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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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Why is Mal across the street and in a different building when she kills herself? » Improve Q
So that Cobb can't keep her from jumping. » Improve A
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What happened when Fischer sees Uncle Peter in the real world after the movie ends? Won't he tell Robert that the whole thing was bogus? » Improve Q

Remember that there was no attempt to convince Fischer that the dream levels were reality. In fact, Cobb tells Fischer he is dreaming when they are in the bar in the second level. The point was to plant the idea for (Robert) Fischer to break up his father Maurice's companies. Once he awoke this became his conviction and he will think it was his idea, rather than one planted (incepted) by Cobb at Mr. Saito's request.

Thinking those dream levels are real is hazardous, as Cobb displays throughout the movie. Forgetting you are dreaming puts you in the limbo state with no way out, unless someone convinces you it is unreal and you need to kill yourself to return to reality.

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How come Fisher and Eames (who is impersonating Fishers uncle) wake up from the kick the van makes when it hits the water, and sit talking by the riverside? shouldn't they wake up in the plane after that kick? » Improve Q
No, because there was no kick from the airplane to bring them to that level.  What they're left with is waiting for the sedative to wear off. » Improve A
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1. At the beginning of the inception mission (when they are on the plane) I noticed that the primary target they are trying to incept, (Fischer) was also hooked up to the machine. So does the secondary dreamer need to be hooked up to the machine on Each level as they go deeper? Or only on the first one which is due to that being the Initial/reality. Example: Yusuf on the city level is driving and is not hooked up to the Machine. 2. What happens if the main target (Fischer) dies? Like he does in Level 3, while also actively using his sub conscious mind currently? Shouldn't the world collapse instantly and/or they all go in limbo? How could they still use his mind and be in it instantaneously? when fischer (primary, and current mind) gets killed? 3. Is it safe to assume that there is a main/primary dreamer, and a secondary/sub one? An example of this is when they are in the first level (The City) they are in Fischer's mind, but when they go deeper inside (Next Level) YUSUF is the dreamer but yet Fischer is still the target and primary? 4. On level 3 (the snow fortress) Fischer dies, therefore he goes in limbo. (This should also create a paradox due to him dying and being the mind they are currently using..which is not eames, as most had assumed...which they stated when they were in the hotel room hooking up to the machine while going to the next level). Meanwhile Cobb and Ariadne goes after him, using the machine. But by using the machine they should've gone to the next level, not limbo. To go after Fischer, they needed to die also in level 3 to follow him. These are the questions I have after watching the movie 5 times since it's release. And not in consecutive, back to back viewing. » Improve Q
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Did the kids age at the end of the film? If not, is this proof that Cobb was dreaming all along? » Improve Q
Since we can never see the face of the kids, it is difficult to tell whether they have aged or not. They do seem to have aged, in particular the girl, though it is difficult to tell exactly. They are also wearing subtly different clothes. The girl wears a white shirt under the pink dress at the end, and she has red or pink converse shoes instead of the earlier flip-flops.

Further, in the film credits Cobb's daughter Phillipa is credited to two different actresses, aged 5 and 7. There are also two actors for the boy as well (one of which is Christopher Nolan's son), aged 2 and 4 (see the IMDB entry, linked below). The younger actors seem to have been used for the scene on the beach during Cobb's "memory" dreams, where they also wear completely different clothes.

However, the positioning and actions of the kids at the end mirror the positions from his dreams. It is very unlikely that the kids would be doing exactly the same thing, in the same way, two years later. 

If this is a dream, it is likely a wish fulfillment dream. Cobbs could easily create an imagined two year age gap, subconsciously. I think everyone agrees that the scene has enough similarity to his memories to be based on them, but enough difference to allow Cobb's conscious mind to believe in a two year gap. 

The scene may also be designed by Ariadne, who witnessed the original memory, and could easily create a scene for Cobbs. 

More interestingly, why does Cobbs no longer care about the results of the spinning top? Surely he'll pass that table again, and glance in its direction ...» Improve this Answer
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How could Cobb and his wife be in the limbo stage if they had only entered their first layer of dream since death will cause dreamer to wake up. » Improve Q
According to previouse answers, it said that it was the use of powerful sedatives that trigers the condition that if you died in dreams you go to limbo.  Therefore the depth of the dream is irrelevant here.  This can be proven by the fact that Saito was hurt in the 1st layer of the dream but they can't kill him because it will take him to limbo straight away. 

Plus I believe they went on deeper than 1st level as I recall Cobb saying he insisted going deeper and deeper.
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It is possible to create guns, walls, etc. in a dream. So, why is it so difficult for the team members to deal with the agents of Fischer's subconcious mind? » Improve Q
They're trying not to alert Fischer to the fact that they're performing an Inception on him. Altering the dreamworld makes the subconscious agents more and more aggressive, as explained when Cobb and Ariadne first enter a dream together. Significantly and continually altering the dreamworld would risk ruining the entire Inception on Fischer. » Improve A
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How could Cobb travel to Paris and Mombasa if he is wanted for murdering his wife? » Improve Q
Miles: "Is it safe for you to be here?"
Cobb: "Extradition between France and the United States is a bureaucratic nightmare, you know that."
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Where is Fischer's security after they get out of the van if they are waiting for the sedative to wear off? As previously stated, 10 Hours of flight time (with no kick to bring them up) means a week on the first level. So does the theory of them waiting for the sedative to wear off mean they evaded Fischer's security for a whole week? » Improve Q

Others have answered that Fischer's seeing the van sink in the water with the "kidnappers" would prevent his subconcious from activating the protective instinct which created the security detail in the first place. He would assume they were dead so there was no longer a threat that someone was trying to extract information from him. This is why the team used a scuba to hide the fact that they were in fact alive.
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What are the "kicks" from different levels in the final mission? » Improve Q
  • Level 2 to 1: Van driving off the bridge. The original plan was to make use of the impact with the barrier, but this impact was "missed" by the dreamers in Level 2. The second kick came when the van hit the water.
  • Level 3 to 2: The explosion under the elevator forces it to rocket upwards, hence simulating gravity. The moment the elevator hits the top the acceleration stops, and the characters are thrown upwards.
  • Level 4 to 3: Exploding the base of the fort should be sufficient to bring dreamers back from Level 4 (though it might be a little overkill!).
  • Level 5 to 4: There is no Level 5, so there are no dreamers to be "kicked" back to Level 4. Ariadne and Fischer falling off the building seems to play no clear role in the dream mechanic (there is no equivalent at Levels 1-3). Cobb and Saito are by now in Limbo, which operates by different rules (you must die to change levels).
    Level 1 to Reality is unknown. The characters will wake up when the dream machine times-out. They must survive several more days in Level 1 before this happens (faking death by drowning helps here, it will calm the militarized projections). Possibly the air hostess administers a kick.
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