Thursday, August 5, 2010

SPOILERS: Explaining the movie "Inception"


People have been asking questions about the movie Inception. What's real in the movie and what's a dream? Who is manipulating whom? Was the top at the end going to fall or wasn't it? What's it all about? Here is my interpretation.

Inception is a brilliant movie about a dream manipulator, who ends up manipulating himself. How do I know this?

1. Inception works like a virus, so in Incepting Mal with the idea that the dream world is the real world, Cobb Incepted himself with the same idea, and that idea became a part of who he was.

2. Cobb has the power to create exactly the dream world he needs to convince himself of his own Inception, so that everything that happens that seems to be real is that way because Cobb’s mind needs to be convinced that it’s real, whether or not it is.

3. There are several hints that show that the Inception has successfully deluded Cobb into thinking the dream world is real, and that he is in denial about this:

A. Cobb has replaced his real totem (his wedding ring) with Mal’s totem (the spinning top), which means he’s deliberately chosen not to know the difference between the real and dream worlds.The scene where he loses his wedding ring in the bathroom is probably his subconscious trying to remind him that he lost it, but the Inception wins out, and he can't even remember that it was his totem. The Inception has created a replica of his ring to convince Cobb's subconscious that he is or isn't dreaming, according to what best suits the Inception's purpose of getting him to believe the dream world is the real one.

B. Fisher and Saito’s characters are sometimes projections of Mal (saying and doing things that reflect Mal’s point of view, most notably Saito’s words about growing old together and Fisher’s discussion with his father about how his father was disappointed with him for trying to follow in his footsteps, which reflect Mal's relationship with her father, Michael Caine's character). Whether they come from Cobb or what Cobb has internalized of Mal is irrelevant: the Inception is still deluding him into believing these projections are real.

C. At the end of the movie--when the Inception is complete and Cobb is fully convinced the dream world is the real world--he walks away from the spinning top, choosing not to know if it will fall down. Whether or not it does is irrelevant. First, it's not his totem (it's Mal's), so it doesn't really show him if he's in the dream world or not. Second, it's not about whether it's real or a dream (although it is a dream, because the Inception wouldn't be complete unless Cobb is completely convinced the dream world is the real world, and vice versa). It's about Cobb's CHOICE not to know. 

So you see, Inception is a brilliant movie about a dream manipulator, who ends up manipulating himself. What's real and what's a dream isn't relevant; only what Cobb chooses to believe is or isn't real. The Inception Cobb created is manipulating the entire thing. And the movie deliberately cuts where it cuts to make it clear to the audience that Cobb has chosen not to know that he's been manipulated by his own Inception into believing that the dream world is real.

One last thing, some have asked what's the audience's totem. A totem is whatever tells you you're in the dream world. For you it can be just reaching down into your bag of popcorn, or (in our case, because it is a very long movie) a trip during the movie to go to the bathroom. While you're watching the movie, you accept that the dream world--the one created by the dream (movie) architects--is real. And like Cobb, that's you're choice. And, like Cobb, that's your choice because you want, for those two plus hours, to believe in the dream.


  1. This is brilliant, Shevi. Did you come up with this after only one viewing? I would have had to watch it two or three times to even begin to string it all together. I totally agree that Cobb has been dreaming the whole time, though my husband disagrees. I thought the children being in the same position at the end of the movie was a giveaway, though I've read they were played by older children than the ones in Cobb's "dream". One scene that struck me was when Mal (which means bad, interestingly) challenged him to continue to watch his kids as they played. He turned his head away, as if he was afraid they would turn around to look at him, and I found it interesting that he didn't seem to want them to.
    I HAVE to see this film again sometime to try to put it all together.

    On a lighter note, my husband called Inception a combination of The Matrix, Ocean's Eleven and a Hallmark Movie.

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  3. I can't say that Cobb has been dreaming the whole time, but I can say it's not relevant. Our dreams take things from our real lives and change them. So parts of the story can be "real" within the context of the story, but the Inception is always in control of how Cobb processes what's going on, always working on him to make him think the dream world is the real world. And the movie is built so you see things through that filter, from his point of view.

    Anyway, you're right to notice that there are several times in the movie that Cobb thinks he's in the real world, but things are too perfect for that to make sense, like him being able to pick up with the children exactly where he left off. That only happens in dreams...or movies.

  4. Wow! I think you've hit it on the head. About halfway through the movie, I got up to go to the bathroom and fell down the last few steps (the stairs weren't lit and I have trouble seeing in the dark). While I sat there rocking in pain, I missed a nice chunk of it so I got a little lost in the plot. That incident certainly brought me out of my dream state. Anyhow, I think you clarified a few things for me. Good analysis. I'll have to see it again sometime.

  5. i found you via laura diamond. nice blog you've got here! :) i look forward to future posts!