I wrote this ages ago, totally forgot it was still in my drafts folder. May as well post it now.
Inception is probably the best film I’ve ever seen; I've already seen it three times. I love films with this sort of plot and storyline and I think it was executed perfectly, plus the music was top class. There were a few things that confused me though; after some thought I’ve figured them out and these are the conclusions I’ve come to.
The way the kicks worked confused me. As we saw at the start of the film with the extraction mission, the kick is performed on the level you’ll be returning to, i.e. Cobb in the chair over the bath; he returned to the level the kick was performed on. Similarly, Arthur returned to the real world when his chair was kicked. However, in the inception mission, they needed two kicks to get them out, because of the heavy sedation. In addition to the kick in the ‘destination’ level, they’d need a kick on the current level too. Eames was going to rig the fortress with explosives before Cobb and Ariadne went deeper to get Fischer; the only reason he needed to do this was because it was necessary to kick them all back to the hotel; if the kick in the hotel would have been enough on its own, or the kick in the hotel and the van could pull them out, he wouldn’t have had to do anything there until he knew Cobb and Ariadne were going deeper. Also, Arthur didn’t wake up when the van hit the barrier on the bridge; normally this would have woken him up, but he also needed a kick on his own dream level, the hotel. Some people think this is a plot hole but it can be explained if you see they needed two kicks/a synchronised kick. They needed the fortress exploding and the lift crashing to get back to the hotel, and the lift crashing and the van hitting the water to get back to the city. This is what they meant by a simultaneous/synchronised kick; the one they performed on their own level had to be coupled with the one on the destination level, and then the kick that was in the destination level had to be coupled with the kick on the next level; i.e. the fortress exploding was coupled with the lift and straight away after the lift was coupled with the van. What happened after they got back to the city though is a bit of a mystery. Did they spend a week here and wait for the sedative to wear off?? Some people have speculated that Yusuf got kicked by the van hitting the bridge/falling/hitting the water, but I don't see how that's possible as there wasn't a kick on the plane (that we're aware of) to wake him up; a kick on the current level on it's own isn't enough. Plus he was seen climbing out of the van; if he was going to get kicked out, it would have happened by then, not after he swam out. He wasn't seen on the shore afterwards, which is why people thought he woke up, but I think that was simply because he didn't need to be shown for anything. Also if he'd have been woken up the dream would have collapsed due to the absence of the dreamer like at the start of the film. I don't know what they'd do for a week down there, what with Fischer's security probably still after them and all, but still.
How did the inception itself work?? In the first level, Fischer was kidnapped and told of a non-existant safe, and asked for the combination that he was supposed to know; these numbers would obviously be used later on. Browning (Eames) was then bought in and explained the safe contained a will that would break up the company, and that his father loved him. In the second level, Cobb pretended to be 'Mr Charles', the head of Fischer's subconscious security, so that he could gain Fischer's trust and get him to work with the team, but it involved telling him he was dreaming. Fischer's projection of Browning entered the hotel room and the team made out that he had organised the kidnapping in order to get the combination to the safe, and that he was going to pull Fischer into a dream, so he could find and destroy the will before it could be used, as the company was everything to him and he couldn't let Fischer destroy it. His projection of Browning then said that this was his father's last taunt, that he was challenged to create something for his own whilst being told he wasn't worthy of his father's business; he made it sound like it was a bad thing and that his father was spiting him. Fischer thought that what was actually his projection of Browning was really Browning himself (remember, at this point, Fischer thought the team were his subconscious security and Browning had hired extractors), and that he had come into the dream to send him into another dream to extract information from Fischer. However, it was Fischer's own projection of Browning all along though, so he effectively gave himself the idea that his father wanted him to break up the company; his subconscious projection told his conscious self. Cobb then told him that they were going into Browning's mind to find out his motives; however Browning was just a projection. Ariadne then asked who's subconscious they were going into, as she knew Browning was just a projection; probably mainly to explain to the viewer that they were tricking Fischer, as they were only really going deeper into Fischer's mind, as well as him now being on their side in helping to supposedly find Browning's motives. It seems only one person produces projections (the target, i.e. Fischer; it's through the subconscious and projections that the secrets are usually extracted) so Fischer would think the snow dream was filled with Browning's projections, when they were really his own. Then, after he came back from Limbo, he used the combination from before to open the safe, believing he did somehow know these numbers and didn't just make them up. He thought Browning was projecting what was in here, but really he was. He projected his father telling him he was disappointed he tried to be like him, rather than simply being disappointed, and then saw that his father did love him as he'd kept the windmill from the picture. He now believed that his father loved him and wanted him to be his own man and not follow in his footsteps, that the will was not a taunt and was not to spite him, instead it was a good thing as he wanted better for his son; Fischer experienced emotional catharsis, he had a positive response like Cobb said he needed, and believed he should break up the company, thus the inception had worked.
Now, something I’d been really confused about is the whole Limbo thing with Fischer but I think I’ve figured it out. Fischer got shot and went to Limbo; his body was dead on that level but not the others, and his mind was in Limbo. Cobb and Ariadne went a level deeper, and ended up in Limbo; it seems that anything deeper than three levels means you're so deep you end up in Limbo, which explains how Cobb and Mal got there. After my first two viewings I thought they rigged the dream machine up to Fischer too but after my third viewing I saw they didn't; it's logical really because Saito wasn't rigged up to it in this level either and Cobb still found him in Limbo. They were able to all be in Limbo because they were still all in a dream share, so Limbo would be a collective limbo for all the sharers as they were still all connected to each other. Because it was still a dream share, everything from the last time any of the sharers were in Limbo, i.e. Cobb, would still be there, hence it was the same city Mal and Cobb created. Just like the other levels, they would need two kicks to get out of Limbo. Fischer had the defibrillator as one kick (this is when the lightning started in Limbo, and is how Ariadne knew when to throw Fischer off the building) and Ariadne had the fortress collapsing as one kick (as by this time, inception had taken place and Eames detonated the charges), as well as them both having the sensation of falling off the building. I don’t believe they died falling off the building as if Fischer died in Limbo, he'd wake up on the plane and the Inception couldn't take place, however the sensation of falling and the defibrillator kicked him back to the fortress. Once they’d got back to the fortress, the fortress collapsing and the lift pulled them back to the hotel, and the lift and the van pulled them back to the city.
At the end (and beginning) of the film we saw Saito as an old man. Saito was properly dead in all 3 dreams once he died in the fortress. As you go deeper, any injuries or pain becomes less than higher levels, so if he died as deep as level 3 from his wounds in level 1, he'd have died in those levels too; he was completely dead, and explains why he had been there for so long; he'd died in the first level. He (and Cobb for that matter) couldn't be revived or kicked back the same way as Fischer as, even if he was kicked back to the fortress, he'd have either died again from his injuries in the higher levels, or been kicked back to the hotel where he was dead too, and just gone to Limbo again. Saito also said at various times that he was afraid of being an old man filled with regret, waiting to die alone, and as Limbo is raw subconscious, this could be how he perceived himself whilst in Limbo.
Cobb’s situation with Limbo was a bit different. Cobb knew he was in Limbo to begin with as he dreamed himself in, so he could remember everything that had happened. When Ariadne jumped, she said "don't lose yourself", as she knew Cobb would soon begin to lose track of what was real. If he had jumped at the same time as Ariadne, he'd have woken up in the fortress the same way as her, but instead he stayed with Mal as she died from Ariadne's gunshot wound. He then died from Mal’s knife wound. By this time though, he would have died in the collapsing fortress, died in the falling lift and, drowned in the van; Ariadne only just left Limbo in time to ride the kicks back, and we saw Cobb go down with the van. Cobb was now properly dead, dead in all levels, just like Saito, and went back to Limbo, however this time he died to get there, he didn't dream his way in; the first time Cobb was in Limbo it was still effectively a normal dream (but not another level per se, he just dreamed himself into Limbo), and dying in a dream would send you to Limbo; he was already in Limbo but as he didn't die to get there he didn't have the normal side effects (confusion, forgetting what's real etc). The second time, he died to get there, and this explains how he suddenly got from the building to the beach, and ended up on the shore again but in a different location; this is why this time he was delirious and couldn't remember things so well, whereas he could when he went with Ariadne. He was starting to forget he was dreaming but remembered enough to remind Saito, as you need to know you’re in Limbo before you can leave. As they killed themselves the dream machine ran down and they were disconnected, but the strong sedative still had an effect for a short time, which is why the machine was gone by the time they came round.
Next is Mal and Cobb’s time in Limbo. It was made clear that they were experimenting in dream sharing and Cobb wanted to keep going deeper; it was never stated that they died in a dream, merely that they went deeper, so it seems you can dream your way into Limbo if you go too deep; four level deep, it seems. First they knew they were in Limbo; Cobb said that at first it wasn't bad feeling like Gods, but he knew it wasn't real and eventually he couldn't live like that. When they started constructing from their memories, Mal started to lose track of their dreaming and believed Limbo to be real; Cobb still knew they were dreaming and wanted to convince Mal of that, so he performed inception on her by placing her totem in the safe. Because they were in Limbo it was their deep subconscious; the safe was a metaphor for a place where your deepest or most valued thoughts are held. This is similar to the extraction mission at the start of the film, Saito’s valuable thoughts were in a safe. So, when Cobb span the totem and left it in the safe, Mal never physically saw it, but because the safe is where her deepest thoughts were held, she saw it in her inner mind, endlessly spinning. Just like as was explained with Fisher’s inception, the idea is planted deep in the subconscious and grows from there. Eventually the idea grew so she had enough doubt that she believed she was still dreaming, and this is how they managed to leave by getting hit by the train.
On the subject of why Fischer didn’t remember the team from the dreams, he simply wasn't trained to remember the dreams themselves, whereas the team had training and experience and knew what was going to be happening beforehand. They were fully aware the whole time that they were going to be dreaming, whereas Fischer only became aware he was in a dream when he was in the hotel. Cobb said at one point that it takes a lot of training to be able to remember the dreams, and likewise to know that a dream isn't reality; they had a heightened awareness of dreaming that Fischer didn't have. To be able to know you're not in reality, you first need to know you're actually dreaming in the first place, and when Fischer was in the city, he didn't know this. This also explains another thing that crossed my mind, which is why couldn't the targets of extractions/inceptions not just remember everything from the dreams; answer: they're not trained to remember, and weren't aware they were dreaming to begin with. When he was in the city, Fischer believed it to be real - after all, dreams feel real while we're in them; it's only when we wake up that we realise something was actually strange. He wouldn't have thought that catching a taxi whilst using his briefcase to shelter from the rain even though he was a high-flying energy tycoon was weird, as it's a dream; it'd only feel weird when he woke up and remembered it (if he was able to), and at this point he didn't know he was dreaming; he didn't know that this wasn't reality. When he was in the hotel, he'd have thought that was reality too; when he was then told he was dreaming, he still believed the city to be reality, and that the hotel was the first level of the dream, not the second. When he was trying to remember the numbers and when he questioned Browning's motives in the hotel room, he was recalling things from the city but still didn't realise the city was a dream. He knew the third dream (what he thought was the second dream) was a dream as Cobb had told him the hotel was a dream and he was knowingly rigged up to the dream machine, and he knew that they were going to go into Browning (really Fischer himself) to find out his motives for the kidnapping, but he still thought that the hotel was the first dream level, and that the city was real. When he woke up in the city after the inception had taken place, he still believed the city to be reality. He talked to Browning (Eames) about his plans to break up the company, as he believed it is what his father wanted, showing the inception worked. At the end of it, when he woke up on the plane, he wouldn't be able to remember the dreams (maybe bits and pieces from the first dream but nothing clearly) as he wasn't trained and didn't know he was going to be dreaming beforehand. Instead, he'd have the idea in his mind that his father loved him and that he wanted him to be his own man, and not be like him, but he wouldn't remember where that idea came from - true inspiration. It seems that although Fischer’s subconscious had been trained to fight off extractors, he didn't have any experience in knowing when he was dreaming or much experience in dream sharing. He didn't seem too clued up when he was told he was in a dream, it's not like he seemed to know much about the whole concept (apart from knowing killing himself would wake him up), Cobb had to remind him of his training quite a lot. Although Ariadne hadn't been trained per se, she'd designed the levels so would be able to easily remember them, and knew they were going to be dreaming beforehand. Saito however clearly had some sort of training or experience, as he was aware of what happened in the extraction mission at the start, and remembered the inception mission dreams. Why didn't Fischer remember or recognise Saito though?? After all, they're both powerful men in the same industry. Well, there's various way to explain it. In the city he was dreaming, so he simply may not have thought it weird that his main competitor pulled a gun on him. I'm sure you've had dreams where you've been around someone famous or someone you wouldn't expect to see, or something very weird is happening, but in your dream you thought it was perfectly normal and didn't think anything of it; you'd only realise it was odd when you woke up. Then in the deeper levels, he believed the team to be his subconscious security, that they were on his side, and that would include Saito. The two of them even went off together in the mountains, and even though Fischer knew he was dreaming at this stage, he could have thought he was just projecting one of his security guys to look like Saito. I don't believe Fischer saw Saito on the plane, he was distracted by Eames stealing his passport when he boarded and then went straight to his seat. In the airport afterwards, he may have seen the team there, and even if he did have any recollection of the dream, it wouldn't be enough for him to realise it was them. He had a hard enough time remembering being kidnapped in the hotel, he'd have an even harder time remembering faces from dreams that deep; even in normal dreams you can very rarely remember someone's face.
Obviously the biggest talking point in the film is the ending. Was Cobb still dreaming when he saw his kids?? This isn’t to say the entire film was a dream, more that he may have been bought into another dream after leaving the plane, or he was in his own dream. I think it was real, the top was clearly starting to topple, it wouldn’t have been able to keep spinning forever like that. People have said that his kids hadn’t aged compared to his projections, but we never saw their faces until the end so it would be hard to tell, not to mention the fact we don't know how long ago Mal died and Cobb had to leave. People have said they were wearing the same clothes; after my third watch I can say they were wearing slightly different clothes, his daughter had a different dress and white shoes on, not black ones. I'll admit the scene was very similar to when Cobb and Ariadne visited Cobb's memory bank, and Cobb said how he wished he could change that moment and see his children's faces again; could this be Cobb changing this memory?? Or, could he have said he wished he could change the memory knowing he couldn't change it, meaning the ending was reality after all?? I dunno, I just don't think he was still dreaming. Cobb took a leap of faith and was rewarded by being reunited with his children; I think that's a nice ending. Nothing wrong with a nice ending.
There’s been speculation that the whole thing was a dream, a dream to perform a very elaborate inception on Cobb, maybe to help him get over Mal, or that he was just still dreaming from a previous dream, but I think that’s a bad idea. I’m sure you were told in school not to write stories that ended with “and he woke up and it was all a dream”. It would piss a lot of people off. Having the ending with Cobb seeing his kids as a dream is one thing, but not the entire thing. Besides, what motive would there be for helping Cobb get over Mal?? The motive for performing inception on Fischer was obvious, so he would disband his company clearing the way for Saito, but nobody would have anything to gain from making Cobb get over Mal, or for performing any other inception on him. Plus this would mean that they actually went 4 levels deep (dream we thought was reality, city, hotel, fortress), and it was established that going three levels deep was unstable enough. He also span his totem at various times when it toppled; if it was always dream it would spin endlessly. Saying that though, how much can we trust Cobb's totem?? He said himself nobody can know about your totem, yet everybody knew that his span endlessly; it would be easy for that to be replicated in a dream. Plus Cobb acquired the totem from Mal, so she would know how it worked too. There were various clues that it was all a dream; Saito interrupting Cobb checking his totem after waking up from the heavy sedation test, seeing Mal in the window (although I think this was just a hallucination as the same clip was played a bit earlier on and it didn't fit the room he was in at all), Miles saying 'Come back to reality', the old guy in Yusuf's basement saying 'the dream has become their reality'... but I don't think the whole thing was a dream. Even if he never actually woke up after being sedated in Yusuf's basement (which would possibly explain seeing Mal in the window (if it wasn't a hallucination) and Saito interrupting him), it's still a very long shot; this would be the only time he could have gone into another dream and stayed there, as anything before that was clearly real. It would also be a very big part of the plot based on a few rather small clues. I’m not convinced.
Should there be a sequel?? I don’t know. Part of the appeal of films like this, for me at least, is getting to know how everything works and being introduced to things gradually. If there was a sequel it’d just jump straight into another inception job, and would just be more of the same. Not that that wouldn’t be good but you can’t make a sequel that does the same as the original just with different people. Of course, if it turns out Cobb was dreaming at the end, a sequel could see him getting revenge on whoever was responsible and getting back to his kids for real, but I don’t think that’s likely. I think it’s fine as it is. Would I go and see a sequel if it were released though?? Absolutely.
I could probably go over this film and evaluate what happened forever. This is what makes it such a great film, it makes you think and inspires debate. Most films are clear cut and after a few days you’ve forgotten about them, but not this one. I’ll enjoy watching this every time I see it, no matter how many times I see it.
Moral of the film: never regret.
Je ne regrette rien.
Don't you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone.
Downwards is the only way forward.
Dreams feel real while we're in them; it's only when we wake up that we realise something was actually strange.
I think positive emotion trumps negative emotion every time.
I will lead them on a merry chase.
If we are gonna perform inception then we need imagination.
The seed that we plant in this man's mind may change everything.
You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.
You're waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can't be sure. But it doesn't matter - because we'll be together.