Explaining the Plot of Inception

Warning - SPOILERS

So I did some reading today trying to find someone that shared my interpretation of Inception, but I couldn't find one, so I thought I'd go ahead and share it with you.

In short, I believe that Mal was correct about their world being fake, and Cobb was wrong.

When Mal and Cobb went deep into limbo together they lost all sense of reality. When Cobb finally came to the realization that it wasn't real, he convinced Mal using inception.

When they killed themselves, they didn't leave limbo and come back to reality, but instead, they went back to the first stage of the dream.

Cobb though they were back in real life, but Mal had the feeling that they were not. When she killed herself, she left the first stage, and went back to reality. Cobb however, believed that she had left reality, and killed herself, when in fact, he was still dreaming.

This theory is supported by many things. But perhaps the greatest evidence comes at the end, when his top does not stop spinning, and his kids looks exactly the same as the day he left, including the same outfits. This suggests that he is still in a dream, and in fact, never left the dream.

Also, if you look for dream like elements in his "real world" you'll notice things. For instance, how does he get to Africa to look for his "forger?" He steps out of his base of operations in Paris, and then he is suddenly in Africa. He said several times himself that one of the surest ways to tell if you are in a dream, is trying to think of how you got somewhere.

When he is in his apartment in Japan, and he spins his top, it is interrupted by his partner knocking on the door. We don't actually see it stop. Also, it is nighttime out the window, but when they go up to the helicopter, it is daytime.

When he is in the bathroom washing his face with water, and he spins the top, it falls off the counter, but doesn't actually stop spinning on his own.

All these and more suggest that he was always in a dream.

What are your thoughts?

I also have two alternative ideas.

Alternative 1:

Again, Cobb never reentered reality when he went deep into the dream with Mal. But instead of going back to the first stage of the dream when they killed themselves with the train, they actually went deeper into the dream, deeper into limbo. They went so deep, that they could never escape.

Alternative 2:

This one is a little different. What if they never got out of Saito's dream? Do you recall that when his partner was training Ariadne on how to build levels, he told her that she should make it a maze, to make it difficult to get out? And that she could create levels that were infinite loops by augmenting reality? Now recall how the movie started? From the ending. Cobb woke up on the shore of Saito's unconsciousness. And then suddenly, he was with a younger Saito. So if the movie starts how the movie ends, then that suggests that Cobb is in one big dream loop, created by someone (perhaps Saito) to keep Cobb going and going without ever realizing something is wrong.

If this is the case, then that means that Saito had elaborate subconscious defenses that ensnared and trapped Cobb, and he was never able to free himself from this botched job.


  1. I think you miss one of the basic points -- the totem. You can never let anyone touch your totem...thus how does Cobb get Mal's totem? He doesn't...it is Mal's totem and she is delving into Cobb's dream to fulfill her promise of living together forever as he is the one that is either dying or refuses to come out of the dream. Note that Cobb informs us that only Mal spins the top to see if she is dreaming or in reality -- also another clue that Mal (who is a forger) is able to use the identity of Cobb to concoct this special deep deep dream.

  2. I don't agree. Cobb supposedly took her totem when she died. But, in reality, she didn't die, and the top wasn't her actual totem, but his construct of her totem.

    Though Mal may be a forger, I don't believe she ever takes the form of Cobb, that just wouldn't make any sense. I believe that Cobb took what he believed to be her totem, and spun it to check reality just like she did.

  3. What was Cobb's totem?

  4. Cobb was never given his own totem in the script. He just took Mal's.

    I think the main idea behind your interpretation of the movie is brilliant, and not one I've seen before. What makes it particularly interesting is that it makes Eames, Arthur, Yusef and Saito all different projections of Cobb's. Different aspects of his subconscious. Which says a lot about Cobb, since they all hold him in high regard.

  5. Another evidence is the fact that mal jumps from the window of the opposite room. cobb asks her to 'step inside'. how come she is in a different apartment?

  6. In his apartment in Japan, They do show the top falling. But I simply love your theory. It could be true. Lets just wait if a Inception sequel is out. Now, the top falls bcuz of the foll reason: While in a Dream, Our Mind will always try to convince us that we aren't Dreaming (I got that fact while researching about Lucid Dreams)

  7. Sorry dude, couple of errors there: the little girl is wearing a white shirt under her red dress in the final scene, whereas she only wore the dress in her dreams. The boy's shirt pattern changes throughout. And you cannot say that the kids look the same throughout as you only see their faces for the first time in the last scene. Cobb doesn't have a wedding ring on in the final scene, which he always does when dreaming. And finally, once a spinning-top develops a wobble it will always fall over (the only way to stop it would be to accelerate it again). There are a few others things as well, but can safely say this guy comes home, job done.

  8. Cobb murdered his wife and his children, went insane and is now under psychiatric care. Remember, Mal told Cobb the children were with her (dead). When he spoke to his children on the phone, the top (which was Cobb's all along) was spinning. He is in therapy to confront his crime and/or reveal where he hid the bodies. His dream world is actually his confused mind. How else could he find experienced dream crashers/sharers at will? The first architect was actually a psychiatrist. When he failed, Ariadne replaced him as the architect/psychiatrist. I believe this because Ariadne was far too skilled and knew way too much too soon to be anything other than a shrink. Ariadne says she will help him confront Mal, that she won't leave him, that she will go with him. Mal may or may not be Cobb's wife, but it is interesting that the word Mal means bad or sick. Thus Mal is an evil part of Cobb's subconscience that Cobb needs to confront with the help of psychotropic therapy. Knowing this is where the answers are hidden, Ariadne went fearlessly to the basement in her first dream.

  9. The plot is explained in the movie that Cobb planted the idea in his wife's head to escape their created world and return to reality. He didn't know that the idea is permanent and even though they did return she thought she was still dreaming.
    Cobb did complete his mission and he got Saito out alive as well as the rest of the team, and he then went on to finally see his kids. This was not a dream because he cannot see his kids faces if he never remembered them.

  10. I would really like to think that the mysteries above are just continuity errors......

  11. Hmm, but what i dont understand is that if you die in the dream you remain in the limbo. Mal and cobbs woke up after they got hit by a train. But how? If sato knew he was in a limbo, whyy wait for cobbs if he could kill himselfe? And if he was killed, how did he passes all the levels? The movie never stated that there where more levels, when cobbs and mall entered the limbo. So level 1 limbo is possible. When the van hits the water, everybody escapes, except cobbs.(And sato) He remains strapped on the chair. Cobbs talked to his kids on the phone. His daughter seems to be older than 5, she sounded much mature.. I think that he's still in the limbo so he never woke up. And the wobble thingie.. Its a movie guys.. If he's in a limbo that thing can wobble, but it will not fall.. Greetings from amsterdam