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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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At the start of the film a kick is needed in the first dream to wake cobb from the second dream, with water rushing through Saito’s palace as he falls in the bath. However no kick is needed in the second layer to wake him. How does Ariadne wake herself by falling off the tower in limbo, surely dropping when the bunker exploded would wake her from that, then the elevator, then the van hitting the water. Finally, why does the first kick not work, the van going over the edge. Surely this should wake arthur, he cant choose to ignore a kick surely? » Improve Q
The movie is a bit unclear as to how to kicks exactly work: Do they either

1. Provide a kick in the current level to end that level and take you to the previous one?
Example: Kick in level 1 takes you back to reality.

2. Provide a kick in the current level to bring people back from the next to the current level?
Example: Kick in level 1 wakes people up from level 2 to level 1.

3. A mix of these?

Because in the case of situation 1, Cobb was talking nonsense, like your question implies. If you can just give youself a kick to wake up from your current dream, why do you have to wait a week? 

In case of situation 2: Why did they provide a kick in level 3 then? They only needed one in level 2. 

So a mix seems the most logical choice. Like: To wake up from level 1 back into reality, you need a kick from both reality and level 1. 

Now I think the movie showed that there was no kick in the real world, and it implied that they waited out that week in level 1 anyway ( dont ask why they underwent the mission anyway >_> ). The lfight arrived as soon as the team woke up..

But theres definately plot holes in here.  
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How does the theory hold up that the entire movie is about Inception being performed on Cobb? » Improve Q

It takes a lot of assumptions, but this theory can be argued as well as anything else.

Some of the reasons used in favor of this theory:

- in the last scene, the children seem to be of the same age, in the same clothes, in the same position and in the same location as in Cobb's memories and dreams. There are some minor differences, just enough to leave both options open.

- scenes that are supposed to be "in reality" that look very dream-like (e.g. the run through the very narrow alley in Mombassa, Mal suicide from a different room from where she should be..)

- Ariadne's role: not only is she given to him by Cobb's father-in-law (who is imploring Cobb to "return to reality"), she is strangely committed to finding out what's going on with Cobb, and to get to the bottom of his guilt. In the Greek mythology, Ariadne helped Theseus to get out of the maze, after he killed the monster at the center of it.

- several times different characters encourage Cobb to "come back to reality"

- Cobb goes through a powerful catharsis, such as the one Fischer has to go through in order for the inception to work.

- We never see how the characters reach the locations (Mombassa, Paris, Sydney). They just happen to be there; like in dreams.

- Mal herself states as much in the final meeting in Limbo, where she wryly notes how Cobb has somehow created a kind of "action world" for himself full of espionage and intrigue and people with guns chasing him; it seems unbelievable that the average person would be the center of so much attention.

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Why didn't Cob's children leave the U.S. to unite with him in exile? » Improve Q

Given that Cobb was a murder suspect, Mal's family and other legal entities would intervene to stop that. This assumes that Cobb had been stripped of custody of his kids.

Why didn't Cobb take his kids with him originally? For one, he was under a lot of stress and not thinking clearly; he was scared, he had no time to think (and no time to pack, for them), and he ran. There's the possibility he would have had more trouble getting out of the country with them. Also, good parents always consider the stability and safety of their children; being "on the run" with a fugitive parent is no way for a child to live his or her life, and Cobb must have considered how their lives would remain far more stable with their grandparents.

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It's stated that in order for inception to work, you have to go 3 levels deep. How did Cobb and Mal get 3 levels deep between the 2 of them if it requires a different person to dream each level? » Improve Q
We are never told directly that it requires a different person to dream each level.  It happens that way in the Inception simply because they need someone in each level to protect them from the subconscious (Even if it wasn't militarized, it could still harm sleeping targets).  Since the projections are most attracted to the dreamer, he is the logical choice to stay behind and distract them. » Improve A
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Why doesn't Miles hold a grudge against Dom for Mal's death? » Improve Q

We don't know for sure.  However, it is likely that likely that Miles simply accepts Cobb's explanation that Mal's death was a suicide.  It is not clear to what extent Miles knows or suspects that the suicide was an unfortunate side effect of dream sharing, but he seems to regard Cobb as someone who suffered a loss, not as a perpetrator.

Miles may feel just as guilty or more so, since he was once an architect and taught Cobb to be one. In addition, Cobb does not try to blame Mal for what happened, but is torturing himself over her death. It makes Miles' guilt (if he feels some) difficult to get over when he sees how it has affected his son in law.

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In Level 3 (Snow Fortress), when Fischer was at his father's death bed, was Fischer's father really disappointed that Fischer TRIED to be like his father? Or was it only an idea planted by the Inception team? » Improve Q
It's unknown what Fischer's father actually wanted for his son. The father we see in the 3rd level is a projection from Fischer's subconscious.

There are two ways to explain this:

1.) The interaction between father and son was mostly/entirely contrived by the team.

2.) What happens is what Fischer wants to happen. Cobb says earlier in the movie that we all seek catharsis. In level one they plant the idea that the father wanted to break up the company. It's possible that Fischer seeks catharsis, and latches onto the idea that his father wants to break up the company. So what we see is what Fischer wants the truth to be.

A combination of the two is much more elegant, though: The team (very subtly) pushes Fischer in the right direction, then his subconscious fills in the rest.

The wish fulfillment reading could also mirror what happens to Cobb at the end. He too is dreaming, and sees what he wants to see.


Though in Level 3 Fischer's father is a projection of Fischer's subconscious, Eames is the dreamer and Ariadne remains the Architect, so they both have the power to put any object in the safe. The fact that Fischer finds the windmill that Eames saw in the photograph in Fischer's wallet earlier in he first level supports this thesis. Of course, Eames is also the forger, so he could technically impersonate the father, but we assume he is too busy defending the fortress. The father's speech is thus a product of Fischer's subconscious desires.
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If Cobb's totem is his ring, what's the sense of him spinning it several times in the movie? » Improve Q
No Answer Yet. Provide Answer »
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Why was Mal, a projection of Cobb, always trying to sabotage him? » Improve Q
This isn't clear, however it could be due to Cobb's guilty feelings over her death. He can't escape his guilt, thus it will never leave him alone. 

Either Cobb was trying to sabotage himself, as a manifestation of self-loathing, guilt etc., or Mal was someone else's projection, a projection trying to protect against Cobb's intrusion into a dream. Who's dream? It must be someone who knows Mal quite well. Mal herself? Was Mal her own projection? Too complicated!

Most likely the first. It is classic film psychology for the female character to be nothing more than a projection of the male character, a 2 dimensional replica, poorly imagined. See Tarkovskiy's Solaris! (linked below).

As a side note, how does Cobb's subconscious (presuming it is his) intrude on other levels where he is not the one creating the dream? Perhaps he is creating the other levels after all. Do none of the other characters have traumatic experiences in their own subconscious, struggling to get out? What happy and well adjusted individuals!» Improve this Answer
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Why are Ariadne and Cobb going into limbo to find Fisher? Why can't they use the defibrillator without going down there? » Improve Q
This isn't clear, but one plausible explanation is that because Fisher died in level 3 and subsequently ended up in Limbo, bringing him back merely through the defibrillator would have resulted in a Fisher who resembled a madman, as his subconscious would still be trapped in Limbo. (Recall that before the team entered the first level, Cobb had warned that having one's subconscious trapped in Limbo would be synonymous to going mad in reality if the person was brought back through simply withdrawing the sedative.)

Through bringing Fisher back from Limbo the "proper" way, they saved Fisher's mind, which then proceeded to accomplish their ultimate goal - to trick itself into believing that his father did in fact love him and wanted him to build his own empire.
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Being the head of or principals of major international competing corporations, it seems plausible that Fischer and Saito would have seen each other's faces at some point, if only in a picture, somewhere. Why did Fischer not recognize Saito and immediately assume something strange was going on? » Improve Q
Based on what I've read on the internet thus far, one theory is that Fischer Jr was not as involved with the family business and may not have recognized Saito as a competitor which makes sense as Cobb states as Fischer Sr gets weaker the godfather not the son gets more powerful indicating that Browning was more involved with business than Fischer Jr » Improve A
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