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Inception: Theories & Thoughts

Having spent weeks hearing rave reviews about the film Inception, it was inevitable that I forked out cold, hard cash to watch it. If you haven’t watched the film, and you don’t believe in spoilers, please leave now. You have been warned.

The plot has been outlined pretty well in Wiki, so I won’t reiterate too much of it. Suffice to say that, despite the heavy metaphysical philosophical rhetoric, the movie actually managed to work in a pretty decent balance of humour. For example, when the team enters Level 1 of the dream world, in Yusuf’s dream, it rained really hard and several members of the team pelted Yusuf with “drink much?” / “need to pee much?” comments, which made me snort in laughter. Then came Arthur’s dream, where when Fischer’s guards are looking suspiciously at him and Ariadne, and Arthur tells Ariadne to “kiss me”. When she finishes and pulls back and says in an accusatory tone, “They’re still looking!” Arthur shrugged and said, “Oh well, worth a shot.” …the look on Ellen Page’s face was priceless. I think I started laughing even before Arthur finished the sentence. She looked torn between wanting to murder him and not quite hating the kiss.

Beyond the dry wit, quick pace, and mindfuckery conundrums of the film, there are some interesting things that could be up for debate…

(Conspiracy) Theories & Thoughts

There are several fascinating levels the film explores, both of the state of being ‘awake’ and ‘asleep’. These are not new – there is nothing more the human mind loves than dissecting what ‘truth’ is…or could be. A few films come to mind, like The Matrix, Dark Knight, Momento, Shutter Island (yes, I know I’ve been listing most of Nolan’s previous films sans the first).

There’s been a fair bit of heated debate over the ending of the movie, which is left open to the audience’s interpretations, which of course means that there are several approaches to this.

The ending most people hope for, I think, is the one where he has returned to reality, and has reunited with his children, since there is a hint of a wobble with his ‘totem’.

Then you have the cynics who argue that as long as the ‘totem’ spins, he is trapped within his dream.

There’s evidence to support the latter rather than the former, but it is not the end that interests me…but the start of the movie, and its middle. Before I go on to those though, let me first sound out my conspiracy theories on why I am leaning on the side of the latter.

First of all, the children. The faces of the children, whom he never sees in the construction of his dreams, is shown at the end, and that is how he is ‘released’ by his dream into his reality…says the happy version. However, the children that he ‘sees’ and greets excitedly in the garden begin in exactly the same pose, and gestures that he last saw them in…repeated throughout the film. Which begets the question if he’s truly ‘seeing’ them…or merely continuing the dream process and tying himself to his constructed dream world through ‘memories’ that he has built. The children look exactly like he left them. His house. His room. The light in the garden. The knife on the table. Note the grandmother, who is supposed to be ‘taking care’ of the children do not appear in this ending. Grandfather, for whom he feels tied to because he was the one who had introduced him to ‘dreaming’, takes her stead to welcome him home from the airport and introduce him to the children, thereby disrupting him just as he was about to determine if he was in reality…or dreaming.

When Cobbs abandoned the spinning top, running towards his children, he has reached his ultimate goal, his ‘final destination’, and it is at this point, I think, where, whether or not this is the state of ‘dreaming’ or being ‘awake’ he is content to tie himself to this level.

The question is…is Cobbs right? Is he the one living in the real world, and is he the one who planted the idea of an ‘unreal world’ in Mal’s subconscious while they were in Limbo?

Or is he, in fact, the one who has been infected with inception, and who has created his own alternate reality with paradox-isms?

In the film, Cobb is convinced that ideas are like viruses – once you have planted an idea into someone’s subconscious, it grows like a cancer. There are several lines he repeats throughout the film…much like the lines that Mal repeats in his dream constructs, or in the shared dream constructs that his team-mates bring him through.

I think there are several plot holes in the movie that can’t be covered with logic applied in the world Cobbs inhabits. The time thing doesn’t make sense, even if I have never been very good with maths. How he is able to escape Limbo in the first place is a question – he said Mal refused to believe that Limbo was not the real world, and that they had slowly lost touch with reality. Mostly, I think, because she had locked her ‘totem’ up in her safe, and I’m assuming she was the subject, and he was the architect for their dream constructs. But, what was his totem? How did he realise it was Limbo?

On the other hand, if the whole movie was a dream from start to end, the disjointedness, and deconstruction to reconstruction of his world in an endless loop may indicate…he is in Limbo still. Isn’t he? By destroying ‘Mal’ and ‘seeing’ his children, has he escaped Limbo…or merely accepted it? Was ‘Mal’ in fact his anchor to the real world, which he has unwittingly destroyed? Isn’t it possible that the real Mal really did leave through the suicide, and this ‘Mal’ he constructed out of his own memories wanted him to leave Limbo as well by continuously reminding him of their shared dream construct?

Another interesting facet is the roles that the females play. Grandmother is an unpleasant anchor to the reality that he is ‘separated from his children’. You never actually see her, and only hear her on the phone. Hence, she is not in the ending where this reality is revised. ‘Mal’ keeps trying to tell Cobbs that his is not the real world, while he is convinced he is. If she were, in fact, telling the truth, it’s really fascinating how Cobbs ignores her, Grandmother, and Ariadne when the women try to force him to ‘see’ the ‘truth’.

I could go on forever about the dream construct, and the many layered reasons why the potential that Cobbs is in fact dreaming from start to end is really pretty high, but it kinda kills the debate to be so one-sided. So, I looked up alternative theories.

A pretty interesting one that supports him coming back to reality is that of the presence of his wedding ring, commented on by someone here, although one may also attribute that to a discordance in continuity through human error. There’s also some interesting debate about the use of Mal’s totem in the same thread, under the comments section (Comment No. 12 I believe).

The thread also includes other really fascinating theories like, maybe he performed self inception to ‘rid’ himself of the ‘guilt’ of performing inception on his own wife. Extrapolating from that, the so-called ‘dreams’ or ‘visions’ that he shows his comrades are actually his ‘reality’ and the ‘reality’ they are living in is a dream construct he has engineered so that he can relief himself of the guilt for the mistake he has made, and can return to his family’s arms. Following the same line of thought is this commenter who added that there’s a continuous time loop presented in the movie (Bryan, in that thread, said that the original comment came from him, and Slash just plagarised…just to clarify, but it’s the idea presented in that comment that I’m interested in, anyway).

A friend of mine threw out the theory that maybe, the one who performed the inception on Cobbs is the grandfather…or father-in-law. He was the one who came up with ‘an architect better than you’, the one who met him at the airport to welcome him home…and the one who called out to his children to distract him just as he is trying to determine if he’s in a dream or not. The kids haven’t aged, but they’re in different clothes as when Cobbs is in his own constructed dream world. And take note: when we are introduced to Cobbs in the movie, we begin in the middle of the story, when he is on the run. And he’s always on the run in the movie.

Too many theories and not enough time. What do you think?