It seems that every Tom, Dick and Harry Knowles on the Blogosphere has so far offered their own "definitive" take on what Inception really means, attempting to unravel some of the more complex ideas and subtleties that some viewers simply did not pick up on on first viewing. Writer/director/creator Chris Nolan has dismissed many and further fueled the fire of others.
So, with Inception available to buy from today on Blu-ray and DVD, it seems prudent to offer the OWF version. You might recognise versions of various questions posted elsewhere, and likewise similar answers, but everything here is my own take on the questions posed by the film.
Obviously, there are going to be spoilers, but I'll keep the unnecessary plot detail reveals down to an absolute minimum (though presumably half of the globe has now seen Nolan's head-scratcher by now). Time to eventually follow the white rabbit down the hole...The Players:First off, let's meet the dream team...
The Architect- Charged with manipulating a dream world that acts as the location for the extraction or inception team to work their magic. Ariadne (Ellen Page)
The Dreamer- Every dream level must have its own dreamer: while the architect creates the world that they work in, the dreamer provides the space into which the architect builds his/her creations.
The Forger- The highly-skilled member of a dream-heist team who is able to take the form of other people known to the subject in order to lull them into a false sense of security, or else divulge information to the supposedly familiar face. Also very skilled at actual forgery in the case of Eams. Eams (Tom Hardy)
The Mark - The Mark is essentially the subject of the heist, it is he who must either be conned into divulging information (for extraction) or accepting new information (for inception). He is best considered as the victim. Fischer (Cillian Murphy).The Chemist- purveyor of the finest dream compounds known to man. The Chemist does exactly as his name suggests; possessed of pharmaceutical knowledge and applicable talent, he mixes the compounds, including necessary sedatives which facilitate the whole dream invasion world. Yusuf (Dileep Rao)
The Extractor - The talent. Everyone else on the heist team provides the circumstances for the Extractor to complete his task. He is also the most visible of the team to the mark, as he must either get or implant the information in him that is necessary to the success of the process. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio).
The Point Man - Responsible for taking points during jobs and is responsible for the detail in a dream. Arthur (Joseph Gordon Levitt).
TheTourist - Whoever it is who has paid the extraction/inception team to commit their act of subconscious espionage and becomes The Tourist as he insists on accompanying them on the mission. Saito (Ken Watanabe)
Projections- The embodied projections of people who populate the dream, created by the subject, they are projected aspects of their mind (though destroying them has no lasting effect on the mind) as well as forming versions of people they know. They give the dream authenticity for the Subject, but also point out any aspects of the dream that do not fit. Projections can also be trained to include subconscious security forces, designed to block any attempts to achieve inception or extraction on the mind.Level One: A Simple IdeaWhat is Extraction?
The best way to think about it is as a con, a handy allegory to make since Inception is just a heist movie in fancy clothes: Cobb's team are effectively the con artists, constructing a false reality with the intention of manipulating their mark into divulging a secret that a third party has paid the team to extract from the mark's mind surreptitiously (usually of industrial importance). The process of extraction is dependent upon an architect, who creates a dream-space that the subject populates with their own projections, but which is subject to the manipulations of the architect. Alongside the architect could be any number from a band of merry accomplices, though the other chief characters necessary for the deception would likely be an extractor- designed to trick the subject into a tell that shows where the secret is hidden (usually a safe that the architect builds into the dream) - and a forger, who can manipulate the subject's projections and pretend to be someone they know.Define Inception...
Inception is pretty much the bizarro sibling of extraction - rather than take something out of the subject's mind, the invading team instead leaves something within: it is the process of implanting an idea, however simple into the subject's sub-conscious through the manipulation of their dreams. If successful, the idea grows to affect how the subject views the world and shapes their behaviour according to what the idea said. Seemingly the process is covert, and depends on those committing it entirely convincing the subject of not only the idea but also that its genesis was their own creation, in effect taking care of the root system as the seed of the idea grows.
Cobb: What do you want? Saito: Inception. Is it possible? Arthur: Of course not. Saito: If you can steal an idea, why can't you plant one there instead?And why is inception proclaimed impossible? The issue is not only of the idea sticking: it is more concerned with the genesis of that idea.
Arthur: Okay, this is me, planting an idea in your mind. I say: don't think about elephants. What are you thinking about? Saito: Elephants? Arthur: Right, but it's not your idea. The dreamer can always remember the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake. Cobb: No, it's not.
Basically, the subject mind may retain the alien idea to some degree, but will reject it if its genesis is visibly or tangibly suspect: the subject of the inception must truly believe that they formed the idea themself, which is deemed the sticking point. At the basest level, the film suggests that inception is simply impossible because the mind just can't be tricked enough to not recognise a foreign body within it.
Cobb offers the alternative theory that it is possible as long as you go far enough into the subject's consciousness to make it stick - and that the idea has to be simple, but loaded enough to give birth to a thought process that accomplishes the inception itself.
Why is it easier to supposedly accomplish inception at a deeper level?
Simply, the deeper you go to sleep, the more complex the dream, so it follows the more convincing the dream: so, as long as the idea is integrated well enough at a deep level, it will be made infinitely more believable. Not only that, the film's rules establish that every dream level has a slower time frame than that which precedes it- so seconds in the first level are minutes on the second, hours on the third and days, months and years as they head further down the ladder. And time is a big factor: the longer anyone spends dreaming, the more difficult it is to establish that you are actually still asleep (I know I'm not the only person to have had that toilet dream where your conscious tricks you... ), and thus, the stronger the dream's grip over your consciousness. Cobb and his team exploit that fact by establishing multiple dream levels, in order to utterly convince their target - Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) - of the idea that they have been charged with incepting.
The issue of time also precipitates the need for extractors to keep a totem on them to help them recognise when they are dreaming and when they are awake.What is a Totem?
A Totem is the means by which anyone involved in dream invasion can judge whether they are dreaming: it is professed to be extremely difficult to tell whether you have indeed woken up from a dream, and increasingly so as you spend more and more time in the dream-scape. The Totem must be a deeply personal item, that the owner knows the imperfections of explicitly (the implication is that they must make their own Totem), so that they can recognise the idiosyncrasies, the exact details so that the owner can recognise its behaviour in the real world, and thus distinguish whether they are dreaming or not.
The origin of the idea is borrowed for the world of spiritualism: not, in fact anything to do with North American Totem poles (which are heraldic rather than totemic in nature), Nolan's on-screen totems have more to do with the modern spiritualist version of the ancient clan belief in symbolic entities that watch over a particular clan or family. Modern, individualist spiritualists have taken the idea, and adopted their own personal spirit animal helper- much like Philip Pullman's daemons in the His Dark Materials trilogy - or fix significance on an object or charm that they then attribute all good fortune or guidance to.
How exactly does a Totem help the owner recognise if they are awake?
It would be easy for the owner of the Totem to ascertain whether they were in a dream created by someone else (presumably an architect), because the Totem is pretty much a secret to everyone but its owner, noone else could create a projected version of that object which perfectly mirrored the idiosyncrasies that were only known to the owner.
What Are The Rules of Waking Up?
In ordinary circumstances there are three ways for the extractors/inceptors (whatever you want to call them) to wake up- first off, there's the natural method where the sedative used to induce dreaming runs out and the body wakes up, secondly they can experience a Kick to forcibly wake them up, and finally they can die in the dream. The natural method comes with a pre-planned warning: for Cobb and his team a recording of Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regret Rien" is played to their unconscious bodies and infiltrates the dream, acting as their warning to rap up what they are doing. Simple enough rules.
However, if you change the dosage or the strength of the sedative used, the rules change, ruling out the dying method, as the sedative is too strong a barrier for the dreaming mind to break, and the dreamer instead falls into Limbo- the lowest level of the dream-scape. Kicks still rouse the sleepers, and the natural method still applies as well.
If, as in the case of the Fischer Project, the architect creates multiple dream levels- dreams within dreams- the process becomes even more complicated: in order to wake up fully, the dreamers must synchronise a kick on every level of the dream at the exact time that the sedative runs out at the top level (or presumably at the same time a kick occurs on that level conversely- though you'd think that would make things all the more complex). Again, if anyone dies on any level of the multi-dreams, they fall into Limbo (like Saito first and Cobb after him).
What Is a Kick?
A Kick is the artificial means of legitimately getting out of the artificially created dream (the illegitimate way, of course is to die, though that has its own complications as already established)- in essence it is anything that creates a falling sensation in the sleeping body that will subsequently pull them out of the dream. The Kick depends on the sleepers self-preservation mechanism, which wakes them to try and prevent injury, and is clearly at least partly based on the half-formed science behind why we wake up when falling in a dream before we hit the ground, and also, I suspect influenced by the waking effect of hypnagogic myoclonic jerks.What Is Limbo?
Limbo is the deepest level of dream-consciousness, an unconstructed dream space subject to the populating projections of whoever is unfortunate to find themselves down there, a dangerous level of consciousness where it becomes near impossible to distinguish that you are no longer living in reality. The key to getting there is to be killed in a higher level of a dream that the dreamer has entered under abnormally or atypically strong sedation - if the mind is killed in that level it cannot skip over the usual boundaries presented by the sedative and wake up, and the experience means they end up lost in Limbo.
Why can't Cobb go home?
The authorities believe that he killed his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), who he performed inception on when they were trapped in Limbo together to convince her that what she was experiencing was not the reality she had come to accept it was. Unfortunately, the idea endured Mal's waking up, and she believed that her waking state was also another level of her dream, compelling her to kill herself, in order to "wake up". In the process, she frames Mal for her death, in the misguided belief that he is trapped in Limbo, but doesn't recognise that he is dreaming and that the only way to convince him to wake up is to make it impossible for him to continue living in that particular level. Sadly, when she kills herself, the circumstances are utterly compelling in implicating Cobb, so he flees into hiding.
How does Mal implicate Cobb in her death?
Mal creates a cast-iron case for her sanity, by seeing three separate psychiatrists, by voicing her concerns over her husband's behaviour to her lawyer and finally by staging the scene in the hotel room to suggest there was a violent struggle between the two that resulted in her being thrown from the window by Cobb.How did Cobb and Mal end up in Limbo in the first place?
Ever heard the saying Curiosity Killed The Cat? Well, that's sort of the moral of Cobb and Mal's story. There isn't anything explicit about the intricacies of how it happened, but the film does offer the explanation that Cobb and Mal were experimenting (presumably professionally considering Cobb's link to the University and subject of study that Michael Caine's character teaches) to judge the boundaries and capabilities of the human mind when subjected to deeper and deeper levels of dreams. Since the film's rules only seem to offer one way of entering Limbo- death- they must surely have somehow died in the process and fell into Limbo.Level Two: Dream a Little BiggerHow do the never-ending staircases work, and how was Arthur able to use one without Ariadne, as the architect, there to alter the architecture? First-off, the never-ending staircase trick is pretty much just used as a showy way of saying that the dream-world isn't exactly subject to the same rules as the real world. The staircase itself is a logical paradox, in that it can't exist in the real world, but can in the dream world, and is also a fail-safe, implanted by the Dreamer, and thus not entirely subject to the control of the Architect. It's the same trick that Eams uses in the third level of the Fischer Heist to put some shortcuts into the architecture. Why is the limbo at the end of the film filled with Cobb and Mal's city?
To quote Dileep Rao: "Limbo is unconstructed dream space, unless one of the dreamers has been there in our movie's case, someone has. And while you're in limbo, your brain can be destroyed. Like, you would be in a coma, or you could just leave your mind behind."
So, basically, as already established, Limbo is unconstructed dreamspace that is only populated by the ideas and projections of dreamers who have already been there, and the only characters who fit that bill are Cobb and Mal who spent what they thought was years in Limbo creating a world for themselves. Naturally, then, they have imprinted a lasting architectural legacy on Limbo. The other character who helps build the world of Limbo seen at the end of the film is Saito, whose projections take the form of the security detail who bring Cobb to him from where he washes up on the beach and the grand pagoda style building where Cobb and Saito are eventually reunited.How exactly do extractors gain access to someone else's dream?
It's all about the combination of sedatives, or dream compounds (as they are referred to as in the film) containing sedatives, anda machine that allows neurological link-ups between different people's consciousnesses. The machine also acts as the bridge between the subject (Fischer and before him Saito) and the world that the architect creates for him to populate with his projections- the compounds are clearly the key to each mind being given access to that plane of existence.
How come Saito is so much older than Cobb when they meet in limbo? Basically, time runs slower in the dream-scape- as the inceptors travel further down the levels, time runs incrementally slower, and because Cobb enters Limbo one level down from Saito, the relatively small amount of time that has passed for Cobb has increased to a significantly higher factor down in Limbo, and Saito has naturally aged to a much larger degree. What's With The Train In The First Level of Fischer's Dream?
Filmicly speaking, the train represents a visual prologue that hints at what is going to happen at the end of the film- i.e. Mal's intervention in Fischer's inception. In the terminology of the film's own universe the train is a visual warning for Cobb of the same outcome: because he recognises the train and its relevance (it is the same which Cobb and Mal kill themselves under in Limbo), Cobb realises, though doesn't admit that the appearance of the train ominously heralds the fact that he has once again failed to keep his own destructive projections (including Mal, it is implied) out of the Fischer Project.So, how does Arthur create the kick on Level Two of Fischer's dream without gravity?
Well, devoid of gravity thanks to the conditions created by the van in the level above spinning down the embankment, Arthur is left to find his own ingenious way to propel the sleepers and recreate the feeling of a kick. Everyone knows that in zero-gravity any objects propelled by the force of an explosion will travel at high velocity away from the point of explosion, thanks to the lack of an equal opposing force. So, when Arthur sets off the final explosion in the lift-shaft, theoretically the lift should accelerate at high speed away from the point of explosion, providing Arthur with the kick he needs to throw the sleepers (and himself) back to the first level of the dream-ladder.
Does Fischer die in the ice stronghold level of the dreamscape? Not as much of a stone-clad certainty as it initially looks, this little quandary had me scratching my head for ages (not least because the film gets incredibly confusing and seems to break its own intricately created web of rules at the same point).
This question has spawned an entire theory for explaining the film, and the answer isn't helped much by the script, which gets more than a little confusing just as Ariadne lays out her plan to go and find Fischer after Mal attacks him in the ice fortress. Ariadne says they could follow Fischer "down there" and that there will be time "down there" to find him and complete the inception on him- the inference seemingly being that they will head down to Limbo, where the now dead Fischer has gone and have the extra time down there. But things don't follow that track.
Firstly, Ariadne's plan includes creating a kick to get Fischer back up to next level, where Eams will synchronise it with a kick created by the defibrillator. Last time I checked, according to the film's rules of the dreamworld, you didn't need a kick to get out of Limbo, you needed to die, because of the effect that the place has on the mind. If, as the counter-argument will probably suggest, they will be able to keep their wits about them to create a kick for themselves in Limbo to synchronise with the level above, why wasn't it that easy for Cobb and Mal to escape in the first place? If Limbo really is just a further level of the dream that is initially still subject to the same rules, it is entirely robbed of its dramatic effect.
Also, who uses a defibrillator on a dead body?
Secondly, Cobb and Ariadne hook themselves up to the dream compound machine to enter Limbo, rather than simply killing themselves to join Saito and Fischer down there. That act itself suggests that it isnt Limbo they are entering, but another dreamer's mind: and looking at the architecture and what happens down there with Mal it is Cobb who is the dreamer at this fourth level. Okay, so it looks like Limbo, but Cobb identifies various places as being locations from his and Mal's past, and when Ariadne secretly hooked herself up and invaded Cobb's dream earlier, she discovered that he was filling his dreams with memories (something he had advised her against initially as dangerous).
So, if you follow the rules of the film closely it isn't possible that Cobb and Ariadne follow Fischer down into Limbo- so, he isn't actually dead in the third level, merely dying (or "mostly dead" in the parlance of The Princess Bride) and the "down there" that Ariadne refers to is in fact just a fourth dream level, where the different time frame will allow them the time to find and rescue Fischer, and complete the Inception on him.
Level Three: Knowing All The Tricks
How does one wake up from Limbo? Realisation is the key. The fundamental defining aspect of Limbo is that it is infinite, a deconstructed space subject to the populating imagination of its inhabitants, with limitless potential size and labyrinthine complexity, and the first step to escaping it, as Cobb confirms is to accept that you are in Limbo. The second, the film says, is to kill yourself, and wake-up- which is why Cobb and Mal put their heads on the train track to commit suicide. The Fischer issue confuses matters somewhat, but if you do accept that the level that Cobb and Ariadne enter in search of Fischer is in fact a fourth level within Cobb's dreams (which they have also hooked the dying Fischer up to), then things become much more simple. Cobb enters Limbo alone from the fourth level, where he dies (whereas Ariadne and Fischer ride a kick up the next level) and goes in search of Saito, quite handily washing up on the same beach that is being patrolled by Saito's security forces. He then attempts to convince Saito to kill himself, in order to escape Limbo (though it is never explicity said or shown because both men's minds are corrupted by the fog of Limbo), and presumably succeeds as both men wake up on the plane. Whose dream is Whose? Basically, this is an amalgamated version of the dream level question, which is one of the most nagging ones to appear online in the wake of the film's release. The way I see it, there are five levels, including Limbo, and they work out like this: Level Zero: Reality (the aeroplane) Level One: The city (Yusuf's dream); Level Two: The hotel (Arthur's dream); Level Three: The snow fort (Eams' dream); Level Four: The same city as Limbo (though a remembered version in Cobb's dream) and Cobb's house (Cobb's dream); Level Five: Limbo- the crumbling city, beach and Saito's stronghold
The alternative theory, as depicted below in this excellent pictogram from Cinema Blend is that the last two levels are in fact one, with Ariadne joining Cobb in Limbo, before killing herself to kick herself out of it. There are a number of issues with this idea, the main being that Ariadne and Cobb actually induce a further dream stage after Fischer is shot on the third level (which isn't, by my reckoning, the way to get to Limbo, as I've said). Secondly, contrary to some commentators' beliefs, Fischer doesn't actually fall into Limbo, because the shot isn't fatal; as he fades, Cobb and Ariadne create another level in order to prolong the time they have to perform their inception.As promised, here's that Cinema Blend image: How did Cobb find Saito in Limbo? As Dileep Rao confirmed in the quotes above, Limbo is unconstructed dream space and is only imprinted by those who have been there- so the city that Cobb and Mal created together is all that exists there until a new constructive mind enters. Presumably then, Cobb remembers what his own constructed Limbo looked like, even in his Limbo-addled state, and can recognise the aspects (like Saito's oriental-style stronghold) that he did not create, and head towards them. How exactly does Mal appear in Saito's dream at the start (and it is inferred in other dreams) when the people who populate that dream are all either extractors or projections created by the dreamer? Difficult one to answer properly this one, without going outside of the information the film offers. The theory that I think holds the most sway, is that Cobb, being a renowned highly skilled extractor and architect is somehow able to create projections in the subject's mind. Either that or as Arthur's castigation of him suggests, extractors are trained to resist bringing their own projections into the dreamscape- but that wouldn't necessarily sit very well with the case of Fischer's dream, as neither Ariadne, Yusuf or Saito have been trained professionally to fully resist their own projections, and none of them are plagued by anyone they know. So, somehow, Cobb must be able to resist the usual rules and bring in his own projections: surely, it can't be that the film is simply written badly in this respect?! Level Four: Some Radical NotionsIf Inception is impossible, how does the forger manage to convince his subject to fall for the identity con?
Now this one is a real head-scratcher. Presumably, the forger is able to use the same tools as the architect to manipulate what the dreamer sees, but the ins and outs are incredibly difficult to pin down. If anyone has an answer, I'm seriously all ears...Is Cobb Dreaming at the end?
Well, that's the real question that the film-makers obviously wanted to endure after viewing. That was the quandary that Chris Nolan was relying upon to extend the arresting experience of the film, and provide a lasting stamp on the audience as they walked out of their screens, thus mimicking the fog of half-dreams that is the film's greatest marketing ploy.
I have offered a run-down of the competing theories surrounding the biggest question of the film in the final section of this 101 article, and while I don't really see the need to offer a definite answer (the film didn't, so what right have we?!), there are definitely those which I enjoyed reading more than others. The best theory I have come across that looks into the possibility of the whole film being Cobb's dream is an exploration of the film's characters as Jungian dream archetypes that appeared over at Cinema Blend- read the breakdown below...
In the most basic terms, Jung envisaged a series of symbols with shared, universal meanings that appear within everyone's dreams as part of a collective consciousness. The symbols would each represent an unconscious attitude largely hidden from the conscious mind, and would be personified by a wholly autonomous figure within the dreamscape. These archetypes, could be used in conjunction with personal analysis (interpretation based solely on ideas of the collective isn't the end of the story) to interpret dreams.
Listed below are Cinema Blend's archetypes, with a brief explanation where the name isn't immediately indicative of what aspect of the self the archetype represents.Mal/The Shade is THE SHADOW ARCHETYPE (the rejected or hidden aspects of the self) Arthur/The Point Man is THE HERO ARCHETYPE Saito/The Tourist is THE FATHER ARCHETYPE (the authoritative side, "the boss") Eames/The Forger is THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE (the deceptive side) Fischer/The Mark is THE CHILD ARCHETYPE Ariadne/The Architect is THE ANIMA ARCHETYPE (the female aspect of the male mind) Miles/The Mentor is THE WISE OLD MAN ARCHETYPE Yusef/The Chemist is THE SELF "The archetype is a tendency to form such representations of a motif - representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern ... They are indeed an instinctive trend"- Carl Jung
Cinema Blend's reasoning is pretty compelling in parts, apart from the evaluation of Yusef as the Self, which is a little convoluted for my liking (in that it leaves you scratching your head more after reading than before!), and I prefer to think of Yusuf as a purely narrative necessity rather than indicative of something more psychoanalytically important. Anyway, just a good interpretation I thought it enriching to share.Limbo
There are also a number of questions posed that are simply unanswerable without speculation or adding information that is not derived from the world of the film- I've seen it done so far in other Definitive Guides, but I won't do it here. Still worthwhile posing some of these questions though, so they can be the questions that fall into Limbo and remain unanswered- speculate as you see fit...
Remember the sequence dedicated to Arthur and Cobb establishing that a kick could be triggered by the sensation of falling? How come the dreamers on Level 2 aren't kicked back to Level 1 when the van crashes, and they are shown leaning over on screen?
How did Ariadne manipulate her dream design to include the combination numbers Fischer chose as the room numbers in the second level of the dream?
If the top really does keep spinning at the end and Cobb's reality really is a dream, then why didn't it keep spinning when he tried it earlier in the film?
How does Saito, an (admittedly powerful) business man manage to get Cobb off with murder?
The Rival Theories
Inception being a film that poses as many questions as it answers, there were bound to be grand sweeping theories that sought to explain it in one handy bite-sized morsel- and it looks like the following are the most persistent of those musings. Personally, I'm firmly of the school of thought that a film doesn't actually need to be succinct to be enjoyable- and to extrapolate the facts of a filmic universe beyond what we can definitely see on-screen (or at least definitely infer from what we see) is a little bit foolish. And anyway, all of this theorising is exactly what Nolan intended when he let the film end on the spinning top: we were all supposed to leave the screening wanting to know exactly what happened next, scrutinising our memories of what we'd just seen to try and find the clues that had already answered the questions that were now forming in our collective minds.So, anyway, on to those rival theories: 1. Ariadne is Cobb's Counsellor
As if tying the character of Cobb to Leonardo DiCaprio's other major character of the year- in Shutter Island- Inception is in fact an induced psychoanalytic experiment on Cobb, lead by Ariadne, who acts as his counsellor to establish what happened with Mal, and to free him of his guilt.
One of the keys to this theory is the repeated line that almost book-ends the film and appears in conversation between Saito and Cobb in both cases: "Do you want to take aleap of faith, or become an old man filled with regret, waiting to die alone?". This is essentially the mantra for Cobb's redemption, and it takes the events of the film to convince Cobb of the idea that he doesn't want to be the old man filled with regret, waiting to die alone. Ariadne's counsel, then, is the inception of the title.
There are some pretty compelling details that form the case for this theory (and if pressed, I'd probably throw my weight behind it), including the afore-mentioned theory that each character in the film represents a Jungian dream archetype, designed to help Cobb with his process of self-discovery (maybe that's why none of the characters are fleshed out in any considerable way).
2. No Dream Is It
Everything is as it seems. The most boring theory attached to the film, which is probably why audiences have been reluctant to actually listen to it. The probable cause is Nolan's own brand of film-making: looking at his past movies, it is difficult to imagine that despite all of the bluster and fanfare attached to Inception, at its heart it is nothing more than a tale of one man's redemption.3. Mal Was Right: It's all a dreamProbably the favourite theory doing the rounds, this one states that every event in the film takes place within Cobb's dreams. The evidence is pretty compelling, if you look for it, and all hinges on Nolan's clever decision to fade to black before answering whether the top stops spinning.4. Cobb is the Subject of Inception: and Mal is the Inceptor
Lost in a complex Limbo, Cobb is convinced that his world is real and that he has lost his wife. In fact, she escaped Limbo, and has spent the rest of her life dedicated to helping convince Cobb of his condition and bring him back to reality. Everything and everyone else is a projection created by Cobb's mind to protect him from her inception.
I think this theory stems from the importance that Mal's character has on the whole filmic universe: almost everything that occurs is overshadowed by her ominous presence, which of course is explained by Cobb's supposed inability to shut her out of the dreams he is working on. But think about it- if Ariadne is the architect (or Nash in the case of Saito's extraction) how exactly is Cobb able to bring his own projections into the dreamscape?
At 5,67 words this is the longest article in the history of Obsessed With Film and I still feel like there is much more to say about the film. Feel free to your add your theories, vent your agreements/disagreements with what I think about the film and of course.... pose questions to us.
The beauty of the internet is that we can update to this article all the time!