This is the movie review I did 3 years ago after watching "Inception" twice. I love the movie so much that I don't think I will ever get tired of watching it or reading reviews about it. Anyway, here's my take :)
After spending countless hours pouring through the many different interpretations, analysis and theories of “Inception” online and also watching the movie for the second time, I have arrived at my own conclusion and interpretation of the whole movie.
But I will definitely not lay claim to having fully comprehend the movie. I guessed the beauty of Chris Nolan’s movie is that it’s opened to many interpretations and there’s no right or wrong in anybody’s interpretations as long as it make sense with no clear loop holes.
At the end of the movie the first time, there were many questions in my head and a lot of what I’d seen in the movie did not make sense. The complexity of the plot requires full concentration and focus and it was just a little overwhelming for me to be able to grasp everything on the first watch.
And in fact those questions in my head created an insatiable appetite for answers and more answers to fill up the void of not being able to fully understanding the movie. I did hours of reading online, analyzing interpretations upon interpretations and I just have to watch the movie again to finally conclude my own interpretation of the movie.
We'll probably never know Chris Nolan’s actual interpretation of the movie and therefore nobody can boast of having correctly and accurately interpreted and unraveled the mysteries of “Inception”. Therefore my version of interpretation does not present all the answers to all the questions but merely my attempt at making sense of the movie. If it makes sense to you, good on me, if it doesn’t, you just have to come up with a more plausible version.
Inception: Reality or Dream
Probably the first question asked by everybody after the movie ends, “Is Cobb back to reality or still trap in a dream?”
Let me just go through all the questions that had been running in my head before I watched the movie for the second time.
Whose Dreams Are We In?
Whose dreams are we in as Cobb and co went deeper and deeper into each dream?
The 1st two levels of the dreams are pretty straight forward. At the 1st level, we are in Yusuf’s (The Chemist) dream, where we had the van chase and the van being driven off the bridge and into the river. And the 2nd level is Arthur’s dream where we were brought to a hotel and Arthur blew up an elevator to simulate the kick.
The next level is the confusing part. Some said it is Eames’s (The Forger) dream and some argued it’s actually Fischer’s dream. The reason for this confusion was probably because in the movie Ariadne asked in the hotel whose dream were they going to and Cobb replied “Fischer’s”. But when they were in the third level of the dream at the snow fortress, Cobb turned to Eames and said “This is your dream Eames…”
I actually think that it’s Eames’ dream. Reason simply being, Ariadne who is the architect of each dream world has to teach the dreamers its design. Fischer couldn’t possibly have been taught by Ariadne to dream up the fortress. All along, Fischer is just the subject, and not the dreamer. So why did Cobb reply they are going into Fischer’s dream? My explanation is that they were not going into Fischer’s dream but his subconscious.
Cobb and co had to navigate Fischer deep enough with a guided train of thought to eventually plant a simple enough idea in him to make him think that the idea actually come from himself. You just can’t plant any idea in anybody’s head and not have them question the source of that idea. So at the 3rd level of the dream, Fischer’s own subconscious was projected into Eames’ dream as the safe and there Cobb incepted an idea.
What is Limbo?
At the 4th level is the limbo. Few questions here. There seems to be 2 limbos. One is Cobb’s and the other is Saito’s. And how did Cobb, Ariadne, Mal, Saito and Fischer end up in limbo? Before I explanined, here’s something to note. How do you actually end up in limbo? When you die at any levels in a highly sedated dream, you go straight to Limbo, or you can go level by level, from the 1st level down until you are at the 4th level which is Limbo
Actually, there is no Cobb’s limbo or Saito’s limbo, there’s only one Limbo which, earlier in the movie, it was stated Limbo is unconstructed dream space, a shared environment.
When we saw all those dilapidated buildings falling, those are the buildings created by Cobb and Mal when they spent 50 years together in Limbo to construct this world from their memories.
And the palace which Cobb was brought to was built by Saito. Saito went straight to Limbo when he died at the first level of the dream where he was shot.
Here’s a little sidetrack to a question asked by many, why is Saito so much older than Cobb when they were at his palace in Limbo? Saito succumbed to his injury and died before the van hit the river in the 1st level of the dream. Cobb died when he drowned in the river still trapped in the van. That difference in time in their death at the 1st level translated to many years in Limbo. In the movie, it was stated dream time runs much slower than real time, and has a scaling effect when you enter deeper into the dream. That explains why Saito is so much older by the time Cobb met him.
Back to how did they end up in Limbo. The next two are pretty straight forward.
Fischer died when he was shot by Mal at the snow fortress and he went to Limbo
Ariadne went to Limbo from the 3rd level, the snow fortress.
Mal at Limbo is just Cobb’s projection, as of every level when we see Mal.
Here’s the tricky part. Cobb first entered Limbo together with his wife Mal and there they spent 50 years building their own world. The 2nd time Cobb entered Limbo was with Ariadne from the snow fortress. This one is pretty straight forward. And the 3rd time Cobb was in Limbo, he was sent straight there from the 1st level after drowning in the trapped van which I mentioned earlier.
Now that we get the Limbo out of the way, the other confusing part is how did everybody get out of the different levels of dream?
As stated in the movie, due to the sedative, a multi-level kick need to be synchronized in order for them to ride the kicks back to the 1st level, and the timing of the kicks was synchronized by music. When the first kick happened when the van hit the bridge, everyone else was not ready and their kicks weren’t synchronized and that explains why Arthur didn’t wake up.
Here’s another confusing part. How did Fischer get out of Limbo back to the snow fortress to open the vault? When Ariadne found Fischer, she pushed him off the building to create a kick and Eames at the 3rd level used a defibrillator on Fischer to synchronize that kick to bring him back up to the 3rd level snow fortress. How did they ever timed their kicks at the same time is still a mystery to me.
Cobb and Saito in Limbo
Now to Cobb and Saito. How did they get back to “reality”? At the end of the movie, a gun placed on the table at Saito’s end seems to suggest they killed themselves to get out of Limbo. As the movie stated, you need to kill yourself in Limbo to get out of Limbo and that is what Cobb and Mal did on the railway track after they had stayed there for 50 years.
In Limbo, you weren’t be able to tell reality from dream and that is why the longer you stay in Limbo, the harder it is for you to tell the difference and to get out. Saito being seen as an old man had stayed in Limbo for many years and most likely couldn’t already tell reality and dream apart which is why Cobb had to search for him and remind him that he is not in reality.
This is where their conversation is key to them remembering where they are and why they should not be where they are then. The dialogue between Cobb and Saito over several levels of dream space and time was key to triggering each other's memory in the final scene where they repeat these dialogues to each other about “the leap of faith”, “Come back and let’s be young men together”, “Honoring his promise”, and after they exchanged these dialogues, Saito realized he is not in reality and so both he and Cobb shot themselves to get back to reality.
Back to Reality?
And when the sedative wore off, all woke up together on the plane and Saito made the call to clear Cobb’s name and he is then able to enter the country through the immigration and back home to see his children again.
Back to the first question asked, “Is Cobb back to reality or still trap in a dream?” In fact this is of no importance to Cobb even though that has been the most talked about and debated question among moviegoers. During the movie, Cobb said his reality is to be able to get back to his children and see them again. And when he had finally alighted the plane and went back home to his children, to him, he was back to reality. That’s why when he spun the totem, he didn’t even care to see if the totem falls.
Spinning Totem - Cobb’s Reality Check?
Now to a very important question. What is Cobb’s reality check?
The spinning top was Mal’s totem to begin with, and Cobb said the concept of a totem was Mal’s idea. And why did Cobb use Mal’s totem? It was Cobb who planted an idea into Mal’s subconscious with a spinning totem. And when that idea eventually caused Mal’s death, he was grip by extreme guilt. The top was his only connection with Mal in reality, he just couldn’t move on and let go because he could not forgive himself for causing Mal’s death.
When Cobb reached Limbo, the dialogue between Mal and himself was clear indication that he has been released from this guilt, which is why it doesn’t matter to him anymore if the totem is still spinning or not when he’s back to his own house with the children. Once he could forgive himself and free himself of guilt, he did not need Mal’s totem anymore.
So the spinning totem was never Cobb's reality check. His reality check is seeing the faces of his chidlren.
Is Cobb back in reality or is he still dreaming?
I would say YES, he’s back to his own reality.