Inception
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Inception can be found here.

No. Inception is based on a screenplay by British film-maker Christopher Nolan, who also produced and directed the film.

The official website can be found here.

It's called 'Half Remembered Dream' by Hans Zimmer. The rest of the songs can be found here with scene descriptions.

Although this is never made explicit, one might infer that Mal and Cobb were engaged in dream exploration together before Mal's death. After her death, Cobb was forced to use his knowledge of dreams to become a thief. It might also be because Miles (Michael Caine) is her father (Cobb's father-in-law), and it was stated in the movie that he trained Cobb to "navigate the mind", so it's pretty fair to say that Miles trained his own daughter as well...

Everyone can build and alter their own dream. But not everyone can build a perfect maze. The role of The Architect is to design a dream environment as a perfect maze for each mission (hence the first maze test sequence). They then explain the design to the team member who is going to be the dreamer (hence the sequence with the miniatures). The one that actually is dreaming in the hotel is Arthur, so he could alter HIS dream anyway he wants to. Arthur was also the one who explained the concept of the never-ending staircase (known as Penrose's Paradox) to Ariadne so she could incorporate it into the levels.

As it is in real life, the dreamer's dream can be affected by things happening outside the dream. If it gets cold while you're sleeping, sometimes people dream of ice or snow. If a person falls out of bed, sometimes they'll dream of skydiving or falling in their dream. So when the van in the dream level above the hotel falls off the bridge, the equilibrium of those inside the van is thrown off, and that feeling of falling carries over into the dream, making it as though there's no gravity in the hotel level below the van. This effect does not, however, seem to extend any further than one level in a dream within a dream within a dream. Another theory might be that both Arthur & Eames aren't affected equally: While Arthur and his dream world are easily affected by the loss of gravity, Eames is much more immune to such influences, or he's actually well trained himself as he must keep his environment as controlled as possible when he f.ex. needs to portray as other persons. There seems to be some effect of Yusuf driving through the barrier (& the loss of gravity in the hotel) inside Eames' dream, however, when team's surprised by the sudden avalanche. Eames suggests that the effect of events is weakened when propagating through multiple dream levels. At level 2, when a vibration is felt in the elevator Saito asks Eames whether that was caused by turbulence on the plane, to which Eames answers that "it's much closer", and indeed the next scene shows the van which is chased.

The original plan is to have the floor of the hotel room drop out from underneath the dreamers and thus provide the 'kick' that wakes them up - specifically Eames who is 'hosting' the dream in the snowy mountains. This is supposed to happen before the van plows through the barrier and off the bridge. However, the timing is thrown off and now that Arthur's body is in free-fall in the van, it translates into his dream of the hotel - thus preventing the floor from dropping once the explosives discharge. He improvises a kick by moving everyone into the lift and then setting off an explosive to cause the lift to start moving up the shaft (this works much like a rocket on a space craft). To those in the lift, the force of the lift pushing them is equivalent to gravity. Gravity alone is not enough to awaken the dreamers, but when the lift hits the roof at the top of the shaft, the sudden stopping or slowing-down causes the dreamers to first be propelled upwards, and then fall back to the floor. The result is the same as the inner ear only detects the acceleration due to a force acting on the body, much like Eames' demonstration of tipping Arthur's chair over to wake him up.

Saito is shot on the first level of the dream, but dies on the third level and enters limbo minutes before Ariadne leaves Limbo. Therefore, there isnt enough time to find Saito and Kick his consciousness back to level 3 for Eames to resuscitate him. Even if they manage to resuscitate him on the third level, the Kick on third level would bring him back to the second where he was still dying, and if he survived that, the Kick on the second level would still bring him back to the first where he was dying the fastest anyway. In the end, he still goes back to Limbo. Meanwhile, since Fischer was shot on the third level and sent to Limbo, his "bodies" on the other two levels were totally fine. Ariadne pushed him off the building in Limbo (level 4) to provide him a "kick" in conjunction with Eames using the defibrillator in level 3 to bring Fischer back to life in order to complete the mission. If she had just shot him again down in Limbo, he will end up in Limbo again.

Limbo is an infinite dream place of shared subconsciousness. It only contains things you've built in it or what you intended there to be, which could explain why limbo has so few projections. When you're there too long, the mind starts to think its real. That's why it's dangerous. Cobb said before: "Never recreate from your memory. Always imagine new places...Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." (The machine allows you to share dream space with others, but since only Cobb and Mal been to there, so the place is filled with things created by both of them. Ariadne is new, so there's none of her projections in there.) The projection of his wife is something he tells Mal at the end that he's tried to recreate over time (by storing memories of her in his mind), so they could still be together in dreams. Therefore, it could be that she's actually an intentional creation of his, out of love and guilt. Similarly, Saito could have created the guards which populate his limbo. Saito has spent many years being a powerful businessman and would be used to having security of some form or another around him. Cobb's children are always on his mind, just like Mal, but by the time he is in limbo at the beginning/end he has cleared his mind of Mal, but not his children. So the momentary projection of Cobb's children could be that he misses them so much and wanted to see them again since he didn't see his kids one last time before he left.

The decaying world was not Cobb's limbo. It was simply Limbo. As stated earlier in the movie, limbo is "unconstructed dream space". Think of it as a dream-vacuum where nothing exists and a dreamers grasp on reality can be lost. This is why it is so dangerous and feared by the team. The reason it was filled with Cobb and Mal's city was because Cobb had spent 50 years there. As with other dream levels, each state of dreaming is filled with projections and places from each of the current dreamers minds. Having spent so much time there, Cobb filled limbo with his dream-memories of his and Mal's previous limbo city. After Mal dies in their apartment, Cobb wakes up on the beach once again. This time, near a pagoda-like palace where he finds Old Saito. The jump from one place to another can be explained by a previous scene in the movie where Cobb tells Ariadne that often in dreams you jump from one place to another, not knowing how you got there. Alternatively, the jump can also be explained by Cobb drowning to his death in the first level of dream thus ending up in limbo. The reason the palace is here in this part of limbo is because Saito and Cobb had spent time there during the audition Extraction that Cobb and his previous team did for Saito. Saito now occupies this palace in limbo where he has been stuck for many years.

One theory is that Cobb entered limbo twice. The first time was with Ariadne. They found Fischer and kicked him back to Eames' dream. Meanwhile Saito dies and goes to limbo. Cobb provokes Mal into attacking him. (NOTE - he provoked her very methodically. This was a conscious choice he made for some reason and this theory is one explanation for it.) Mal dies from Ariadne's gunshot wound and Cobb dies from Mal's knife wound. At this point, Cobb is currently dying in all 3 levels (in 3: crushed by the exploding snow fortress, in 2: in the crashing elevator, in 1: left to drown in the van.) When he dies in limbo, he wakes up in one of (all of?) these levels and dies again, sending him to limbo and washing up on the shore near Saito's palace. Saito, having been in limbo this whole time, has aged decades while Cobb is just arriving to limbo for the 2nd time. A second perspective as to why Saito is older, is that limbo is formed around the "raw subconscious." During the helicopter scene, Saito relates to Cobb his personal fear of becoming an old man filled with regret. And this is the form that Saito takes in his limbo. His age does not reflect the time in the various levels of dreams. With this in mind, the flashbacks of Cobb and Mal in their old age perhaps did not reflect them becoming old in limbo, rather it was real memories of themselves.

We are shown three totems in the movie: the spinning top, Arthur's weighted die, and Ariadne's detachable chess piece. When totems are explained, Arthur refuses to let Ariadne touch his totem, as assuring only the owner knows the 'proper feel' of the totem assures it can never be faked by another in a dream. If they did attempt to fake the totem, they could recreate only its appearance, and it would not 'feel' right. We are shown this ability to perceive mistakes when Saito knew the carpet on his apartment floor was not recreated correctly in the opening scene. Given this explanation, how long the top spins is not a good totem, since it is something someone else can easily see and thus recreate. Paradoxically, the author chooses the spinning top for our benefit, as it is the only totem the audience can evaluate. Adding suspicion to the totem, Cobb admits to acquiring it from Mal. We are shown later that the spinning top is a significant part of Cobb and Mal's limbo, and thus it's possible that Cobb acquired it from Mal during their limbo dream, and thus he never had any real-world totem at all. These facts considered together point to the possibility that the spinning top is not a trustworthy totem at any point in the movie.

Assuming for a moment that Cobb is still in the dream when the movie ends, it doesn't necessarily mean he was in a dream for the entire film. The Cobb we see at the end could in fact be a man still trapped in the final limbo. The last time Cobb's top falls over occurs early in the movie when he visits Mumbasa, implying to the audience that he is not in a dream at that point. However, the movie never shows us how he gets out of the final limbo, he simply seems to wake up on the airplane with Saito. Our understanding is that escaping limbo should be very difficult. Yet when they wake up on the plane, Saito does move as if he's reaching for a gun which could be meant to suggest they killed themselves to escape and that they have really escaped the dream.

A second theory is that the entire movie could be a dream. If Cobb did acquire the totem from Mal during their limbo (or alternately, if the flaw in using the spinning top as a totem is a character mistake and not a device for the audience), then he also has no way to judge whether he is in a dream or not. Mal may have been right in believing they were still in a dream. In this case, it may have fallen over because it is Cobb's own dream and he wishes to believe it is reality and thus makes it so. Alternately, the Mal that killed herself may not have been Mal at all, but a projection attempting to help Cobb realize he needed to wake up. In this latter case, 'inception' never occurred at all, tying into the common belief that it is not possible.

A third theory is that through the spinning top in the end sequence, Nolan is showing the idea - 'incepting it' in our consciousness, if you will - that the whole of what we think of 'reality' is in fact a dream. This spiritual idea was shared by Plato in his allegory of The Cave, and is shared by some Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The terms Nolan uses in the film suggest he is drawing strongly on the metaphysics given in 'A Course in Miracles'. This modern-day channeled text - purportedly from Jesus - has heavily influenced many current spiritual teachers, and counts Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra and Louise Hay amongst its fans. It suggests that we live in a dream reality peopled by projections of our own unconscious guilt, and have buried deep within our minds the truth that we are innocent, & only dreaming a dream of guilt, separation and fear. The key to escaping this mental prison, says 'A Course in Miracles', is forgiveness (just as Ariadne tells Cobb). It describes the dream as being regularly penetrated by 'an ancient melody' of forgiveness and innocence as we dimly remember 'Home'; a metaphor that Nolan apparently alludes to in Inception through the wake-up song 'Je ne regrette rien' (No Regrets).

Still, the totem *is* flawed in that someone could recreate a look-alike top and only Mal (deceased) would know all the nuances of it and correct weight in specific parts to determine a real from a fake (and hence dream from reality). I suppose Cobb could have since learned the weight of it, however; Arthur doesn't let Ariadne touch his totem for just that reason.

Limbo is a shared environment not limited to a single subconscious. It is referred to earlier in the film as "unconstructed dream space". It is filled with Cobb's decaying city because he is the only one in the group who has experienced limbo before. Had Cobb not spent 50 years there, it would have supposedly been empty space. A second theory is the city is the remains of what Cobb and Mal had created. When Sato died from the gun shot wound, he entered the limbo in which Cobb and Mal had been. Some say that it is not Limbo, and that it is Cobb's dream (for how can Cobb and Ariadne purposely put themselves in Limbo). A point to refute this is that Fischer was in it, but maybe he was just a projection. Mal is a projection, why couldn't Fischer?

Cobb says at one point that remembering what happened in a dream takes years of experience. It can be assumed that this also works conversely: remembering what happened in reality when entering a dream. It is made apparent throughout the film that the dreamers are fully aware of what they're doing because they've trained ahead of time. Many of the "why"s in the film can be explained simply because the dreamers are professionals and have training & experience. Imagine, if you will, that you could predict what dream you were going to have tonight and you could prepare for it, when you arrived in the dream you would be aware what it was because you have prepared yourself for it. Throughout the film Cobb's team prepares thoroughly for the Inception job; they study Ariadne's models (with the exception of Cobb), they go through the scenarios, etc. By the time they are actually ready to enter the dreams, they have fully prepared their minds for what they're about to experience and their minds can thus recognize the reality that they are in a dream while Fischer, on the other hand, has not had any prior knowledge of this and can thus be fooled by the illusion.

These numbers ("528491") were the same ones that Fischer Jr. randomly came up with for the team when he was being held hostage. Just as a safe created by an architect can be filled with a dreamer's secrets, so too can the safe be set to unlock with the dreamer's own numbers. By taking Fischer Jr. to a second dream level, his subconscious is able to interpret a string of numbers that was "random" on the first as being significant on the second and finally the actual combination on the third. Eames (projected as a blonde woman) gives Fischer Jr. the numbers so that he can have further rehearsal with them and internalize them further. Cobb exploits this and forces additional rehearsal when he asks Fischer to "figure out the room" to search for extractors. The rest of his team is already at the hotel room when Cobb and Fischer arrive, since they knew the room to be at since they exited the first dream.

Nolan has said multiple times that one of his favorite quotes that have inspired him to make this movie is just that. In many other interviews he says that although this is a completely original idea, there are causes of inspiration for everything he's done. This explains the whole premise of "inception" and is a big symbol of how our lives are all made up of tiny little inceptions (or inspirations) caused by others.

"Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" is the signature song of the French songstress Édith Piaf (1915-1963). The song was written for Piaf in 1956 by Charles Dumont and Michel Vaucaire and recorded by Piaf in 1960. It appears in her biography film La môme (2007) (retitled La Vie en Rose for English-language release) and its title translates into English as "No, I regret nothing." In Inception, "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" is used to signal the various characters that it is time to wake up and/or "kick up" into a higher dream level. It's an appropriate song for Inception because of the theme of regret that weaves through the film. According to the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Nolan, the writer and director of Inception, had incorporated the use of this song into the script from early on. Marion Cotillard, who plays Mal, also portrayed Piaf in La Vie en Rose (and won an Academy Award for it), which caused Nolan to seriously consider taking the song out before convinced by Hans Zimmer to keep it. The melody of "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" is also echoed in the score of Inception by being slowed down.

Although no one can prove it one way or another, unless that person is Chris Nolan, it is hard to say. Both theories are possible.

Evidence to Reality: If we accept that the entire movie is not a dream, and that Cobb did in fact escape his limbo with Mal, then it is reasonable to believe he also escaped his limbo with Saito. Also, there are simple explanations as to why when he sees his kids again they look much like they did in his dream. For example, he never saw his kids faces so we cannot easily tell if they had aged much from his memory. In addition, the movie never defines the amount of time that has passed since Mal had died and Cobb was banned from the U.S. So the memory of his kids may only be a few months old, therefore it is very possible his kids look pretty much the same in the memories and in the present. In addition, the visual duration of the top spinning is never a trustworthy totem at all, since it is a property of the totem others can observe and recreate. If the top is to be trustworthy at all, it is Cobb's knowledge of how it feels to spin it that convinces him he is awake, not the duration of the spinning, which we can presume will end eventually in the final scene. Visually, there is an obvious difference between the wobbly spinning in the end-scene and the absolutely perfect spin in the safe during limbo, again implying the possibility that the final spin could be natural (though only the feel in Cobb's fingers would know for sure). It is alleged that at the end of the film Cobb's children are wearing different, albeit similar clothing compared to the clothes they wear in Cobb's subconscious. In the opening scene dream, you get a glimpse of Cobb's hand. He's wearing his wedding ring. Now, if you follow the rest of the movie keeping an eye out for this you will notice that he only has the ring on when he's allegedly in a dream. At the end of the movie he isn't wearing the ring. If the ring only appears when he's in a dream and he's not wearing at the end of the film, that could be confirmation that in fact he woke up. The sound of the top falling over is played after the credits indicating that it is indeed "reality", but the important part is that Cobb is not looking at it, because as Nolan says "He doesnt care.

Evidence to Dream: It is possible that the entire movie is a dream, and that Cobb never left his own limbo. The children appear the same age as in a previous memory, and in fact, appear to have the same motions and same clothes in the yard before turning around. It suggests to the viewer that this is exactly the same as his memory, and thus he could be still dreaming. How long the top spins is not a good totem, except in that it spinning forever is only possible in the dream world. A short-duration spin is a visual property that someone could easily recreate in a dream. If we trust the spinning top, it must be the exact feel in Cobb's fingers as he spins it that convinces him it is genuine. However, Cobb admits that the totem was originally Mal's totem, suggesting that he adopted it as his totem during limbo, making it impossible for him to know the true feel. In addition, a totem can not prove that you've woken up from your own dream, since you know it's true 'feel' and thus your subconscious can recreate it properly.[/spoiler]

Also: This may be a continutity error, but when Arthur comes to get Cobb in Tokyo, they leave the hotel room and go to the roof for the helicopter at night. When they're on the roof, it's day.

"Both theories are true" theory: Movie has two main themes: the first one is that the line between dreams and reality can be imperceptible from the perspective of an individual; the second that an idea can be a parasite which, once incepted, can take over one's psyche. The ending simply reflects the fact that the idea that killed Mal has now taken over Cobb; he cannot discern whether he is now living in a dream or a reality, and we, the audience, witness that intimately. The gyro in the end falters, but we do not see whether it stops or not. Have we witnessed it stop, the movie would be essentially telling us "fear not, this is real and a happy end". Had the shot ended with it spinning, the movie would affirm the other theory. However, the shot as-is wants to ensure us that we do not know and we cannot know, because Cobb doesn't know anymore. The lack of definite answer IS the answer; for the rest of his life Cobb will wonder whether everything around him is real, and the audience is deliberately left with that same question hanging in their heads. Notice that when Cobb is in his "Memory bank" with Ariadne, Cobb is looking out the window at his kids, he tells Ariadne that his greatest regret is not being able to alter this moment and see his children's beautiful faces again. That would imply that was Cobb's inception to himself. He finally did what he could never do before and altered the moment in which he saw his children and he sees their faces. Also, why was Miles there? He was living in France yet was waiting at the airport in the States (reason why MIles was there: When Cobb visitied Miles it was to give him a gift for his children. i.e. Miles was traveling to see Cobb's children in the near future, and obviously Cobb could and would have made arrangements with Miles when he knew he was coming back to America). Even more confusing, Miles' wife, Mal's mother was taking care of Cobb's children in America yet we never see her at the house at the end . The inception itself could be altering his biggest regrets which spreads to every aspect of his life he winds up needing to alter. Or Mal was right the whole time and he was actually still down one dream level and Mal is alive in reality and Cobb wasn't waking up.

The Spiritual / Metaphysical explanation: From a spiritual perspective there is a different reading again. This movie is one with a profound spiritual idea at its heart, for those interested - just as with 'The Matrix', and Guy Ritchie's 'Revolver'. In 'Inception', Nolan seems to be using the metaphysics given in 'A Course In Miracles', a seminal spiritual text from the 1970s that was purportedly channelled from Jesus and which continues to profoundly influence modern spiritual thinking. In ACIM the key idea is that what we think of as reality is in fact a dream - that there is no difference between the dreams we see at night, and what we see with our eyes open. Both are projections of our mind, which is trying to escape a core guilt by projecting guilt outside of itself onto projected 'dream figures'. [spoiler](For more on this see the FAQ titled 'If the spinning top really did keep spinning at the end...'). Thus, although Cobb returned to 'reality', Nolan seems to be making the point that what we think of as 'reality' is still a dream. And, that within that dream, we see what we want to see - projection makes perception. Thus, the movie is devised so that some viewers look at the spinning top and see it as being about to fall over as the movie ends. They decide that the movie is saying that Cobb is back in 'reality' and not dreaming. Others see the top as going to continue spinning indefinitely. But, one then inevitably asks, how could Cobb be still in a dream? Which leads us to think hard, to debate, to share ideas, and perhaps eventually to question the unquestionable - that 'reality' is not what it seems to be. Nolan is cleverly sowing a key idea in our consciousness. So you could say the movie Inception is in itself... an inception! Within this interpretative framework, Nolan is reaching to us within the 'dream' that we call reality to help us to start to challenge our assumptions about 'reality' and begin to wake up - just as Cobb went into limbo to get Saito.

Yet for an inception to work, one must accept it as one's own thought process... so of course Nolan does not give interviews where he says, 'This is a movie where I'm trying to wake people up to the fact that they're dreaming'.

In Greek Mythology she was considered the "Mistress of the Labyrinth." In the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur, Ariadne () was a princess of Crete and her father (the king) created a labyrinth with a minotaur inside it. Every year seven men and seven women would have to be sacrificed to it. One year a hero named Theseus offered to kill the minotaur and Ariadne fell in love with him so she gave him a ball of string before he entered the labyrinth as well as directions. Theseus was able to kill the minotaur and took Ariadne for his bride. In some accounts of the myth, Theseus later abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos, where she was discovered and rescued by the god Dionysus. Ariadne eventually became the wife of Dionysus and joined the pantheon of gods on Mount Olympus. This song can also be read as backing the theory that 'Inception' follows the metaphysics of A Course in Miracles, a spiritual text which describes humanity as dreaming. The dream is described in the Course as having a flavour or underlying, all-pervasive guilt - just as Cobb tells Adriadne he experiences. Truth, says ACIM, is buried deep in the dreamer's unconscious mind (cf Mal's safe), and Spirit tries to wake us up to our innocence through what is metaphorically described as 'an ancient melody' that speaks of our innocence - (cf 'Je ne regrette rien' as the call to wake up throughout the movie). Cobb is told by Ariadne that the key to him undoing the nightmarish situation in which he is entrapped with Mal is forgiveness. And so 'Mal' ('bad / evil' in French and Spanish) is undone by Forgiveness. Cobb forgives both Mal and himself, releases his regrets, and so heals his past (another key theme of ACIM). Thus in the movie, Ariadne serves as the 'mistress of the labyrinth' both in the obvious sense of devising dream labyrinthine architecture, and in the more subtle sense of leading Cobb out of his mental imprisonment.

1. The city (Yusuf's Dream) 2. The hotel (Arthur's Dream) 3. The Mountain (Eames' Dream) 4. Limbo (The Decaying City & The Asian house where Cobb finds Saito)

This is a storytelling device. As Cobb tells the story, the audience and Ariadne both imagine Cobb and Mal as they are young - the only way we know them, because it is from Ariadne's/our point of view. When Cobb reminds Mal that they did grow old together, and we see them as they really were in his memory, walking together as older people, finally we see their aged hands clasped together, shaking as they lay by the train tracks. It is then we realize how that final scene really was in Cobb's memory, and we understand the full life that they have shared.

It is not explicitly explained. The device used to enter dreams connects to the wrist of the people using it, but it does not appear to be intravenous (IV). Specifically, there is never any evidence of puncture marks, blood spots, or gauze/bandages. After Saito wakes from his dream on the train, he feels his wrist, which shows no evidence of needle puncture, etc. The machine is a plot device that somehow allows the experience of shared subconscious during dreaming, and it also apparently rapidly induces REM sleep (the phase of sleep in which dreaming takes place). It also maintains this REM state for the duration of its activation, obviously necessary for the extraction missions. The science or mechanism behind these features of the machine are not explained, presumably as they have nothing to do with the actual plot. An example of a plausible explanation may involve the use of electromagnetic pulses to stimulate rapid onset of REM, but this is pure speculation.

Cobb says that he and Mal were exploring the theory of a dream-within-a-dream. He wanted to go deeper and deeper and they ended up getting lost in limbo. It is also implied that the more layers deep you go, the more unstable the dreams become. And that 3-layers deep is needed for inception (3-layers+ is rarely, if ever, done.) Knowing all these facts stated clearly throughout the film, it can be assumed that anything over 3-layers deep could potentially send the dreamer to limbo. Apparently this is what happened to Cobb and Mal.

There are 2 main theories: (1) Limbo: When Fischer and Saito died in Eames' dream (the snow fortress), they both went to limbo. If the decaying city was Cobb's dream, Fischer would not have been there. Therefore both the decaying city and Saito's palace had to have been limbo. Limbo looks like it's Cobb's dream because it was made by Cobb and Mal when they were in limbo. Otherwise limbo is an empty dream space. (2) Cobb's Dream: When Fischer died in Eames' dream, Ariadne proposes that there is a different way. She and Cobb go into yet another level of dream. When she finds Fischer and hears the signal in this dream, she throws him off the ledge. This is synched up with Eames using the defibrillator, reviving Fischer and allowing him to complete his realization of the inception. The problem with this second theory is that why and how Fisher would be in that dream with Cobb and Ariadne? He wasn't even hooked to the dream machine to share it. Plus, the conversation there between Cobb, Ariadne and Mal as well as Cobb's willingness "to stay behind" to find Saito, suggest that they are, in fact, in Limbo.

Due to the sedative, a synchronized multi-level kick was needed (the van freefalling, the original plan for the hotel floor explosion, and the snow fortress explosion.) Yusuf's kick (van freefall) was too early due to Fischer's projections attacking, and thus, the kicks weren't synchronized. This was designed to ensure that the team was able to stay where they needed to and finish the job. If one kick failed because it wasn't synchronized, they could try another while using the musical countdown to warn the next level that it was coming. Earlier in the movie Arthur tells Ariadne that if Yusuf kicks too early (ie, if he drives the van off the bridge before Arthur has a chance to kick the group out of Eames' dream), they won't wake up. While normally in order to wake up you must receive a kick in the level above, this isn't true when using the special sedative. Instead with the sedative it takes two or more synchronized kicks in all levels simultaneously. Arthur didn't have the second kick ready when the van drove off the bridge, so he wasn't awakened by the van falling off the bridge. When the elevator hit the ground floor and the group was kicked by the freefall, they were pulled out of Eames' dream (the snow fortress) and simultaneously pulled back into Yusuf's dream (the van). Cobb and Saito weren't kicked back up because they were still stuck in limbo and weren't being kicked at that moment. So they were left in the van underwater still attached to the dreaming device.

Cobb explains that he and Mal escaped Limbo the first time by killing themselves, which is a normal way to wake up from a dream under regular sedation. It was explained that dying while under Yusuf's special heavy sedative would not cause you to wake up, but instead to drop down to Limbo. Once there, it would not be possible to escape by dying until the sedatives have worn off - supposedly dying would simply cause you to re-enter Limbo. The inception mission was planned for them to be sedated for about 10 hours in reality, which is about the full duration of the flight. The danger of Limbo was that those 10 hours in the real world would feel like decades in Limbo, so one could easily forget that they were dreaming and not realize that they should try to wake up. Even after the sedatives wore off, if they did not intentionally kill themselves to wake up their mind would be stuck in Limbo, and they'd be in a coma in the real world. When Cobb finds Saito in Limbo at the end, it is implied that they shoot themselves to attempt to wake up. When they wake, the flight is almost over and the dream machine is put away. This indicates that the 10 hours had passed and the sedative had run its course, so dying in Limbo woke them up like normal.

For normal sedatives, you just go back to reality if you become aware that you are in limbo. (As shown where Cobb and Mal returned to reality). For strong sedatives, if the timer in the dream machine hasn't expired, you still end up back in limbo, unaware of the fact that you're still in there or the awareness that it's a dream becomes vague. If the timer on the machine reaches zero and you've forgotten where you really are, you accept it as reality (become older like Saito and die). You'll never go back to reality as your mind perceives that you're dead (coma). Evidence: Cobb repeats what Saito had said at the start of the film: "Someone from my half remembered dream." This means the two scenes in the palace are different and Saito died and back in Limbo again and again... Cobb: "I've come back for you. To remind you something...Something you once knew..." This means that Cobb's awareness that he's in Limbo becomes vague. However, considering the fact that he's still looks the same age as he was in reality, he does know that it's a dream.

Yes. But these are memories - fresh in his mind due to the fact that he just woke up from dreaming about the time Mal and he spent in Limbo together. If you notice, there is no evidence that the window is part of Yusuf's bathroom. The curtains with their warm glow are even the same as those in the hotel room. This is followed by a close-up shot of Mal sitting on the ledge of the hotel room where she committed suicide. These are all fresh recent memories to Cobb since he relives them in his dream.

No. The room behind her is fine. The room she lured Cobb to is trashed because she is setting up a crime scene that will implicate Cobb in her death. She lures Cobb to the room across from her so she can try to convince him to die with her, without giving him any chance of stopping her. Here she shows a more sinister side: if he doesn't join her in jumping off the ledge willingly out of love for her, she has made it so he might be pressured to jump unwillingly to avoid being framed for her murder. And, in fact, it is because he doesn't jump that he ends up framed for her murder, which would motivate Cobb to follow after Mal and commit suicide to avoid a life sentence. So she was hedging her bets, so in every scenario he would wind up dying to join her in what she believed would be the real world.

Time needed in Reality: 10 hours.

In Level 1, time in the dream: 1 week. Idea to be planted: I will not follow my father's footsteps. Method: Eames disguises and impersonates Browning, Fischer's godfather and convinces him that his father loves him and doesn't want him to follow his footsteps. Cobb gets a random number from Fischer's mind to set the hotel room number in level 2. Yusuf drives with everyone in the van to the bridge where they can perform the Kick. Kick: the van hit through the barrier and off the bridge.

In Level 2, time in the dream: 6 months. Idea to be planted: I will create something for myself. Method: Eames reminds Fischer about the number. The team tricks Fischer by letting Fischer's projection of Browning tells him that his father (so it seems self-generated) has an alternate will which supersedes the other and his father wants him to split his empire. Kick: to have the floor of the hotel room with everyone (528) drop from underneath by triggering the explosives in 491 below.

In Level 3, time in the dream: 10 years. Idea to be planted: My father doesn't want me to be him. Method: By now, the random number Fischer comes up will be the security code for his safe. His projection of father should appear in the vault. Eames need to come up with something to put in the safe (paper fan from the picture Fischer cherished most) to let Fischer thinks that his father doesn't want Fischer to be him. Kick: Drop from exploding the hospital floor.

All the kicks are synchronized. Dropping hospital floor sends them from Level 3 to Level 2, dropping hotel floor sends them from Level 2 to Level 1, the falling van in Level 1 Yusuf back to the plane, where he performs final kicks to wake the rest of the team.

"Mr. Charles" is a gambit designed to alert the Target (Fischer) to turn against his own subconscious by telling him that he's dreaming and pointing out the strangeness of it all, gaining his trust in order to move forward with the mission at hand as quickly as possible. Cobb impersonates as Mr. Charles, a projection of Fischer's subconscious trained by an Extractor who comes to help him to get rid of the intruders. This is extremely dangerous as this alerts Fischer's trained subconscious to be well-prepared to find the intruders and kill them (Fischer's projections in the third level down are militarized and well-armed).

Since Mal is Cobb's projection, if he knows her, then Mal should know her as well. If you're looking at the film metaphysically, Mal ('Bad' or 'Evil' in Latin, French, Spanish and Portuguese) is the dream figure in Cobbs mind who symbolises his guilt. Guilt is undone by forgiveness. Ariadne symbolises innocence and forgiveness and shares this key with Cobb, telling him the only way to undo his guilt and free himself from his dream-hell is to forgive both Mal and himself. She is thus recognised by Mal as her enemy, as her message of forgiveness will free Cobb from Mal's control.

Cobol Engineering assigned Cobb, Arthur and Nash to steal information about a secret document about Saito's energy expansion plan from Saito's mind. There are two levels of the dream: Dream 1: Saito's secret hideout with his mistress, Dream 2: the palace. Cobb is the Extractor, Nash is the level 1 Dreamer and Architect while Arthur is the Point Man and level 2 Dreamer. Cobb manages to steal the secret document but discovers that Mal has informed Saito about the Extraction. Mal threatens to torture Arthur, so Cobb shoots him to wake him up. The dream collapses since the Dreamer is absent. Saito got hit by crumbling wood and Cobb got a Kick from Nash and they wake up in Saito's secret hideout. Saito reveals that he knew about the Extraction all along and changed vital information on the document but decides to go along and used it as an audition for an Inception mission. He's impressed when he found out he's still dreaming when he feels the floor carpet is made from the wrong material. A kid on the train (reality) informs the team with music by putting an earphone to Nash's head as the timer reaching 0. As the timer on the dream machine reaches 0, Arthur wakes from the dream and returns to reality. Arthur then set the machine to wake up Cobb, then Nash. The team aborts the mission, pack up everything and leave. A few minutes later, Saito wakes up.

Eames is the "dreamer" for the third level. Fischer, as he is for dream levels 1 and 2, is the "subject" of the dream. The task of being the dreamer on each level requires being someone within the team so the designs for the dream space can be correctly constructed according to plan.

No. As the timer on the machine is still in countdown, a person can't wake up due to the heavy sedation. For strong sedatives, if the timer in the dream machine didn't expire, you're still back in limbo, unaware the fact that you're still in there or the awareness that it's a dream becomes vague. Cobb needs time to find Saito in Limbo, and still retains his awareness that it's a dream, but becomes vague and weaker. Also, its stated that in Limbo a person's awareness of the passage of time may not be accurate. Minutes can seem like years and years can seem like minutes.

Mal told Cobb her plan to incriminate him if he won't jump with her. Mal went to 3 different psychologists to prove that she's mentally sane, then sent a letter to their attorney that Cobb is trying to kill her and papers indicating her mental state. Considering that Mal had deliberately staged a struggle in the hotel room before she jumped off the ledge of the opposite room, this is why the police refuse to listen to Cobb's explanation that she's mentally unstable and conclude that he killed her.

It is mentioned in the film that 10 hrs under heavy sedation = 1 week in level 1 dream, 6 months in level 2 dream, 10 years in level 3 dream That's the original Inception plan. However, it seems that not even a day has passed in level 1 dream throughout the whole mission. This is due to the unforeseen circumstances such as Fischer's subconscious being trained (heavily armed and capable of finding the intruders quickly) and Saito is hurt and dying, so their mission needs to be completed as quickly as possible.

The team knew the number beforehand, when Fischer told them. Since Arthur is the Dreamer, all he needs to do is to change the room number(s).

Most importantly, the person needs to be fully aware that he's in limbo. Under heavy sedation and with the time machine still in countdown, one needs to produce 2 synchronized kicks to return the level above or needs to synchronize the Kick that person performs in Limbo with all kicks on the level above to level 1 dream, then return to reality. Under normal sedation, just by killing themselves or performing a Kick on each level would do (doesn't need to be synchronized since a slight disturbance can cause dreams to collapse).

The safe is a creation of the subconscious that Cobb exploits, in this case Mal. The safes are constructed so that the Target believes that it is a safe place for them to store their secrets. The top is Mal's totem, which she uses to determine whether she's in a dream. If it never stops spinning, it tells Mal that she's in a dream. By placing a constantly spinning totem in the safe, Cobb is placing a very simple idea (The world is not real) inside her subconscious. It's not that she saw the totem spinning, but that it was always spinning in her subconscious mind. This is why she thought she was trapped in the dream world.

The evidence is generally very weak in demonstrating that the "reality" present in the film is any different than the reality that we experience every day.

1. Repeated lines of dialog shared amongst the characters: Mal and Saito both tell Cobb to take a "leap of faith", and Cobb predicts what Saito will say in limbo. [However, coincidental and repeated lines are common in countless films without any reason to believe they are "all a dream." Additionally, the term "take a leap of faith" would be basically ubiquitous in a world where one must actually kill themselves just to wake up from a dream.]

4. The clumsiness of the homicide police investigation regarding Mal's case and put the blame on Cobb entirely. [we don't know all the circumstances surrounding the investigation, and bad investigations happen all the time, so this is hardly evidence for the whole film being a dream]

5. The spinning top at the end of the film. The top is a totem used to help verify whether Cobb's in reality or in someone else's dream, but it offers no verification against being in his own dream. He knows the exact weight, composition and how it should spin. So whether the top stops or continue spinning, it's not important as even when it stops, it could be that Cobb believes that he finally reunite with his family, hence his dream fully becomes his reality. [it's true that if the whole film is a dream, the top wouldn't matter, but this is not evidence for the film being a dream. You could say that about any behavior of any object in the whole movie]

6. In Mombasa, in the bathroom after he tests Yusuf's sedative, you see the figure of Mal behind the curtains, if he was in "reality" then his subconscious could not be projecting her. [Not projections. These were just memories. The curtains were not in Yusuf's bathroom - they are the same curtains as in the hotel room.]

7. Cobb's totem was not Mal's top, rather one could suggest that Mal was his reality check, his 'real' totem. Yet throughout the movie he was directly or indirectly responsible for either killing her or imprisoning her, in essence losing his sense of reality and refusing to face up to the facts - which may be that he was indeed dreaming the whole time. [Cobb's totem was Mal's top. In no way was Mal his reality check - it is quite the opposite.]

8. The musical score that is heard, is the slowed down playhead of "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien", which is the Edith Piaf song used for the musical countdown. The significance here is that the deeper you go into the dream, time slows, thus the music will slow too, mimicking the score. This musical design perhaps indicates that Cobb's reality was still very much a dream state too. [the music only slows down when listened to from a lower level, due to the time dilation at that level. Yes, the song was integrated into the score, but only as a theme.] [how do you know? maybe the original poster is right)

9. Numerous improbable or coincidental events that happened during parts of "reality". Cobb is saved by Saito coincidentally during the chase between Cobol Engineering agents and him. [Saito has been tailing Cobb to protect his investment - not coincidental at all.]

10. Nearly the entire team is highly proficient with all types of weaponry, though certainly Cobb at least, does not appear to have had any particularized weapons training. How does Ariadne know how to even fire a gun, much less hit anything? All appear to be highly capable in all sorts of militaristic tasks, from skiing, to explosives, to hand to hand combat, to sniping... [They are in a dream world during all scenes involving weapon use. Their real world weapon abilities would have no effect here. Like Eames was saying on level 1 'You need to learn to dream bigger' and then produces a grenade launcher. During the dream state, they have limited control over the experience, similar to the Matrix.]

11. This may be a continuity error, but when Arthur collegoes to get Cobb in Tokyo after the failed extraction of Saito, they leave the hotel room and go to the roof for the helicopter at night. When they're on the roof, it's day.

11. This may be a continuity error, but when Arthur collegoes to get Cobb in Tokyo after the failed extraction of Saito, they leave the hotel room and go to the roof for the helicopter at night. When they're on the roof, it's day.

More counter-evidence: 1. The children are two years older in the last scene (see cast list).

2. The spinning top starts to wobble just as the movie ends, and also is heard to topple and scoot across the table after it cuts to black.

Alternatively,' the whole film is a dream' in the sense that Nolan is suggesting that what we think of as a waking state, or 'reality', is in fact just more dreaming (which is not supported by any interviews with Nolan or statements by the cast/crew anywhere).

Hinduism and Buddhism both share the idea that the world is 'maya', or an illusion and that we are on a journey of 'awakening from the dream'. This has been taught by such Indian saints as Sri Ramana Maharishi and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who call it 'Advaida', which means non-duality; the idea that all the universe is just one consciousness, connecting everything in it. We act out our lives like a play shown onto a movie screen. But only those who achieve Nirvana (a.k.a enlightenment, or becoming one with Nature) can perceive the illusion for what it is (a dream) and become aware of the 'screen' on which the great drama is unfolding.

According to the Advaida philosophy, it is only when we are in a state of deep sleep that we come close to the timeless, 'true' state of being that is the universal consciousness, which all Nature is part of. When we wake up, in effect we are waking into a world that is illusory.

A separate movement believes in the specific idea that humanity is collectively dreaming a dream of guilt and separation, from which we need to wake up by practising forgiveness. This is a metaphysic ideology given in A Course in Miracles and The Way of Mastery, which are spiritual texts purportedly channelled from Jesus in the 1970s and 1990s respectively. ACIM in particular has influenced most spiritual 'new age' authors and commentators today.

1. The wedding ring on Cobb's hand that's present in dreams but absent in the real world.

[To refute: This could be because in what Cobb sees as a dream, he wants Mal to still be alive and married to him (keeps her alive in his memories), but in so-called reality, Cobb knows he's not married anymore and took it off. It may, in fact, be his totem, so if Cobb took it off long ago he would *not* know that he wasn't in reality. While mourning his wife I doubt he would consciously check the weight. If "reality" is *his* dream, which Mal says in an argument while alive, his subconscious would recreate the weight anyway; totems only tell you when you're in someone else's head unless you know you're dreaming.]

2. Cobb's kids, Phillipa & James. The kids at the end of the film are different and are older compared to the younger ones we've seen throughout the film. Their clothes are slightly different. The girl has a white shirt underneath her red dress and his son was wearing shoes instead of sandals at the end. This is the most solid evidence. Observe carefully. Also if he was dreaming, he would not be able to know what his children's faces would have looked like turning around and seeing him seeing as how he cannot change a memory. He even said himself earlier in the film that no matter how hard he tried, he, "can't change this moment." He will never see his children's faces unless he gets back to them.

3. The top. There's a significant difference between the top that keeps spinning flawlessly when he's in a dream and the top that's spinning at the end of the film (it clearly wobbles, loses momentum and does sound like it is stopping.) [It does wobble and lose momentum, strong signs, but to me it sounded not like it toppled but that the sound for the top cut out. I re-watched the movie yesterday.] But Totems tell you when you are not in your own dream, so maybe it stopped spinning because it is his dream (?) (No, It only tells you that you are dreaming, it has no specificity to who's dream it is.) (It doesn't tell you *whose* dream you're in, but it only tells you whether or not you're in someone's dream other than your own. Another dreamer does not know the nature or behavior of your totem, which is why they are so careful to not allow someone to touch their totem. Once someone understands the nature of your totem, they can reconstruct it in their dream. You, on the other hand, *would* know the nature of your totem, so it would not work inside your own dream for the same reason - your subconscious would have no trouble reconstructing the totem's true behavior. Mal's top adds another layer of unreliability to determining whether the end is reality or dream - *everyone* knows the nature of Mal's spinning top, not to mention it does not take any special knowledge to cause a spinning top to fall over in your dream... that's what tops do.)

4. It is showed at the end that Cobb and Mal did grow old together for 50 years in Limbo with them walking the streets as old man and woman, two old hands hold together on the train tracks.

5. The rules, technical aspects of performing the Extraction and Inception in the film.

6. Cobb remembers exactly how he got to where he is, which he wouldn't know if he was dreaming. [Oh? Where was the car ride from the airport to home? Did he even think to try to remember? Not that I believe that he was dreaming, but it isn't explicitly stated.]

7. The emotional depth of the film. If the ending is real, it shows that Cobb does go on an emotional journey, to take a 'leap of faith' to believe that Saito will honor their agreement so he could go home and see his kids and finally get over with his wife's death and guilt. The scene where Cobb talks with old Saito is significant as it shows they've grown and become friends, as Cobb had said to him: "Come back and let's be young men together." He's 'transformed' because of his leap of faith and he's rewarded by finally reuniting with his kids. [This is hardly evidence to support it was reality, even if I agree that it was. The important part to the ending is that it doesn't actually matter if the top fell or not- if it's reality or not. The character arc you are talking about could have happened with or without reality and in the end Cobb gets what he wants/needs. That is the resolution.]

8. Cobb and Mal do not end up together. This could only be a factor of reality. If it were a dream, Cobb would have found a way of keeping Mal alive in the dream so that he could be with her. [*Very* solid evidence.] (Cobb wouldn't want to do this because he states that his recreation of her in his dreams "isn't good enough" because it doesn't truly capture what she was in real life, with all her perfection and flaws.)

9. Throughout the shooting script Nolan uses the simple transitional element for changing scenes, "and we-- CUT TO:" every time this occurs it's not cutting to another scene with in the 'present' reality, but it 'cuts to' either a higher or lower dream within the dream, or it 'cuts to' reality. So at the end of the shooting script Nolan writes "And we-- FADE OUT." By Nolan saying that it doesn't 'cut to' another level of the dream, or back to reality, but instead it simply 'fades out,' Nolan is letting us, the viewer, know that after reality there is nothing to 'cut to,' so Cobb is presently in reality. Nolan allows the viewer to make his/her own assumptions based upon their optimistic/pessimistic worldview, but Nolan's in one of optimism, as can be seen in all his other films. He's not a 'happy ending' director, but he's optimistic about the future... [All scripts start with Fade In and end with Fade Out...]

10. A second after 'INCEPTION' appears on the end credits, you can begin hearing the top lose momentum in its spin (it sounds almost like it's sliding along the table). Now that the film is out on Blu-ray and DVD, I imagine that more people will notice this. Keep in mind, there is music playing during the credits so you do have to listen for it, but it the sound is there. I'm 100% sure. I kept an ear out for this after Dileep Rao said to "use your ears, not your eyes" to figure out if the top fell or not. Well, using your ears, you will hear it losing momentum until it comes to a stop. If anybody has any other interpretation as to what this means, I'm interested in hearing it. [See annotation for number 3.]

Alternatively, Nolan is showing that what we commonly believe to be reality exists during the film, and that Cobb is indeed in what we'd call 'reality' at the end of the film. BUT, the spinning top is a clue from him - an inception to us, the audience - that our idea of 'reality' may in itself be the projection of a dreaming mind.... that collectively, we are all dreaming an outpictured 'reality' full of projected figures.

In the teaser trailer, the music used is a custom score from Sencit Music, composed by Mike Zarin (website here). The second trailer uses a variation of the same song. The longer theatrical trailer uses a track titled "Mind Heist", composed by Zack Hemsey (website here). Contrary to popular belief, the music was not composed by Hans Zimmer, who composed the actual score for the film.

Does Cobb ever wake up?

The evidence strongly suggests that he did. Multiple cast members who worked with Christopher Nolan directly and heard his whole vision of the movie probably ad nauseum, including Michael Caine explicitly, and Dileep Rao implicitly, confirm that the ending is part of reality. The top is heard strongly wobbling, about to tip as the screen cuts to black. Upon the completion of a successful mission with the team, one could either believe that Cobb was able to save Saito and himself from Limbo, reuniting him with his family in reality, or we can believe that he was stuck forever and ever more in his Limbo and had only imagined him saving Saito and reuniting with his family. The latter theory, however, does not match with any characteristics of Limbo presented in the movie. In order for the final scenes with Cobb to be Limbo, he (who knows that Limbo is not real) would have to build an airplane, recreate all his team members, create and populate the entire city of Los Angeles, and then create his children two years older. And also create a Limbo where tops wobble instead of spinning perfectly. Then, he would have to forget it was Limbo and "wake up" on the plane he created.

Near Calgary, Canada. The crew constructed the buildings in the third layer on the site of a former ski resort.

The film doesn't say, but from earlier statements, Chris Nolan declared that the film is supposed to be contemporary.

To many, the children appear to not have aged in the end scene. IMDb cast credits show that two pairs of children were cast for the two different ages (about two years apart). There are multiple memories, some of which show the younger children playing at the beach, others show the younger children playing in the yard throughout the film. The younger children also appear run around a corner leading Cobb to Mal in the final limbo. Certainly the children appear to be a similar age, and to be wearing similar clothing. Repeat analysis shows that the clothing is similar at the end, though not the same. The children do look older. However, considering the power of the dreamer to alter the world of the dream, this is no guarantee that the children, if indeed they are projections, haven't just been changed by Cobb so that he will accept them as real. Certainly the story is very clever in creating this ambiguity. Cobb is unable to see their faces in his memory of the yard to confirm they look younger (the body shows they are smaller). Other theories have suggested that the reason for casting two sets of child actors were to have one set visible, while the other set only heard. The voices of the children on the phone seem older than what would belong to the children playing.

Since Fischer has been told that he is in a dream and is being protected by his subconscious projections, he could simply assume that Saito is one of these projections, or as he is shown to not be fully aware of the current affairs of his father's business, Fischer Jr. may not have known or seen Saito before.

Cobb smuggled the drug on-board and possibly didn't have time to brief the hostess on its use. Also, even if the hostess gave Fischer spiked water, it was no guarantee that he would drink it immediately, which is why Cobb offers the drink to him and proposes a toast.

Nolan acknowledges that it's not easy to follow: Right before the dreamers head down to Level 3, an exasperated Ariadne asks, "Wait -- whose subconscious are we going into?" But once you know what to look, or more importantly, to listen for, the clues are all there. The opening sequence is Arthur's dream (the villa) inside Nash's dream (the apartment). The training exercises follow a similar pattern: first the teacher (Cobb in the cafe; Arthur on the Penrose staircase), then Ariadne in her own version of the same environment. The main mission is Eames' dream (the snow fort) inside Arthur's dream (the hotel) inside Yusuf's dream (the city). Limbo is apparently limbo; it doesn't belong to anyone, although Cobb can claim squatters' rights. One relatively easy way of keeping it straight is that the person whose dream it is stays behind in order to keep an eye on the place. Yusuf drives the van; Arthur fights the guard in the hotel; Eames sets the explosive charges. Is this simply a matter of convenience, or are dreams limited to one apiece? Can you fall asleep in your own dream? It would seem so, because Cobb and Mal went down several levels, presumably on their own.

Limbo is unconstructed (i.e. not pre-constructed by an architect) dream space. It, like all levels of subconsciousness when hooked up to the machine, is a shared environment between the dreamers. The only thing there is anything created by a dreamer that has been down there before and is sharing the dream with you. Cobb and Saito share the dreams all the way until level 3 when Cobb goes down to limbo but Saito doesn't. Then Saito dies and heads to Limbo. Cobb, who entered Limbo through the machine (not via death) now dies (either in the hospital, elevator, van, or all three, it doesn't really matter). Since Saito died before Cobb in level 3 many years have gone by for him, accounting for his age; the passage of time there is unpredictable, not at a nice 20:1 proportion like the other levels.

The concept of the infinite staircase (Penrose stairs) is used as a blueprint for the structure and form of the film and ultimately for its meaning. The fact that no definite conclusion can be given as to whether it's reality or a dream points that the entire movie is designed as one infinite staircase where the levels of the dream and reality are an analogy for the stairs in the infinite staircase. The Penrose stairs being an impossible structure, this movie presents us with an impossible concept/dilemma that the movie can be either reality or dream depending on how you look at the arguments. It's similar to circling the Penrose stairs in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction that determines whether you are ascending or descending.

Possibility #1: Although some may believe that the air hostess simply knocking each passenger off their seat would wake them, others suggest it's more likely that the pilots dipped the plane momentarily. (Given Saito owned the airline) It is unlikely however that the air hostess or pilots could have been prepared to apply a kick as A- They didn't provide a musical countdown B- Eames suggests that the original time scale of the plan was a lot slower, with him having the whole night to crack Fischer. Since they didn't know in advance that Fischer's mind would be militarised, why would they have needed to plan a kick?

Possibility #2: Yusuf had designed the sedatives to wear off after a specific amount of time and they simply killed themselves to wake up: This doesn't really make sense because the sedative would have to be in effect for the whole dream; otherwise Cobb couldn't have confidently stated they had a week of dream time. It is possible however that Yusuf had an antidote he had given to the air hostess to administer at a specific time.

Possibility #3: They waited around for another 6 days till they simply awoke from the dream. Fischer's subconscious was militarized, HOWEVER, they don't attack until Fischer gets kidnapped. So one could assume that once the van hits the water, the others wait underneath in order to avoid being seen by Fischer, so Fischer assumes he is now safe, and in the real world. So his subconscious would then back off and not cause them trouble.

Possibility #4: Since the ending of the film is ambiguous; the whole ending with them waking up on the plane might not be reality. And therefore is not proof that the rest of the crew made it out of the first level of the dream. If we are never shown Eames, Yusuf, Ariadne and Fischer waking on the plane in reality, then for all we know, they're still hanging out in level one.

IMPOSSIBILITY: Some suggest that because Yusuf isn't shown on camera after the van plunges into the water; it's possible he was kicked out of the dream and was awoken because he was conscious when the rest in the van weren't, he then turned off the dream machine/woke them up in reality. This isn't possible for several reasons; firstly because, as we see with Arthur when the van drives off the edge; he didn't get kicked out of the dream! We assume this is because they all have to come out of the dream at once. Secondly, the city where the van falls off the bridge is in Yusuf's mind, so if he woke up, surely everyone would be thrust into limbo?

Actually we ARE shown every single member of the team after Cobb wakes up in the plane: Eames (behind Cobb), Fischer (in front of Cobb), Arthur, Ariadne, Saito (who remembers the arrangement and makes the call) - and all of them again in the airport, this time including Yusuf and Miles: Eames (left, when Cobb approaches the Immigrations desk), Ariadne (behind "Gale Bertram", the Immigrations officer), Yusuf and then Arthur (lugage zone), Eames, Saito and Fischer right after that and finally Miles saying "Welcome". Everyone gets some screen time during the superb "Time" soundtrack. Everyone except Mal, which is a clear sign that he WAS NOT dreaming anymore - we know Mal only makes dream/recollection appearances. So: [Reality: the train --> the plane] [Dream: the rest]

Firstly, we know that the effects of one level have stronger effects on their proceeding level than any after that which is why Saito feels less pain from his gunshot wounds as he gets deeper. Level three is therefore less likely to feel the effects of level one. Secondly, the dreamers in Level one (Specifically Arthur, because Level Two is Arthur's dream) are feeling a zero-gravity drop which causes Level Two to lose gravity. However the dreamers in Level Two, (Specifically Eames because Level Three is his dream) aren't FEELING zero-gravity, they're EXPERIENCING a lack of gravity. It's the movement that affects the dreamer not the experience and thus, because the dreamers probably can't feel this weightlessness when they're asleep, it won't affect their dream.

The dream machine could be planted by the dreamers in each level. The device itself does not need to be duplicated - it could exist as an idea or projection in the dream. For example, the dreamers probably do not understand the exact physics of their weapons but they have an innate understanding and conviction of their effects (bullet piercing, injury, pain, etc.). With training and experience, a dreamer could develop a likewise understanding of the dream machine's properties in order for their subconscious to manage it while inside the dream

She knows she's in limbo and she throws herself off the tall balcony (after Fischer). She either dies on impact or dies in mid air bringing her back up to level 3 (albeit only momentarily while the snow fortress is crumbling)

When Ariadne killed herself, the higher levels of the dream still existed. When Cobb presumably killed himself however, the higher levels had already collapsed, so the only place Cobb could go when he escaped limbo was reality.

Answered by jldude on Yahoo!Answers.

Cobb: Five minutes in the world gives you an hour in the dream.

5 minutes in real world = an hour (60 minutes) in 1st layer dream

1 minute in real world = 12 minutes in 1st layer dream

So the formula is 1:12.

The movie doesn't say how long they're asleep in the real world (on the train), so we don't know for sure how long they were sleeping in the 1st or 2nd layer dreams when they're trying to extract Saito's secret. But if we have the number, we can just multiply the first layer with 12, and add another 12 at the second layer.

If T = Time (real world), then:

Real world = T

1st dream = T x 12

2nd dream = T x 12 x 12

That may seem to be what Cobb, Saito and the rest of the team want Fischer to believe, but it seems as though the sequencing of the mission with what specifically revolves around the aspects that Fischer experiences supports it too. With Cobb and his team having exposed deception that Browning had employed at one point, this leads them to follow the possibility that Fischer's father wanted what was best for his son and therefore, allow him to trust his own judgment when it came to anything involving such. Thus, Browning attempted to have Fischer continue running the company the way his father did so it would benefit him, while Fischer's father who had not realized how much he had neglected his son until the end of his life had actually desired better for him. Fischer himself believes in the idea of doing right in his own life per his father's wishes by deciding to break up the company, which is not only what Cobb, Saito and the team sought to happen in the end, but rather what Fischer was destined to do to begin with. Therefore, the mission actually doesn't just benefit Saito's own ambitions, but corrects a karmic injustice too.

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