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Explaining Inception: an FAQ Guide

Guide to the dreams within dreams in the movie Inception.
Spoiler Alert! This guide contains key plot information and you should watch the movie first before reading it.

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How do the kicks work. is it a) - The fortress is blown up in order to wake up in the hotel - The elevator crashes in order to wake up in the city - The van crashes for no reason or b) - The fortress is blown up for no reason - The elevator "falling" makes them wake up in the hotel - The van crashing makes them wake up in the city As I understood you can't give yourself your own kick in the dream. The level above has to do it. But seems a little inconsistent. Ariadne says after telling the idea of following Fisher down there: "We can give him his own kick down below." -> that would be a. The way they explained it at the beginning of the film is b. That's why the sedative was formulated in a special way so they would actually feel the falling sensation of the level above. Example: Ariadne uses 4 mechanisms to end up on level 1 by the river. 1: She falls off the building, 2: Fortress is blown up, 3: The elevator kick, 4: Van off the bridge. So 4 mechanisms but she only needs to wake up 3 times to end up by the river right. One for waking up from limbo to fortress, second to wake up from the fortress to hotel, third to wake up from the hotel to the river. So why does she need 4 things now and which one is superfluous. » Improve Q
This is something that, even after seeing the film four times (count'em, four) I had not grasped, but here is what a lot of internet are saying:

The rules you outline are completely correct under normal shared dream conditions (i.e. the first scene with Saito's palace, his lovenest, and the train)... it only took a kick on the lovenest level (tipping Cobb into the bath) to wake him up from the lower Palace level.

However, apparently, the customized sedative (the same one that imposes the "die-in-a-dream-and-you're-banished-to-limbo" restriction) requires a synchronised wave of kicks that starts you on the dream level you are currently on to send you back up.

This would explain the fact that Arthur didn't wake up when Yusuf's van crashed through the bridge barrier, because he didn't trigger a simultaneous kick (the elevator) on his dream level.

Therefore, it is important for both the sensation of falling to be triggered in your dream (say, level 2) and where your body is (level 1).  If we follow Ariadne's route, her falling simultaneously in level 4 (jumping from the building) and level 3 (in the collapsing hospital) woke her up on level 3, then the added 'falling' on level 2 (the elevator) combined with level 3 woke her up on 2, then the impact of the elevator hitting the end of the shaft on 2 with the impact of the van hitting the water on 1 brought her to 1, where they waited out the sedative in their real bodies on the plane to wear off and for them to wake up naturally.
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After the van drove off the bridge, it wouldn't last more than 3 seconds in this level before hitting the water. How could Arthur put the bombs in 1 min? (20 times) I mean the it is definitely more than 1 min in the movie. » Improve Q

From the scene in the movie when Yusef first drives the van off the bridge, the bridge looks about 300 feet tall (roughly the length of a football field, maybe a bit more). Knowing this much, we can use a kinematic equation to find out how much time Arthur really has in his 20 times dilated dream world.

We have acceleration of roughly 10 meters per second squared due to gravity, we have initial vertical velocity to be 0 m/s, we have the height of the bridge (roughly 100 meters), and we're looking for time before impact.

Using the equation d=Vit+(1/2)(a)(t squared) and plugging in the different variables, we get t-squared=20, and t equals to 4.5 roughly. However there's still the matter of 2 things:

1, from the moment the "kick" happens (the back of the van hitting the rail) to when the van is in actual free fall, there is a period of time in between. Let's say it takes 1 second for the van's front wheels to become completely suspended in midair and freefall begins;

2, air resistance is very significant on an object as big as the van. The kinematic equation assumes it to be a vacuum condition and that the gravitational pull is unaffected by drag force, however in the real world the large surface area of the van will induce an immense amount of drag force that decreases the acceleration due to gravity. (The principle behind parachutes) So taking this into consideration it will add at least a second or two to the overall time.

However let's be lenient here and say that there is no drag force. And that from the moment the van hit the rail to the moment it hits the water there is a 5.5 second differential. Which translates to 110 seconds in arthur's world, or roughly 2 minutes, which is plenty time for him to gather everyone together (30 seconds), push them to the elevator which is right outside (30 seconds), get through the top of the elevator, snap the string (20 seconds), float to the bottom, plant the charges, get back inside (30 seconds), and do his little count down.

All this without taken into consideration the large drag force the van experiences.

It's all physics, my friend!

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Why can Cobb create projections in other people's dream? Shouldn't only the dreamer be able to create projections? » Improve Q
The dreamer is not the only one able to create projections as seen in level one where the dreamer is Yusuf yet Fischer's military projections to fend off intruders are found to be present. This is also evident in many other parts of the movie. » Improve A
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When the mission begins, why does Cobb see the train and his children in the first and second level? Yusuf and Arthur are the dreamers, and both, the train and the children, are projections from Cobb, aren't they? Why does Cobb see them? » Improve Q

That might be because the whole film is actually Cobb's dream as one of the theories says.

Other dreamer's projections can also populate the dreams. It is Cobb's subconscious angst and guilt pushing through. It is the same reason Mal appears in other people's dreams, and why it is dangerous to have Cobb on the inception mission, as Ariadne recognizes.

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How did Cobb know where to find Fischer after Fischer got shot in Level 3 (snowland)? Is it because Fischer had not yet died but was just in a coma, so he would dream and Cobb then could get into his dream? (sorry for poor English) » Improve Q
Cobb knew how to find Fischer because he was sure Mal kidnapped him.There are two possible explanations about finding him:
1. Fischer was not dead but he was sleeping (dreaming). So Cobb and Adriane could saved him from Mal. At this point this is the fourth level, Cobb's dream. 
2.Fischer had died. Cobb and Adriane found him in limbo. 
jumping off the building was the kick. Also Eames used the defibrillator to wake him up. 
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How could Miles, an architecture professor, be an expert on dream sharing? » Improve Q
He is Mal's father and it is hinted that he might be helping Mal and Cobb in an early stage of a project most probably providing them with ways to design other people dreams. Adriadne is an architect in real life so it might be that the best dream designers are in fact architects, who after all alter our cities, houses etc.
Also, when Cobb asks Miles if he knew someone with skills that could match his own, Miles replies that he knows someone better which suggests, that he is in fact familiar with Cobb abilities do design dreams.

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If you can escape limbo via death then, if you want to leave limbo, why not commit suicide upon entering » Improve Q
When the person enters limbo, they are not aware of this fact.  They don´t know they are in limbo, someone else has to tell them this and convince them to kill themselves. » Improve A
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Why didn't Arthur wake up during the kick on the bridge. He was only one level deep.. » Improve Q
I love the movie, and think its brilliant... But I suspect it was a plot mistake... He was only one level down... .It was obviously a kick.. He fly across the hallway violently.. Unless he re-sedated himself during the van's freefall.. Possible deleted scene...

Can anyone explain...

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. 
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Why couldn't Cobb just spin the totem for Mal to convince her she's in reality? » Improve Q
At one point we see (In Cobb's memories) Mal playing with the top. It can be assumed that she spun the top of her own volition. It's just that the idea that her world wasn't real had so taken over her thoughts that she wouldn't even believe what she had always known to be truth before. That is how resilient and parasitic an idea is.

In addition, totems can only be used to prove that one is not in someone else's dream. If Mal's totem stopped spinning this could only prove to Mal that she's not in someone else's dream but she could very well be in her own dream.

Interesting point: Cobb planted the (spinning) totem in Mal's safe, and in so doing he implanted the idea in Mal that her world was not real. Presumably, Mal must have opened the safe at some future point, and saw it still spinning by itself (the totem had to leave the safe again for Cobb to use it as his own). This is a little paradoxical. Mal must have believed in the totem if, on opening the safe, she was to be persuaded that her world was unreal. But once persuaded, she apparently no longer believed in the totem - it's toppling didn't convince her of the reality of reality. But if she didn't believe in the totem any more, why is she still persuaded by the unreality argument? The totem had planted the idea in the first place! Paradox!   SO confusing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11
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Why is Arthur's Japanese castle dream at the start of the film during the extraction, the exact same Japanese castle as Saito's Limbo at the end of the film? » Improve Q

Whether the castle exists in a real world or not, it is a place where Saito feels most secure, so he might have recreate it spending his many years in a limbo, just like Cobb and Mal created whole cities.

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