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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 does Eames turn himself into somebody else, and how does he get his enormous gun? » Improve Q
Addressing the second part of the question first, the participants in the dream appear to have control over some aspects of the dream at least - i.e. No matter whose dream they're in, they have their totems, (but the totems don't have the properties expected unless they're the dreamer), Similarly, they can fill in some details about what other items they have, as evidenced by Fischer's having a photograph in his wallet that the crew appeared not to be aware of.  So, it could be argued that they can have things, simply by dreaming them up.  I believe Eames tells us this with his comment to Arthur about the inadequacy of his gun, where he said something to the effect of, 'you've got to learn to dream bigger', as he pulled out his grenade launcher.

Alternatively, another simpler answer is that the architect of the dream, or the dreamer, could have put them there to start with, or added them on request.

As for his appearance, Eames mentioned that he spent quite a bit of time studying Browning beforehand so that he could pull off the con.  This combined with the ability to change things to at least a small extent (if you accept the first explanation above) implies that anyone could change their appearance, but the skill that Eames brings is likely his ability to maintain an image of himself with an appearance that is not his own, and a facility for impersonation.

We don't know exactly "how" Eames takes on the persona of others, except as already been stated, he studies them and does research to get it right.  However, Eames is a "forger" which means that his speciality as an "extractor" is impersonating other people. It also seems that in the real world, Eames is forger in the usual sense of falsifying documents. 
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If the entire movie is a plot to perform inception on Cobb, what is the idea that was being planted? » Improve Q
The idea is for him to forget/move on from Mal, in order for him to just live normally (and go home to his kids) in real life (or wherever the movie ends).

This means that while he may be incepting Fischer through the three dreams, the other characters are using the whole set of dreams to incept him at the same time. This would explain why Fischer was even allowed to die - every single person in the 3rd dream (the ice world) knew that his wife/Mal would turn up and shoot Fischer.

Hence the only way for Cobb to sucessfully incept Fischer is to "get him back" to the 3rd dream by having to go into Limbo to get him. This would be the plan of everyone else on him. Notice how Cobb never suggests the idea himself, but it is Ariadne who does. She and the others wanted this all along. He will go down into Limbo (because he thinks it is his duty to the team) to get Fischer.

But his team actually wanted him to go there, to finally confront Mal, and release her from his memories/dreams. Thus, once he finally returns to reality, the inception has worked. He is free of her and able to live his life with his kids and father-in-law.

The inception I believe was the idea that to hang on to Mal was bad (Mal in Spanish) because he was primarily putting the whole team at risk and also to get back to his kids and live a more normal life.

 The entire movie though I believe is a plot to preform inceptions on us. Can you figure them out? A couple of them I have gladly received.  
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Why is Cobb's father waiting for Cobb outside Immigration in LA? He won't be sure whether Cobb will succeed; he rejected the idea of "Inception" in the first place when Cobb told him about it in the campus? » Improve Q
Miles is not Cobb's father, but Mal's. He acted as an intermediary between Cobb and his children, bringing them gifts from his father.

Hence, he might have been visiting his grandchildren in the U.S., being able to welcome Cobb at the airport, hoping the inception would have worked and that his son-in-law would have been able to pass through immigration.

Or perhaps because 'reality' is actually a dream.
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Can someone please explain why Arthur doesn't wake up from the kick of falling off the bridge? Using the logic of the kick, and the fact that he's weightless (thus affecting his vestibular system) shouldn't Arthur wake up as soon as the van starts the free fall? » Improve Q
Arthur is unable to wake up from the initial kicks because he is anchored in the hotel level by the other people dreaming under him. 

He is finally able to wake because all of the people get back to the hotel level (by riding the kicks up from deeper levels).

The reason Cobb and Saito don't anchor Arthur, is because by this point the two of them are in limbo (unconstructed dream space) and therefore are no longer grounding Arthur at the hotel.

Alternative answer:

The kick can be avoided, and Arthur must have deliberately missed the first kick (not shown how) and thus woke on next kick of entering the water along with the rest. For example, the team on the third layer "missed" the kick of falling off the bridge by avoiding the avalanche caused by the kick. Both Eams and Cobb, the most experienced in dream extraction, recognise the form the kick takes, and Eams even notes that they've missed their ride out, until Cobb reminds him that there is still the river to provide the next and final kick.

In the first kick ever shown, Cobb only wakes when the water caused by the kick touches him on the second layer -- the kick is not instantaneous and presumably, if he had really not wanted to wake up, he could have run away from the water
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How did they film Inception's Arthur's dream (hotel scene) where there was not gravity? » Improve Q
This is fully explained the Wikipedia article - it is not a matter of speculation! They rigged up a hotel corrider-like set that could spin a full 360 degrees. No special effects were used, and Gordon-Levitt got smashed by having to all his own stunts. » Improve A
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The scene in Mombasa was real or not? » Improve Q
Mombasa was most likely real. He was able to recruit two team members and was found by Saito. While projections in the film can be imitations of real people, he had never met Yusef and he showed up later in what is most definitely the real world. Also, the people here attacked him, violently so. This is all very convincing evidence to the reality of the events in Mombasa.

Alternative Answer

the fact that Saito finds him almost magically, the almost "paradoxical architecture" of the tiny alleyway (why would an alley of this width exist in reality?), the guy in the coffee shop turning hostile against him for seemingly no reason, the fact that he tells Eames to meet him downstairs inside the bar and Eames is waiting outside and the surreal opium-den-style dream-junkie room with Yusef's weird side-kick speaking very strangely all point to it being a dream.
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If one dies in limbo, one would wake up in reality. But after Ariadne and Fischer jumped off the building and left Cobb behind, they woke up in the previous level, not in reality. Why? » Improve Q
There's a few possible answers:  

(1) It's not actually limbo, but a 4th level of the dream as dreamed by Cobb and perceived as limbo (although this is highly unlikely if Fischer is dead in the 3rd level, and therefore wouldn't be anywhere but Limbo ... though he might just be unconscious).

(2) Neither Fischer nor Adriane actually die in limbo: they both are given a kick.  It's the sensation of falling from a great height that causes them to wake up in the 3rd level, not the sudden stop at the end.

This is consistent with the movie. Ariadne says they will follow Fischer, and when the music starts they will give him a kick and Eames is to shock his heart simultaneously. Then, when the fortress blows up she and Cobb will "ride the kicks up." Nothing is said about dying or killing in Limbo. Of course Cobb stays behind and Cobb and Mr. Saito later do return, but not by riding the kicks but by returning straight to the airplane, most likely after the sedative had already worn off.

(3) If you die in limbo you don't immediately wake up: you return to the level you 'died' on (and in Adriane's case, not being dead in level 3, it's the kick of 'dying' or 'falling' on the lowest possible level that pushes her up only one level).  (For this to be the case, then both Cobb and Saito would have returned to the first level of the dream before waking up, although they could probably wake in their entirety because at that point the sedative is no longer in effect).

(4) You only jump up one level from Limbo. Limbo is deep down, so Cobb and Mal did not returned to reality after the train crash, but rather they woke up in another dream level. Mal was right!
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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...

Alternative Answer

It was most probably due to a miscalculation and the impact of hitting the bridge was not enough to be a proper kick.

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. 

Alternative answer

Arthur could not wake up because he was grounded in the dream (one level deep) by the other people dreaming under him. 

The reason he wakes up when he does is because the people that kept him grounded in that level came back to it (riding the kicks back up from deeper levels).

Cobb and Saito were not required for this since they had both slipped into limbo, and their connections with the other dreamers and dream spaces were severed (limbo is unstructured, raw subconscious).
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Why were Cobb's children dressed the same at the end of the film as they were in all of his memories? » Improve Q
There is a simple answer to this question.  They aren't dressed the same.  The girl in Cobb's visions is wearing a light pink dress.  At the end the girl is wearing a pink dress with a white shirt underneath.  The boy is wearing plaid in both the memories and the end, but it is a distinctly different plaid.

It seems that Nolan and company meant for you to think they were dressed the same even though they weren't.  It is a misdirection.
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explain the totem » Improve Q
a totem is something to remind you are in reality or in someone else dream. Let's take Arthur's dice as an example, he told Ariadne that he did something to the dice and not letting Ariadne touch it. This is to ensure Arthur is the only person know how the dice works. If Arthur is in Ariadne's dream, Ariadne has no idea how the dice works which Arthur can identify it since he is the only person who knows the dice work. If Ariadne knows how the dice works, Arthur will not able to judge it by using the dice and he will trap in Ariadne's dream.

And we can see how this goes wrong when Cobb causes Mal's totem to spin. If Mal went to check on her totem, and discovered it was spinning when she never touched it, then how can she be sure if the reality she was in (limbo) was not someone else's dream? If it were a dream of her creation or reality, then the top would have fallen. Now that it's spinning, she believes that she must be in someone else's dream or that the world she inhabits is not the true one.

So, say Adriane were to touch Arthur's dice and know the weight and balance of that dice. Well, if Arthur threw the dice in Adriane's dream, knowing it was weighted and would always roll in a particular way and land on a specific number, and if Adriane ALSO knew which number it was supposed to land on without Arthur knowing that she knows... Then Adriane could force the dice to land on that specific number and roll the exact way the dice is suppose to while Arthur is in her dream. This would likely destroy Arthur's ability to verify that he was not in someone else's dream, or in his own dream, or in reality.
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