Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Inception Explained : Cobb, Mal, Dreaming, Trust

[Greetings! This is my explanation of Inception, but I bet you have a good one too! Go to MyInceptionExplanation.com and let me hear what you think.]

Okay, so Cobb was dreaming. The fact is that the entire movie was about the concept of trust. Cobb was being chased by an evil firm, just like all the other dream sequences in which the subconscious comes for the dreamer. Cobb also made use of Mal's totem, the spinning top, which only Mal knows how to use (because it is her totem), but Cobb adopted it for his own use.

I think that this is a really subtle point that one may forget about during the course of the movie, because we only see Cobb handle the totem (so we believe that the totem is his - when it is actually Mal's) and a lot of effort was put into explaining how significant it was for only the maker of the totem to ever handle it; the totem is the only way that someone in the film can know the difference between a dream and reality.

So, given that the totem actually belongs to Mal and isn't Cobb's and our experience of Cobb in the 'real world' is very similar to the types of experiences dreamers had in dream world's with the subject's subconscious, I have to believe that Cobb was dreaming.

I think that the movie is primarily about trust, specifically, the trust between Mal and Cobb. Mal and Cobb lived with one another in Limbo for 50 years and lost track of reality; what was real and what was a dream. However, even though they had both lost track of what was real or not, Cobb was somehow aware that his reality was not real.

Cobb had the idea that he was living in a dream, and he wanted Mal to wake up from it. That is why Cobb convinced Mal to commit suicide under the train.

Mal shows Cobb a great deal of trust by being willing to believe that she is living in a dream state and that the only way to wake up from this fake reality would be to commit suicide.

Imagine being in Mal's position. She believes her reality and she trusts that it is real. But, the most important person in her life, Cobb - the only person alone with her in Limbo, is telling her that it is all fake and she will need to commit suicide in order to come back to reality. Can you imagine how Mal must feel?

But, Mal trusted Cobb, and when the train ran over them in Limbo they woke again. Yet, we assume that this state that they awake into is 'reality' and we are tricked throughout the movie by Mal's totem (which Cobb uses), which spins infinitely in the dream world and falls over in reality.

When Cobb returned home, you could tell that he knew something was wrong, because he was perceiving what he was creating based on a memory (which is the definition of a dream). The house looked exactly the same and the kids were dressed the same. Even though Cobb is elated to see his children, it is at this moment that he ought to realize that he is still dreaming. Recognizing Cobb's realization, Mal makes herself know to Cobb from his subconscious by making the top spin infinitely.

If we accept the premise that Cobb is still dreaming, then Mal could still exist in his subconscious and appear in Cobb's dream (what Cobb actually perceives to be reality). However, she does not appear to him in the world that Cobb believes is 'reality' (until the ending scene) because she wants Cobb to trust her; she wants Cobb to take the 'leap of faith' that he asked of her while they were in Limbo together.

Therefore, at this point in the movie (the ending scene), Mal controls her totem once again, which only she knows how to use because it is her totem confirming that Cobb is in a dream (also based on this, we can explain the previous spinning top falls earlier in the movie - Mal is actually taking control of her totem and making it fall over to test Cobb and see if he will actually trust her by committing suicide and joining her in the next world).

22 comments:

Eunie said...

No, i think you are wrong.. he was not dreaming the whole time. Remember??? Cobb did inception on Mal... when they were in limbo. He planted the idea in her mind that their "reality" was not real and that the only way the escape it was by death. This is the reason she agreed to die under the train.. because Cobb planted this idea into her mind. Thus, when she woke up, she still believed this was true and wouldn't believe her kids or the true reality was real. That's why she committed suicide in real life, because the incepted idea carried over to reality. THAT is how Cobb knew inception would work.
However you do make some really interesting insights and I was also very confused by the end when the top kept spinning... was Cobb dreaming the whole time? However, wikipedia says the top started to wobble and the screen went black, so I believe that everything in the movie happened and that he was really back with his kids.
Excellent article, thank you. :)

Anonymous said...

We are all dreaming...right now! This is a dream...what do you think about that?

Tyrone 4 President

Anonymous said...

bro mal was right they were still dreaming. cobb was stuck in never ending dreams, hence the mirrors, never ending staircase. how did he get to africa? he is just there dodging bullets and running around just like he does in dreams. his kids never age and always wear the same cothes, his house is the exactly the same in the end as when he remembers it in the past. all the other characters are just complex projections created by his subconscious, the spinning top totem doesnt work properly because it isnt his its mals and ur never supposed to touch another persons totem as it can lose its power (saito touched it to in the very begining of the movie)he gets a phone call from his kids telling him to come home (come back to reality) but he refuses to accept he is dreaming, and his kids dont understand that their mother is dead. the whole movie portrays the battle between cobbs consciousness and his subconsciousness.

Anonymous said...

youre wrong about the totems. its not that the totems are unique and only one person knows how to use it, its that they must keep the totem a secret FOR THE PURPOSE of not letting others know the details of it.

Arthur had a loaded die as his totem. Remember when Adriadne tried to take it from him? He said that would ruin the purpose of the totem because then she would also know the specifics of that object. In other words, anyone can "figure out" how to use the totems (dunno how hard it is to figure out how to spin a top tho, seriously). It is each persons job to keep the totem safe and to make sure that no one else figures the totem out.

Tyrone Schiff said...

Even though Cobb is dreaming, I think the point of the ending is that Cobb doesn't care that he is dreaming. He is willing to accept his reality; one with his children and his safety. That is why he walks away from the totem without even verifying that it drops because it doesn't matter to him at this point.

Haggy said...

yes tyrone..that's it. trust..

temtem said...

@Eunie
I think there can be many interpretations for the ending of this movie but I agree with the theory of Anonymous saying that Mal was right.
I'll try to explain my point of view:

when Cobb finally comes back to america and meets his children, he turns back to the "reality" or at least the world he believes to be the reality.
The reality following Cobb's vision, is the world where Mal died and where he works as a thief.
At the end of the movie, when Cobb get back to the "reality", and finally meets his children, the totem keeps spinning… why?
Well my interpretation is that Mal was right.
They where still in a dream. Especially in Cobb's dream; that's why he was able to let his totem stop spinning: it was his will in his own dream,
as Mal suggests before killing herself.
So in my opinion the suicide of Mal is just her way back to reality and to the real children. Cobb instead keeps on living in a sad dream that he has mistaken for reality.

The inception made by Cobb into Mal's mind just awakens her and gives her the will to came back to the reality.
But when they awaken she realizes that they're still in Cobb's dream.

Cobb can't figure out the difference between reality and dream because he never had a totem.
It uses Mal's one after she dies, but he start using it when he's already dreaming.
Only Mal could understand the difference between reality and dreams using hers totem; Cobb could'n trust her and remains in an endless sad dream.

Anonymous said...

Just one question:
"If Mal was right and she took the leap of faith and went back to reality then how come she did not wake up Cobb herself in the real world?"

Cobb and Mal were sharing a dream. So they ought to be in the same location. How come Mal didnt wake up Cobb if she really did make it back to reality?

Morgan said...

This movie was very thought provoking and I think that were getting closer, I don't know if its as simple as whether Mal or Cobb was right or if Mal really was one step ahead because of the last point that Mal would simply wake him up after she jumped. I think it could even be so much as a huge setup for a sequel I mean he didn't exactly throw away the totem. Wouldn't he eventually come back to see this totem resume spinning, or at least spin it ever again. And if this is another fake reality and in fact Mal is one step ahead why did his totem fall over at the start of this whole shananagins? Does he really have control over it and in fact it is a battle between his subconscious and his conscious? Or is it what I think which is a double cross and its really an inception on him and that isn't his totem...

I'm serious I could honestly see a sequel where he wakes up in a hospital bed and hes been under for like 5 years in a chemically induced coma and hes really like 25 layers into it, who knows it could be called Deception and I'll go see it... you can guarantee that one... that literally just blew my mind.

Anonymous said...

You all are thinking way to much it's simple, they way you can tell when Cobb is dreaming, look at his hand if he is dreaming he has his wedding ring on and in the real world he does not. Done and one on the note, watch it again and see.

Anonymous said...

No doubt, it's the most complicated, mind-bending movie I've ever watched. The "Cobb dreaming the whole time" made sense though...

I could see that there were many factors involved:

-In the beginning, he was trying to extract from Saito, and yet later, when they went to go to the airport by helicopter, Saito was in there, offering a job, the Fisher job. Wouldn't he try to catch Cobb red-handed for stealing info?

-Cobb's father(or father in law?) was a professor in Paris. How did he suddenly appear in the US @ the end? (maybe because a lot of time passed during their preparation, so he flew over to the US)

-Cobb went to Mombasa in a flash. Southern Kenya, that's a long trip! And how did Saito have a single clue about Cobb going to Mombasa?!

-If only the totem guardian can know the totem's porpoise, how come Cobb know's Eame's totem porpoises?(Eames totem is a gambling chip, which breeds by rubbing in his dreams)

-Cobb doesn't own the totem, mal does. He doesn't fully know it's porpoise... meaning, could the entire movie be his?

Consider those facts... Nolan stated that it's up to each viewer's view point of how they interpret the ending...

Boca10205 said...

Ok so in my opinion the whole movie takes place in cobb being in the limbo, remember cobb said that once in the limbo its impossible to tell whats real and whats not. Also in some ocassions people try to tell him that he should get back to reality, for once his dad tells him in the visit and also the old man from the chemist's place when he said that the people sleeping go there to get back to reality which means that he was still in a dream, and last at the end none of us can tell if the thing kept spinning or if it stoped which means we dont know if he was in a dream or reality in other words "the limbo"

Anonymous said...

mal's totem is surely a totem that could be used by anyone, it is the only totem that defies the laws of physics when being used in a dream. This implies that anybody could use it. It would not be hard to realise you were in a dream if a spinning-top you were watching failed to stop spinning.
I think this makes moot the point made in your explaination about the significance of cobb using mals totem.

Anonymous said...

Ok...I think Cobb and Mel were legitimate scientists of some kind that were working on dream state mind control experiments. I think they worked with his father in law. I think they got lost in their own experiment and he finally realized this and had to trick her to get back out. In the process she really believed that they were still in a dream state when they came back to reality. In effect, she lost touch with "reality" and became insane. The top (totem) was the only physical item left of Mel and that is why he used it. I think he was so guilt ridden that he created another world for himself in the dream state. I think his father in law set up this other world for him to work through his guilt, find his own redemption, forgive himself and come back to reality. I think all the other characters worked for his father-in law. They all were hired to help to bring Cobb out of his guilty concience and back to reality.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Ive also been thinking of the possiblity Cobbs "real world" is just a layer of dream. However I dont think your totem-theory makes any sence. The purpose with the totem is just like the cotton/polyester carpet in the beginning. If for instance Arthur would wake up from a dream and feel that his loaded dice was balanced in a wierd way, he would know he still be in someone elses dream since they dont know the exact feel/weight of the dice when they unconsciously equiped the dream with the dice. However, based on this theory, Cobbs totem really sucks because everyone would implicitly know that his spinning totem should eventually fall.Thats the part I dont understand=)

Anonymous said...

There is an answer to all of this that actual creates another question. Cobb's totem is actually his wedding ring. He's wearing it in all the scenes where his is dreaming. He's NOT wearing a wedding ring in all of the scenes where he is awake. The new question that creates for me is, "Why the heck does he still spin the top?"

Blink182 said...

The children were wearing different clothes. Similar, but different.

As for Cobb's house in reality looking exactly the same- of course it would look the same. Cobb has probably only been gone less than a year- it's not as though his possessions would have been taken in that time. His family or friends probaly saw to it no harm was done to his home. That is why all his paintings and things were still in the hallway.

Cobb was certainly never in Mal's dream. Mal is dead. She killed herself because inception by Cobb caused her to be unaware of what was reality, even when she was in the real world.



The version of Mal that Cobb talked with in limbo (when they came to get Fisher) was Cobb's projection of Mal. Mal was not really in limbo only Cobb, Ariadne, and Fisher was.


Cobbs totem formally belonging to Mal is irrelevant, and neither Mal nor Cobb could "control" the top unless it was their OWN dream. The thought that Mal was "making the top spin" is wrong. Mal is dead. Reality OR someone else's dream would cause the top to stop spinning. Only in Cobbs own dream would the top continue to spin.


We notice in the closing scene, the top DOES wobble, something it had never done before in the movie. The top was going to topple. Cobb was in reality.

Anonymous said...

A slightly different take:

1. Cobb never wakes up, but it doesn't matter whether the top's spinning at the end of the movie - the children and house are identical to Cobb's memories (as has been mentioned). That the kid's clothes or shoes are different is irrelevant - Cobb thinks he's awake, and would project a slight difference. It's all too similar.

2. The wedding ring is NOT Cobb's totem. If it were, why wouldn't he ever reference it to check whether he's dreaming? It's only a reference for the audience, about whether Cobb believes he is dreaming or not.

3. Cobb's actual totem is never seen - it's "something he once knew, but has chosen to forget." Most likely, after Moll's "death," he locked his totem in her safe or another, uninterested in returning to a world he believed to be without her. This is very believable, as we see throughout the film how obsessed he is with returning to her and how torn he is about even leaving the hell of limbo without her.

4. Evidence abounds that even when his wedding ring is off, he's still dreaming, and other characters are attempting inception through the movie: a) his father begs him to "come back to reality," and is disappointed with a very rational explanation that he wants to get home to see his kids; b) the Indian chemist quietly asks, "do you still dream, Mr.Cobb?" ; c) a minute later the old asian man says, "their dreams have become their reality. Who are you to say differently?"; d) When Cobb warns Ariadne not to use memories at the risk of losing sight of reality, she says flippantly, "is that what happened to you?"; e) the other characters prod Cobb to give them a good way to change Fisher's mind - they suggest a negative event, but Cobb says no, a positive event, specifically catharsis, is required to bring about a change of perception (this "effective" inception technique had to come from Cobb, the same way the safe numbers had to come from Fisher at gunpoint). This is what is attempted with Moll at the end of film - Cobb says he has to let her go, and experiences the catharsis. And of course, they're all pursued by ill-defined gangsters throughout the film. The biggest giveaway for me was the way the scene in the airport cut to the house, with Miles beginning to turn at baggage claim and seeming to complete the same turn in the kitchen. Very dream-like.

5. Fisher's death is planned. It's a plot to get Cobb into the depths of his subconscious to face his projection of Moll, and end the cycle. Everything (with the exception of Seito's death?) was planned to make Cobb believe he could get home, go back to his kids.

I believe Moll is still alive. When we see her, do we sometimes see the real Moll, and sometimes his projection of her?

Anonymous said...

Alll therioes are acceptable. It is clear to me after watching the movie numerous times that the point of the film was that there was no clear explanation, and that it wasn't meant to be explained. It was filmed to make you question and wonder. The final scene sums it up perfectly. The top is still spinning but looks like its about to wobble but you never know whether it does or not. Similar to the fact that you never know if Cobb is still dreaming or if Mal was in fact correct. That is the point of the movie, no explanation.

Anonymous said...

Ill make it short and simple. Cobb doesnt know the exact mass of the totem in Limbo, its the only thing NOT part of the Limbo. Hence, when he spun it, it spun indefinitely because he could not percieve when it would stop. Unfortunately, this spinning was caused by someone other than Mal, and since the totem is linked directly to Mal and her perception of reality, the totem spinning indefinitely, something SHE didnt cause, makes her believe that she is not in reality. To top it off, she didnt know that Cobb made it spinn so she had two cues that her reality was false: the totem spun indefinitely and spontaneously. Now, when they get back to reality, the movie happens. The endscene is there to throw people off, and my regards to the director for doing it so eloquently. Nevertheless, the totem is just about to topple over as the endscene cuts out. Its angular momentum shifts, if any of you are familiar with physics, a rigid spinning object, and its axis of symmetry as it spins. Hence, Cobb was in fact not dreaming. The kids wearing the same clothes was yet another masterful persuasive device set forth by the director to put people in a "paradox" about the whole movie. But there you have it: Cobb wasnt dreaming.

James Younger said...

Well he kids at the end of the movie are a different pair of actors than in the begining. Also I believe they are wearing similar, but different clothes. The kids at the end are I believe two years older than the ones seen throughout the movie.

Second, I'd have to watch the movie again to be comepletely sure, but I believe Cobb is only attacked in the movie by Mal, throughout the entire movie. There are scenes which he appears to be getting attacked, but I'm pretty sure it's always someone near him that's actually being attacked. This indicates that he's the one dreaming.
Meaning if Mal was correct in the hotel room, and they were both still in limbo, then she is really alive, and might be entering his dreams to try and snap him out of it.


Take into account throughout the movie people are making subtle suggestions to him, like taking a leap of faith (Such as Saito and Mal) his father in law begs him to come back to reality, and the chemist asks Cobb when they first meet if Cobb is still dreaming.

Also, all these subtle things might not mean anything, accept for the fact that they are pretty much the same tactics they use on Fischer to attempt inception.

Remember when Cobb was explaining inception, and to get it to work you need to do it in a positive way? Kind of like Cobb getting the murder of his wife off his record so he can see his kids again.

I know it's a movie, so anything can happen obviously, but let's look at Saito? VERY wealthy man, but are we to believe he is so wealthy he can really stop a murder investigation with one phonecall? In real life that really couldn't happen, only in our dreams. I think that was something put into the movie to indicate that Cobb was dreaming, and really wanted to accept Saito could pull off such a miracle.

Last about the totem. I find it hard to believe that the movie would focus soooooo much on a totem being linked to one person only, to comepletely overlook that fact that Cobb was using Mal's. It wasn't his, so it won't work for him. Simple as that. It would topple when he believed he was awake, and would continue spinning when he believed he was in a dream.

To conclue my take on the movie is that Cobb never left limbo until the end of the film. The movie was about the team being hired by mal and her father to plant inception into Cobb's mind , because it would be the only thing to pull him out of limbo. Like he did with Mal.

Jyounger1984@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

The top isn't his totem, as it's Mal's. What it actually stands for in this movie is a physical manifestation of Cobb's guilt. He gets his closure at the end, and that's why it doesn't matter if it spun. The wedding ring is his Totem, he never has it in the real world. Also see this article, where Nolan himself states that mumbai was meant to show how the REAL world could mirror the dream world. http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/11/pl_inceptionexplained_infograiphc/