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This is a "Wild Mass Guess" entry, where we pull out all the sanity stops on theorizing. The regular entry on this topic is elsewhere. Please see this programme note.
Inception
"You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling."
Eames

Arthur's last name is Darling.
Because that would be hilarious.
  • Also, considering the big role that escapism plays in this movie (i.e. Dream Limbo is "Neverland"), it makes sense that one of the characters would have the surname "Darling" as an allusion to Peter Pan.

God is performing Inception on Cobb
Okay, it builds upon ideas already enumerated below such as everything being a dream, Mal being right, Cobb actually being the one Incepted etc., but after rewatching the film, I had the idea that everything Cobb experiences is a dream (even before the film), specifically his dream. So Mal was a projection all along as were his children etc. and his subconscious kept trying to, in more dramatic ways, tell him it was and to wake up, but other feelings in him resisted that notion. Anyways, this begs the question what is the purpose of the dream that is Cobb's life? Let's say God, like often described, does not violate free will but nonetheless wants to teach a very powerful and meaningful Truth to him, accomplished through the dream that is life. I.e. God was trying to perform Inception on Cobb. And thus perhaps Mal might have even been God descended into the dream with Cobb, offering him the Truth. What that idea is is difficult to say—it might have been that there was "more to this life" than what was actually the dream and thus beckoning Cobb back to God as some religions purport, or it might have been some deeper unspoken truth which ended up revealed through his feelings and sacrifice for his children, perhaps granting him access to Heaven in the end? Whatever the case, it might appear from the ending that Cobb rejects God by no longer caring if it was a dream or not, preferring to be with his projected children rather than wake up. Might. But really, this argument, that life is actually God's Inception, is just the old "God uses life to teach us lessons", "everything is in the mind of God" etc. notions that appear in both Western and Eastern traditions. So anyways, not writing this in support of any god since I'm actually misotheistic but it just struck me as an interesting guess.

Limbo is not dreaming
During the film, Cobb says that getting shot and dying under heavy sedation sends one to Limbo (unconstructed dreamspace); this happens because the dreamer stops dreaming, but is physically unconscious due to drugs. When put under for operations, people don't dream. So going to Limbo collapses dream space, while being mentally conscious while physically unconscious.

The reason Limbo is dangerous is because A) Kicks can't wake you up due to sedatives. B) You forget you're in Limbo.

The way kicks work is, someone in the REAL world sets it up. So killing yourself is the only way to wake up from inside a dream. But since you need to wait for the sedative to wear out, people can end up forgetting they're in Limbo in the first place. (Since it's hard to recognize reality from dream within a dream.) Mal forgot that they were dreaming, so Cobb spun the top to "remind" her, so she would come up with the idea to escape Limbo on her own. Since the only thing keeping them at Limbo by that point was their own mind sleeping (thus, a coma).

What everyone keeps assuming, is that Limbo is another 'level' of dreamspace. But it's actually entirely separate, because a dream state is still conscious (to music and gravity/etc) but Limbo isn't conscious. Because they're in their own (unconstructed) unconsciousness, the levels before that became deconstructed; that's the reason why they immediately woke up after killing themselves. Fisher and Ariana returned to the Snow Fort because when they killed themselves, the dream was being supported by Eames. But the dream ended before Saito and Cobb woke up, so dreamspace collapsed and the only thing between them and reality was their unconscious Limbo.

Mal's mistake was that she thought they had returned to another dream, rather than escaped their own unconsciousness.

The reason why Cobb kept spinning the top in reality (but not dreams) is because he kept doubting he was awake. Cobb doesn't care at the end because he stopped doubting.

This film takes place in the Stargate universe
This one is actually pretty cut and dry, in Stargate: Atlantis they reveal that the military has reverse engineered alien shared dreaming technology, and military research is the only origin ever given for the shared dreaming tech in Inception.

The film is connected to Titanic.

At the end of Titanic, DiCaprio's character sinks into the sea. Then at the beginning of Inception, he washes up. Not my idea, though.

Cobb is dreaming EVERYTHING.

This differs from other "All Just a Dream" theories in that this theory says Cobb isn't just dreaming the end of the movie, or dreaming the whole thing, but even his totem is a dream. In real life, Cobb did what he did to Mal in the dream- he created a dream that contained all his hopes and dreams. Eventually, like Mal in limbo, he got so caught up in it that he now lives in the dream. Mal, the kids, Ariadne, Yusuf, Eames, even Arthur- they're all projections. Certain mistakes in the dream, like Ariadne failing to draw the 1min/2min maze at the beginning or his children aging are his brain trying to trick him into further believing the dream. After Ariadne's brief mistakes, she is everything Cobb could have wanted in an Architect. Arthur, Eames, and possibly Mal are memories of people who have probably died in real life- maybe it was their deaths that drove him into the dream. As noted by some below tropers, the movie plays on a lot of common dreams: Mal falls to her death, Cobb being unable to run away from agents of Kobol, and the inception taking place on a plane- in flight. This would make sense in a dream. Also, consider his line "Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." He's talking about how in this dream, there is technology to enter dreams- which is really weird if you think about it. In the real world, he is probably in a drug-induced dream, like in Yusuf's opium den. That scene makes more sense too if it was a dream; it's implied Cobb used to be addicted to opium or another drug. And finally, the totem. The top doesn't actually matter here, because he is dreaming that too. The top isn't real. Nothing is real except for Cobb.
  • Dream machines are only weird from the audience's point of view.

Whether the top falls or not, Cobb gets his happy ending.

Cobb's big problems had the same source; his inability to return home due to Mal framing him, and his inability to dream due to his feelings of guilt after incepting Mal. At the end he has conquered his regret over Mal's death, and so has conquered both problems. The inception was successful, and Saito has/will make the call to let Cobb go back. If the ending happened when he was awake, then he is back with his children. If it happened when he was asleep, then he is able to dream without sedative now. Also, even if he is dreaming, he has left limbo (evidence is the presence of projections, which are never seen in limbo), and so would be in the dream for, at most, ten dream years (the time the third level will stay stable). It would also probably be considerably less, since they spent a few hours in the first level, then some in the second level, and would have cut their time substantially. One that time is up, he will wake up in the plane, and since the inception was a success, Saito should make the call anyway, and he can be with his real children again.

That said, although we do not see the top falling over, we see it sway (it always stayed perfectly stable in a dream), and hear an irregularity in the rotation. Could be the plane landing in the real world messing with his gravity, but I think it's more likely that it's falling over due to reality. Noting at least one actor's idea of the ending, I think that he really is awake.

No one actually saw this movie
Think for a moment. Do you remember how you got into the theater? I didn't think so.
  • I decided I wanted to see Inception. I went to the cineplex. I bought my ticket. I went past the booth and turned right. I went to theater 8, all the way down the hall and on the left. I entered the theater. I chose my seat in the middle. Yes, I definitely saw this movie. Then again, there were only two other people there...
  • This troper had a rather surreal experience after walking out of the movie, considering that neither she nor her friends could remember the way back to the car and wandered for a time in a crowded mall. I had a Deja Vu moment when I thought I saw a store I recognized, then thought it was on the wrong side, and neither of my friends had noticed it at all on the way in, nor could remember me pointing it out to them...
  • This one had a similar experience due to the sequence of events I had afterwards. I left the theater in a crowded downtown district building full of bars and other people, walked the busy streets, took a light rail back to my car and then drove home. The various layers of travel seemed all the more surreal.
  • This troper bought a ticket, purchased some popcorn, went into theater 12, reclined in a seat, and then M. Bison came by in a pogo stick and I could fly, and my mom shouted "You are naked in school!"
  • Think about it, what were you doing before you went to this WMG page?
    • I... um... <checks totem>
    • Sleeping. Wait a minute...
  • And every "copy" of this movie is actually a copy of The Last Airbender. Hey, they had to sell the movie somehow...

They're all speaking French.
This one is kind of stupid, but bear with me. Remember that Ariadne's school is in Paris, but she seemingly doesn't have an accent. Or, alternately, think of Mal and her French accent. She would be American, and Cobb would be French. The first scenes would happen in France or in another French-speaking country, since they then fly to Paris and they can't be in the States.
  • So when they speak to Robert on the plane and in the dream levels, he's actually speaking perfect, unaccented French despite being American/Australian? That's awesome.
    • Ariadne probably doesn't have an accent because she's an international student or something like that.
      • I always thought Ariadne was Canadian, like her actress, so she'd be able to speak French.

I am dreaming this right now.
There are a lot of things trying to tell me the world is not real. Socrates, Descartes, The Matrix and Inception are just the first things I can come up with. This idea, that the world is not real, is something so infectious and frequent within my life and my history, it almost seems like someone is trying to tell me something.

Not an extractor, not someone who's trying to pull me out, but my own subconscious is desperately asking me to wake up, to see that its all a dream. I think I'll go jump out the window now, and see how that works. Wish me luck, see you in the real world!
  • This troper has at times genuinely heard music coming from nowhere. She is now horrified that she missed the kick and, if she dies, will be stuck in limbo.
    • Don't worry, it's probably just an early sign of premature dementia.
    • Besides, limbo is actually kick-ass.

The above troper is actually dead.

Crazier things have happened.

Mal will make Cobb wake up. Eventually.
Mal was right. She woke up, and is now trying to wake Cobb up. Say she sits him in a chair and kicks it back, and it take her 10 mins to set up? With the movie's time logic, that's a couple of years in limbo. So all we see is Cobb's dream world, deep in limbo, where he is making it all up, and then Mal will find a way to wake him up in the real world.

Double happy ending - he gets his kids twice! Unless, you know, he goes crazy from living a life that were never real. But he gets his youth back and he gets to relive his real life, and this whole thing would just seem like a fuzzy dream memory, so he should be fine.
  • A slap to the face would have woken Cobb up after the sedative wore off.
    • Time could be ridiculously drawn out as deep as he is. He could theoretically be 3+ levels deep for most of the movie. Some math, in terms of the math supplied in the movie, places his and Mal's perfect world at 4-5 levels deep and this guess assumes that he thought all was fixed after one jump. And then the events of the movie put him another, what, 6 levels deep? If we assume 'death by old age' drops him another level, he could spend virtually forever waiting for that slap.

Arthur and Eames' past history.
Arthur's totem is shown to be a loaded die, which seems rather odd given his (apparently) straight-laced personality. It makes sense, however, when you consider that Eames is a gambler, and that he and Arthur had some sort of history together. Fanon Fodder, perhaps?

Eames' totem is not actually shown in the movie, but in one of the explanation scenes you can see him playing with a poker chip between his fingers. I'm inclined to think this is his totem - it's easily concealable, and he could have made a custom one so that only he would know the weight.
  • Actually, it is his totem. There was a part where Arthur mentioned that he can't quite make it look real, or something to that effect.
    • It might not be. Eames is shown in the first scene with two stacks of counterfeit poker chips. Cobb may have been referring to the fact that Eames can never make them look completely legitimate. After all, he apparently can't even spell the brand name correctly.
      • I thought they were two poker chips (counterfeit or not) that Eames was playing with and was told "You can rub them together all you want, they're not going to breed." Maybe that was a different scene.
  • Maybe Eames and Arthur were shooting craps or playing poker one time, they had partaken in some adult beverages, and they wagered their totems. Eames seems like the gambling type and maybe originally had the loaded die as his totem and lost it to Arthur.
    • That makes no sense. None of them were to let anybody else even touch their totems once, and Arthur was the one to point this out. Having a totem that Eames knew even better than he did is lunacy.

The dream sequences are all real.
Since only the trailer is out at this point, I don't have any evidence for this, but you have to admit it would be the ultimate Inverted Trope: Instead of everything we thought was real being a dream, everything we thought was a dream would be real.

They never left Yusuf's basement
This troper noticed something verrrry suspicious upon his second viewing. Remember that part where Yusuf the chemist shows Cobb his handiwork, and they go downstairs to see the dream addicts and the old man? The scene directly after shows Cobb in the bathroom, splashing water over his face to shake off the effects. Just as he places his top on the sink to give it a spin, he is surprised by Saito and leaves the room.

Without spinning the top.

We are never shown Cobb attempting another spin until the very end. Maybe it's a bit anti-climactic, having the whole heist, journey into limbo, and tearful reunion with his kids occur in a not-very-important dream just to test Yusuf's sedatives, but it's kind of hard to ignore the fact the top is NOT spun after he supposedly wakes up in Yusuf's basement.

When Cobb tells Fischer he is the head of his SS (short for Subconscious Security) he really is telling him the truth
At the beginning we see Cobb proposing a similar deal to Saito. It might be entirely possible that he did the same to Fischer before.

  • That's the sort of thing Cobb would have told the team while making the plan, so extremely unlikely.
  • Also, remember that they didn't know Fischer even had any subconscious security when they went in- Cobb chewed out Arthur for not knowing that.

They are the same place
This does not concern the ending. Okay… maybe it does a little.

Let us assume that the world with the plane is level zero. Whether or not it is a dream, or reality, this is one in the same.

Now, up to this point we can be certain that in the world Cobb is in when he gets on the plane, the top will fall over. Since the top doesn't fall over in someone else’s dream, it is already a given that levels one, two, three, and four are dreams.

However, if you wish to get to a different version of level three, you would have to go up to level two, plug yourself back into the machine, and write a different version of level three. To try and rewrite level three from inside level three would send the projections after you.

Therefore, we must assume that the level zero that they departed from the plane into the rainy city, is in fact the same place. In other words, they arrived at the same version of level zero that they departed from.

And, from what we see in the scene where Cobb explains totems to Ariadne, the top does actually fall. So, because the level zero they depart from is a level where the top falls, they must also arrive at a level zero where the top does fall.

Now, because one would wake up when they reach level zero (and Cobb and Saito reach that immediately from limbo, going past all the levels), we can assume that they will be awake and conscious once unplugged. And because of time perception, we must assume that Saito and Cobb arrive back from limbo at the exact same time.

Now for some time stuff. Since time is increased by 20 times each level, and since they have at most 10 hours on the flight (and they probably used a good deal probing Fischer.), at a level below that there would only be 300 hours of time. About 13 days. And this is assuming they are able to convince him to go into another dream. Because of the limit of time, the optimal level to put him at would be level three, (which would give him at least 13 years) but Cobb isn’t nearly dumb enough to go back down that far. Because of this, we can assume he is in level zero at the end of the movie.

So, does this solve the case whether or not the whole movie is just a dream? No, but it does prove that they are the same place. It does prove that: he is either in reality or his own dream. It never stated how far down he and Mal went, so there is no way of telling.

The third dream, the snowy fortress, was created by a dreamer who was a fan of Metal Gear Solid
Think about it. It's a very snowy, fortress-esque stronghold, with a higher degree of combat and troop concentration, much like Shadow Moses. Plus, behind the giant door, where Fischer's father was dying, and the safe was located, looked very much like the VR mission rooms from Metal Gear. Don't forget the Air-Vent Passageway escape.
  • Alternatively, someone who once owned a Nintendo 64, and mainlined a lot of Goldeneye.
  • This troper, too, thought, "this is a sneaking mission". But before that, I assumed Fischer liked playing Modern Warfare.
  • Then one can safely concludes that Eames is a MGS fanboy, since this level is hosted by him. This explains his unparalleled badassery throughout the film because he had Solid Snake as a role model.
    • I had this same theory, but I assumed that Eames, with his ability to assume any persona within the dream, just really wanted to be Decoy Octopus.
  • This is a valid theory, but it's probable that Eames is a James Bond fan. The end is a confirmed Shout-Out to On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Nolan's favorite Bond film) and as Eames is British, it seems fair to guess he likes Bond.
    • Considering Bond has always been a big inspiration for MGS, I think we're just looking at two things that used the same inspiration.
  • Out of curiosity, does anyone remember why the dream-insertion technology was invented in the first place? That's right, to allow the American military to train soldiers in VR environments that would closely simulate actual combat.
  • You're all forgetting that while Eames is the dreamer, Ariadne is the Architect, and therefore designed the maze. She would be the fan of MGS/Bond.
    • I don't think Ariadne ever created from memory again, despite knowing that Cobb was doing it. So unlikely.

All a dream.
Everything is a dream, including the real world. More of your standard twist than the much better one above. Made slightly better by the idea that one of the main characters could actively be using inception on another, likely the lead.
  • I should make the point that I (the troper who wrote this) made this guess well before the film was released, based purely on the trailer. Finally I can say I Knew It. Maybe.
    • Well, the film ended right as the totem stopped spinning, so this theory does hold water
      • You don't actually see the top stop at any point in the movie. It's always interrupted by falling off something or someone walking into the room.
      • We absolutely, definitely saw the top fall over and stop spinning immediately after the training session where Mal kills Ariadne for messing with the dream architecture too much. Ariadne and Cobb wake up in the Parisian warehouse, Arthur calms her down and explains totems, and we see Cobb's fall over, to his relief.
      • We also see the top fall in the Japanese hotel, right before Cobb's phone conversation with his kids. He watches it anxiously and keeps a gun cocked against his head until it falls.
      • But the top is Mal's totem. We never see Cobb using the one he had when he and Mal went first entered Limbo.
      • But since he has touched the Totem, he knows how it works. It no longer matters if it belonged to someone else because he now knows how the top works. And we must assume that the top has the same physical characteristics throughout the entire movie, unless someone stole it from him during the flight.
    • This theory is supported by some clever dream metaphors sprinkled through the film, (Cobb getting stuck in the alleyway in Mumbai, calling on the dream archetype of being chased by someone and you can't get away, for example. The HUGE one, though, is where they attempt the inception: On a plane. What's a subject for a fairly stereotypical dream? Flight.
    • A possibility brought up by Mal while she had Fisher hostage, and never entirely refuted. "Reality" may just be the most stable dream level of all.
      • This theory is supported by some clever dream metaphors sprinkled through the film, (Cobb getting stuck in the alleyway in Mumbai, calling on the dream archetype of being chased by someone and you can't get away, for example. The HUGE one, though, is where they attempt the inception: On a plane. What's a subject for a fairly stereotypical dream? Flight.
      • The spinning top doesn't keep spinning because of any thing modded about it, it takes advantage of a glitch in the human brain, it's not that the dreamer doesn't know to make it stop spinning because they haven't touched it, it CAN'T stop spinning in a dream, because the brain has this weird thing it does when it imagines something spinning. It then can't imagine it stopping. It's decently likely that when he spins it in a dream and picks it up and put's it away, it's still spinning in his pocket and was still spinning in his hand when he picked it up.
  • It could well be that the spinning top is completely irrelevant. Remember, Cobb made a mistake he told no one else to make - don't let other people know what your totem is. If people do, then they can fake it. And Arthur, Ariadne and Saito all know that Cobb's totem is the spinning top failing to fall over.
    • Not to mention Saito actually spun the top himself.
  • The fact that they don't explain how the PASIV technology technically works and the fact that it's like just one wire which isn't even put near the cereberum suggests that the PASIV technology may just be part of a dream.

Inception is a semi-sequel to Paprika
Taking place two or three years after the whole debacle with the Chairman, the DC Mini is widely used by psychologists around the world. However, some people are using its power to enter dreams for nefarious uses. The suitcase they always carry around? A larger DC Mini that works on the wrists rather than the head.
  • At the end will Ellen Page fall in love with a huge gross nerdy guy?
    • It's in a dream, the huge gross nerdy guy will look like DiCaprio.

Cobb is from a dream.
This has just been my theory, but I didn't know there was already a WMG for this movie so why not put it down here? Anyways, here goes: Cobb, Leonardo DiCaprio's character, is from a dream and accidentally broke out. It could explain why he seems to know Mal, who's a "Shade" and they have children together, even though it's obvious she lives in dreams. I can't think of how else I should expand on this, but it would be really weird if this turned out to be true in the movie.
  • Dude. I was totally thinking something similar. When Cobb starts talking about how planted ideas can grow and grow and grow, I speculated that Cobb was an idea that had been planted into someone's mind (Mal's? Saito's, and this is all his dream?), and grown and grown and grown into something human-shaped. Or that he's the reverse of the WMG below, and he was a projection.

Mal and the children are projections
  • Mal did not exist. At all. Cobb created her and their children to serve as his conscience. Then things got worse.
  • This supports the whole All Just a Dream theory.
  • Could be reason why his kids never aged (or changed their clothes) during the year he was away.
  • While the film was obviously trying to trick the audience by having the kids in similar positions at the end of the movie, according to IMDB, the kids at the end of the movie were played by different actors who are several years older than those earlier in the movie.
    • Which means that he's just out-and-out ''hallucinating'. And since the top now spins like it's in the real world... Uh oh.
    • Also, they are wearing different clothes, just are the same color and patterns.
    • Confirmed by Word of God; someone from the internet contacted the actual costume designer to find out. The answer? Different clothes.

Ariadne is Mal and Cobb's real daughter
The children are a kind of totem, but the test of their "balance" is not being unable to see their faces but being able to see that only one is blond like Cobb while the other is brunette like Mal, and that they haven't aged. This explains the subverted convention that Ariadne helps Cobb get over Mal and then ends up with him— while he might think he's old enough to be her father, she knows he is actually her father. Both her parents are dream masters, after all, perhaps she eagerly followed in their footsteps and became a prodigy.
  • Given that we're never actually told how long Cobb has been out of the country, this is actually a cool idea. Doesn't explain how her name went from being Phillipa to Ariadne, though. Witness protection program, maybe?
    • Or a Shout-Out to the maze-creating mythological character to disguise her true relation to Cobb.
  • But he talks to his children, both of them, on the telephone in the hotel. They still sound fairly young. And it'd be silly to use a person as a totem because other people can readily touched/pick up a person, and fabricate them in a dream.
  • This would require that Miles somehow lose track of one of his grandchildren without noticing it, and come to begin teaching her, or for him to be in on the whole thing, both of which would kind of weird.
  • Or we could combine this with the theory that the real world is the top layer of Cobb's dream, and Ariadne is Phillipa all grown up. Cobb is in a coma at the hospital, and the grown up Phillipa visits him, imprinting herself on his subconscious. Ariadne is a projection, and was given her name because she's supposed to guide him out of the maze he's created for himself (in the myth it was Daedalus who created the Labyrinth; Ariadne helped Theseus find a way out). Mal was right all along, and the rest of the team are all projections who incepted Cobb under the guise of incepting Fischer, in order to convince him to stop listening to Mal, because if he wakes up from the dream then they all effectively die. You know what, I just got an idea for a fanfic.

Mal was right and Saito is the ultimate Extractor/Inceptionist
Mal hired Saito to bring Cobb out of the limbo that was a mix of Cobb's "real world" and what Cobb thought was other people's dream layers. Cobb's being on the run, was due to his Projections mobilizing themselves against Saito's interference. Defense mechanisms don't necessarily have to show as the Projections getting directly and physically aggressive. Legal and societal pressure could have been a reflection of Cobb's particular defense mechanism

Ficsher is Jackson Rippner
At the end of the movie he's convinced that his father wanted him to be his own man. What better way to do that than to give up business and become a terrorist for hire.
  • ...When you really think about it, most of the movie takes place on a plane.

End of Eva ends in Limbo
Because a shared dream world where you can warp reality, changing the way people think, a collapsed civilization, and randomly waking up on abandoned beaches doesn't leave a lot of room for other explanations.
  • The entire story of Evangelion is a disastrous attempt at inception. Gendo Ikari is a rich and powerful man similar to the Fischers whose son is withdrawn, near-suicidal and overwhelmed with an Oedipus Complex after the death of his mother. He hires a team to perform inception on Shinji, with the goal of implanting the idea that his life is worth living, that he should be his own man, etc. Unfortunately, Gendo insisted on accompanying the team, and no one anticipated just how violently Shinji's subconscious would react to his father's presence, thus the projection of the Angels. The first layer of the dream world (Tokyo 3) is already beginning to collapse by the time they try to take Shinji down to the second layer (the school-days sequence). The team tries to abort but Shinji becomes trapped in Limbo. One team member (Asuka) stays behind in Limbo but as of the end of the film, it's unclear if she remembers enough to rescue either of them.
    • Gendo himself was also overwhelmed with guilt over the death of his wife, like Cobb. And that's not even mentioning the Eva-verse's Freudian dream-imagery....
    • This makes Rebuild the new version of the world that Shinji and Asuka have built in Limbo - replaying the previous events out of a deep subconscious desire to fix them. Shinji is more courageous this time around because this is his world (even though he has chosen to forget this) but his subconscious still has deep self-loathing and rejects the idea of him healing his own psyche so it manifests even more powerful projections (Angels) than it did the first time.

Inception takes place during Instrumentality
Cobb is the only real human and everything that happens is Instrumentality trying to break him down to the point where he'll accept it. The movie ends with Cobb finally getting exactly what he wanted.

What The Ending Means
If it is a dream, then the whole thing was Saito's plan from the beginning. He wanted to learn more about the dream-sharing process, how deep one could go, and Limbo firsthand. After he gets what he wants, he puts Cobb into a dream where he can honor his promise, and Cobb can be with his kids again. That's why the kids were in the same position that they had been throughout the film before they turned around. They were Cobb's projections again. The top began to wobble because Cobb was so utterly convinced that this was the real world. After all, it was Mal, not him, who made the whole "top-spinning" rule, and he had recently banished Mal from his subconscious.
  • I noticed that we never see Cobb and Saito wake up from each layer like the others. We see them talking, then Cobb wakes up on the plane. He's forgotten he's in a dream.

Dreams and Physics
There is a lot of debate on how come the physics of dream level 1 (city streets and car fall) did not affect dream level 3 (snow area, open landscape). I made two possible theories that explain this.
  • 1. Scientific Analogy. A magnet represents the first level of the dream and the subsequent levels are represented by pieces of iron, the corresponding physics of the subsequent levels are represented by the force of the magnet. The force of the magnet gets lower on each piece on iron added. In other words, the correspondence of the physics are only felt by "one level down" because the connection to the first level has gotten weaker and cannot transfer the physical dynamics to level 3.
  • 2. Much simpler. Because time moves faster for each level. Level 3 is moving too fast for the physics of level 2 to catch up and start causing craziness.
    • Or, the physics of level 1 transfered to level 2, but because they were dreaming in level 2, those physics did not transfer to level 3.
      • The physics of each level are directly affected by the one above it. Level 2 (the hotel) is directly affected by the movement/environment of the van, hence the weightlessness during the van's free fall. Level 3 (the arctic base) has normal gravity because there are no external forces acting upon the dreamers in level 2; the gravity-less hotel was essentially acting as a sensory deprivation chamber, allowing the team to have stable physics in level 3.
      • Yeah, I was actually thinking of differential calculus during that sequence.
Whatever the reason, note that it's consistently applied. The physics of level 0 don't transfer to level 2 either; otherwise, the weightlessness wouldn't happen in the first place (nor would you need a separate kick for each level, as a kick in the real world would percolate all the way down to whatever level you ended up in).
  • A level is only affected by things that happen to the dreamer. Yusuf has to pee: it rains in the dream. The car flips/jumps and Arthur is falling: the hotel lost gravity. The only thing wrong with that, is that the third level has gravity despite Fischer floating around in the second level. But then again, everyone would get a kick when they are not affected by gravity, Arthur wouldn't have to blow up the elevator. But that's a flaw in the film.

It's all a dream, including the real world. As in, the world you watched the movie from.
Think about it. Nobody remembers exactly how they came into this world, very frequently parts of the real world make no sense, the deeper you go into the laws of physics the less that outside logic applies, and the only way you leave is by dying. As for where the "inception" part fits in? The movie is intended to plant this WMG in your head. The music at the end was supposed to be warning you that the kick was coming. Unfortunately, if you're reading this, that means you missed it.
  • Which would mean that the above passage was created by a projection of This Troper's subconscious.
    • No, you are a projection; to build on Jung's collective subconscious, if it exists, then there is one dreamer and we are all projections. Just on a side-note, this is part of a sect of Hinduism; a monotheistic god is dreaming, and when he wakes up, the world ends. Regarding us missing the kick: Shit.
  • although this is highly unlikely, it's a very interesting and intriguing thought. those who have died and then come back to their bodies with stories of heaven or purgatory just may have been with everyone else who was awake. heaven IS the real world. whoaaaa!

It's a dream up until Cobb leaves the plane at the end.
Way I see it, Cobb was depressed after his wife's suicide, and so lived abroad for a while, but then was persuaded to come home and be with his kids. On the flight, he fell asleep, and the whole film is his dream- all of characters who were the "partners in the scheme" were just other passengers on the plane.
  • This is now my personal canon.
  • This was my canon the moment I walked out of the theater.
  • Alright, but how do you explain the murder charges being shrugged off if Saito didn't actually make the phone call to clear Cobb's name IRL? One year certainly isn't enough time for the statue of limitations to expire, after all.
    • There were no murder charges. This was lampshaded when Mal hung a big fat lampshade on "A bunch of people chasing you around the world" when he was in "limbo". She might not even be dead, just on the other side of a messy divorce or something like that. (Hell, while we're at it, maybe they're even still married and the entire dream is drawing on a fight they had before he left on this trip.) All we saw was a long, long dream from a guy who inserted the people around him into it, including the Asian man who had a propensity to make phone calls (so his 'phone call' at the end was just something he's been doing the whole time Cobb was asleep)
      • Totally. You only see Saito pick up the phone, you have no idea who he's calling - you just assume he's "making the call" because the dream planted the idea in your mind. None of the team talk after leaving the plane - there's a nod from Eames but that's it. And how would Cobb's father (Caine) know to meet him at the airport? He was aware of the job but wasn't aware of the specifics so would have no idea that Mal was on that plane. And wasn't he teaching at a university in France at the beginning?
  • Note that after he wakes up on the plane, we never see him interact with the other passengers, there is nothing to suggest that they are in any way special, or that he was ever charged with murder. And from my point of view, the only way the assumptions the characters rely on for their entire scheme (that they can rely on the way the laws of physics function within dreams) make sense is, ironically, in dream logic.
  • when the man at the check gate in the airport looks at Cobb's passport all he says is "Welcome home Mr. Cobb" He never mentions anything about crimes or dreams. The audience just ASSUMES the guy hestitates because Cobb has been convicted and hunted for so long. But we really don't know!
  • Also, I don't think there was any mention of, or even acknowledgment of, the PASIV (dream-sharing box). They just all woke up, and we're left to assume that it magically disappeared or something before Robert saw it. Unless one of them woke up really fast and managed to put the thing away in about three seconds...
    • No, go back to when the sedate Fischer. The stewardess on the plane is their technician, she put the PASIV away when it was safe to do so. Like the Japense youth in the train with Saito, they employed someone who doesn't stick out.
  • You guys need to watch more heist movies... you never talk to the your partners in public.

Miles ( Micheal Caine) planned the entire thing.
"Alright. There is no fourth level of dreams. All the characters pretty much admit that getting to a third level is almost impossible. So that should be ruled out.

It isn’t just Fischer’s dream. It’s Cobb’s too. Fischer and Saito’s industrial espionage plot is the MacGuffin here. Nice to look at, doesn’t really matter.

Let’s ask ourselves, why would Michael Caine show up for a two scener? Because he has everything to do with the plot. Who does he handpick for the assignment? Ariadne. Could it be that she has more to do in this than design the dreams? And her role as dream architect would allow her access to a lot of places others couldn’t go.

Theory: Caine hires Ariadne not just as an architect, but as a spy. Her mission, to plant an inception on Cobb while he plants one on Fischer. Should’ve been called “Double Inception.”
  • That would explain why Ariadne goes all M.C. Escher up in Cobbs head in her first dreaming lesson, just after a few minutes. Because she already knew how to do stuff, and is actually a very trained architect.

Cobb is in the same level as Fischer and can be incepted upon (if you will) at the same time. The idea for Cobb is to let Mal go. Caine wants him to “come back to reality” so he can see his kids. The safe for Cobb isn’t locked up, it’s in the dialogue etween him and Mal on the ledge. This dialogue is repeated almost word for word between Cobb and Saito in the final scene. Cobb realizes he’s dreaming, realizes the idea’s origin and is kicked back to reality on the airplane. The reason why none of his team talks to him at the airport, but seem to be watching over him, is that they were all in on it, and they were successful. He’s free of Mal. He can finally see his kids faces (proving it’s no dream).

Nolan loves to toy with his audiences. Mal says earlier that dreams always leave a little doubt to them, making the dreamer question reality. This is what Nolan does to the audience when he cuts from the top spinning before it falls. He leaves us with that doubt. Have we been dreaming for 2h30m? Nolan doesn’t let us off."

  • Another subtle variation from the theory is that the entire movie from the first frame to the last is Cobb's dream. Miles as The Man Behind the Man send Ariadne to retrieve Cobb and bring him back to reality. This is why Miles says "come back to reality," and in the scene where Yusuf brought Cobb into a basement full of sleeping people on drugs, Yusuf said "they are not trying to dream, they are trying to wake up. You of all people should've know." However, in the end Ariadne failed her mission; she saw that Cobb would be better off living his "earned" dream with his family and not come back to reality. That's why when the van is submerged with Cobb in it, Ariadne told Arthur "he (Cobb) should be all right." And this is also why the top at the final scene never stops spinning.

The Never Ending Stair-case.
I think the main point of the movie is that it is like the never-ending staircase. It can be looked at from many different perspectives and they all seem to go somewhere but it never has an end. This is exactly like the totem that keeps turning around and around.
  • This is a good point. Nolan may have been getting at the fact that death isn't the end of everything; there's always something there. Like in the dreams, when you die, you wake up. Who knows what will happen to us when we die?

Mal is out and trying to help her husband.
You have to admit, this would be the ultimate twist. Mal isn't a figment of his imagination, she made it into the real world, and was jumping back into his dreams within dreams, trying to wake him up. This would give her a reason for shooting Fischer, because he was just a projection, and if Mal succeeded in his mission he'd be able to live with his dream-children and it would be even harder to convince him to give it all up.
  • I thought about this one and dismissed it on a second viewing where I saw it was clear that Mal was trying to persuade Cobb to stay in Limbo with her. If she was trying to wake him she'd have been trying to admit it was a dream (which he knew) and commit suicide.

Mal was trapped in The Dreaming
Hence why Death couldn't reach her there.
  • Cobb is a reverse vortex. Instead of pulling the walls between dreams down, he compartmentalizes them too much.

Mal was right and wrong at the same time.
The reason we don't see Cobb's kicks back from limbo to the plane is the previous dreams have already collapsed. There are no other intermediate dream steps… just the plane and limbo.

That means we're never told in the film that a dreamer will kick straight from limbo to waking if there are dream levels in between. That leaves open the possibility that when Cobb and Mal kick back to their youthful selves after having spent "about 50 years" in limbo, they may still be in a higher-level dream.

And if that's so, Mal's leap from the anniversary hotel room balcony would not kill her, but instead kick her up to yet another higher level.

Cobb – a master dreamer – tells us in the film that he and Mal had been experimenting with multi-level dreaming and that he pushed her to keep going farther and deeper. We're never told how many levels they stacked before reaching limbo, but I see this as reason to dismiss the idea that there can be three levels at most. Cobb and Mal, being very close (think of Mal's questioning of Ariadne about being a lover… a half of a whole), may have had very stable dreams together that allow for deeper layering than was possible with the complex espionage levels seen in the movie.

While living in limbo, Mal had locked away her totem in the architected version of her childhood home, hiding from the truth that limbo was not reality. But Cobb breaks in, learns her secret and decides to perform inception on her. He implants the idea that to escape she has to make the leap of faith (as Saito later does) and die.

I presume Cobb at this point doesn't have a totem of his own because a) we're told totems were Mal's idea, b) Cobb may have only discovered this idea when breaking into her safe while in limbo, and c) we never see him with anything other than the top during flashbacks.

His inception starts the process of Mal kicking upward. The first move up (death by freight train) brings both she and Cobb back to a previous dream. But Mal, still "consumed" and "defined" by the infectious idea continues to seek escape through additional kicks. Cobb, having no established frame of reference, accepts the current level as his reality.

This would have been fine had Mal stayed. But by jumping from the balcony, she jumps while also creating an alternate version of herself, Cobb's projection, who is obsessed with moving the other direction. This "shade" is consumed with moving back to limbo and bringing Cobb there as well. The shade is the version of Mal that Cobb has so "let go" in order to get over his guilt.

The primary theme of the film is that one can choose what to accept as reality. Throughout the movie we see a haggard, frenzied Cobb spinning the top, using its fall to confirm his presence in top-level reality. But it's not his totem and if he is still dreaming, we cannot trust its accuracy.

Whether it falls or not in the end is far more interesting to the audience than the Cobb. He's accepted his position, chosen his reality, and decided to walk away from the still-spinning top.

Whether it falls or not is immaterial. This dream is his reality. And Mal, having been infected with the idea that she must continue to kill herself over and over, will do so until she kills the reality version of herself (thus explaining why she wouldn't simply go back into the dream after her husband after waking).

Everything presented actually happened as-is.
The movie starts in media res with Cobb being washed up and dragged over to old Saito, who clearly can't recall who Cobb was. He equates him to someone from a half-forgotten dream. We don't know who these people are or how they got there.

And then begins the remembering process, starting off with how Cobb met Saito.

During the extraction, when the second level begins to crumble, Saito is neither killed or kicked. He merely wakes up. This shows that neither two options are actually necessary to get out of a dream, but they just accelerate the process.

Then, when Cobb brings Ariadne to the dream for the first time, she is interrupted midsentence during the dream before she involuntarily wakes up. The dreamshare device was set to turn off at 5 minutes, showing that when the device turns off, the subjects in the dream are ejected out of it. It also has an automatic timer.

Cut back to the scene before we go back to limbo. Cobb is drowning in level 1, but everybody else seems to be just fine, and sitting around doing much of nothing. However, according to their calculations, they still had several weeks to go through (10 hr flight) and a whole bunch of defenders out to eliminate them. Why are they so calm?

Now, we go back to limbo, and Saito has remembered what he was doing, and his deal with Cobb. Cobb passes over the gun, and his job is now finally done. The screen goes black.

So, there are three options that could get anyone out of a dream. A kick, a death, or a device shutdown. There can't be a kick, since there's no way to kick them out in their current state. A death might do it, but that wouldn't explain the attitudes of the rest of the team.

The final option, and the most likely explanation that makes everything so much simpler, is that the device timed out automatically, the team returned back to their own selves, and everything was just jolly. Saito doesn't go insane from living his entire life in only a flash, Fischer resolves his issues with his dad, Cobb gets to go home, and everybody else gets paid.

  • This actually makes sense; also, by the same logic, Cobb and Mal killing themselves by freight train didn't bring them back to reality, the timer just ran out.

Cobb is a Time Lord
C'mon, you knew someone was going to say this.
  • And Mal is River Song.
  • Because he has two hearts, the gunshot that was supposed to take him out of Limbo didn't kill him.
    • Dude, Mal would be Cobb's Dream Lord counterpart. Manifestation of self-loathing and all...
    • And Arthur is a young Jack Harkness.
    • Surely Eames is more of a Jack Harkness?
  • There's actually evidence for this. Cobb is a theif who uses Xanatos Roulette's to get his job done. In Christopher Nolan's first film, "Following", there's a theif named Cobb who uses Xanatos Roulettes to get his job done. Similar characters in multiple films by the same director? Coincidence. Said characters having the same name? Time Lord.

Freddy Krueger was the origin of the Shared Dreaming technology
Either that or its all Freddy's nightmare.
  • It does have that recurring motif of a pretty little boy and a pretty little girl who keep getting away from him...

The Film is a Dream. The Crew is a metaphorical production crew.
This is more of a metafictional interpretation of the film's structure than speculation about the plot, but it's pretty wild and if we allow that unfunny Time Lord running gag... Well, here we go. Many, many reviews and news outlets have commented on the idea that Inception - and any movie - is a kind of shared dream.
  • Cobb, the Extractor, is the director. He controls the crew, comes up with the ideas, and acts as the visionary leader. His position - living and working in exile for a horrible crime- matches that of Roman Polanski. Except he's innocent. And many have even commented on Leo's similarities to Nolan.
  • Arthur, the Pointman, acts as the team's researcher and the man behind the operation's planning, and acts as an intellectual guide to Cobb. He's the screenwriter/researcher, who makes sure that the story hits all the plot points.
  • Saito is the producer. Foreign business guy with lots of money and a crazy idea? Yeah, thanks for the money dude, but you're a load when we got to do the job.
  • Ariadne the Architect is the set and art designer. Important, but she comes in after the script is done, the director is set, and the money is on the table. She wasn't part of the idea from the beginning, so she relies on the screenwriter and the director to work her through their idea. She's a good one though, able to improvise on the fly and look cute in a business suit. The last guy was sacked for breaking suspension of disbelief with his shoddy work.
  • Yusuf the Chemist is the technical element. He drives the whole production, getting everything from point A to point B, but doesn't get much credit. Not even on the posters. Here's your Technical Oscar, chump.
  • Eames, the Forger is the actor(s). His job is to follow the script and act like someone else. He's also charismatic and shows everyone up.
  • Mal is basically Terry Gilliam's career. The evil side of film making. She is everything that could go wrong in a production, especially the director's self-doubt and self-sabotaging baggage that ruins productions. She gives the producer a lot of control over the situation (first set piece), she fucks with your crew, she shoots your audience in the back...
    • Which would make the real Mal the co-director/actor who killed themselves, and their spirit seems to haunt the production.
    • Alternatively, Mal is a physical representation of an Author Filibuster.
    • Or maybe a WMG Crazy Theorist Trollin' Cobb.
  • Michael Cain is Michael Cain. You need him in a film. (He's actually the director's influences, every innovative director who influenced a director).
  • You, are of course, Fischer. The audience. The person the film crew is trying to plant an idea in. And if the job goes right, you will come back emotionally changed. You will be filled with beautiful ideas. ''And you'll break up your father's company, you monopolizing fuck.'

    • ...good Frith, that's brilliant!
    • Does this mean people with trained and weaponized projections are <cough> Tropers?
      • More like critics in general.
    • Supported by the end of the credits: "Non, je ne regrette rien" starts playing. Time to wake up!
    • This is, in fact, the idea planted in your head.
    • If Arthur's the one doing the researching and planning, it would make him the producer, not Saito, since that's what producers do in the modern era of cinema. Saito is more like a studio head. Ariadne's position is more like that of the screenwriter; she creates the building blocks upon which the others create the final product, and it's implied that Architects, like screenwriters, don't necessarily need to be present during the actual production, unless there are unusual circumstances (such as what occurs here).
    • If Fischer is us, then the projections are representations of Willing Suspension of Disbelief and our minds reacting to the movie. If the projections don't notice, then this is the mind immersed in the film. If the projections pay attention or start attacking, that's the mind pulled out of immersion or reacting hostiley to the film. The message of Inception? If you don't like the movie, blame the set designer, not the director.
  • Basically confirmed. Though to be precise;
    • Cobb is the director: "I have the idea. I have great ideas because I had a great mentor (Michael Caine). I also have issues because all great stories have strife to overcome(Mal)."
    • Arthur is the producer: "I figure out the details. And the director keeps throwing entirely new shit at me in the middle of production!"
    • Aridane is the production designer: "I build the set. The tech guy (Yusuf) provides the materials and tools, but I put the set together. And it keeps getting trashed!"
    • Eames is the actor: "I play the role. And I can only play it right if the director tells me what I'm supposed to be!"
    • Saito is the studio: "I pay for all of this. I paid a lot for all of this. The audience better buy it."
    • Fischer is the audience: "I watch the movie. Convince me it means something significant and I'll buy it."

Everything was real except for the final sequence
An answer to the above "it was all a dream" theories: Almost everything actually happened in reality. Our reality, real reality. Arthur, Eames, and even the new people like Ariadne all exist. The heist went fine, until Saito fell into limbo. Saito and Cobb met in limbo, and got kicked up one more level to a dream that played out exactly like Cobb and Saito wished: one where everything worked out just as planned. In the real world, Arthur, Eames, Yusuf, and Ariadne got away fine, but had to deal with a nearly comatose Cobb and Saito. But look at the bright side - Yusuf is a brilliant chemist...

Saito is Seto Kaiba's real father.
Well, he does run his energy conglomerate according to Kaiba's core philosophy. I wonder how he feels about children's card games...

They never had kids.
Watch that first phone call with the kids. Also, watch Miles's reaction to when Cobb mentions his children.

They couldn't have kids/their kids died in an accident.
That was what Mal was hiding from. Cobb convinced himself, while in limbo with Mal, that they still had kids to return to in the real world. When they came out of limbo, Mal had to face the truth while Cobb fell further into delusion and denial. That's the real reason Mal killed herself.

The ending of Ico takes place in Limbo.

The game ends with Ico and Yorda waking up on some unknown beach after experiencing the destruction of a castle in much the same way as the buildings crumbled in Cobb's dreams. Ico and Yorda are in the dreamscape but long ago forgot that fact, and now they've fallen into Limbo, probably forever.

We see the dream sequences exactly as they happen.
Whenever we see a cut, the dream actually skips ahead a bit. None of the characters seem to notice, because they would only realize the weirdness of it all when they wake up. They don't consider how they got there; they just know they're there.
  • Wasn't this a given?
    • No, it's not a given. Not entirely. If you applied this logic to the real-life sequences, Then that could mean that Cobb's reality is just another dream.

This is what happened after 500 Days of Summer
After Tom was dumped was dumped by Summer, had a bad relationship with Autumm, and couldn't get a job in Architecture he met Cobb, changed his name to Arthur, and got involved subconscious etc. That's why all the dreams he hosts are buildings with modern architecture.
  • I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thought this. If it wasn't for you, I would've posted this myself. Also, when he said in the beginning that he wanted to go back to America, I thought he wanted to go back to see Summer.

Dream-delving is wholly magical or psionic, and Mal is a supernatural being.
The box is Magic from Technology or a Magic Feather, with the sedatives being part of the necessary ritual for entering dreams, like the hallucinogenic mushrooms of a spirit rite. When Mal died, her spirit escaped into "the next reality," which was in fact Limbo, where the souls of the unquiet dead dwell, preying terribly and subtly on the minds of those trapped there. She was literally haunting Cobb.

Inception is to Psychonauts as Batman Begins is to the 1960's Batman movie.
Not intentionally, of course, but...
  • Oh my god, yes.

After coincidentally booking the same first-class cabin as several other actors, he walks out into the airport, is picked up by his friend Michael Caine, who takes him home. After saying hi to the kids, he sits down with Caine to talk to him about an idea he had. And yes, I wrote a fanfic based on this WMG before I even posted it.

Not only was LOST all a dream, it was a mindcrime being perpetrated by the Man in Black.
It all took place in Jacob's dreams: the Man in Black was trying to extract information about the Cave of Light.
  • Alternatively, Cobb's team was flying from Sydney to Los Angeles... on Oceanic Flight 815. They died in the crash and the whole thing was Cobb's Dying Dream. Or something.

Robert Fischer would become Jonathan Crane.
After the mission, he becomes his own man by dropping the business entirely (we can speculate that the Waynes virtually inherited the Fischer stock). He becomes enamored with Dreams and Psychology after his incident on the plane. But there isn’t a lot of money to be earned by becoming a shrink, plus he's so used to the expensive lifestyle he had before. So he is forced to join with Ra’s Al Ghul’s study of weaponized hallucinogens.

Inception takes place in the same universe as Vanilla Sky.
"Tech Support!".

The top falls.
Come on, it was so totally wobbling at the end! And we've seen in the flashbacks, in dreams the top doesn't even wobble.
  • Or, the wobbling top signifies that Cobb is losing his sense of reality, and he is still in a dream but doesn't realize it.
  • You know what? Just give the poor guy his happy ending. He went through the toughest assignment he'd ever been given, conquered his projection of Mal, and fought his way back to reality. He earned his happy ending. Say that because he was nervous, he spun it harder than he normally does, meaning that it spins longer. Let's also say that he unconsciously updated his mental image of his children so that they seemed not to have aged in the time he was away (alternately, we don't actually know how long that was, but judging by his children having to ask where their mother was, it might not have actually been all that long). Just let the top fall.
  • This troper has a duplicate of the top given out by the studio as a convention promotion. For the record, with a smooth and level tabletop and the right twist of the wrist, it can maintain spin for more than a minute and a half before wobbling.
  • Something worth mentioning: During the parts of the film where Cobb is in a dream, he's wearing a wedding band. In the ending, he isn't wearing one.
    • Another thing worth mentioning: After, or perhaps during (someone else can confirm the exact timing) Cobb's cathartic confrontation with Mal in Limbo, his ring disappears.
    • In the opening scene with 'old' Saito, Cobb is wearing the wedding ring (you get a close up of his hands when he's eating the rice).
      • Or his loss of his wedding band could mean that he finally let Mal go.

Mal was right.
When she and Cobb escaped limbo they didn't quite wake up and eventually she gave up trying to convince him and is now waiting in reality for him to either realize the truth or otherwise die and come back to her.
  • Then wouldn't she just "kick" him?
    • Maybe she did and Cobb missed his kick.
  • If this is the case, why doesn't she just come back to the level of the dream that Cobb thinks is "reality" and start warping it to the point the dream collapses? Wouldn't this also mean that Cobb is wrong about him having successfully done an inception to her?
  • If Mal had really woken up for real, she would have been able to stop the sedative machine and give Cobb a good couple slaps until he woke up. Since that didn't happen, Mal really did die.

Mal mentally broke because the top never stopped spinning
Ok, this is a little weird so bear with me. The way that Cobb planted the idea was having the top spin, it spins forever in the dream world. The problem is this, unless he went back in and stopped the top it was going to spin forever. No matter what she would always feel she was in the dream world because the idea would always be gnawing at her mind. And since the top was in her subconscious it never could stop spinning.
  • That is the idea. No wild interpretation here.

Mal is The Minotaur
Depending on which version of the myth you read, Ariadne is a daughter of the king of Crete who gives Theseus a magic ball of thread that either leads him to the Minotaur or guides him back out of the labyrinth after he kills it. Ariadne is the one who accompanies Cobb through all the layers of the dream and into the heart of the labyrinth, and leads him to the realizations that let him leave the dream. Mal is the malign presence stalking the group throughout the entire expedition.

Mal killed herself in real life
Mal had the idea in her subconscious that her world was fake and that she needed to kill herself to get out. It doesn't matter if the real world seen in the film is just a dream, Mal just kept killing herself and killing herself until she died for real.

Suzumiya Haruhi takes place in the world of Inception
Haruhi is the architect, stuck in limbo for the past three years and can't tell it's not reality. Nagato arrived in limbo first, and has been there for decades, explaining her personality (and Endless Eight). Koizumi and Mikuru are two more members of the team. Kyon's the target, and the only one who never knew it was a dream.
  • Ryoko Asakura is a projection of Haruhi's past lover, which explains her yandere tendencies. Endless Eight are dream layers Serial Escalation.

House of Leaves takes place in the world of Inception
The main character is contantly going between mutiple layers of dreams; the layer where he's putting the book together, and layer with him experiencing the book, and the layer with him experiencing the film. The House is his vault, and the Minotaur is his security. By having him analyze the deeper layers of his dreams, the team hopes he will reveal some key to getting through the House. A Team of agents are trying to get some key information out of his vault, but the Minotaur picks off the team one by one. Eventually, only the target is let, unable to distuinguish between the layers of the dream and eventually plunging into Limbo. There he finds the repressed shade of his insane mother, who'se letters and death deeply disturbed him.

You, the viewer, have been infected with the same idea Mal was
The entire movie is a subtle means of causing the inception of the idea that the top layer of reality isn't the real one. You, the viewer, have been infected with this idea, and it's caused you to doubt the happy ending that Cobb gets.
  • Or worse - Chris Nolan is an extractor. By becoming a famous director and making a movie that everyone is talking about, he's written a backdoor into the dreams of everyone who saw the movie. And I for one salute our new overlord of dreams, and remind him that as a hard working netizen, I can help him recruit others to work in his soma mines.

Cobb is Batman
Inception is the nightmare Batman had while he was under the influence of fear toxin in Batman Begins. It explains why Saito (Ra's Al Ghul) is both trying to help and hinder him, why his love interest dies and why the scare crow is in it. Kitty Pryde being there is just a flash back to when he teamed up with the Marvel Universe.
  • Also explains why Alfred is there as his father, since Alfred becomes his proxy dad.

Arthur is Batman
As discussed in the It Just Bugs Me! section, the "Arthur has a couple of minutes" was actually exaggerating how much time he had. He actually came up with the zero-gravity kick in less time than that. And let's not forgot the major beat-down he laid on all of Fischer's security throughout the hotel level. So, brilliant tactician and intimidating combatant in a movie directed by Christopher Nolan? Obviously Batman. He's probably training himself in dream technology in case he ever has to use it to save Gotham or someone tries to use it against him.

The real world (level 0) of Inception is the dream world of The Matrix.
The machines of The Matrix found that once they were able to instill a convincing dream-world within a large population of human drones, to instill additional layers of dreams is a simple matter of applying the basic dreaming process recursively. The original vision of The Matrix was that the machines utilize collective human brainpower to create a massive supercomputer distributed among many billion "nodes", i.e. human minds — not that they harvested humans for their energy output, as Morpheus explains in the film. As Cobb explained in Inception, when we dream, we use our brainpower more fully. The machines realized the advantages of this for their purposes and began to provide people with some degree of control over this process, with the one restriction that they cannot wake up from the Matrix without Matrix-external assistance. With even a small handful of people delving deeply through successive dream layers, those individuals' computational power increased by many orders of magnitude — ten people manipulating their own dreams have the computational power of ten billion people who never go further than level 1.
  • This troper had the same thought. The so-called 'real world' of Inception, where the characters wake up on the plane, is in fact the computer-generated dreamworld known as the Matrix. Mal's conviction was that if she jumped to her death, she would wake up in the real world – this is exactly what the Kid did in The Animatrix. It seems that Mal has the same sort power of 'self-unplugging' that the Kid had. Maybe Cobb has also has that ability; maybe all powerful extractors do. Mal probably woke up in her pod when she hit the ground, and was taken aboard by rebels in one of their hovercrafts (perhaps the machine/human truce from The Matrix Revolutions didn't work out too well). We can assume that Inception takes place about ten years after the events of the Matrix trilogy (inside the Matrix, the year was 1999; presumably dream technologies were developed by the people within the Matrix between 1999 and 2010, when Inception was released). Perhaps projections are similar types of beings to Agents.

The target of inception is Saito, and Cobb is a Magnificent Bastard
Saito's just revealed that he can reunite Cobb with his children. So, what should Cobb do? Jump through Saito's hoops, performing an incredibly dangerous mission that may well fail, merely on the faith that Saito is telling the truth? Or something much simpler - incept Saito with the idea that he owes Cobb his entire life and would do anything to help him in return. So there's several parts to this theory:

1. Cobb has been lying about inception all along. Inception can only be done in Limbo. (Remember in the flashback how easy it was for him to plant the idea in his wife? In Limbo you don't believe you are in a dream, so you have no defenses, make no distinction between other people's ideas and your own.)

2. Cobb has used Inception on at least Arthur, possibly other members of his team. They are way too loyal, and he trusts them too easily. Notice at the start that the room Cobb meets Saito in Limbo has a decor reminiscent of the dream Arthur designed. But isn't Limbo supposed to be only constructed by the people in it? This suggests that Arthur has been in Limbo. Check out also the skyscrapers in Limbo. Doesn't that remind you of the models Ariadne was making? So yup, she's been in Limbo as well. How convenient that Yusuf has the same drug that Mal and Cobb used right to hand.

3. The whole purpose of the heist, therefore, is to get Saito into Limbo. Saito was possibly already dreaming as he boarded the plane. Fischer was a fake. Recall that from his perspective, Saito has no idea whether Fischer was successfully incepted or not - but he makes the phone call immediately anyway. So the entirity of the film Saito was not conscious for is just imagined by Saito's subconscious, to fill in the blanks. Naturally, too, Saito does not have a totem when he went into the dream.
  • I think we're meant to assume this as a possibility that is neither confirmed nor denied by the movie, although it would be clearer if Saito wasn't so hard to understand in those scenes at the end and the beginning where he's an old man. It sounds like at one point he does say that the reason Cobb came back for him was not to kill him but "to convince him to honor our arrangement", which would support the theory that Cobb is performing inception on Saito.
  • When they are in Saito's mind, aren't the rooms supposed to places he really knows? Such as, the love nest?
  • This could be possible if at least Arthur, and maybe Ariadne, were in on Saito's inception. The way Saito fell into limbo was by getting shot by a projection, but Arthur was the research guy who should have found that out. Arthur and Cobb (the best extractor in the business) have worked together for too long to miss that, so the only solution is that he did find that out, told Cobb, but neither told anyone else. Their fight over Arthur's responsibility was staged for Saito's benefit.
    • Or, better thought, it wasn't Cobb orchestrating the inception of Saito, but Arthur, who is the real magnificent bastard, and didn't even tell Cobb. He's working for a third party who wants everyone incepted.
      • That would be a Xanatos Roulette though, because he agrees to host the second dream level and can't go farther down. It's also more likely that Cobb was in on it because the idea being incepted is to free Cobb. Also, yes, Saito says "to convince him to honor our arrangement".

It doesn't matter if the top falls or not because...
  • It doesn't matter to Cobb. Earlier in the film, he's downright obsessive about being sure of his conscious state. But when he sees his children, and is free to interact with them again (either legally or emotionally), he simply walks away from the top. And since his emotional arc is now complete, the result doesn't matter. He's where he wants to be
    • It may not matter to Cobb, but it sure as heck matters to his children. If he really is still stuck in limbo, then the real James and Phillipa are now orphans and will probably grow up thinking that their father killed their mother.
      • The main danger of limbo is what it does to your mind. However, Cobb and Mal survived 50 years in limbo emotionally unharmed except for Mal's accidental inception. If Cobb's content with his dream kids, it'll keep his mind intact. Then in the real world, someone will realize, "Gee, Cobb's been sleeping quite a while, hasn't he?" and either give him a kick or go down and get him, but because Magic A Is Magic A, he'll only have been sleeping a short while. One way or another, it doesn't matter to the kids either.
  • Alternate theory: It doesn't matter, still, but it's because it's Cobb's dream at the end. Remember, the point of the totem was to make sure you're not in somebody else's dream, but it doesn't matter if you're in your own, because your own mind knows the weight and feel of your totem, and will make it fall. So even if the top falls, it means nothing to Cobb if he's still in his own dream.
    • Cobb would never know if he were in his own dreams or the real world because if he was in a dream and wished subconsciously for the top to fall, it would. The top actually doesn't have any meaning, so the result at the end doesn't matter. Alternately, since the ending cuts off before we see whether or not the top will fall, it never does. The top is spinning forever and will never stop, thus Cobb can never escape from the dream.
      • Alternately alternately, One thing that is interesting about the top is that despite its supposed purpose of being able to tell when you're in a dream, we never see Cobb spin it at a time when he thinks he's in a dream, only when he's in what he thinks is reality. Therefore, we don't actually know how the top will behave if it were in a dream. And we're only told that the top would spin and spin when MAL used it. Maybe the top falling over is how it behaves for Cobb. Therefore, maybe the ending of the movie is actually Mal's dream...
      • Actually, we know that it works the same for Cobb, since that was how he managed to incept Mal in the first place. If the top didn't work the same for him, the inception wouldn't have worked, since the top wouldn't have still been spinning when Mal went to check it.
    • Totem can only confirm that it's a dream. It works like this: When you want to do reality check you tell yourself "If it's a dream it'll keep on spinning" - if it does it's obviously a dream, after all you can't argue with real world physics. If it falls you can't be 100% sure why - because of gravity or because your subconcious mind wanted it to.
  • Another alternate theory to this: It doesn't matter because it wasn't even Cobb's totem in the first place. It's was Mal's. And Cobb killed the Mal living in his mind. Therefore, it may not work by her rules any longer.
  • Yet another alternate (added by the same troper as the last one): Cobb wants his happy ending with his children so badly that he convinces himself that it's reality - and that the top should fall, if he is in reality.

Ariadne incepts Cobb
  • Albeit somewhat sloppily. Her constant exposition and pressuring Cobb to let go of Mal are intentional and deliberate. She's trying to convince Cobb to let go of Mal at the subconscious level. She's just not sure how to be precise about it. What's her motivation? Well, primarily her own psychological safety, but also compassion for Cobb.
    • Alternately, she performs the inception without even being aware of it. The whole film is a gambit by the rest of the crew (or at least Arthur and possibly Miles) in order to incept Cobb with the idea that he needs to let go of Mal, since it's become a threat to the work they do. They can't reach him by normal means and he's the best conscious dreamer there is, so they need to be extremely roundabout with it so that he doesn't suspect a thing. It's telling that Ariadne's totem is a chess piece, because if this is true then she totally got used as one.
      • Alternatively, she knew the basics of Miles' plan, and had been shown the ropes by Miles between her first and second dreams with Cobb. This explains how she jumped from "OMG, we're dreaming, panic mode!" to "Let's fold over Paris like a croissant, see what happens." so quickly. However, she didn't know exactly how bad the problem had gotten (nor, in all likelihood, did Miles), which made the plan a bit more personal for her.

The number that Fischer Jr uses as the safe combination is the date that the picture was taken
  • It could either be 5 pm on May 28th 1991 or 4 pm on April 28th 1991, depending on whether Fischer uses American date order or not, but it would make sense. The number he picks seems random, but with the significance that picture has to him it could likely be the case. He would be about the right age in 1991 as well.
    • Doesn't change anything but as he is Australian I am going to say British date order.

Fischer Jr is Bruce Wayne in an alternate universe where only his mother is murdered
  • Because only his mother was killed, Bruce/Fischer grew up a relatively normal childhood, albeit somewhat spoiled and bitter. His father grows to resent him and blame him for his mother's death. Wayne Enterprises loses its heart, and grows to be a huge monster corporation. Michael Caine (Alfred) is discharged by the Waynes after Bruce is eleven. He is able to focus on his research and is the one who introduces extraction/inception to the masses. Michael Caine was the one who taught Fischer to defend his subconscious when he was a child, which is why the defense in his mind is exceptional.
    • This is even more awesome when you consider that Cillian Murphy orginally auditioned for Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. Also, he reacts to having a gun in his face in level 1 like it's a regularly occurring minor annoyance.

Cobb's totem is tainted by the end of the movie
  • If you watch carefully, Saito and his projection guard both touch the top in limbo. Therefore at the end, it doesn't matter if it falls or not, because it still could be Saito's dream where he manipulates the top to do whatever he wants.
    • Touching =/= knowing how the totem works

In Limbo, you continue to age but never die
  • This explains why Saito lived for so long. It also explains why Cobb HAD to implant the idea that it wasn't reality because they would never die otherwise. This is where limbo starts to become hell. If you enter limbo, convince yourself it's reality, you will be stuck there for an eternity. There are no natural predators (disease, accidents, murderers) because your own subconscious creates the world. But you are CONVINCED it is reality so your body will continue to age accordingly.

We will never know if he was dreaming for the whole film or not. There is equal proof for and against this. If Cobb is crazy enough to imagine a malignant shade of his wife that continues to sabotage him, we cannot take anything he says at face value.

Cobb receives the final kick and intentionally drowns himself in level one
  • The other two levels are collapsed, so once he leaves limbo, he ends up back in level one. Ariadne knows he plans to do this and that is why she tells Arthur he'll be okay. He does this so he can wash back up on the shore in limbo, to find Saito at the beach house rather than scour the city for him. This is why Saito is so old while Cobb is young, because in that little bit of time it took him to drown himself, Saito ages half a century.
    • That makes so much sense.
    • This explains so much! Also, the difference in the passage of time between levels could mean that he didn't even have to skip levels as he "rode the kick up"— He didn't spend that much time in limbo, so once he came back he could've wound up in the snow level only seconds after he went under. Then he could've been fatally wounded in the explosion, left to die slowly and effectively winding up in limbo again but with a significant amount of time difference between him and Saito.
    • I agree with this in theory but I have a different idea— I think he kills himself in all three layers— drowning in level one, not being kicked up with everyone in levels two and three, and being stabbed by Mal in level four— so that a) as you say, it's easier for him to find Saito, and b) so that limbo becomes the first dream layer (after levels two and three collapse and the sedative wears off for everyone on level one) and they only have to kill themselves once to kick out of it.

The whole movie is an inception...
On Mal. After Cobb performed the first inception and he and Mal leave limbo, he notices her suicidal behavior and realizes he has to go back in, implant the opposite idea so she doesn't kill herself in the real world.

Cobb accidentally incepted himself as well as Mal.
The subconscious is a shared dreamspace, and in convincing Mal that the world was fake, Cobb also accidentally performed the same inception on himself. That's why he's so obsessive about the top in the real world, why we're shown him spinning the top and pointing a gun at his own head until it falls, and why certain things (the man who hosts the collective dream in Mumbasa talking about a "leap of faith" is the one that springs to mind) are shot with a lot of meaning despite reality— these are just things that happen in life, but Cobb takes them as hints that he's still dreaming because of the inception, like when you learn a new vocab word and suddenly you see it everywhere. Mal in the other levels of the dream just represents Cobb's guilt over her death and is thus yandere, but the Mal in limbo represents the inception as well, as she tries to convince him that his world is no more real than limbo. (You could also say that Ariadne shooting this Mal is undoing the inception, but I think that Cobb undoes it himself in his "shade" speech.) So the final shot, like a lot of people have said, is about him finally recognizing reality as itself.

The gun was Cobb's totem
What was Cobb's totem before Mal died? Well, every time he is 'found' by Saito's search team, he is carrying two things: the top and a gun. I don't think anyone else touches his gun. Unlike the others, when he uses a gun it's generally the same one. Rather than drop his gun, he shoots his partner in the head.
  • When he fires a bullet, its weight changes. Unless you want to argue that the EMPTY gun was his totem, but you never see him without ammo in it. Plus, that would be pretty dangerous at any time to not have a loaded weapon in a world where everyone except your team will eventually try to kill you.
    • A weapon that you have long familiarity with, right down to tactile recognition, might still be viable as a totem, despite the weight shift as its ammo is expended.
      • Or it works as a totem by having infinite ammunition in dreams.

Cobb's wedding ring is his totem.
This is mentioned briefly above, but This Troper would like to go into a bit more detail. As has been stated, each person is supposed to have their own specific totem, and no one else should be able to know how it works (hence Arthur not letting Ariadne hold his die, Ariadne not letting Cobb hold her chess piece, etc.). Therefore, even though Mal is dead, the top shouldn't be his totem, especially considering the fact that apparently everyone knows how it works. But the top is NOT Cobb's totem. It's his wedding ring. There are some very obvious shots of it within dreams (such as the opening scene with old Saito), and it's never seen at the times where he is awake. Also, when Cobb is speaking with Ariadne in the cafe dream, the hand with the ring on it is conspicuously hidden throughout, either under the table, or in his pocket. In the final scene, Cobb spins the top with his ring hand. Is the ring on? Nope.
  • This theory is supported here.
  • Or the ring could signify Cobb always reminding himself of Mal. She's always in the back of his mind, and could slip out at any moment. After the Inception, Cobb has finally let Mal go and doesn't need to be reminded of her any more, thus he doesn't have the ring.

It IS all a dream: Christopher Nolan's Dream
From this point of view, it doesn't matter at all, if Leos Character is in a dream inside the movies realm, since the movie itself is basicly dreamed up by Nolan himself. The best clue for that is Hans Zimmer's awesome soundtrack. The main theme of it is a slowed version of the wake-up music the characters hear inside a dream, so when we, the audience hear it, it means we are counted down to wake up. Also, as stated in the movie, we don't see the "beginning" of the plot(i.e. dream), we are more or less thrown into the movie( and any movie for that matter) and when we finally get to the movies conclusion ... it ends abruptly. Never mind if Leo's totem falls or not, we are given to understand it is useless anyway (since it is not his own). The movie is frakking brilliant.

Ellen Page's Character in the Mirror SNL Digital Short is Ariadne in a recursive dream
It's all in the title. I usually hate "characters are the same because they share an actor" WMGs, but this is so damn close: Sorry, Non-Americans, there isn't even a version on Youtube.

Everything is made up and a dream, taking place over the course of a single night. It's Cobbs way of coping with tragedy in the real world.
In the real world (which does not appear in the movie), inception and all that does not exist. It's just an ordinary world. In this world, Mal and Cobb are married as in the movie, and she likewise commits suicide but for ordinary reasons and unexpectedly. Cobb is devastated of course. That night when he falls asleep, he dreams of a world where he's the Cobb of the movie and where it's possible to go into dreams, etc etc etc. The whole story is a way for him to empower himself and deal with the tragedy and how to face/explain everything to his kids.

Mal incepted Cobb to marry/love her.
'Remember you told me you had a dream about us growing old together?'

Saito set up his own extraction at the beginning of the film to entrap Cobb into helping him with Fischer.

Very shortly after leaving the dream, he gets Cobb on the helicopter to discuss Inception. How did Saito know about it? If he knew of Inception, he was clearly somewhat experienced with the dream world. This is why his subconscious had goons chasing Cobb when he escaped with the information, and why he was able to assist so readily in the higher dream levels after he had been shot in the van level. He was clearly experienced in the dream world, and because of this the initial attempted exception could not have worked. This means that Ariadne must have had previous dream experience as well. Remember how those who are experienced in extraction need to get deeper and deeper into the dream levels in order to truly "dream"? Eames, Arthur, Cobb, they're all experienced, so it makes sense for them to be fully lucid on level three. But Saito and Ariadne are relative newcomers, so shouldn't they have been less lucid by that level? Or Ariadne on higher levels? Keep in mind, Cobb tries to tell us that they get attacked in the first level (the van) because Fischer has had some experience protecting himself. Whether that is true or not, Fischer's subconscious self is not aware he's in a dream - but in Ariadne's training we clearly see that she becomes aware with what appears to be very minimal training, and (this is key) REMEMBERS it afterwards. So if Fischer's actually had training, he should recognize a dream like she does. OR, her and Saito are FAR more experienced than they are letting on, and...

The subconscious mooks that attack them on the dream levels on the plane aren't Fischer's - they're COBB'S.

If Fischer was trained enough to have subconscious mooks defend him, he would have been able to recognize when he was in a dream and remember it (Ariadne could do this with what's shown as minimal training). Since he isn't, we can assume that those weren't part of his subconscious. Ariadne knew about Cobb's obsession with Mal, and Cobb knew that she wanted to help him get rid of it; Saito offered to help him see his kids again if the mission was successful. Since both of these had been parts of his subconscious for so long, he sent out his own mooks to sabotage their mission.
  • Supporting note: the projections never attack Cobb. Cobb shoots them, but they never shoot back directly at him.

The kids at the end are just memories
They're wearing the same clothing that they were in all of the flashbacks!

Maroon 5's "Misery" is an Inception Fanvid.
It all makes sense. Weird clothes, curiously empty streets, Tsundere woman manifesting weaponry out of thin air, teleporting, said woman's superhuman strength, etc. Or they're in Limbo. The woman even manages to be in multiple places at once.

The whole movie is to be interpreted at face value alone.
No "so-called 'reality' was all Cobb's dream", no "Mal planted an inception in Cobb." Everyone lives, no one is trapped in limbo for eternity, the inception on Fischer Jr. was successful, Saito undid Cobb's arrest warrant, Cobb was reunited with his children, Ariadne paid off her student loans, everyone on the team became best friends, and after they job they all got together for an epic party where they got massively drunk on wine that is more expensive than we will ever know. (Also at said party, Arthur hooked up with Ariadne.) They all lived happily ever after.
  • The events of the day after the party probably resembled those of The Hangover closely. This troper would now like to see The Hangover remade with the actors and characters from Inception.

There are two inceptions in the movie. The one Saito planned, and one Miles planned
This goes as follows- Miles knows of Cobb's inner demons, as well as his real life problems, and also knows that as much as Cobb wants to return to his kids, he can't really emotionally return without his own catharsis. Fearing this will never happen, and learning of Cobb's plans, he tells Ariadne to incept to Cobb that he no longer needs to feel responsible for Mal's death. That's why she spends so much time picking Cobb's brain, shadows him so much, and why she is so skilled at dreaming despite being presented as an amateur. That's why she was so certain he would be alright as the van was sinking- not because of his personal safety, that would be irrelevant- but because of his emotional health. This also works with the idea that Cobb was incepting Saito too. More Inceptions for everyone!
  • This also fits with the WMG farther up the page that Ariadne was sloppy, albeit successful, in incepting Cobb - Miles showed her the ropes she would need for recreational dreaming, but not the weaponized variety, so she doesn't know about "the kick" or why they need a totem. This also explains how easily she picks it up in the "streets of Paris" dream, and how she doesn't know the limits on dream manipulation.

Robert Fischer is an alternate universe Chuck Bass.
They have the same hair, similar wardrobes, super rich, and have massive daddy issues. Need I say more?

The dream world is more "real" than reality.
In the dream world, much more is able to be created and done, whereas in the real world, things are much more restricted. So reality is the Theme Park Version of dreams.
  • This is why once you are introduced to shared dreaming and controlled dreaming you become obsessed

The concept of dream extraction was devised by a platypus.
Apparently, platypuses are incapable of dreaming. It'd be ironic.
  • And this somehow ties in with Phineas and Ferb.
  • And Perry did dream in one episode...dammit this makes more sense than it should.
    • Could Perry have dreamed in live action and used his friends and family to fill the dream space?
    • Character Equivalents:
    • Dom = Phineas
    • Arthur = Ferb
    • Mal = Candice
    • Yusuf = Baljeet
    • Ariadnes = Isabella
    • Eames = Buford
    • Miles = Mr. Fletcher
    • Fischer = Jeremy
    • I could go on.....

It's not Cobb's or Fischer's subconscious
It's OURS. The audience. We are the only ones who experience all the goings on. The characters represent different points of human psychology. Mal ( as in malware, malicious malfunctioning etc.) is a destructive idea that prevents us from moving forward in our lives. Ariadne is a reconstructive idea helping us to get rid of Mal. Cobb is our proxy.
  • Arthur is our self-confidence and integrity, and Eames is our latent homosexuality that we come to accept because it's just so fucking awesome.

The number of inceptions that occur over the course of this movie:
Five. In plot-chronological order;

1) Cobb's inception on Mal. Where the safe seems to be a direct link to Mal's subconscious, taking her top and letting it spin forever creates the idea that nothing is real.

2) The obvious one; Fischer's inception.

3) Cobb self-incepting (or possibly with the help of Adriane, as above) the idea that Mal no longer exists and that he may be forgiven for letting go of her memory.

4) Cobb incepting the idea into old-Saito that he is in limbo and has to fulfill their bargain (as above; noting the speed with which Saito makes the call, even though he hadn't seen proof of Fischer's inception)

5) Saito accidentally causes inception with Cobb. Saito drops the top in order to realize that he is in limbo- but we never see it stop spinning. Much like Cobb did with Mal, the top (hence, the idea) is still spinning in Cobb's limbo, and is the reason why we don't see the reality-level top drop before the credits roll.
  • Problem with number 5, Cobb can trace the idea back to Saito, because he saw Saito spin the top/didn't see himself generate it. The reason it worked with Mal is that she found it spinning without knowing how it came to be that way, she interpreted it like we saw in the movie, and we have the idea. Cobb, on the other hand, remembered he was in Limbo, understood what the spinning top meant in regards to that, and saw Saito as the originator of the spinning top. Therefore, number 5 is not an inception.

Shutter Island was actually one of Cobb's dreams.

Dreamed by Cobb after he loses Mal, much of it was an analogy of his loss. Loss of his children (though their death was also an analogy) and loss of his wife whom had torn him apart and he had caused the death of. The visions weren't because he was insane, they were because he was dreaming. His final question of whether it is better to "live as a monster, or die as a good man" was him comming to terms with what had happened and, realising he was dreaming, decided to end his life so that the dream would end and he could wake up and try to get back to his family.

Saito was using a Mr. Charles gambit on Cobb.
When Cobb needs Fischer to allow his team deeper into Fischer's mind without attracting the hostility of Fischer's subconscious, Cobb uses a Mr.Charles gambit, pretending to be security in his dreams to keep extractors out. However, the main goal of the whole inception scheme is not to plant an inception into Fischer's but to plant one in Cobb's. Saito is using his own Mr. Charles gambit, pretending that he is coming to Cobb about an inception, so while Cobb is busy worrying about incepting Fischer, Saito or one of his allies (ie Ariadne) can move in close enough to Cobb while his guard is down to incept him with the idea that he has to let Mal go.

Fischer is part of the team performing inception on Cobb

The photograph is his totem, with the scratches on it being what makes it unique. The team is essentially using inception as therapy for Cobb, helping him let go of Mal.

Saito is a member of the Yakuza
How else could he have that much money AND that much power?
  • You could be the head of a powerful multinational corporation, which would give you much more power than a crime lord and high level connections to the American legal system.

Cobb has multiple totems.
As the best extractor in the world, Cobb has experience with the ins and outs of totems. He also knows that other skilled extractors could be perceptive enough to pick up on the top as his totem, especially considering its fairly basic function. The only reason he still uses it is because he is clinging to the memories of his wife out of guilt. So, he devises other, more abstract totems that he implants directly into his subconscious. These subconscious totems are the most subtle indicators possible: they even include visual and auditory components.

1. The first, most obvious of these subconscious totems is his wedding ring. As stated above, he only wears it in dreams. It's also a very nondescript, subtle detail that most other extractors would miss. Even if an enemy extractor picked up on the wedding ring and successfully nullified it as a totem, Cobb still has...

2. His children. This is probably his most ingenious idea, as any single aspect of the whole totem has the same reality-confirming effect. Using them as a totem is also ideal because he can bring them into dreams as subconscious projections, where they will stand out against the dreamscape and constantly remind him he's dreaming. There are probably any number of things about them that work this way, but three stand out: a. Their voices. Whenever the kids are seen in a dream, they laugh and scream, but Cobb never hears their voices. When he's far away from them, he can call them and hear their voices to confirm that he's in reality, as it would be virtually impossible for other extractors to emulate their voices if they've never even seen the kids before. b. Their faces. Whenever Cobb sees the kids in his dreams, he only sees their backs, never their faces. When Mal calls to them in the deepest dream level, he reflexively looks away. This is because he is the dream's creator, meaning his subconscious totems are compromised and he knows that seeing their faces will cause him to question reality. This is why he can't create dreams anymore; using subconscious totems is a tremendous risk to one's sanity and destroys the user's ability to dream beyond his own memory. c. Their behavior, in general. The kids are always doing the same thing when Cobb projects them into dreams. In an environment like the hotel lobby or the hallway of his house, where the floor is a solid surface, it doesn't make any sense for them to be digging around for something. This helps Cobb recognize the 'strangeness of the dream'. In the real world, they will act more logically and react to their father's presence.

Dom incepts himself subconsciously
Ariadne and are remarkably similar. Their appearance, clothing choice, hairstyle, and even their jobs (extraction architect) are remarkably similar. Hence, I propose that Ariadne is a projection of a younger version of Mal. This projection has been perfected (Ariadne has no accent and Mal does) so she can better contrast with the psychotic mess that Mal was in her final days. This would explain how Ariadne, in very short time, manages to get Dom's trust (she's his wife so he already trusts her subconsciously) and why she is so good at crafting things in his subconscious (she's a subconsciously crafted representation of the person who knows him best). His subconscious doesn't attack her because she's "foreign" but because she represents the idea of redemption, which is something that Dom's subconscious has long since given up on. The other members of the crew are also projections who exist solely to distract Dom from the fact that his subconscious is incepting itself in order to cure him. Dom's coming to terms with the death of his wife happens in the same manner as Fischer's inception to give the audience clues as to the fact that it is really Dom's own inception. As he progresses deeper into the subconscious, Dom finally reaches the cathartic revelation that he has to let go of his wife (something that Dom stressed was important since the beginning is that the soul longs for catharsis and thus it can be interpreted that he was secretly expressing his own wish for catharsis). He goes back from limbo all the way to the 1st level of extraction (it must be the first level because Ariadne is still there and in this theory she doesn't really exist). The reason why it's the first level of extraction is because Dom knew there would never be anyway for him to really get back with his children, Mal sabotaged that chance too thoroughly, so he has created a first layer for himself where he can quasi live in happiness. He spins the top and it falls over, it falls over because his subconscious has successfully convinced itself that this is the real world and he live comfortably with his children for the rest of his life. Thus Dom lives with his real catharsis in the shadow world he created for himself because he could not enjoy the real catharsis in the real world.
  • Ellen Page and Marion Cottiard look alike to you?

Everyone except for Cobb is a projection, and they are trying to perform the inception on him
Think about it: Cobb is the only one with a real backstory. We never find out much about the other characters beyond their role as part of the team, not even their last names. This suggests Cobb's subconscious is providing him with whatever people he happens to need at the moment without being aware of it. Ariadne in particular seems to understand him on an intimate level almost immediately, and she's named after the woman who led Theseus through the labyrinth. She's also the only member of the team who doesn't know him personally and has no prior experience dreaming. She pushes him to let go of Mal and recognize reality for what it is. This suggests that Ariadne is a manifestation of his subconscious' desire to wake up.

Also important is that, while Mal was a projection of Cobb's guilt, she demonstrated a remarkable amount of autonomy, suggesting it's possible for a person's subconscious to turn against them and even think independently. The rest of the crew were planning to incept Cobb from the start, with Saito arranging to have Cobb and Arthur attempt to extract him, as well as sending the hitmen after him in Mombasa in order to get him to trust them. Miles introduced him to Ariadne, who would be capable of forming an intimate connection with him that would convince him to finally let go of Mal (and was probably the only projection unaware of the fact that she wasn't actually a real person). How did they do all this? Well, given that we know the subconscious feeds back our own thoughts to us, they knew exactly how he'd react to certain circumstances.

The ultimate goal of this inception, of course, is to get him to accept the top layer of the dream as the real world and to rid themselves of Mal, who keeps trying to convince Cobb to wake up. Notice how he constantly spins the top, trying to convince himself that the world is real, but he's never actually sure of it. They want him to be certain because if he ever does wake up, they all effectively die.
  • Then how did the projections figure out that they were in a dream in the first place? He would have had to be in that dream for a long time for projections to figure out exactly what kind of universe they live in (that universe being the dream).
    • Easy: coma patient. Cobb was in a car accident about fifteen years ago, and has been stuck in a dream ever since. PASIV technology never actually existed and the incident with Mal (who was his wife in the real world but never actually traveled into the dream with him) caused his psyche to fracture and split off into several different personalities, only some of whom (such as Arthur, Miles, and maybe Eames) are aware that the whole thing is a dream. The dream world is so immersive because we create our dreams as we experience them, and his projections have been with him for so long that a few of them start to become more than that. This effectively means that Cobb was the only character we actually saw. This wouldn't work for a normal person, but Cobb is completely insane by the time we meet him.
    • Not so easy: Usually comas don't last longer that five weeks. It is extremely rare for cases to last fifteen years (which is why you hear about them, those rare cases are quite significant). Also, if time dilation were normal (and not super-punctuated like Limbo), five weeks alone would equal 13 years. Ten weeks, 26 years. Twenty weeks, 52 years. Forty weeks would equal 104 years, and by which point even a dream version of him would be dead, or at least too old to do what he did in the film. Fifteen years? Not quite working here. Even worse is if you consider the fact that a coma could slow down brain activity, thus decreasing the time dilation. Heck, even at 10X time dilation you wouldn't have that kind of thing going on.
    • Although if you think of a coma as a psudo-Limbo with there being extremely punctuated time dilation you could have enough time, but aging would still be a problem.

Inception takes place in the future of the world of Psychonauts
The PASIV was created as a collaboration between Miles and renowned Psychonauts such as Sasha Nein and Rasputin Aquato as a means for non-psychics to enter minds similarly to how true psychics use the Psycho-Portal. Each PASIV device is powered by a small fragment of Psitanium, which amplifies the brain waves of normal humans to a sufficient level that they can enter sleeping minds, though it's not powerful enough to let them into the minds of waking people. Miles specifically chose Ariadne in the hope that proximity to the psitanium in the PASIV would help uncover her latent psychic abilities.

The PASIV does nothing but administer sedatives.
Human beings can share dreams all by themselves, in the right conditions. The dreaming device is a breakthrough because it's accurate enough to let its users induce this state at will, and stabilize it for useful periods of time.

Mal is still alive, her death was planted through Inception.
Bear in mind just how much Saito was willing to go through to get this idea into Fischer's head. By performing a test run on a reasonably unimportant architect, he not only was able to prove that Inception could be successful, but to create a person who believed they had done it before. Throughout the movie, people speak of how a small idea can define a person. Mal's death, (and Cobb's apparent guilt) completely defined Cobb, making him somebody desperate enough to risk anything to succeed. And after all, it worked, didn't it?

The world of Inception and the world of GI Joe The Riseof Cobra are the same.
There is no other earthly way to explain two parallel worlds where trains just happen to run through streets without any posted warnings. Besides, it'd be just like mentally-unstable Cobb to hire the Cobra Commander for his jobs.
  • No earthly way, if you ignore the fact that one train was moving down a street in a dream and the other was going across a street on rails in a bad movie.

Mal is basically Pyramid Head.
In Silent Hill 2, Pyramid Head is basically the manifestation of James's guilt for killing his wife. In Inception, Mal is basically the manifestation of Dom's guilt for sort-of-killing his wife. And both die when their creators come to terms with their guilt. It doesn't get any more clear-cut than that.

Cube takes place in the Inception universe
The target is Worth. The other prisoners are extractors, who are trying to steal a secret from him. The cube itself is a dream designed to trap him unless he helps the others, and to keep projections from getting to the gang.

Death in layer 0 (reality) sends you into an infinitely compressed dream (layer Ω.)
An afterlife exists in inception when upon death, you instantly drop into a limbo that is dropping into itself, making a feedback loop that you perceive as an infinite existence. by the time your brain has gone cold in layer 0, you, in layer Ω, will have perceived an eternity in layer Ω. Layer 0 might actually be the layer Ω of someone else, and in your own layer Ω, you become the god of that, with every living creature being a highly intricate projection.
  • Alternately, in Inception's world, Mal would always be right, and no matter how many times you die, you will always wake up somewhere else.

Cobb is dreaming the entire film and Ariadne is The Real Mal
. It is shown that a person can transform into another person in a dream. Through out the film, Ariadne is shown to be special, getting the hang of the dream world extrememely quickly, and is also the only one who notices the extent of Cobb's problems. She also seems to handle the fourth world better then she should, all things considered, and is the one to finally Stop Pyramidhead!Mal. The reason? She is the real Mal, who was right about it all being a dream, and then, when her husband didn't wake up, went back disguised as Ariadne, and tries to bring out her husband from his fantasy.

The suitcase projects itself into the dream.
A mind heist involves a “dreamer” (for scenery), a “subject” (for projections) and any number of other “sleepers” (as themselves). In order to create dreams within dreams, a sleeper in one layer must become the dreamer of the next layer. The whole thing is made possible by a special suitcase that is found both in the real world and within each layer of dream.
It can be assumed that the suitcase found in a dream is but a sleeper’s memory of the real suitcase, just like weapons and other items. However, this would mean that the mere idea of an Applied Phlebotinum works just like the stuff itself, something that goes beyond this troper’s Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
So what if, instead, the real suitcase provides an interface for the sleepers to use? This interface would be a virtual model of the suitcase and any operation performed on it would translate on the real device. It would also explain why Fischer wasn’t surprised when they found the suitcase in a hotel room he already knew was a dream. The suitcase is always there somewhere.
  • This troper is in support of the theory, and had actually considered it a while back. Because you can't imagine applied phlebotinum and have it actually happen, even with a dream. The theory also explains why such things as 400x, 8000x, or even infinite time dilation can occur, because the machine makes it so.

Miles represents God
The film opens with Cobb's children making a sandcastle, juxtaposed with a Feudal Japanese castle whose foundation is on a rock. At the end of the film, they tell him they're building a castle on a cliff. This references the parable told in Matthew 7: 24-27.

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

The first time we see Miles, he admonishes Cobb by telling him: "I never taught you to be a thief," implying that Cobb has used his God-given talents for immorality, while Cobb hits him back with the notion that there wasn't really anything else he could do. Also interesting to note is that Miles was the original Architect, and taught Cobb everything he knew, thereby making him in his own image. Cobb and Mal were led astray by trying to learn what they were never meant to know, just like Adam and Eve's misadventure with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Mal literally fell from grace, while Cobb fell on a spiritual level, turning to crime as he plummeted farther and farther down.

At the end, after going through the inception and coming out of it reborn, free from the burden of his guilt, Miles is there waiting to welcome him home to paradise. He is reunited with his family in his own personal Heaven after spending so much time in Hell.

Viewed through this lens, the film becomes an allegorical representation for a renewal of faith. Cobb tried building his home in a dream world, and staked all his hopes in Mal, who rested on a very unstable foundation. When his life came crashing down around him, he didn't know how to react, and the inception was what he needed to let go of the past and rebuild himself on a solid rock.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into things.
The whole thing was really the Red King's dream.

The ending is the real world.
Mal would have tried to initiate a kick that sent Cobb back into the real world by now.

Japan Takes Over the World, or at least Saito does.
He spoofed a deal that Cobb had with Cobol, then left the architect behind for Cobol without any fuss. Cobol tries to gun down Cobb, but they never bother Saito. Perhaps they're working for him, or terrified of him.

He managed to buy an airline at a moment's notice, and no one raised an eyebrow at the sudden purchase. No one except the inception team, who know that it's just for one job. It could be reasoned that buying an entire airline isn't so shocking to the general public because you know, he's a rich person. Rich people do that, and they don't know he bought it to make one job neater. Still, airlines aren't small purchases.

He has the connections and/or the cash to be able to erase Cobb's criminal history in ... one of the flight attendants says the plane would land in about 25 minutes, but figure the landing, disembarking, baggage claim, then customs ... Let's say an hour. He was able to have all that taken care of in an hour or less, with one phone call.

He said his company is the only thing keeping Fischer's from being a monopoly, like his business is failing. And now he has insider information that he can leverage to earn even more terabucks; Fischer is about to break up his company because of some fabricated memories. The fractured empire leaves a clear route to Saito having a monopoly in that sector after engaging in short-term speculation. Good game.

Human projections are elephants.
Each human projection is a manifestation of thoughts that belong to the subject yet are still recognized by him as someone else’s ideas and feelings. When awake, the subject uses this inner representation as a way to understand or anticipate another person’s actions. During sleep, the human projections hunt and discipline all thoughts acquired from outer influences, thus preserving the subject’s sense of self while increasing their own ranks. Although the situation created by the PASIV device is completely new to the human mind, it effectively put the human projections in the role of spiritual leukocytes.
Human projections can’t be consciously controlled by the subject. However, a projection with the face of a real life subordinate will be prone to receive orders. This is how Saito remained a man of power even in the dream world. By comparison, Fischer was obviously used to have many competent people working for him but probably didn’t see himself as a leader.
  • Elephants? What?
    • Don't think about elephants.

Kenny McKormic is dreaming.
Probably about several hundred layers. That's why he always returns from the dead. He's returning, but not in the same world (read: dream layer) as he died. That's also the reason for South Park's inconsistencies.

The Mal in Cobb's mind is not a projection
She is the real Mal. She became stuck inside Cobb's mind instead of escaping Limbo. The Mal that came back is the "shade," and her entire personality is that she thinks that the world is not real.

Totems don't work.
Cobb created Mal in Fischer's dream built by Ariadne. The totems work the same way. The dreamer doesn't know its properties, but the person whose totem it is does, and it has been shown that extractors (as well as active Architects and dreamers, obviously) can affect te=he dreams.
  • What? Totems work because the dreamer would have to both know the totem and successfully guess what the properties of the totem are, while the totem's owner knows for certain (in the case of Ariadne's and Arthur's totems). That how they can tell they're not in another person's dream. Cobb's is actually the opposite- he gives it the property of eternal spinning, while it would fall down in reality or a simulated dream (most people would assume that the top would fall, and make it do so, while Cobb lets it spin forever). Cobb's totem (significant because it's actually Mal's totem) lets him know if he's still trapped in his own dream.
    • It's still possible that totems don't work in limbo, which doesn't have a host. A limbo level is both hosted and populated by the first person to enter it. If you are that person, then your totem's feel or actions can be subconsciously colored by whether or not you want to be dreaming. If Cobb's top didn't fall at the end it would HAVE to be a dream, but if he wanted it to fall he could make it fall even if he weren't awake.

There is an afterlife that happens when you die in Level 0/Real Life, Mal is there, and Cobb is screwed out of heaven no matter what happens.
If Mal and his children are there, especially since everything is perfect, he will forever be worried that he's still in Limbo and that Mal was right. If they aren't, he will feel miserable anyway. If he could be artificially incepted to accept that it's okay, it would be messing with free will and/or making him no longer Cobb.

Ariadne (accidentally) put Mal in Fischer's dream.
Fischer's Mal does't appear until Limbo/Level 4.
  • Except that's actually evidence that it was Cobb that brought her in. Ariadne did everything she could to keep her out, and Mal only shows up when they enter the Limbo level designed by Cobb (other than the WTF Train on level one, which is Mal, in a way).

The end of Titanic is in fact the beginning of Inception
Inception is just the dying moment of Leonardo, where the events of Titanic are revived in a twisted way like in a dream : When water flood the mansion, it's not Leonardo!Cobb being thrown in the bath, it's Rose tossing Leo!Jake's bodie in the water. Mal's suicide is Leonardo!Jake reviving the moment when Rose almost comited suicide. Leonardo!Cobb's children are just what Leonardo!Jake hoped he'd get from that car scene (you know the one). Leonardo!Cobb's inception team is in fact the musicians that keep playing while the Titanic sink, and the adventure is the representation of Leonardo!Jake's guilt of not knowing them enough. This would mean that Inception is neither a dream nor reality, it's a movie.
  • Alternately, perhaps the events of Titanic were a dream Cobb had while he went in to limbo to find Saito. He drowned, emerged by ship to bet for tickets, then underwent the whole events of the sinking before floating away, washing up on shore, and then being found by Saito.

The whole movie is Cobb's dream. He never woke up after his wife died. Mal is there to keep him in the dream world to punish him for killing her.

Cobb's subconscious is striking back after being invaded so many times—by torturing his team.
A bit on a limb here, and more of an interpretation then a genuine WMG. But think about it—Cobb's subconcious has been tortured, invaded, and used so many times over. It could be striking back. In the form of Mal, it tortures Arthur by shooting him in the foot, and taunts Ariadne about possible feelings for someone, maybe Arthur, again in the form of Mal (the "half of a whole" line)and that whole speech. In reality, Cobb maybe was a bit peeved at Arthur before going under for the Cobol case, or noticed something between Arthur and Ariadne in the warehouse. In his mind, he's striking back.

Cobb lied when he said that he was looking for Saito

Something that started bothering me was that Cobb said that he was staying behind to look for Saito who must have been dead, but there is no reason for Cobb to think that Saito was dead. So maybe he was lying to get rid of Ariadne.

Cobb is actually Leonard Shelby. and Inception is the prequel to Memento

Look at the final plane scene: Cobb looks an awful lot like Leonard Shelby. Mal also looks quite similar to Leonard's wife. Presumably, Cobb's time in Limbo had actually damaged his brain somewhat, and sensitized it to further damage from the dream sedatives, as well as other damage. After a certain point, Cobb's brain start to experience Anterograde Amnesia, and Cobb's memories become falsified, either deliberately or accidentally (Perhaps because of a blurred perspective on reality, or because he genuinely confuses past dreams and experiences together), including the memory of the death of his wife.

This also explains Leonard Shelby's unusual thievery and fighting skills, which rather than being somehow learned in the attempt to find his wife's killer, are actually Cobb's skills both from dream fighting, ad from living as an illegal idea thief.

Cobb is actually Leonard Shelby. and Inception is the sequel to Memento
So Leonard Shelby has destroyed the last thing in his life that served to distract him from the consequences of his actions. He's been further traumatised from the repeated murders and his brain has been shown to be actively lying to him and degenerating more and more. Unable to live the dream of hunting down the killer of his wife he turns to his own dreams and create a vast conspiracy in his subconscious, involving children and being an international crime thief who is able to enter other peoples dream. Eventually, in his own way he comes to terms with the suicide/murder of his wife at his own hands but is trapped in his own mind and the need to keep up the fiction he has created, that humans can enter peoples dreams. That uncertainty is represented by the spinning top that he never quite gets to see if it falls or not.

Think about it. Leonard-Leonardo? Coincidence? Not likely. And in his world you can tell you're in a dream if you can't remember how you got there! Which happens to perfectly reflect Leonardo's condition. It also explains why even the real world of Inception involved car chases and unlikely conspiracies with quick unexplained scene changes.

The inception didn't work.
Inception is widely considered to be impossible, or at the very least extremely difficult. And there's no evidence that Fischer changed his plans in the real world - Saito delivers the reward before he has a chance to do anything. So the safest assumption is that it didn't work.

Inception takes place in the same world as Silent Hill, and it's actually an insane asylum.
All the main characters, however are insane, and forced to fight their own subconcious. All the monsters are projections, twisted by their own psyche. The occasional friendly characters are actually psychiatrists.
Actually, fighting your subconscious sounds like fighting your Shadow... Inception takes place in the same world as Persona 4!
Makes you wonder what Cobb's Persona would be... probably Morpheus....

Fischer is going to go on a mad rampage to "break up" everything belonging to his father, and/or to break up every company he can.

And one of the ways he'll achieve this is by hiring inceptors to brainwash other executives into breaking up their companies — which is how Saito first got the desire to hire Cobb and co.

Or, at the very least, Fischer is going to become an Eccentric Millionaire for the sake of being as different from his dad as possible. Which will in turn involve some wild "dream parties"…
  • Except the idea the team planted wasn't "I want to break up my father's company", it was "My father wanted me to build my own successes instead of riding his coattails". Breaking up the empire is just a logical step Fischer will end up taking in pursuit of that goal.

Wait, wait, dude, get this… the whole thing is a dream. From the beginning to the end. Whole thing.
Have I blown your mind?

Cobb was a therapist, not an architect, before things went hinky.

There are references to the dream technology being created by the military and being used by architects, but what about all the other potential uses of dream sharing? Dom insists on using the opportunity to repair Fischer's relationship with his dad even though it would have been WAY easier to get him to break up the company to metaphorically give his dad the finger (most people would probably call bull crap on "positive emotions are more powerful than negative ones" and he's not enough of an optimist to believe that blindly) and he's very adept at getting the desired responses from subjects.
  • That makes sense, as you would think that a lot of psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, and biochemists would be working on the project. "Architect" isn't the first job you think of when dealing with dream research.

Ariadne is the first Alice- She went completely physics-breaking-happy on her first experience, and if she was gone, the only thing people would really remember her for is her architecture stuff.

Cobb is the second Alice- He shot himself, obviously, to get out of Limbo, and he also created Limbo with Mal out of his experiences, etc.

Mal is the third Alice- Possessed by a dream, anyone?

And Fischer Jr. and Saito are the fourth Alices- Both are in danger of never waking up from their dream in Limbo.

Everyone Lives, except for the third Alice, who was already dead. The first Alice learns caution, albeit with a run-in with the third Alice. The second Alice's killing himself was only to wake up from the dream, and helps the fourth Alices wake up from the dream as well.

The Matrix takes place within Inception

Obviously, this is a reverse of a WMG above.

How it works: some else experimenting with dream sharing accidentally did the same thing that Cobb did. However, they instead decided to solve the problem by incepting another idea. The first Matrix movie is simply a dream designed to convince the other person that "If you die in the matrix, you're killed here", so that, even if they think that the world isn't real, they will not try to kill themselves. This is why the first matrix movie never shows a way for people to escape on their own, and why it has several scenes of people getting killed within the matrix and dying for real because of it. The second and third movies, plus all the other stuff, were created because the dream makers liked the setting and wanted to try and expand on it.

The Cell is a prequel to Inception
Exactly What It Says on the Tin. I can't believe that I was the first to come up with it, actually. In most of The Cell, Catherine was completely at the mercy of Stargher's eldritch subconscious, easily suborned to believe that what she was experiencing was real - this obviously led to the development of totems. By creating her own dream world, she was able to face him on an equal playing field - the first architect. Further research led to an interface that was solely chemical, and useful outside a laboratory setting - not to mention removing the possibility of killing someone inside a shared dream.

Everything what wasn't stated to be a dream was real
And therefore Cobb earned his happy ending. Remember, how it was said that you can only trace your path to where you are in reality, but not in a dream. Well, you can trace his path from plane to his home.

Minecraft takes place in limbo
Think about it. You generally wake up on a beach, and start building the world of your dreams. It's (supposed to be) infinitely vast, and you perform many feats that spit in the face of physics. While the fact that you can die and simply go back to were you started is odd, that can be explained away by the idea that the crafter no longer believes they can die...

Cobol is Cobb

Okay, Cobol almost spells Cobb if you take the o and l and space them real close together and fuse them and reverse them and you get b. But also it's known as an engineering firm and Cobb can't work as the architect. So maybe Cobol is his past or his failures trying to catch up with him.

The inception is an audition.
Saito and Fischer are actually partners (not like that)! That's why Fischer's subconscious was militarized and why he reacted so calmly to the gun in his face. He only started to get emotional because he was caught off-guard by the emotional direction they took the inception attempt. Obviously they wanted to see how well the team could pull off Inception because they need them to do another job on someone else. Why else would he be called "Robert Fischer?"

Inceptions are impossible unless you do a self-inception.
We see 3 inceptions in the movie, on the first one Mal incepted herself by making her believe that Limbo was as valid as reality. The second inception is Dom self inception (thinking he was doing the inception on Mal, but actually incepted himself) and the third inception is Robert Fischer's.

Dom's inception make him believe that Mal actually followed him out of Limbo and created the false memories of her suicide while Mal did die out of malnourishment and dehydration after a week or two (which was millenia in Limbo for her).

Inception is set in the same world as Roger Zelanzy's The Dream Shaper/He Who Shapes
In conversation Cobb mentions that there is legal use for the technology, he just hasn't been able to find a job doing it. The legal use is the shaping of dreams as a form of therapy by people like the story/book's protagonist Charles Render.

After the Fischer job, Ariadne never sees Cobb again.
See the fate of her mythological counterpart as regards to Theseus - abandoned on an island as soon as she showed him the way out of the maze. (Our Ariadne will most likely be able to go merrily about her life without divine intervention, but still, I'm betting they don't see each other much.)

Cobb never left Limbo.

We know that Saito touched Cobb's totem, and already knew how it worked, therefore ruining it and making Cobb unable to tell what is a dream. Also, only Saito is shown taking the gun and presumably killing himself. Once Saito left Limbo, Cobb re-imagined the plane and reuniting with his kids, because that is what he wants and what he would get in the real world, but it's all just a dream. It doesn't matter if the top falls at all in Limbo, because the top is no longer his totem.

The parts that were a dream were a dream. The real parts were real

The sequences where they go into Saito's and Fischer's mind are actually dreams, at the levels they say they are. Limbo is what Cobb says it is. But the chase scene and the plane ride actually happen. You can trust what the movie is telling you.

Totems don't work.
Totems only work depending on whether or not they want them to work. Every time they have had false confidence in seeing a totem all/signify they're not in a dream, they could have been wrong. Meaning with all of the dream-testing they've probably done in the past, they could be in a dream inside a dream inside a dream inside a dream about a dream inside a dream inside a dream...

Ariadne blatantly incepted Cobb while in Limbo, with his permission.
One "flaw" people find with the film is the ending, when Cobb washes up in Limbo again after dying from his stab wound and/or by drowning on Level 1. I originally thought that Ariadne yelling "Don't lose yourself! Find Saito and bring him back!" was just a throwaway line for Ariadne to say as she clings to the porch as the world crumbles from the kick. A bit of filler for a cool shot. Only on a later viewing did I realize that oh, they're in Limbo, and she was planting the idea in his head. The reason it stuck is that Cobb both wanted to find Saito anyway and his confrontation with the dying Mal lead to an emotional catharsis, just as Fischer's cathartic confrontation with his dad allowed him to be successfully incepted. So Ariadne incepted Cobb with a mission that would grow into an obsession when he fell back into Limbo. If you watch the scene when he washes up on the beach, Saito and Cobb both don't seem to really get what's going on (when Saito asks "have you come to kill me?" Cobb clearly doesn't know...), until they see the totem. Cobb wasn't aware of why he had to find this mysterious old man, because his subconscious drove him to do so. Ariadne, you clever, clever girl.

Inception and William Gibson's The Sprawl trilogy are in the same universe
The PASIV technology seems to work via a similar procedure to the Sim Stim and Matrix decks from the Sprawl, allowing people hooked up to it experience a "consensual hallucination" via electrodes or similar. The manner in which Wintermute, and more importantly Neuromancer communicate with Case during the Tessier-Ashpool job is also incredibly similar to how dreams work (the scene with the beach towards the end of Neuromancer for example), and the manner in which Linda Lee is "saved" inside the AI resembles how Cobb retains his mental image of Mal. By this reasoning, The Sprawl trilogy takes place at some point 20 minutes into Inception's Future, and PASIV technology has advanced to the point it can play recordings or be networked globally and no longer requires sedatives, though clearly this means people have forgotten the loaclised dream sharing aspect by that point. This essentially means Cobb and Case are in the same business, they just have different techniques and equipment.

Christopher Nolan wrote the movie as such that there would be so much left for debate and questioning on purpose. His movie was really popular and got lots of publicity. Oh, and people wanted to see it more than once to understand the movie. Nolan's a sneaky one! (Not to say the movie wasn't freaking awesome, because it was... so, so good)

Cobb is still in a dream, and he can never wake up.
This is because he is a dream of Mike, and is Jowee (you know, from Drawn to Life?) after some mental twisting. Mal, who is really Mari, also went through some mind twisting, but still knew she was in a dream. She killed herself because she didn't know she was a dream as well. Miles is also Miles from Drawn to Life, and may or may not know about him. I'm not sure about the other characters, other then that Mike is one of the few (if not the only) real people in the movie, and Wilfre was behind the Mental twisting.

Ariadne's totem is symbolically significant and shows how her character grows in importance.
We only see the totem once, and after that, it's mostly lost in the script. Yet the choice of the piece is what's most important. Her totem is a metal chess piece that tips over in reality. (this is assuming the top layer is reality, and that in a dream, the piece wouldn't budge) Yet what piece does she create? A pawn. In the game of chess, pawns are the most expendable and basic of pieces that you must move in order to bring out the bigger pieces. Yet when it reaches the end of the board, it can become the most powerful piece: A queen. Ariadne starts out the expedition as a highly important member for the basics of being the architect of dreams. All the subjects dream around her design, though she might not need to be in the game to have it play out. (this is going off the idea that architects might not be needed in dream levels from the film as metaphor for movie making WMG) Yet she insists on coming in with their King Cobb, and as they go farther down she still doesn't join in formal combat, but starts to give tactical assistance as well as continuing to confront Cobb on banishing Mal from his subconscious. Finally, at level 3, she proposes to follow down one final level and is with Cobb as he makes the final confrontation. In those last moments, she saves him from his projection of Mal by "improvising", rescues fisher to finish the inception, and gives Cobb one last direction: "Don't lose yourself and find Saito." She has gone from the expendable beginner of the mission to one of its game ending players. Hence she has changed from the squishy and basic pawn into the powerful queen who helped end the game of inception in victory.
  • This analysis is so attractive that I wish it were not the fact that Ariadne's totem is a BISHOP—not a pawn.
  • Well, rats. I suppose then I (the original poster) need to rethink how this works.
    • Still works. Initially, bishops were ships - which have to tack against the wind, hence their diagonal movement. The lumpy penis-head shape was originally three sails. But the Church, being the Church, wanted to be represented on the board of "the game of kings", and chose the pieces placed right at the sides of the king and queen. They were invited to the game, then took it over and changed it to their liking.

The movie is actually a Perspective Flip, we just didn't see the original.
Inception was originally about a brilliant but eccentric heir slowly losing his mind (hence the name "Robert Fischer" - Bobby Fischer got pretty crazy in real life) which would eventually be revealed to be due to mind thieves messing with his head. (Or are they really real?) Somewhere in the ten years Nolan was working on it, he decided the (already sympathetic) villains were more interesting and did a Perspective Flip on his own script.

Arthur is dreaming the entire plot.
Meaning, Arthur is having a wacky dream about entering dreams, and none of the technology or concepts actually exist. It's all just crazy dream pseudo-science his friend Cobb, a co-worker, starts spouting out using messed-up dream logic.

Cobb's totem was his wedding ring, not the top.
I took this from the analysis page. In any case, the totem, as we know, was Mal's, not Cobb's. His was actually the wedding ring - he could tell if he was in a dream or not if he had it on his finger. He spun Mal's top only in memory, and it didn't stop spinning in the dream world due to the physics.

Like how vaccinations "militarize" an immune system, you militarize a subconscious by attacking the projections.
Robert Fischer doesn't remember his training because he wasn't really involved in it. A team of former extractors entered his subconscious armed to the teeth and began shooting projections on sight while perhaps warping reality left and right. After killing wave after wave of hostile projections Fischer's subconscious adapted to defend itself, coming up with heavily armed mooks and so forth. Elsewhere in the dream, Fischer is sitting in a coffee shop eating a bagel, wondering what all the commotion is outside. He wakes up completely oblivious to fact that his subconscious is now a trained killing machine, ready to jump on the first intruder.

The film Inception was a film, and the ending was just supposed to make us confused.
Christopher Nolan devised a similar ending for Memento: the whole film conserving detail as the plot unfolded to try and lead us in different directions, but then the ending throws details everywhere to make us completely rethink who the killer is. Essentially, the ending was supposed to make us question everything that happened before, and we are supposed to be confused. Incorporate this ideology to the entire film, and what was once a hard logical plot now becomes a work of art that was designed with consistencies to lead us and misdirect us from the fact that it is actually a film with an ending full of Mind Screw.

I missed the kick.
We had an earthquake earlier this year here in Mexico City. I had drinked about 5 expressos and was writing about lucid dreaming when the shake began, and things around my room started falling.

And I was listening to this beauty.

Sleep paralysis is the result of getting stuck between the real world and the dream world.
During a sleep paralysis episode, the sufferer often hallucinates dreamlike objects or people superimposed onto the background of the real world. In other words, they can perceive both reality and the dream, but can't affect either one. Why? Because their awareness is caught between the two worlds, they can't fully "wake up" in either of them.

Inception and The Sandman take place in one world
The fourth level of a drem exist and it's the Dreaming.

Baccano! is a result of inception/extraction gone wrong
Claire Stanfield was the victim of early attempt at extraction or even inception, but something went wrong and both him and entire team involved got lost in the deep layer of the dream. Totems weren't even invented back then, so everybody, including the architect lost it completely and, in fact, started to belive into dream personans they created for themselves. Claire meanwhile realized he is in a dream but is either unable or unwilling to get out and instead decided to go completely crazy until he wakes up.

Cobb will later take a trip to Lacuna, Inc.
Simply killing Moll in limbo doesn't work. When his children are grown into independent adults, he will politely inform them that he's getting radical treatment to "be rid of" her, have her erased from his memory via Lacuna's treatment, and spend his old age becoming the best damned Extractor/Inceptor on the market, with nothing to stop him ever again!'

This entire story is an aborted Batman plot

So here's what I'm thinking. What we are looking at is a heavily altered plot destined for part of the Dark Knight Trilogy, with the focus changed to the Villain Protagonist, Dr. Hugo Strange. In Inception, Cobb is trying to stop a man from maintaining his father's legacy/global empire. In the original version, it was Hugo Strange mounting a full on assault on Bruce Wayne's psyche, trying to stop him from continuing as Batman, so that Strange could take over. Bruce's psyche is extremely dangerous though. Training From the League of Assassins has allowed him to weaponize his subconscious, meaning that Strange and his team (probably sparser in the original story) are facing armed gunmen. Since they aren't actually going to kill the team, I think it's reasonable to assume they could be in Batman's mind, although they might have been ninjas in the original, given how he hates guns. At the ending, instead of his dying father persuading Fischer to abandon the conglomeration, the vault would have contained Bruce's dying parents, begging him to abandon his quest of justice. And of course, you'd think Batman's falling for it, until he disappears/grabs the dying pair and begins going full Batman on the pair of shapeshifting imposters, with Strange playing his father, because you think he's been falling for it, but he's realized this is a psychic attack for a good part of the movie. The studios rejected this plot as part 3 of the Dark Knight Trilogy as just being too abstract and wild, but let Nolan use it for a different movie he wanted to make. I have no evidence for this whatsoever, and there's a good chance that Nolan came up with the story for Inception long before he Knew he'd get to make the Dark Knight series. That said, the fact that Inception is about a psychologically based full on assault on an unexpectedly (and seemingly impossibly) prepared multi-billionaire suggests that maybe, just maybe, the whole story was originally proposed as a finale for The Dark Knight Saga, and the only way Nolan would get to make the move he wanted was to claim that the idea was older than reality, to avoid plagiarism claims (apparently the idea was used in an old Uncle Scrooge comic book, seriously).

Cobb first performed inception on Rose from Titanic.
The following paragraph came from the Titanic WMG page, in which it is said that Rose does not die at the end and that she is just dreaming. I added the bullet points.

She mentions at some point that Jack "exists only in her memories", and this could perhaps be a reference to that statement, with him being in her dream. Also, since Cal committed suicide due to the stock market crash and did not die on the Titanic, it wouldn't make much sense for him to spend his afterlife there, having a good time with everyone else, especially considering all the horrible things he did on that ship.
  • Perhaps Jack Dawson is actually Cobb from Inception. Maybe he entered Rose's mind and created all of the false memories of Jack Dawson, as well as the dream at the end.
  • Alternatively, the whole movie is a dream: This is Cobb's first attempt at Inception. He got into Rose's dream, in which she is a woman who survived the Titanic. As the scientists ask her questions, Cobb goes down one dream level and introduces himself as Jack Dawson to a visually young version of her. He successfully gets out of Rose's dream. Unfortunately, since this is his first attempt, he was not sure how to get Rose out of the dream. When she died in her sleep on the first dream level, she went into limbo, forever trapped in a dream in which she is still with Jack Dawson on the Titanic.

The movie is not as brilliant as people believe.
The idea that it is brilliant was planted in their heads through inception.

There is no movie called Inception.
Someone planted the idea in your mind that you did see such a movie.

Inception cannot be performed by the sane. Cobb is insane.
Arthur put it thus: "So you've noticed how much time he spends doing things he says never to do." He went just as mad as Mal in limbo, or worse, but he still wanted to get out. His totem doesn't make the least amount of sense; the others have things with secret characteristics, whereas his is just somehow supposed to spin forever if he is dreaming. He regularly tries stunts that would have a slim chance of working in *his* dreams, let alone somebody else's two levels down. The stunt with the chair, for instance. The solution that readily presents itself is that he is insane, and works Inception by insane troll logic.

Everybody, at some point, performs inception on somebody else.

Someone performed inception on Martin Luther King Jr.
The origin of the dream to which he refers in his famous speech. It was probably done by someone who wanted him to be assassinated. Perhaps a childhood rival?
In And OutWMG/FilmIndependence Day

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