Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Inception Theories Explained
This post isn't for making a case for why this is one of the greatest movies I've ever seen or calling out moronic movie critics who seemingly panned it only because they couldn't take the extra effort to understand the film or open their mind to the infinite possible interpretations in this fantastical world. SPOILER ALERT: STOP READING NOW IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM.
I'm writing this post because I want to spur the same type of conversation that I've been reading about on other websites. I'm going to analyze and give my explanations at the most simplistic level. I'm not going to attempt to validate or invalidate all of the myriad theories regarding the movie, though they are very interesting. Even though I feel the story and most of the loose ends came together for me at the second viewing, there are still a few lingering questions. I'm not necessarily going to answer them, but I'll put them up for discussion. If you don't agree with what I have to say, have alternative thoughts or notice I'm just plain wrong, please leave a comment.
I tried writing a cohesive story around this subject, but I found that the easiest way to address this was to do a Q&A format. So, here goes nothing. I recommend listening to the musical score while reading.
Q: Was the end scene where Cobb finally meets his kids reality or a dream?
A: I believe it was reality. If you follow the film at the simplest level and just try to understand it based purely on what was on the screen and how the story developed, it makes a lot of sense if you believe the top ultimately falls at the end. I understand there are a multitude of theories for both sides of this argument, and you can dive really deep into alternate meanings, symbolism, etc., but just looking at what was presented on the surface, it was hard to believe the end scene was a dream.
Q: Who was dreaming in each level of the Fischer mission?
A: Level 1 was Yusuf. Level 2 was Arthur. Level 3 was Eames. The 4th level was limbo.
Q: What is limbo?
A: Limbo is the deepest level of subconscious. It's just pure subconscious and populated only with the dream remnants of anyone in your shared dream who has been to limbo before. This is why you see the remnants of Cobb and Mal's world when Ariadne and Cobb go to limbo to find Fischer and Saito.
Q: How do you get to limbo?
A: You get to limbo two ways: 1) by dying in the dream while under the level of heavy sedation Cobb's crew was under during the Fischer mission and 2) voluntarily by going into deeper dream levels. Both of these are proven by 1) Saito and Fischer ending up in limbo after dying on the 3rd dream level and 2) Cobb/Mal's experimentation and Cobb/Ariadne going into limbo to find Fischer and Saito.
Q: When Mal and Cobb were in limbo together, how did Cobb know he was dreaming, and how did Mal lose track?
A: It seems as though Cobb and Mal shared the top as their totem, but Mal refused to see it for its purpose any longer. She loved limbo and her life there, and that is why she locked it away (not spinning) in the safe. By locking it away, she was removing her last and only clue that would let her know she was in a dream. Cobb knew better, and that's why he tried inception on Mal. He planted the idea (spinning the top in the safe), and because of his experience and how he used the totem against her, he was adamant on not letting other people touch his totem.
Q: What was the inception that Cobb had tried before?
A: The inception was on Mal, and it was the spinning of the top in the safe. As I mentioned, Mal had no desire to return to reality and wanted to stay in limbo. She created her childhood home and the safe within the replica dollhouse to represent the deepest part of her subconscious. When Cobb wanted to go back to reality but needed to convince Mal, he planted the idea that their world wasn't real by spinning the top and locking the safe. Because it was the first time he'd tried it, he didn't realize the idea would stick in her mind and "grow like a cancer" even when they awoke in the real world. That is why she thought she was still in a dream and wanted to kill herself to supposedly get back to reality. In her head, the top was always spinning, and she would never be in reality.
Q: Why was Saito so much older than Cobb when they met in limbo?
A: Remember the rule of time in dreams -- the passage of time increases exponentially the deeper your dream level. Saito died in the 3rd level while protecting Fischer's body, and Cobb drowned in the 1st level when the van went into the water. Time was moving so much faster for Saito than Cobb, and Saito died before Cobb. So, Saito had even more time to age.
Q: What happened in the final scene when Saito picks up the gun?
A: One theory is they shot themselves or each other to get out of limbo. However, I believe the sedative simply ran out. Saito and Cobb awoke as they were making their descent into LAX.
Q: Why did Cobb go to find Saito? Why didn't he just leave him in limbo and wait until they both woke up?
A: Saito was lost in limbo. He had no idea he was in a dream. Saito thought that was his reality, so he would not remember the agreement once he woke up. Cobb had to find him to remind him of why they were there so Saito could honor the agreement once they woke up.
Q: What was the significance of Cobb dropping his totem on the bathroom floor after awaking from the chemist's (Yusuf's) basement?
A: It allowed Saito to see the totem for the first time. It would be the catalyst to trigger the verbal exchange between he and Cobb and remembering each other in limbo during the closing dream scene when he's an old man and Cobb is dragged from the beach.
Q: Does the wedding ring theory hold true?
A: As far as I could tell, it did. The wedding ring theory holds that Cobb wears his wedding ring in the dream scenes and flashbacks. When he's in reality, he is not wearing a ring. He was not wearing a ring when he was talking to his kids, when he was being chased in Mombasa or at the end scene. This is another reason why I believe the top ultimately fell over at the end.
Q: Do the kids age?
A: Yes and no. The kids do age because there is a scene in the sequence where Ariadne sneaks into Cobb's dream and he's taking her to the different levels of his elevator. There is a scene with the kids at a younger age. In every other scene with the kids, they are the same age and wearing the same clothes. This accounts for the credits having two different actors for the kids at the different ages.
Q: Is there any significance or symbolism to the names "Ariadne" and "Mal?"
A: It appears so. In Greek mythology, Ariadne helped Theseus exit the Labyrinth. In Latin, "mal" means "bad." I think the connections are obvious.
Q: What do levels of the elevator represent?
A: It seems simple enough -- the levels appear to represent the highs and lows of Cobb's memories with Mal. The top levels were his best times, and the bottom levels were the lows. As Ariadne descended, you saw the dollhouse, the train and the hotel room in the lowest floors.
Q: Was Miles the father of Cobb or Mal?
A: I believe Miles was the father of Cobb. I can't imagine Mal's father would've been so pleasant with the person responsible for his daughter's death.
Q: Was the chase through Mombasa by the Cobol henchmen real?
A: I believe it was. Firstly, I believe in the wedding ring theory, and he wasn't wearing the ring. Thus, it was reality. Secondly, if those were projections chasing Cobb, everyone in those scenes should've been projections chasing him. However, it was only the Cobol henchmen.
There were a lot of other questions that I can't even posit an answer. Check them out, and weigh in:
Q: How did Miles end up in LAX? How did he know he was supposed to pick up Cobb? Was he ever apprised of the plan?
Q: What happened to the grandmother? Was it Mal's mother or Cobb's mother?
Q: How was Fischer's mind already militarized against extraction? How common or well-known is extraction in this world? Is it something for which he would've prepared?
Q: After Saito drops off Cobb and Arthur from the helicopter, he asks Cobb to take a leap of faith (regarding being able to return to the U.S. to be with his children). Just before Mal jumps off the ledge, she asks him to take a leap of faith (die to get back to reality). Is there something deeper here?
Q: Is it possible that Cobb, not Fischer, was the target for inception?
There are innumerable questions and theories for this movie. I could go on and on, but I'm going to stop it there, and let you guys chime in.