sky-payday.co.uk
Commentary

Inception: Theories, Points & Counterpoints

Yappers Nick Rogers, Christopher Lloyd and Austin Lugar dissect and discuss “Inception’s” true outcome. Obviously, MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS, and please join the debate with comments.

Nick Rogers
One ticket to “Inception” should cost about $750. Theater ushers could then give three hours of college credit to departing patrons in lieu of mints.

Intelligent, witty and exhilarating, “Inception” knocks you flat with punches of sheer spectacle and pop psychology no other summer 2010 film (hell, no other 2010 film, period) has even bothered to throw.

So few movies demand such attention, and Christopher Nolan’s too busy throwing haymakers to hold the audience’s hand through this mammoth mindgame — a film that, at first blush, feels like the bravest, boldest, most bracing blockbuster since “The Matrix.” Its inter-dream audacity makes “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” look like a Little Einstein title.

Nolan’s latest dangerous tumble down a rabbit hole of perception, identity and memory might be his masterpiece. It might also be the one most open to narrative interpretation.

In many ways, being taken by “Inception” is like being swept up in street magic: For all its complexities and exposition, there are simple illusions and emotions at play that dazzle the most. The same thing went for certain episodes, and later the ultimate endgame, of “Lost”: For all of the scientific-notation talk of “constants,” it boiled down to love and togetherness.

Those are present in “Inception,” too — very much a story of fathers & sons and husbands & wives, albeit viewed through a grimy prism. We all have dreams of success and comfort for our children and spouses that we hope become reality. Well, in “Inception,” you may see those dreams play out (at least in part), but they might simply remain dreams.

IF YOU’VE NOT SEEN “INCEPTION” AND WANT PURITY, BAIL NOW.

While this doesn’t begin to detail everything that happens in “Inception,” here’s the main crux (which could serve as a recap for those who got temporarily lost). Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a single-minded man: He wants to get home to his kids, Phillipa and James, after being forced to flee the United States. The latest job presented to him by Saito (Ken Watanabe) makes that possible for him: Plant an idea inside a rival competitor’s mind to break up his company.

Think of this heist film as “Ocean’s Pi” and Dom — in DiCaprio’s best performance in years — as a man who values the solace of theft over the pain of creation for good reason.

Dom’s an international fugitive after authorities believe he murdered his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard). In actuality, Mal took her own life.

After spending a lifetime in a shared subconscious with Dom — a lazy afternoon in real time — Mal didn’t want to leave to return to Phillipa and James, fascinated by the god-playing world she and Dom had created.

To persuade her to return, Dom performed “inception,” planting an idea in her mind — that idea being that the world they were in wasn’t actually real and that it didn’t matter if they died there because they’d always have each other in the real world.

The problem is that this belief carried over into the real world, which Mal also believed to be false and a place where they couldn’t actually die — tragically not the case when she took a nosedive off a hotel windowsill. (Here, “Inception” approaches the cautionary-tale aspects of “Altered States.”)

In the end, Dom, having carried out Saito’s heist mission despite breakneck complications, returns to Phillipa and James on American soil. But before embracing them, he spins his dreidel on a dining-room table. The dreidel is Dom’s totem, a unique way for him and him alone to discern reality from dreams. If it topples, he’s in reality. If it continues spinning, he’s in a dream. Although it audibly slows, Nolan cuts to credits before we know for certain.

Yes, “Inception” can be enjoyed on its surface purely as a cerebral ride with a wicked stinger tease. However, in a film that takes place within dreams, dreams within dreams, dreams within dreams within dreams and, in the climax, the raw landscape of the subconscious, it should surprise no one that the narrative’s face value could easily be discarded.

(On a side note, I don’t know whether “Inception” will contend for a Best Picture Oscar. But if there’s a better-edited film this year, I want to see it right now. At one point, Lee Smith simultaneously edits together five — count ‘em, five — layers of consciousness with suggested hints to an invisible sixth.)

While I think it’s impossible to grasp beyond basic to moderate narrative understanding after the strap-in, hang-on feel of the first-time viewing (especially with Watanabe’s strained English-language dialogue), suggestions are sprinkled throughout that the final moments are all in Dom’s head (from the moment he willfully stays in Fischer’s subconscious to the final shot). In some regards, that makes it a mega, meta “Memento.”

Perhaps the entire film is, too, save for sequences in Dom and Mal’s initial shared subconscious and the torturous reality following their departure from it.

Here are my rationales, and Christopher Lloyd’s counterpoints, discussing the theory that Dom’s regained freedom and family in the finale are not to be taken as literal reality, but as a wish-fulfillment fragment of his slumbering subconscious.

As it’s said in the movie, “The deeper the issues, the stronger the catharsis,” and “Truth? What truth?”

1. Where’s Grandma?
Nick:
Unless I missed her somehow, where was “Grandma” in that final scene? Dom’s mother was presumably watching the kids while Dom’s father, Miles (Michael Caine), was off at a foreign university, right? Subconsciously, Dom has no idea who’s watching his kids now or where they’ve ended up. He’d like to think they’re playing in the idyllic backyard of Grandma’s house, so that’s where he envisions them.

Chris: Maybe grandma and Michael Caine are divorced and hate each other.

Nick: That’s a big leap of faith to make. Given the family fallout resulting from Mal’s suicide, I’d think Nolan would bring that up were it to be true.

2. How old are those kids again?
Nick:
As to those kids, notice how they never seemed to age. And, again, unless I missed it, there was never a specific amount of time mentioned that Dom had been away from them (although it was long enough for it to have become a burden). Perhaps they’re at the idealized age at which he chooses to remember them in his subconscious.

Chris: The kids did age. I know this only because I spotted in the end credits two different sets of actors. It said James, 20 months and James, 3 years, etc.

Nick: Good counterpoint. I saw that credit notation, too, but didn’t know whether they’d been played in a flashback sequence. I still think the lack of explanation for how long Dom’s been away — and presumably able to build some sort of business around his technology — seems suspicious.

3. One call solves it all.
Nick:
After at least touching upon the intricacies of extradition in “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan pretty much just leaves it at the idea that Saito can make a call and get Dom back in the United States — and under his own name, no less. That seems like an atypical gap for Nolan and perhaps a tad too easy for it to be reality.

Chris: I thought of this same point. You could also argue that if he really wanted his life back, he could have targeted the governor of his home state and planted the inception: “I must grant Dom Cobb a full pardon.” Probably a lot easier to get to a governor than businessman Fischer (Cillian Murphy), or Saito, for that matter.

Nick: Ha. When you phrase it that way, it makes me think of Reggie Jackson believing he must kill the Queen in “The Naked Gun.” To me, a lack of explanation for Saito’s pull was the biggest smoking gun for the argument that the reunion is not to be believed.

4. Geek out on Greek mythology.
Nick: Apart from being the noble bearer of reams of exposition, Ellen Page’s dream-architect character is Ariadne, whose namesake is famous for giving Theseus (Dom) a sword and thread to lead him out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur (Mal). However, Theseus abandons Ariadne (much as Dom does in choosing to stay in the subconscious and not following Ariadne out). Perhaps Dom, like an addict, is creating loopholes in his mind that he thinks will lead him out and, in conjuring new characters in his mind, is drawing on his knowledge of Greek mythology.

Chris: Yes, the mythology allegory was fairly obvious, and I think just thrown in to show off how literate Nolan is.

Nick: Greek mythology: Always worth paying attention in class.

5. Arthur seems too good for that.
Nick:
For me, this was the biggest huh-what: Dom’s heist pointman, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), doesn’t anticipate that Fischer’s brain would have had a militarized subconscious from training to prevent extraction/inception?! That seems unexpectedly sloppy for a notably fastidious guy like Arthur. Maybe that was another manifestation of Dom’s brain showing the impossibility of ever really getting home.

Chris: Meh. If he’s so fastidious, how come he didn’t notice Dom’s obsession with Mal that kept ruining their missions? Besides, it would be hard to know if an exec received dream training unless you tapped his dreams first. It’s not like there’s a Web listserv where dream companies post a list of their clients. Now maybe if you tapped the CEO of a dream company …

Nick: This is the sticking point that ties a couple of my theories together. OK, so the supposition is that Dom’s been away from his kids long enough to turn his dream-invasion technology into some sort of business, recruit a team and have people (like Tom Hardy’s Eames) who he’s worked with “in the past.” If Dom’s team didn’t teach Fischer in the art of avoiding extraction/inception, then who did? Is dream invasion a growth market? I don’t recall mention of any sort of competitor to Dom’s services.

Maybe, as there was no spoon in “The Matrix,” there is no business. Maybe Dom was just a scientist tragically caught up in his own research, now subconsciously envisioning this as a likely application for his work. (He could be forever asleep in an environment like the one Yusuf [Dileep Rao] shows him.)  Also, Arthur did know Mal was tampering with their missions; she shot him in the prologue dream with Saito. He just didn’t know Dom had stashed her away in a metaphysical memory hotel, as Ariadne learned when she took the elevator down to Dom’s brain basement.

Yes, I just typed that previous sentence about a major summer blockbuster.

Austin: I need to see it again for a lot of these points. During the movie, I had a theory that Mal was never real, but an inception planted by Arthur. That was mostly from odd lines like Cobb saying they met in a dream and seeing how her presence defines his entire situation. Their warnings about inceptions ran parallel to her involvement in his life. I’m not sure if that plays out, but I think it just works best as a thematic parallel.

I could just be the romantic or hopeful, but I’m not sure if I want to think that the totem keeps spinning at the end. Thematically, that just felt like less of a cliffhanger, but Nolan giving a “THE END????” type of shot. I think it’s too cruel to think that Dom doesn’t get to be with his kids at the end; even though it may just be a year or so in the real world, he had to endure potentially more than 100 years to get to that point.

Nick: That’s certainly an optimistic view and one that’s wholly possible. If Mal wasn’t real, though (an idea I’d love you to elaborate on), who fathered Dom’s kids?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

92 Responses to “Inception: Theories, Points & Counterpoints”

  1. joshBenjamin says:

    Dan Redman, great observation! Dom wasn’t the dreamer and he really did return home. The telltale sign is the wedding ring. It’s only on when he’s either dreaming or in a flashback. In present and awake, he doesn’t have it on. I believe he did not have it on when he wakes on the plane, but the movie does a good job of not making that too obvious. Plus, I was too caught up in the emotion of the film that I wasn’t paying as much attention to the ring. Great film!

  2. Ted Carmichael says:

    Thanks, Dan, for the re-cap.

    However, it can be Cobb’s dream if he is the target of the inception. Just like Fischer is in all the levels, even though he is the target of Cobb’s inception, and thus "dreaming" at the highest level. I think.

  3. Dan Redman says:

    @TED CARMICHAEL RE: your questions about who the "host dreamer" was at each level, the trick is who wasn’t there in each sequence. Dream 1 (unless the whole movie was a dream) was the one in the rain, and it was Yusuf’s dream they were in. He drank too much on the plane, so it was raining. He stays on that level from then on, because they can’t go deeper if they’re the host. Dream 2, the hotel, was Arthur’s dream. That’s why it went zero-G when the vehicle Arthur was in was suspended in mid-air and it kept focusing on Arthur’s sleeping body in the van. Dream 3, the snow fortress, was Eames’s dream, because Ariadne asked if Eames had made modifications to her level map, which he could do by virtue of being the dreamer. Beyond that, Limbo didn’t require a host dreamer since it was a shared dreamstate populated by the subconscious of whomever was in it. The question would have to be (if it’s all a dream from the very beginning) whose dream are they in at the REAL first level? It can’t be Cobb, because he descends through all the levels.

  4. Drew says:

    Just a thought— in the movie, when he is assembling his ‘team’, they never use any form of transportation, they just transition from one part of the world to another.

    I believe this might suggest that the leads ‘team’ is manifested versions of himself, his ego, superego, and id… I think his team may have been projections (these guys all found a way to kick butt; almost like superheroes… and minimal to no backstory for each). Also, there were no moments of those characters being around when he wasn’t.

    Ariadne was different, and found a way to join him through all stages. Obvious Greek reference aside, she gave him the tools to navigate the labrynth… and she also ‘killed’ Mal in one of the deepest layers of his psyche. She ‘planted’ the idea that projection Mal was not real (without a safe!). She also retrieved information about his postion in the death of his wife. Finally, she ‘knew’ he would be OK… this might be because the id, ego, superego were all OK and as they are manifestations and/or projections of himself, he also must be OK.

  5. Zach says:

    @Bill Dixon
    I totally agree.

    I believe that the movie was called ‘inception’ because it is really all about Mal trying to plant the inception in Dom’s mind that she made it out and he must kill himself to be with her. She must have escaped into reality when she killed herself, only to find that Dom was still stuck in limbo. so she set up a shared dream with him and forced him into low levels of his consciousness to plant the inception that the world he believes is real, is not.

    Many aspects support this, especially the last scene. The one part of this theory that I struggled with was that the top falls over often at the beginning of the movie, even though it is supposed to spin forever in a dream. However, in the movie Dom says that the totem used to spin forever when Mal spun it in her dreams, so it might not spin forever if someone else spins it.

    I only saw the movie once, and I’m still working on the theory, but I would like feedback!

  6. Bill Dixon says:

    I think the straightforward explanation is that Mal was right. She got out. It may be the case that she is planting the inception. Her dialogue about nameless agents chasing Cobb around lends creditability to the idea that Cobb is still stuck in Limbo. She killed herself and he didn’t. Unless we know for certain that they were in reality "layer" when she jumps then we don’t know if Cobb got left behind. What if Mal was right. At the ending the top is still spinning. Cobb will find it still spinning and then figure it all out.

  7. negev79 says:

    Nick – I think "metaphysical memory hotel" would be a great band name. Make sure they pay you royalties if they make it big though.

  8. […] Inception: Theories, Points & Counterpoints | THE FILM YAP […]

  9. fotokat says:

    I believe that the sato character and the rest of the team were put together by the Micheal Cain character to rescue his son from his grief. I think that Cobb bailed after the death of his wife because of his guilt over his use of Inception on her. I am not sure if Cobb is even wanted in the US for her murder or if that is part of his subconscious guilt.

    Cain mentions that he should be home with his kids, that presents won’t cut it and is pretty flippant when he states that the US would make an exception to bring Cobb back. He also begs Cobb to come back to reality. They seem to have enough contact for Cain to know how Cobb has built up a whole story around the death of his wife and he knows how Cobb has been making a living as an extractor. I think he pur Sato up to creating a job to bring Cobb home. Sato is an international business man so maybe the Fisher thing is legit, he would need to get something out if the deal.

    Aradne takes to dreams pretty easily and I think she was part of the play. Like Aradne in Greek mythology she is there as a guide to bring Cobb to catharsis. The rest of the team is in on it as well.

    I only have one question. Eames said that he had tried Inception once and it didnt take. Could they have tried Inception on Cobb at some point, learning allof his secrets to figure out how to finally help him? Would he have remebered that? Would love to know what you think

  10. ELL says:

    @DANNY G

    Regardless of how many pychiatrists declare someone sane someone could still do something rash, so that’s certainly nothing insurmountable. Further, think about how ridiculous that statement is really? Why would someone be compelled to actually have themself "declared sane" by a psychiatrist…and even more have THREE psychiatrists declare them sane? Why not five or seventeen?

    Say Dom went into court and explained the whole situation, and that she had been trying to set him up. Don’t you think that would support his argument that she, for some reason, thought it necessary to be "declared sane"?

    The idea that it is said that THREE psychiatrists declared her sane actually furthers my belief that it was a dream. That’s not realistic, and Nolan pays close attention to details like that.

  11. Danny G says:

    Looks like loads of ppl have not really paid attention to the movie and bringing the wrong facts here…JD, sorry to burst your bubble mate, but Mal had three psychiatrists declare herself SANE before she did what she did, so that the authorities WILL NOT be able to believe Cobb’s story that she killed herself…she then had a declaration written by her attorney that she feared for her life when she was with Cobb…so that he would have to jump with her coz she had fixed up his life…watched the movie twice mate…that debunks your theory…sorry mate

  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Herbert, bevshemaine. bevshemaine said: #Inception: Theories, Points & Counterpoints http://ow.ly/2eDIE […]

  13. Jd says:

    Fantastic movie! One of the best i’ve seen in a long, long time. With that being said, here’s my input:

    Ive read through most of the comments made above and I’m still feeling that the main "reality" of the movie (ie. the scenes we see Michael Cain, including the final scene of the movie, the main warehouse where the team prepares to for the inception, the trip to Buenos Aires, etc.) is a dream world created by dom.

    There was a point in the movie where dom says to Ariadne that Mal was declared by three American psychiatrists to be "mentally unstable." Given this fact, i cant see how the American government would blame him for her death. simply put, it was an act of suicide committed by a mentally unstable person. why would dom be deemed a criminal and have to flee the country?

    The only reason i can come up with is that dom believes he is the reason Mal killed herself. only he (and by the end of the movie Ariadne) knows about the inception he did to her. as a result of this belief, in dom’s dream world (ie. the world the audience was led to think of as "reality" that i mentioned above), he banishes himself from the united states and thus from ever being able to see his children. this is his guilty conscious taking over and punishing himself for the inception he put in Mal’s head while they were stuck in limbo. he will not allow himself to return to the US and see his kids until he has come to terms with his wife’s death and the role he played or, more importantly, think he played in it.

    The end of the movie indicates dom’s acceptance of his wife’s death and his coming to terms with the role he played in her passing. This was all supported by the scene where he and Ariadne go from the snow/mountain-side fort to the mal/dom-created limbo world. it is here, after persistent pestering from Ariadne, that dom confronts mal (which in this case represents his guilt) and comes to terms with it.

    Therefore, dom is able to get back into the US (all it took was one phone call and the alleged wife-murderer is allowed back into the US using his real name and passport –> more of a reason to suspect that this was all a dream) and see his children. Even though dom’s todem was still spinning as the movie ended (which as he explained earlier in the movie meant that he was in a dream world, not reality), this was the "reality" he wanted to be in. dom simply didnt care if it was real or a dream, he just cared that he was finally able to be with his children and that he had let go of his guilt.

  14. Michael says:

    Has anyone noticed that Robert Fischer’s name is the same as that of the great chess player, Bobby Fischer? There may be a solution in which Fischer has destroyed Saito (i.e., Saito hasn’t come back from limbo) and Fischer has successfully resisted the inception. This solution would seem to require at a minimum that Eames (or another forger) is impersonating the wakened Saito in the final phase of Dom’s dream.

    Dom’s name seems to be an in-joke, since DOM in computer programming stands for "document object model", a tree-like structure with successive nodes. The structure of the dom is similar to the dream structure in the film, a descending tree with a series of nodes and branches and a root node.

  15. Marv says:

    I didn’t read all the comments but i just thought it might be a possibility that either the entire movie was within Cobb’s subconscious or starting from the point where they go to test the powerful sedative with yusuf. This is very possible because after waking up from the sedation he was about to spin the top when interrupted by saito and after that the top was not spun until the very end of the movie at which point it kept spinning. So my theory is that the sedative put him into a dream state in which they continued their original plan and went so far down that he ended up in limbo. So the whole plane ride was in a dream. They said the sedative put a person under for 3-4 hours.. meaning up to 40 in the first dream state ( the rest of the movie). The planning took place the night before the flight and the flight was 10 hours long only then going for about an hour longer until he reached his kids ( he obviously already knew what his kids looked like from before mal died). All of the plan happened within a 40 hour time period.

  16. Nikki says:

    Not only is the whole movie a dream – it is one gigantic metaphor for filmmaking and, even further, a reflection of Nolan in particular as a filmmaker. Now, before you disregard the rest of what I’m going to say – hear me out. Leonardo DiCaprio helped develop the final stages of the script with Nolan and in publicity for the movie has said that he based Cobb off of Nolan and compared Inception to Fellini’s 8 1/2, which we all know is an autobiographical movie about the director and basically a movie about filmmaking.

    Not enough evidence to be convinced yet, right? Where is there evidence of this in the movie? Well, in a nutshell, here is what I think and have worked out through many discussions with my friends who also saw this movie. Every member of the team represents a player in the filmmaking world. Cobb is the director, Arthur the producer, Ariadne is the screenwriter, Eames is the actor, Yusuf is the techie, Saito is the production company, more or less the financial backer that has the monetary stake in the production and success, and Fischer is the audience. Nolan speaks about the similarities between the team in the movie and the team it takes to produce a film in Film Comment. Now think back to the roles of each character – everything makes sense. We all struggled to figure out how Mal fit into the puzzle. Was she just a character used in order to create Cobb’s issues? But no, because every minute detail of this movie is so unbelievably deliberate that this couldn’t be it. We think that she represents the struggles of a director as Nolan perceives them to be. In this way, it would seem that he thinks it the ultimate challenge for a director to leave out his own baggage, struggles, prejudices and what-have-you in order to create a more perfect shared dream (aka movie) that will more accurately resonate with the mark (aka the most individuals in the audience).

    Inception is one poetic love letter from Nolan to the cinema. Shared dreaming is essentially what it feels like to experience a movie with every person watching it with you. The shared dream (movie) is also a dream created by the team who creates it – the writers, the directors, the actors, etc. Implanting an idea in the mind of an individual is exactly what films aim to do. They try to bring the individual watching it on a narrative journey to discover something about themselves, humanity, or the world. The catharsis is the most important theme in this movie… it is ultimately what Cobb is seeking and the key to inception for Fischer. It is so powerful and moving and it is what movies aim to do to the viewer – to move them, to make them cry, to make them laugh, to make them question, to make them perceive ideas, relationships and the world in a new way. Filmmaking is dreaming. And though everything we see is a dream, the deeper meanings and emotions are real, and this is what every great film strives to achieve.

  17. David Parker says:

    This film has one intention, to put you in a maze, similar to one designed by the architect, and see where you end up. It’s designed so there isn’t any definitive ansewer, but merely your own interpretations, based on how you veiw life. Freakin’ brilliant! You can watch the film a dozen times, each time approaching it from a different angle, and come up with diferent theories.
    BTW, did anyone else notice that the song used for the "kick", NO REGRETS, sung by Edith Piaf? Is it coincidence that the actress who played Mal,also played the part of Edith Piaf in LA VIE EN ROSE? Not sure if it has any meaning, but it has a very dreamlike quality to it.
    When is the last time filmgoers brains were engaged like this, in the middle of July no less? God bless Chris Nolan.
    Also, if you haven’t seen his first film, FOLLOWING, check it out.

  18. Alex says:

    Just my take. The spinning of the top is an example of our belief in the dream. It actually doesn’t matter, and this is what is amazing. Whether the top falls or doesn’t in the end makes no difference. Wow, this film was incredible. Stop and think about how simple it all really is. We are the ones incepted. We watch this business man wake up on a plane. The people around him were all part of his dream. Anyone else of significance in the film most likely represented some part of his life and its struggles. His wife committing suicide after having two kids and his guilt, the stress of the traveling “business man”. More interesting would be to examine how those characters represented some part of his life. For example, why was Ariadne’s character the only one that knew about Mal – it would seem that she was the younger Mal in his dream, he incepted her at the café when they first dated, she was there with him in the end. Maybe Dom’s character just got back from Japan and screwed some business man there, and his conscious is getting to him. I believe the moment that he woke up on the plane was the only time in the film that we found ourselves in reality. The top spinning was probably something he just did when he came home, a memento from his wife. All the commentary is simply us trying to explain his dream.

  19. Bryan says:

    Perhaps this has already been discussed, but I am at work and only have time to digest the initial post and a few of the comments.

    What about that dang Lawyer and Plane Ticket? Why does Nolan start out by showing a sliver of the ticket at first, then a little more, then even more and finally almost the whole ticket? What is the destination written on that ticket? Is it my own mind playing tricks on me or did I read that it said "Los Angeles" or "Northern California"?

    And why does the Lawyer keep repeating something to the effect of "You have to go now!" over and over and over again. Could it be that this is the "kick" Dom is getting from someone on the outside telling him to wake up?

    What if this whole film was a navigated stroll through Dom’s subconscious guilt over the death of his wife? What if we were simply taking part in the Freudian psychotherapy session administered by Dom’s hypnotist?

    What if I stop obsessing about this film and get back to work?

  20. KJAMES says:

    I read a lot of these but I came up with my own conclusion before this. First off, I don’t think the whole movie is a dream. Multiple times in the film Cobb spins the top and it falls over and he sighs with relief knowing he is in reality. If the top didn’t actually work that way because it was Mal’s or because other people touched it than the final shot of the top would make no difference. The part that interested me the most was the final scene of old Saito and Cobb. We see old Saito reach for the gun while the top is spinning but we don’t see what happens. I think that Saito shoots Cobb and he goes into an even DEEPER level of subconscious. One that is unexplained because it’s more about feelings than thoughts. It looks like he woke up but he actually went further into his consciousness. There’s also the fact that Cobb always looked away when his kids would turn to look at him because he knew they weren’t real but if he saw their faces it would become his reality. At the end he sees his kids faces (in same clothes and in same positions) and accepts this as his reality even though it is a deep dream. He no longer cares if the top falls over or not because he saw his kids faces again. That’s just me though.

  21. Hannah says:

    Nick, I just wanted to point out that the dreamsharing technology and such was NOT Cobb’s technology. They blatantly say that it was developed by the military. Cobb also says he is the best mind thief, but that does NOT mean that he is the ONLY one. Plus if he *was* the only one doing this then WHY does Saito say he’s auditioning him??? If he’s the only person in the world able to do it, then it would seem that Saito had no other choice. Which was not the case at all. It seems blatantly obvious that there are other people going around stealing stuff from people in their dreams other than Cobb and the people he has worked with. Which also means that it has become common enough that there are people out there teaching these CEOs and such how to defend their subconscious.

  22. nicolicious says:

    i dont know about anything…. my head hurts… i think the whole thing is just a dream….

    but more importantly isn’t Marion Cotillard the hottest crazy bitch you’ve ever seen? Just stunning…

    great cast, im going to see it again…

  23. ELL says:

    ANDREW. You definitely have a valid point. It would be worth the effort for her to set up the whole thing elaborately if it was real. She’s willing to commit suicide afterall (if she’s wrong), so there’s certainly no level of effort she’d spare to make her point.

    But, for me, part of the problem lies in the set-up. The trashed room, the note she supposedly left with the attorny claiming that she’s afraid of him, etc. All that stuff would be pretty damning certainly, but it would not be impossible to overcome. Yet…it is viewed as an absolute no-win scenario by Dom. His only recourse was to FLEE. There was absolutely no option for him to explain the entire thing to him, and rely on possible forensic evidence to demonstrate that she actually fell from the opposite balcony (thus proving Dom didn’t push her). …the trail of evidence would also include who is anyone rented that adjacent hotel room, where did her body land in the street, etc. It’d have been a messy trial for sure, but one not impossible for Dom to be proven innocent. …but it was taken as a certainty that he had no chance of proving himself innocent.

    That fact, I believe, is very dreamlike. Similar to the rogue agents always tracking him. Why are they tracking him? It’s not totally clear. They just are. I feel like in dreams there are a lot more absolutes than reality. It’s more emotional/visceral and about dealing with the current situation (not analyzing WHY it is happening). In a dream, you don’t think "who is trying to break into my house?" or "what in the world is that monster?". I think if you did, if you applied analytics to it, you’d realize you were in a dream and you’d wake up. But you don’t do that, you just RUN!

    I think if Dom had considered the option to explain Mal’s suicide in detail (spilling his guts) he had a strong chance of being absolved of responsibility. Further, if his case was SO overwhelming it becomes even more unlikely that one phone call can make it all go away.

  24. Roulette says:

    @ DANNY G: Very amusing observation. I enjoyed reading that because I didn’t think this movie lived up to the hype after I saw it. But now this resilient parasite is getting worse in my head haha. This whole movie is a paradox, much like the staircases.

    So, points to notice on my second viewing:
    – Dom’s (actual) totem (possibly the wedding ring)
    – The scene with Dom at the beginning before he actually takes the job.
    – The relationship with Dom and the Architect.

    I’m not going to get into the argument of whether or not the whole movie was a dream. I read every single comment here, and I noticed that not many people have talked in great length about the Architect, who I believe has probably the most pivotal role in the ending and holds a clue. You guys can take it and use it however you want, but I just wanted to point it out and why I feel the last part was a dream.

    Upon recruiting the Architect [Ariadne], Michael Caine explicitly says that she is better than Dom with her creations. She is the one who built every level of the dream if I’m not mistaken AND she’s the only one with Dom in limbo [after providing the kick for Fischer, to revive him in the 3rd level]. After Mal’s death and Dom’s stabbing by Mal in that level [Remember that Dom is the host], the architect provides her own kick by jumping out to go through the levels up to the first where the van is underwater. Everyone gets out except for Saito (dead) and Dom who was left in the deepest level of his subconscious looking for Saito. When the crew asked the Architect in that first level about Dom, the architect says "He’ll be alright…" in a rather somber tone leading me to believe that the last scene starting from the plane when they all finally come to [or perhaps even the scene with old Saito and Dom] could be an extra level that the Architect built for Dom to be reunited with his kids.

    Earlier in the movie, Dom looks away from his kids when they were turning around, so he [nor we] ever saw them. BUT the Architect was with him in that dream as she went down the elevators, so I believe she did see them and decided create that for him in an extra stage, and I feel he was content with that, which is why he didn’t care at all about the totem. Yes the totem was wobbling, and it never did before in any of the dreams, but then again, it was never his to begin with. If I’m missing something, let me know. Just food for thought. Thanks for reading.

  25. Roulette says:

    @ DANNY G: Very amusing observation. I enjoyed reading that because I didn’t think this movie lived up to the hype after I saw it. But now this resilient parasite is getting worse in my head haha. This whole movie is a paradox, much like the staircases.

    So, points to notice on my second viewing:
    – Dom’s (actual) totem (possibly the wedding ring)
    – The scene with Dom at the beginning before he actually takes the job.
    – The relationship with Dom and the Architect.

    I’m not going to get into the argument of whether or not the whole movie was a dream. I read every single comment here, and I noticed that not many people have talked in great length about the Architect, who I believe has probably the most pivotal role in the ending and holds a clue. You guys can take it and use it however you want, but I just wanted to point it out and why I feel the last part was a dream.

    Upon recruiting the Architect [Ariadne], Michael Caine explicitly says that she is better than Dom with her creations. She is the one who built every level of the dream if I’m not mistaken AND she’s the only one with Dom in limbo [after providing the kick for Fischer, to revive him in the 3rd level]. After Mal’s death and Dom’s stabbing by Mal in that level [Remember that Dom is the host], the architect provides her own kick by jumping out to go through the levels up to the first where the van is underwater. Everyone gets out except for Saito (dead) and Dom who was left in the deepest level of his subconscious looking for Saito. When the crew asked the Architect in that first level about Dom, the architect says "He’ll be alright…" in a rather somber tone leading me to believe that the last scene starting from the plane when they all finally come to [or perhaps even the scene with old Saito and Dom] could be an extra level that the Architect built for Dom to be reunited with his kids.

    Earlier in the movie, Dom looks away from his kids when they were turning around, so he [nor we] ever saw them. BUT the Architect was with him in that dream as she went down the elevators, so I believe she did see them and decided create that for him in an extra stage, and I feel he was content with that, which is why he didn’t care at all about the totem. Yes the totem was wobbling, and it never did before in any of the dreams, but then again, it was never his to begin with. If I missed something, let me know. Just food for thought.

  26. Ralph says:

    Just throwing this out here, but something I thought was that Dom’s "team" was actually trying to extract information from Dom in order to really determine if he is innocent or guilty. They finally found out the true story about Mal’s death and are able to vindicate him and he is then able to return to U.S. to be with his family. All of this was setup by Michael Caine.

  27. Brian says:

    Borrowing from my website (www.birthvillage.com) and it’s plethora of baby names :) I’ve compiled the following meanings:

    1. Dom -> Content
    2. Mal -> Messenger of God
    3. Ariadne -> Most Sacred
    4. Eames -> Prosperous protector
    5. Yusuf -> Comes from Yosef meaning -> God will increase. Also, Josef was a dreamer and interpretor of dreams.
    6. Arthur -> As in, King Arthur and the knights of the round table.
    7. Saito -> Correct

    Do what you will with it.

  28. Brad Chin says:

    There is also the possibility that Cobb has two totems. The one from Mal indicates the level of dream that he wants to be in (the one he’s addicted to) and the ring indicates that he is in reality or the highest level of dream.

  29. Danny G says:

    I have my fair share of theories, but I’ll leave them for later as it’s late at night and I have just come back from a second viewing of the movie with more details and some questions to pose too…but before I go into that tomorrow, I’ll leave u guys with this thought…Dom says ‘an idea is the most resilient parasite’…the fact that we are all here debating this shows that the greatest act of inception was not on any of the characters in the movie, but it was done on us! An idea, so resilient, now consuming us, brought about by chris Nolan’s dream (he actually does say this in ‘an iterview- that a movie is an insight into a director’s dream)…part of an interesting experiment – and boy am I loving every second of it! Good nite guys and gals, and sweet dreams…

  30. Andrew says:

    @Ell
    I’m not saying this to discount the possibility of Mal’s ledge jump being merely a dream, but I don’t think the possibility that it’s an actual real memory should be completely discounted either. I think it’s still pretty ambiguous.

    When I was watching the scene, I did wonder if there was maybe some dreamy loop going on, so I tried to see if the stuff in her hotel room looked as trashed as in Dom’s hotel room. It didn’t.

    Also, IF her suicide really really happened, and her goal was to create an air-tight situation where Dom not only wouldn’t stop her but would also probably join her, why WOULDN’T she go to the trouble of renting two rooms across from each other and trashing one of them. It’s totally plausible. This was done on their anniversary, clearly something she had time to prepare for, and when her plan ends in a double-suicide, money is of no concern!

  31. MS says:

    While I do understand the reasoning of the point GAZ made, regarding her being in a different room, just think about it for a second. She wanted to talk Cobb into jumping with her. If she tried to do that in the hotel room she had trashed, she wouldn’t have the chance to go through with her leap of faith–Cobb would just grab a hold of her and pull her back in. She knows this. She had the knife in her hand…Cobb was there to pull her back. She created a situation where it was impossible for Cobb to pull her back. Either he jumps with her, or he watches her die. This is an all or nothing gambit on her part, which explains the extra steps she made.

    Also, it’s not as if Cobb was in the bathroom while she trashed the room and took the elevator down and up and talked to the manager for the room across…she could have easily done this all before Cobb even got the message to go to the hotel room, comfortably waiting in the room across. In the end, I think that’s really the only way to look at it.

  32. ELL says:

    GAZ said "People seem to be over-looking this. I reckon this memory has either been implanted or at the very least manipulated to make the ‘memory’ have more impact for Dom by having him face his wife as she jumps instead of speaking to her from inside the same room. Also I’d have to rewatch it to check but I’m sure the lighting/interior of the room through the window Mal is on is looks very similiar to the room Dom is in suggesting it’s the same room viewed from two different perspectives (which could be a paradox similiar to what Arthur does twice with the staircases)."

    Great point. More and more I think Mal was actually right, and she is probably just trying to get Dom to come out of the dream world. The fact that she is in a different building from him is a very important point. That’s quite an undertaking that she’s done (if it’s to be believed as real). Are we to believe that she rented the hotel room precisely across from the one where Dom is? …then, of course, trash the room, go down the elevator, go across the street to the other hotel, go back up the elevator, and climb out onto the ledge? That’s a lot of faffing, and it’s totally unecesarry if that’s a real life event. It is, however, the way a scenario like that might play out in a dream, where everything is fraught with symbolism. Her being close to him, face to face, but just far enough away to where he is completely helpless to intervene…very dreamlike situation.

    As I think about this situation, the more the threat of getting lost in this world seems feasable. It would be an actual threat! Say we actually could do something like this forced dreaming scenario and stack dreams. What if you forgot how many times you had stacked the dream?

  33. mike says:

    Troy D wrote:"4) Cobb and Mal wake up from Limbo with only one "Kick" (suicide) but it took, what, around 4 to wake up Adriadne and Fischer from Limbo, plus they never show you how Cobb and Saito get out…."

    This is the best evidence of your theory that he is just some guy on a business trip or whatever, having a really elaborate dream and subconsciously providing HIMSELF with catharsis for his wife’s death. Think about it: they never really go into detail as to how this dream system operates…they just plug into it. It’s just accepted…again, a dream-like reaction. No explanation is needed.

    Only hole in this theory is that, as you also pointed out, his children appear as they did in his prior visions. If Nolan had ONLY changed that this would be a closed case. Just goes to show how clever the guy is…

  34. Dooney says:

    I love reading through all these theories. I would suggest that maybe Dom’s totem is his wedding ring…

  35. mike says:

    Well shoot, christopholis actually touched on that in his point C.

    Again, I take it a step further…I think when Mal "killed" herself, she was right…they were still dreaming. She paid the team to rescue Cobb and part of that was making him let go of his guilt for her "death"…he had to let go of this to return to her.

    Whether or not this succeeded is questionable. The way Cobb walked into a scene at the end that was identical to his prior visions calls it into doubt…i.e., the power of false regret ruined him.

  36. mike says:

    My theory…someone else might have come up with the same idea but I haven’t had time to read every post.

    What if Mal was right all along, i.e. her belief that they were still dreaming, and her "suicide" was just her escaping and a last ditch effort to try to bring Cobb with? Of course she was depressed…her HUSBAND, Cobb, was delusional, unable to come to grips that they were still in a dream, having somehow forgotten that the "100 year" dream was a dream within a dream. She finally flips out and decides she must escape, and gives him one last chance to come with.

    From that point on, he is guilt ridden and haunted by her projection…just not in the initial dream level, as his subconscious is convinced she is dead in there.

    The "team", including Saito, was hired to try and get him to reconcile and let go of the guilt, so that they could somehow get him out where, as Mal had originally told him, her and his REAL children were waiting.

    As an early poster said, the team was planting an idea in his mind for a purpose…and that is the purpose I believe was in play. For now anyway…only seen the film once.

  37. christopholis says:

    a) I think the movie is supposed to be entirely ambiguous by the end. Meaning, you can come to either conclusion: Dom is still dreaming by the end; or Dom is actually awake, finally.

    b) but the case for him still dreaming (and I noticed this on the second viewing) can be picked up in Mombasa. When Dom tests Yusuf’s drugs. He has a brief dream, and then wakes up, and then spins the dreidel, but it doesn’t take and he gets interrupted by Saito.

    I think the idea is interesting; he’s still in Mombasa, dreaming for 40 hours, just like that whole other group of people. Everything that came after Mombasa (connected to Dom) was part of Dom’s elaborate dreamscape, which means he went even deeper than the "team" did his own dream.

    c) the case for his being entirely awake, is written all over the face of Robert Fischer at the end, in the terminal. My take was that Fischer was in on the job– everyone was– and the actual job was ridding Dom of his attachment to Mal, by planting an "emotional" idea.

    just my take.

  38. Gaz says:

    A lot of interesting theories and reading them is just making the post-buzz I’m having from seeing the movie even better. In response to MS though I feel I should point out that while it IS clearly explained by Mal that she’s going to frame Dom for her death in what she percieves to be that level in order to force him to escape to the next the reason for the room being a mess can’t be to show there was a struggle as when Dom reaches the window of that room and looks out Mal is on a ledge in the building opposite him and not actually in the same building.

    People seem to be over-looking this. I reckon this memory has either been implanted or at the very least manipulated to make the ‘memory’ have more impact for Dom by having him face his wife as she jumps instead of speaking to her from inside the same room. Also I’d have to rewatch it to check but I’m sure the lighting/interior of the room through the window Mal is on is looks very similiar to the room Dom is in suggesting it’s the same room viewed from two different perspectives (which could be a paradox similiar to what Arthur does twice with the staircases).

  39. Tiffany says:

    All very interesting views. My question is.. towards the end with Doms last encounter with Mal, he told her that they did grow old together and two scenes were shown of them old walking and holding hands. But if they did grow old together, how is it that when he convinced her it was a dream and when they lay their heads on the tracks to wake up they were young? Was he planting the idea that they really did grow old together in her mind and his subconscious mind?
    Loved the movie!!

  40. Brad Chin says:

    Okay so I haven’t finished reading yet because there is so much but the idea that Cobb’s team is against him is defeated when Arthur tricks Ariadne into kissing him. If they were playing Cobb then Ariadne would not be tricked by Arthur because she would only be playing the role of newbie towards Cobb

  41. MS says:

    Re: Ricardo, the room Dom walks in before Mal jumps is messed up because she made it look like there had been a struggle. She filed a letter with their lawyer saying she was fearful for her life when with him, and in this way, she hoped to induce Cobb into jumping with her–take a leap of faith with her, or spend life persecuted.

    Also, for those who are kicking about the idea that projections were after Cobb, remember Mal questioned whether he had invented "anonymous" corporations and henchmen chasing him. If Cobb feels so guilty, it makes sense that someone would be out to get him. It makes sense that his own subconscious would literally be trying to kick the crap out of him. He’s beating himself over what happened…

    The core emotion being dealt with here and examined is guilt. If Cobb is the target of inception, the idea that he has to move on, that they grew old together, is the only idea that makes sense, most likely planted by either Cobb himself or maybe Miles.

    I don’t understand why it has to be only one or the other who was implanted, however. Fischer was the target of his inception, and while on the job, Cobb realizes (after all the "experiments" and "extra preparations" he did before the job) he can purge his own demons as well. Thus, we have double inception. Kill two birds with one mindtrip, ya dig?