow old, alone and linger in Limbo until his death and possible permanent vegetative state ‘up top’. Even when rescued he still has to try and pick up the pieces when he’s ‘brought back’ at the end. And old soul in a young body. If Cobb is just dreaming and this is all a Mal plot, then Saito isn’t real and once again….what is the point?

    I know you’re not implying this in your theory as I understand it. But others might say, “well Fischer and Saito might be perfectly real. Cobb just never wakes up from Limbo at the end. Sounds pretty simple to me.” Except this is a pure failure in logic within the context of the movie. If Fischer and Saito are real, then Cobb must interact with Saito in the Real World at some point to arrange this entire heist. And if that’s the case then Mal is dead in the real world, because that’s why Cobb accepts the job. In which case now you have an ending where Mal is still dead in the real world, and the kids father is now a permanent vegetable. No mother, no father. Quite a happy ending there, not.

    So no, “Fischer and Saito are real” and “Cobb remains trapped in Limbo” are mutually exclusive. For Layer 1 & 2 to be true, Fisher and Saito must only ever exist in Cobbs dreamworlds (Layer 2). Which means their storylines are fictional. Which I cannot support.

    And as for Cobb…the movie is about Cobb’s tragedy and his attempt at personal reconciliation and redemption. His real world — THE real world — had become a nightmare for him. Wife dead, separated from kids. His guilt sent him reeling back into sedated dreamland time and again, trying to salvage what he could of his happy memories of Mal, not the agonizing truth of her final moments.

    None of this arc of emotional redemption or enlightenment counts if you think Mal is still alive and Cobb is still trapped. What an incredible waste of storytelling, character study, self-awareness, the audience’s time and emotional energy, you name it.

    It simply requires too much ‘worldbuilding’ on our part to create Layer 1 as you define it. Too many loose threads and question marks. Is there a real person acting as Fischer? Saito? Eames? Ariadne? Arthur? There is no evidence, no dialogue, no break-to-Layer 1 aside that hints of a grand plot to try and shake Cobb out of this supposed Layer 2 dreamworld. You’re talking about an entire other movie (existing in Layer 1 as you define it) featuring the ‘real’ people playing the *roles* of Layer 2 Ariadne, Arthur, Eames, etc. But since we never see these people, never hear them talk amongst each other of a plot to wake up Cobb…then they must be projections of his subconscious…and we’re back to my main point of pulling the rug out on some great character threads.

    It may not be as ‘cool’ to think the happy ending is the right one. But it’s the only one that serves the story, it’s characters, it’s creators and us as the audience. Yep, there’s that spinning top at the end…and for as long as the movie exists it will keep on spinning and drive you, me and everyone else quite mad. Cobb moved on, for better or worse, and frankly so have I. Thankfully, Nolan gives us the right to make the same choice as Cobb did, which is pretty cool. 🙂

  77. Taylor Holmes

    Well done. Pretty good counter-argument. I actually buy what you are saying. But as you say at the beginning of your walkthrough you can’t say anything DEFINITIVELY because Nolan goes so far out of his way to balance the possibilities in all his movies. So it could be that at the end of the movie we are still at least one layer deep in someone’s dream world. I mean, duh, of course its a possibility, thus the poignancy of staring at the top and wondering – is it going to drop? If the evidence wasn’t balanced no one would care. I’m not disputing your argument, I’m just stating the obviousness of the position – that Nolan is careful.

    But here’s a little hint. My job out here on the blog – as I see it anyway – is to get a conversation going. For some movies (like The Signal) I just need need to explain the options as I see it and DING! The discussion is off to the races. I don’t even comment much in order to keep it going. But with some movies, the popular opinion is so strong that discussion is seen as unnecessary. So I point out the minority view and work to clarify this minority view to the consternation of everyone in the majority opinion. The one major exception to this rule for me was my Prestige walk through… which I believe is right even though I am in the minority view. Inception, meh, maybe. Interstellar? Not so much… but my idea is better! hahah.

    But yeah, I don’t disagree with your point of view. Its insightfully stated.

  78. Mr.X

    Hi Taylor!!
    I don´t know if this has been pointed out but it´s pretty interesting that Nolan has implicitily said that Cobb is dreaming during the Mombasa chase in the Wired interview: http://www.wired.com/2010/11/pl_inception_nolan/

    It was important, for example, that Cobb not be as physically skilled in THE REAL WORLD. And when he’s charging through Mombasa, I think Leo does a tremendous job of slightly differentiating his body language and the way he moves in THAT world. Of course, that can be based on what he believes of himself in that particular reality, so […]

    The caps are mine.

  79. De Advocate

    Man, what a thread! So, I may have missed if someone already covered this. I read somewhere that Chris Nolan said of course the top at the end was there to keep the audience guessing, however he emphasized that people were focusing on that too much. He said it doesn’t matter. The point was that Leo DiCaprio’s character finally got where he wanted to be, with his kids. Dream or real, doesn’t matter…he was finally happy.

    • Taylor Holmes

      Well, did you see my post where I declare that there are 7 layers not 3? So no. Your response is TRIPE. hahaha. Ok, so of course the director is going to say that. They gain acclaim and interest by teasing the audience. Nolan did it with the top, a polaroid, a magic trick, and a library. And yet, he plays the, nahhh man, doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter braahhh. No. Calling you out on that one. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have your cake and you can’t eat it too. Nope.

      The entirety of the whole movie was based on this question. And to play it off as a fan-boy fantasy that doesn’t matter? No. His wife is waiting for him and was vilified as a bitch. OR, she committed suicide. This isn’t an insignificant question! He was finally happy.. shaw.

  80. De Advocate

    I don’t think he meant the whole movie didn’t matter, simply just the ending where everyone was trying to figure out if he was in a dream or not. Is the top going to fall over? In that regard, following Dominick’s character arc, it is complete. The thing he was wishing for in the end was seeing his children, he overcame his obstacles (the impossible mission) , he comes to terms with his wife’s death, and is now with his children. So for HIM he disregards whether the top is going to fall as he walks to see his kids, and for his story, the consequences of the reality are no longer what matters (to Dominick). Having finally gotten to the point where he is with his children again, he doesn’t care if it is in the real world or a dream, he will stay here regardless.
    (For a movie with a similar thing going on, The Matrix, Neo finding the real reality is the point. He has no choice but to take the red pill. If he takes the blue pill, end of movie and pointless. So Neo has to find the reality for his story arc, it is his growth and destiny to be the One. Cobb has no such destiny for his story.)
    So Dom Cobb’s character story arc is complete. And yes, the fun is playing with the mystery of all the dream levels. But as I always say, story. Our character to follow is Dom Cobb, it is his arc we invest in throughout the movie. Since we are in Chris Nolan’s universe here, I can digress to The Dark Knight and say, really, we are not following Batman’s story or the Joker’s. Heath Ledger gives such a great performance it does tend to overshadow everything else. The character who has the arc in this one? Harvey Dent! Take away his story line, and it leaves a much flatter film. Batman in this one just keeps on doing Batman and Bruce Wayne stuff. Sure he longs for Rachel Dawes, but nothing changes in that regard. Of course the Joker is just the Joker, an adversary for Batman but that is all he is here (great as he is as a character). Harvey has the girl, gets his career, loses everything and becomes an evil villain. That is arguably the best part of the movie. What I hated about The Dark Knight Rises is how they made Bane impotent at the end as he just moves aside for Talia al Ghul. But I digress.


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