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If a dream is populated by the subconscious projections of the dreamer, and they attack other intruders (e.g. Cobb's projections attacking Ariadne when she was first introduced to dream sharing), then why do Fischer's projections populate Yusuf's dream (first level), Arthur's dream (second level), and Earnes' dream (third level)?

The distinction between the "dreamer" and the "subject" is a little confusing since both people are in fact asleep, in the dream and dreaming. However, it is clear that the people in the dream are projections of the subject, not the dreamer.

In the second trip into the "dream workshop" Ariadne asks Cobb: "Who are the people?"

COBB: Projections of my subconscious.

ARIADNE: Yours?

COBB: Remember, you are the dreamer. You build this world. I am the subject. My mind populates it.
***************************

Later, after "messing with the physics" and changing the dream radically, Ariadne asks Cobb: "Why are they all [the projections] looking at me?

COBB: Because my subconscious feels that someone else is creating this world. The more you change things, the quicker the projections start to converge on you.

ARIADNE: Converge?

COBB: They sense the foreign nature of the dreamer. They attack like white blood cells attacking an infection

ARIADNE: They are going to attack us?

COBB: No. Just you.


I'll have to watch again, but I think that Fischer is always the subject in the dreams of others, never the dreamer (although possibly it his his dream when he is in the 4th Level (or Limbo) with Mal, Cobb and Ariadne)  In any event, it is explained in first level that his projections are especially aggressive and lethal because his subconscious has been specially trained by security experts to protect him from extractions. If Fischer is always the subject, naturally, it is his projections that are attacking.
There may be some plot inconsistencies to this business of projections, dreamers and subjects. Certainly the principle that the dreamer builds the world and the subject populates it is at best arbitrary, but it is  one of the rules we are required to accept for the movie to work. However, the great thing aobut this film is that it WORKS even when imperfect.


There is certainly no plot mistake. Christopher Nolan has worked 10 years on the story and the actors say in interviews that there is absolutely no plot holes. 

rextutor commented 2010-08-17 07:46:18 UTC
The distinction between the "dreamer" and the "subject" is a little confusing since both people are in fact asleep, in the dream and dreaming. However, it is clear that the people in the dream are projections of the subject, not the dreamer.

In the second trip into the "dream workshop" Ariadne asks Cobb: "Who are the people?"

COBB: Projections of my subconscious.

ARIADNE: Yours?

COBB: Remember, you are the dreamer. You build this world. I am the subject. My mind populates it.
***************************


Later, after "messing with the physics" and changing the dream radically, Ariadne asks Cobb: "Why are they all [the projections] looking at me?

COBB: Because my subconscious feels that someone else is creating this world. The more you change things, the quicker the projections start to converge on you.

ARIADNE: Converge?

COBB: They sense the foreign nature of the dreamer. They attack like white blood cells attacking an infection

ARIADNE: They are going to attack us?

COBB: No. Just you.


I'll have to watch again, but I think that Fischer is always the subject in the dreams of others, never the dreamer. His projections are especially aggressive and lethal because his subconscious has been specially trained by security experts to protect him from extractions. In any event, if Fischer is always the subject, naturally, it is his projections that are attacking.
rextutor commented 2010-08-17 07:52:48 UTC
Just to add to to this briefly. There may be some plot holes or at least some inconsistencies to this business of projections, dreamers and subjects. Certainly the principle that the dreamer builds the world and the subject populates it is at best arbitrary, but one of the rules we are required to accept for the movie to work. However, the great thing aobut this film is that it WORKS even when imperfect.
CC Lin asked the question 2010-08-17 09:14:54 UTC view / hide
rextutor provided an answer 2010-08-18 14:44:17 UTC view / hide
cobbycob improved the answer 2010-08-21 22:26:42 UTC view / hide
rextutor commented 2010-09-02 01:01:48 UTC
An "inconsistency" is not the same as "mistake." Even with ten years of labor, it would be extraordinary, near-impossible, to create a fantasy world that is 100% consistent. Mal and Cobb were creating their dream world together ("We built for years . . . " which is inconsistent with the principle that there is a "dreamer" and a "subject" and that the dreamer builds and the subject populates.

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