Inception Ending Explained

Published 4 years ago by , Updated June 2nd, 2012 at 7:16 pm,

inception explanation spoilers Inception Ending Explained

While we have an Inception review where you can leave comments, we’ve set up this page as a place where you can discuss the Inception ending and other spoilers without worrying about ruining the movie for folks who haven’t seen it yet.

To help steer discussion we’ve added a lengthy analysis of Inception (especially the ending) and explained why our analysis of the film fits with the story Christopher Nolan intended to tell.

Does our Inception explanation match your theory? Find out!

Many people walked away from Inception impressed. Some were confused, some were even feeling like they had their brains woken by the most exciting and thought-provoking movie experience to come along all year.

I realize that most people who saw Inception have already made up their minds about what they perceived the film to be (and Nolan will undoubtedly be proud of that). However, for those of you still looking for an Inception explanation, we like to offer a few thoughts.

We’ve organized things by category for you, in case you’re more interested in one facet of the film than another. If you want to read about specific points you can follow the links below:

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The Rules

Inception production still 4 Inception Ending Explained

So, the first thing to talk about are the rules of the dream world Nolan created for the film. With all the action that happened onscreen, it was easy to forget some of the finer details – but once the lights came up, and people had time to think, I know the question of who was dreaming which dreams certainly came up (among others questions as well).

Remember the basic premise: Cobb (the extractor) and his team are con artists, and like any con artists their job is to construct a false reality and manipulate it in order to confuse and/or fool a mark (in this case industrialist Robert Fischer, played by Cillian Murphy). Nolan takes the classic concept of a con man a step further by making Cobb and his team dream thieves, but in the end, the basic concept is still your classic con/heist movie.

Dream Levels and Dream Time

Nolan throws a lot of fancy math at you but it’s all really inconsequential. All you need to really know are the basic concepts:

The dream within a dream process puts you into a deeper state of dreaming. The deeper you go, the further removed your mind is from reality. We all know what that’s like: the deeper you sleep, the harder it is to be woken up and the more vivid and real-feeling a dream becomes. If you’re in a deep enough sleep, not even the usual physical ques to wake up effect you, such as the sensation of falling (“the kick”) or even, say, having to go to the bathroom.

Inception production still 3 Inception Ending Explained

By the time you reach the Limbo state it can be so difficult to wake, and the dream can feel so vividly real, that the mind stops trying to wake at all – the mind accepts the dream as its reality, like slipping into a coma.

When you wake up in Limbo you don’t remember that there is such a thing as a “real world” – as in any dream, you wake up in the middle of  a scene and simply accept it for what it is. Breaking yourself out of this cycle is extremely difficult, which is why Cobb and his wife Mal were trapped in Limbo for what seemed like decades.

Time is the other factor. The deeper you go into a dream state, the faster your mind is able to imagine and perceive things within that dream state. We’re told the increase is exponential, so going deeper into dreams turns minutes into hours, into days, into years. This is why Cobb and his team are able to pull off the Fischer job while the van is still falling through the air, before the soldiers break into the snow fortress, before Arthur rigs the elevator, and all within the span of a flight from Sydney Australia to LA.

Inception DiCaprio Murphy on plane Inception Ending Explained

In Limbo, the mind works so fast that actual minutes can be interpreted as years gone by. When Saito “dies” from the gunshot wound he received on level 1 of the dream, his mind falls into Limbo, and Saito remains there for the minutes it takes Cobb and Ariadne (Ellen Page) to follow him into Limbo – those minutes in one dream state feel like decades to Saito in his Limbo state.  By the time Cobb deals with expelling Mal’s “shadow” from his subconscious, Saito has begun to perceive himself as an old man.

Mal’s shadow stabs Cobb during the film’s climax, which throws Cobb back out into Limbo and onto the shores of Saito’s limbo house. When Cobb has to “wake” again in Limbo, his mind is muddled just like old man Saito’s brain. Through Saito’s memory of Cobb’s totem and some shared dialogue that included key trigger phrases – “Leap of faith,” “Old man full of regret, waiting to die alone,” etc. – Cobb and Saito are able to remember the meaningful conversations they had and that there is a reality they existed in before Limbo, where both of them had deep desires still waiting to be fulfilled (Cobb and his kids, Saito and his business). Once they remember that limbo is limbo,  they are able to wake themselves up (likely with a gunshot to the head).

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  1. Great write up! you nailed it with the last sentence!

    • I agree Larry, I think “that reality is a relative concept” is the true message of this film (assuming that is the line you are referring to, of course). And what is truly important in a somewhat unreliable existence is our emotional connections.

      I believe (I know, I know, no one cares!) every single thing in existence should be defined in terms of relativity in order to better understand… anything.

      I also believe the majority of debate on this film stems from each persons perspective relative to it, and that if we venture outside the confines of our own relative view of things than we are one step closer to understanding the many layers of existence, both tangible and not.

      note – By tangible I mean things that are open to third party perspective i.e. the physical world.
      By intangible I mean things that can be ‘experienced’ only by the ‘experience-er’ (at least until potential technologies permit otherwise) i.e. Dreams, hallucinations, thoughts, emotions, sensations.

      They don’t call it screenRANT for nothing.

      (*props on that name BTW Vic, it’s a good name)

  2. Ok, I’m not going to read all the comments but I have made one observation that hasn’t been pointed out yet. When the team is gathering near the 1/3 mark of the movie, they go to a sleep clinic where they find their chemist. Cobb goes to sleep to try out the sedative but is interrupted when using his totem when he goes to the bathroom when he wakes up. Without verifying that this is a reality we could assume that everything proceeding that event could be in the dream state. If that is the case Cobb is already dreaming when they start to pull the job on the plane. Thus the ending would still be Cobb’s dream.

    • You’re trolling. How do we know it isn’t the same guy every week making this comment and saying he hasn’t read all the comments but KNOWS that this has never been mentioned when in fact it gets mentioned every week and dismissed because Nolan has specifically stated the “deliberate” “ambiguity” and the end “only works if the base line reality of the movie is similar to the dream”. He’s talking about the whole movie. Either the whole movie is a dream or it isn’t. That’s the choice Nolan is asking the viewer to make.

      • lol right on

    • Dave…If you state that you have not read (and will not do so) all of the previous posts, you canNOT claim to have observed something new and revolutionary. That’s just silly.

    • YES DAVE! My thoughts exactly! He never kept looking at the totem because he finally got to see his kids faces, which was what he was longing for since the beginning of the movie. The regret of not seeing their faces and just taking off was with him all throughout the movie. I must say I have never thought so much while watching a movie and I have to admit it took 2 viewings to get to the same deduction as you!

    • Ok these are my two cents: indeed if you watch closely, after this scene where cob is interrupted using his totem, he never uses the totem anymore (until the end where we don’t know/get to know if it will stop spinning or not) – unlike he does at several occasions before this scene – and confirm each time he is not into a dream. Also, the reason he uses his totem at this very moment is after he wakes up from the dream in the sleep clinic, he seems to be under shock after his dreams and goes to the bathroom to put water on his face. There he can see mol again in the mirror what strongly suggests he is still sleeping – since he never had such “hallucination” in the real world – and the he decides to test reality with his totem, but is interrupted before he/we can see the result… He never uses the totem anymore until the very end of the movie…

      In the real world, cob never got out of that sleeping clinic and leaves in a perpetual dream just like the other people here – the old man even confess all the people here are leaving a constant dream days after days – dream has become their reality! Same goes for cob from that moment.

  3. i cant believe this post is still going for 100 pages!!!

  4. Inception has truly been the best movie I have ever seen. I JUST LOVE IT. This is a very helpful article. I just finished the movie for the 3rd time but wanted to read this to maybe clear some things up. 5 stars from me.

  5. One small thing I may have missed… As Fischer was shot in the snow level, why did the projections carry on fighting the team. Whose projections were they

    • Being shot does not have to do anything with the projections. When Saito “died” in layer 2 of the extraction mission the beginning, Cobb still had projections chasing him.

  6. I loved this movie it was well done and kept the fine line between action and actually making you think. I argued with alot of my friends about whether the totem falls at the end. However I realized that there are so many possibilities to this movie and that is the great part. I wished they would make another movie but for them to top this one it would probably have to involve technology that might not be here yet. Anyway one idea also is that Cobb is not the con but actually the mark. If there are people who want to know how to build the dream state then maybe they put together the team in order to invade Cobb’s mind and the movie could have been started in a dream. Cobb goes through the whole process of how to build it, how to get out, the relevance of the totems and other things. This is all information that was pulled out during the dream, the main aim of the con.

    • i watch my fair share of movies, what I watched was a movie based on the idea that we somehow learned to tap into our subconscious. Inception had the potential to become an instant classic because of its “original” story, but it’s downfall and only reason it falls embarrassingly short of being a mind blowing film is it doesn’t even attempt to explain how we tap into our subconscious. Almost everyone knows when our mind is active on the subconscious plain, it is at its peak of its capabilities. If it was even remotely possible to even enter our subconscious on our own accord we would never, I mean NEVER be able to control what happens once inside. If they had cast mostly no names, like momento, the plot would’ve been easier to follow and the timeline would’ve made a hell of a lot more sense. I give it a 7 out of a 10 but it could’ve been a 10 easily.

      • “Almost everyone knows when our mind is active on the subconscious plain, it is at its peak of its capabilities. If it was even remotely possible to even enter our subconscious on our own accord we would never, I mean NEVER be able to control what happens once inside.”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucid_dream

        “A lucid dream is any dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming. The term was coined by the Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik (Willem) van Eeden (1860–1932).[1] In a lucid dream, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over their participation within the dream or be able to manipulate their imaginary experiences in the dream environment.[2]”

        Do you have anymore “insight” to provide?

  7. So if somebody dies in their dream, surely their projections should stop too, unless they are in somebody else’s dream. Which would lend more evidence to the fact that the film is shot in a layer/layers of cobbs dream?

    • Why would projections stop too? The mind that is connected to the machine, is STILL DREAMING in reality.

      • ty,

        What Adam is aksing/stating is if you and I are in your dream and I project a mailbox would that mailbox remain if I leave/die/etc in the dream.

        Its my projection, not yours.

        Now Adam ty might be saying if he ‘sees’ the same projection he accepts it in the world/dream that was created even if it was created by someone else. So the mailbox would remain if I leave however ty now has control over it and it may have unicorns flow from it where as I was going to have turtles.

        • What I saw in the film, was that when Saito died in the extraction mission as the Japanese castle was collapsing, his projections were still chasing Cobb. Should be a solid answer.

          • Yes but I believe they were no longer his (Saitos) projections so to speak. Cobb continued the manifestation.

            He is in a dream he sees people chasing him he believes people are chasing him so when the projectionist (Saito) leaves Cobb assumes the repsonsibilities of those projections.

            So those people are still chasing him. If he (Cobb) assumes the projections are trying to kill him that is what he believes will happen if caught. So he continues the dream.

            • Cobb assuming “responsebility” or whatever that means, might be, and most definitely if its all just a dream. Much is left for us to ponder upon. Like Saito waking up alone on the train. What happened to his dream when they unhooked him from the PASIV device? And what happened to Cobb and Saito’s dream in Limbo when they were unhooked from the device at the plane in the moments before waking up?

              • Now I remember why I stopped addressing you.

                • Please enlighten me, because from what I gather..all you do is stick to ONE version, while I lean towards accepting any valid interpretation. In the case of everything being nothing but a dream on a plane…it falls too short in the end with no actual gravity. Ignoring the story and making up your own is not what Nolan had in mind.

                  • Its not that its your attitude towards anyone else.

                    That is all.

                    Your opinion is your opinion. The way you articulate yourself is why I stopped addressing you.

                    • In the post prior to your epiphany, I see absolutely no attack or attitude what so ever. I asked a few questions actually, which you decide to not even ponder about. You are extremely anal when it comes to analyzing Inception..geez. Have a nice life though.

                    • “Cobb assuming “responsebility” or whatever that means”

                      You knew what it meant. Thats ok. You have a super day as I take my leave.

                    • Exactly…I still don’t even know what that means. You are clearly evading the rules that are set within Dreamshare and just using your own dream knowledge. Simply does not compute.

                    • @ty…

                      If you read slowly what I wrote you will understand the assumption of responsibility Cobb would accept after seeing someone elses projections.

                      As stated below being unhooked from the PASIV device does nothing to the dream until the person wakes up or exits from a deeper state.

                      Since it is to ponder anytihng I make up is valid and does compute as we have no idea of the true state. Hence the reason I put I BELIEVE.

                      So as I reiterate. If 2 people are in a dream and one projects something allowing the other person to see/expierence it the 2nd person can more or less accept ownership of the projection if the first person leaves the dream.

                      Since you cant find anything to invalidate that its a good enough explaination.

                      And since I beleive the whole movie is a dream which is within the bounds of Nolans vision who are you to tell me otherwise?

                      Since Nolan wrote the particular phrase about “we dont know how we show up where we are in a dream” I believe Cobbs dream ‘started’ as the movie started.

                    • Fair enough sir. I won’t bother to discuss it more with you then, since you only stick to one interpretation.

            • aknot and tykjen really need to get out once in a while, this is just sad…

              • Can you imagine if they actually stood up, looked out of the window and saw a whole life out there? Worlds would collapse, time would loop back on itself and…hell…girls might just be interested.

                • You cant even begin to imagine all the discussions I have had with girls after inception, they love to hear about Jung and escapism ideas that disconnects from this sad reality which is crammed with too many people like yourselves. But thuper seriously, inception made me think a lot about the life I have lived, and it has made me looking forward to the next half.

                  • So because two people choose to have an in depth debate on a forum designed for such, they have no life? Cool,let’s all just discuss Cobb’s hair and the possibility that it was all a dream as he drifted awayfrom Kate Winslett’s hand to the bottom of the ocean. That would be a far more constructive use of time /snark

  8. So, the dreamer that is connected to the machine is dreaming about what?

    • Whatever scenario that is planned out by the Extractors/Inceptors.

  9. Not unless everything is filmed as cobbs dream. All projections would be his so they would carry on even if the ‘mark’ dies in his dream.

    • Well, Ariadne did say to Cobb: “The deeper we are going into Fischer, the deeper we are going into you”. She knew how Cobb’s old soul had been affected in Limbo, since he struggled to suppress his projections; the freight train and Mal. If you are saying that Inception is nothing but “just a dream” where there is no dream device and whatever..then OK…but that makes all movies “just a dream” then. A movie is exactly like a dream; It never happened.

  10. Correct! Which films are real? Most films are made for escapism. I’m not saying anybody’s theory is wrong or right as it is up to the viewer to decide. Personally, I think it’s all a dream and that everyone you see in the film are projections. Inception itself is a dream, and we are viewing cobbs surreal imagination, as are most peoples dreams.

  11. I have read you peoples ridiculous theories. It’s so stupid. some of you are saying Mal is still alive, Cobb was the one being Incepted, Cobb was dreaming and everyone is a projection. All these stupid things. OMFG the ending was real. Cobb is back with his real family, and there is plenty of evidence in the movie that proves this, but all of you totally dismiss all of it and end up writing your own story for this movie.

    • Cool story bro! But how could Cobb and Saito continue to share the dream in Limbo if they were unhooked from the PASIV device on the plane prior to waking up?

      • Who said they were unhooked already? Just cause you don’t see it on screen it doesn’t mean they were already unhooked. Like the scene were they were in the van and fell in water, you don’t see anyone still hooked or ripping tubes out of them. or even the scene were Saito wakes up on the train, and nobody else was there accept that kid. And it was the who obviously unhooked Saito before he woke up.

        • Cobb unhooked Saito when he woke up on the train. Saito stayed in the dream for several minutes I’d say. Fischer woke up with no wires in him on the plane, and he woke up before Cobb and Saito as well.

      • I cant help it im addicted…

        Where does it state the PASIV device does anything other then regulate the administration of Somnacin?

        If you are unhooked from it as long as you remain in a deep enough sleep what does it matter if you are unhooked or not?

        • Aknot. You are right about that. As for Adam over there. Your saying “narrow minded” but that fact is people are looking into this way to much and it has become ridiculous. And the whole point of watching a movie is not for drawing your “own conclusion”. If that was thew case, then every movies ending would be questioned. For Inception yes, it was made to make you think. Thats what Nolan did for his own kicks. But that doesn’t mean there is not an actual REAL ending. O and if your the one who is 100% right…Then why are you commenting on this site? or replying to me? .lol

          • One could make the assumption that ty makes about the level being built…

            However since we do not know how we get to where we are in a dream her levels can be made before, during or after she is hooked to the PASIV device.

            As I have stated before Cobb tells us we never know how we got to where we are in a dream….. So someone can be sleeping/dreaming for 10 hours before Ari is even part of the equation. She pops in ‘creating’ the level for the sleeper and they have no idea how that dream started or where they were before. They just pick it up and run with it as it was normal.

            She may ‘build’ it prior to going in (as a physical thing) to memorize it and get a better grasp on it. Once that is done she can pop into the dreamstate at anytime. The dreamer could be dreaming they are in a field of clover until Ari shows up and the dreamer is all of a sudden driving in a NASCAR race. The dreamer knows no better and accepts being a NASCAR racer.

            When you start to think about it this is how flawed the movie is. There is no way to designate the arch (and other roles) unless everyone accepts that. Or maybe they are that powerful with the understanding of the dreamworld.

            That is another reason I believe Cobb is dreaming the whole thing.

            • The PASIV device clearly does more than just administer the somnacin..cmon. It is connected to Dreamshare which was at first invented purely for military purposes. Ariadne asked how architects became involved and she quickly understood that architects have a much better way to imagine creation than a “normal” person. IE, she connects to the PASIV and starts creating after what she has planned in the workshop. And in the workshop and other scenes she is designing the cityscape out of cardboard and showing them to the dreamers! If that is not pre-planning I don’t know what is. that is the only physical thing yes. the rest is in her mind.

              • See I took your previous advice (i believe it was yours) and read up on the PASIV device using the non movie venue.

                You know the viral stuff.

                No where does it state or even hint at that the PASIV device does anything but administer Somnacin.

                As a matter of fact PASIV stands for Portable Automated Somnacin IntraVenous. There is no mention that it is a dreamstate machine. All it does is keep people in a deep sleep for a predetermined amount of time.

                So now who is making up stuff they think Nolan meant? If you can do it why cant others?

                You speak as if Dreamshare is a physical place. It is a manifestation. You will state but what about Limbo…. well guess what everytime we saw Limbo we saw one common character…. Cobb… No one else was seen in Limbo without Cobb.

                As for flaws one mans garbage is another mans treasure. Especially when stuff is given substance but then is recanted. Case in point the use/reason for a totem.

                The PASIV device. It appears it may be something more but since all hookups are done without explaination (for example if the first time they were using it someone said no the Arc needs to plug into 2) are we just supposed to make up things? I say its just a dreamy thing you see something different…

                So yes flawed. Unless of course you take the whole movie and place it as a dream. Then it makes sense and the flaws can be easily explained as Cobb wanting/needing it to work that way as he has to unconditionally convince himself (Incept) it is real.

                Real Genius is what was done in Miracle on 34th Street. You had solid evidence to back up two different beliefs. Yet no clear cut answer. Was he the real Santa Claus or was he just some rich ecentric old man that liked to help people?

                Because of the flaws (evident by these discussions) there are to many issues with either or. There was not enough ‘meat’ (IMO) to firmly substansiate it being real world and he was happy with his kids in a real physical world as we can relate to. So the only conclusion is dream.

                Unless of course people want to make up stuff they THINK Nolan meant.

                • Why are you ignoring Dreamshare? Its because of that they are able to do what they do in the film..and it is clearly connected to the PASIV device. This much is gathered by the film and the virals. How about the viral interview Nolan did of “Dream scientists?” You are digging your own grave discussion wise like never before..
                  Dreamshare is a technology in the film, invented by the military for training purposes.

                  COBB
                  They say we only use a fraction of our brain’s true potential. Now, that’s when we’re awake. When we’re asleep, our mind can build almost anything.

                  ARIADNE
                  Such as?

                  COBB
                  Well, imagine you’re designing a building, all right? You consciously create each aspect, but sometimes it feels like it’s almost creating itself, if you know what I mean.

                  ARIADNE
                  Yeah. Like I’m discovering it.

                  COBB
                  Genuine inspiration, right? Now in a dream, our mind continually does this. We creat and percieve our world simultaneoulsy and our mind does this so well that we don’t even know it’s happening. That allows us to get right in the middle of that process.

                  ARIADNE
                  How?

                  COBB
                  By taking over the creative part. Now this is where I need you. You create the world of the dream. We bring the subject into that dream and they fill it with their subconscious.

                  • Dreamshare is but a made up thing in someones head though….

                    You even made it more apparent by those quotes.

                    Dreamshare is a made up space inside the head of someone. It is not a physical plane of existence.

                    My dreamspace is not your dreamspace.

                    We (or someone else) had this discussion before. If I am dreaming in Canada and you are dreaming in the south of France could we end up in the same dreamspace? The same Limbo?

                    So the assumption is it is the PASIV device that brings us together…. notice I say assumption. No where is it apparent except when we have to make it up so it fits (this is a flaw).

                    So lets assume it IS the PASIV device. What if there are two PASIV devices. If all the people on both machines go to Limbo will they see each other? No. So Limbo is not a physical place it is something that is made up by someone.

                    This someone is Cobb in the movie Inception.

                    Im not ignoring Dreamshare. Im making it make sense in the context of the movie.

                    Where in the viral campaign does it state the PASIV device is needed to connect the dreamers so they may share the dreaming expierence?

                    There is no indication in the PASIV device manual or tech sheet. Again if it displayed one IV for the Arc, one for the dreamer, one for the forger, etc I can say yes. However since everyone was just given ‘titles’ and plugged into the machine willy nilly how can you say who is doing what and why could not say Cobb (a great Arc) could modify the appointed (Ari) archs level?

                    If they showed the PASIV device being used like a cockpit (Pilot here, Co-pilot there, etc) we can then ASSUME with clarity the PASIV device is more then an IV.

                    • I agree that my dreamspace is not yours. But in Dreamshare..you gotta understand the gravity of “share”.
                      12 people were connected in Yusef’s basement, sharing the dream.

                      When dreamshare was used in the military, I must asume the “server” is someones mind yes, and not something physical like a computer. How it all works is a well guarded secret in the film, but it truly exists within the film.

                    • @ty,

                      I dont think they were. I think they were in their own little dreamplace. Think of it like an opium den. They are all living their little fantsies sitting on the same large throw pillows yet each fantasy is different. The IVs are just hooked into a larger machine controling how much Som they paid for to stay under.

                      Yes I concur to a degree. However you would still need to clearly designate who is doing what and have checks and balances in place.

                      As I was saying above if you are the Arc what if I become cogzinant of the dream and am a better arc? Can I change your level?

                      Dreamshare is the sharing of the dream. Each person has a roll. How do you designate that roll? How do you make sure one role doesnt over rule another role?

                      We can assume just by the persons expierence they have a stronger ‘muscle’ so to speak and can make sure they stay in the dominant position.

                      Im still not 100% sold on the PASIV device being explained as you state it is. As I said Ive discussed this before with someone else and there was nothing clear about it.

                      It is an assumption we have to make.

                      But see Limbo was explained as the ‘end’ everyone goes there when they reach a certain point in the dreamstate correct? So how could I end up in the same place as you if we are dreaming seperatly across a great distance?

                      I see that as a flaw also… unless of course it is as I stated all made up in Cobbs head. Hence Mals stuff was still there. It is his limbo. Not a shared space. Which (IMO) points directly to him dreaming the whole movie. He was trying to convince everyone (in the movie and in the theater) of all of this when it was himself he was trying to convince.

                    • For me (note, I said for me to not get inbetween this war lol), the PASIV would have to be a part of the dreams process. If all it did was put them to sleep, that’s a whole lot of cognitive exposition missing as to how people are able to share dreams. Yes that backs the ‘it’s all a dream’ theory, but gives little credence to the ‘he got back to reality’ theory, and as has been quoted on here several times, Nolan would consider himself a failure as a writer if he weighted the story one way or another. It’s written to give each side an equal balance, and therein is Inception’s brilliance, and that’s why we have 100 pages.
                      So for example, if PASIV wasn’t involved, what’s to stop other people sleeping on the train in ACT I entering into layer 1? What cognitive processes allow you to enter the dreamspace? I appreciate it’s a sci-fi film, but aside from people the people believe that Cobb dreamt the whole thing on a plane and had never had any contact with the others, telepathy is quite a stretch. I think what Tyk is trying to say (correct me if I’m wrong though!) is while Aknot’s theory is sound, it supports only your own, whereas it contradicts the ending of a reality which really would downplay Nolan as a writer.
                      What I find interesting is Nolan has intentionally left out so much. How Saito is so powerful. How the technology works. How people do their roles. This is a writer’s technique. Any writer knows this, as if you can’t make something truly believable where it simply MUST be… then simply don’t. A clever writer can write around it. It’s not a flaw in the film, it’s a workaround. If he delves too deep then that’s when people can pick flaws in the science, but if we don’t know then all we have are our theories to discuss and what they mean to us. To make to contrasting views completely possible, ambiguity is a must. Just my two cents. Well… pennys. I’m from England :p

                    • @Dark

                      Well the end of Inception is not if he is dreaming or not.

                      I think Ty and I agree that it was he was back with his kids.

                      Now if he was dreaming he was back with his kids or he was really in ‘real life’ back with his kids is irrealivant as far as Nolan is concerned.

                      I agree it SHOULD be part of the process (the PASIV device) however it is not made apparent. I beleive (and I havent watched it in a bit) Mal and Cobb did not use a machine when they expieremented. So that right there makes the PASIV device a bust in being needed as a sharing facilitator.

                      Compound that on top of all the other dreamshare events that were eluded to (Eames, Fischer and Saito training) one would have to expect that the PASIV device is not such a ‘secret’.

                      My interpetation of the PASIV device was it was needed to go deeper. To regulate the sleep state. Not the actual dreamshare itself.

                    • You can see the PASIV suitcase next to Mal and Cobb as they wake up from Limbo.

                    • Think this’ll turn up in the wrong place, my browser is screwed when it comes to the reply button.
                      I wasn’t debating the meaning of the film as we’ve all gone over ad infinitum,Every long standing member of this thread knows the meaning of it. Hell, it’s written in the article! I directly addressed the issue of reality vs dream as that was what was in direct conflict with what you were saying. If you’re saying that for your theory to work, Cobb would HAVE to be dreaming, this would mean that Nolan has failed in his (oft quoted) intention of balancing the script for both endings to have an evenly balanced ending, or you are saying that the script is flawed? That’s a genuine question btw, not an attack. Feel I have to clarify as I came across wrong in the past lol
                      Thanks Tyk, was going to point that out!

                    • @Ty,

                      You are correct sir. I had to go back and check. The PASIV device was there when they woke on the floor.

                      I had originally thought that the PASIV device was as you and others think however for them to go as many layers down to get to limbo they would need a strong sedative that could be administered at an interval to keep them properly sedated. Exactly what the PASIV device was made for.

                      I mean if we are under the impression there are a total of 5/6 layers in the dreamshare/state before you get to limbo they would have to have had dreamed inside each of their dreams every other.

                      This again is a puzzle im trying to work out.

                    • Ya Aknot. Dunno if you caught this as well; pay attention to before Cobb and Araidne goes to Limbo. Eames simply projects up a PASIV suitcase from nothing and hands it to Cobb.

                      And about the heavy sedative. Cobb was adamant that Yusef HAD to come along in the mission, or else the recipe for the sedative would be unknown in the dreamworld. As long as Yusef tagged along, the proper sedatives would be “projected”, I might say.

                      When Cobb and Mal woke up, there is only ONE suitcase. And that goes for the rest of the film. Never are 2 used at the same time. All the ones in Yusef’s basement was sharing the dream, connected to the same device. The device lets people share the dream. And with an added powerful sedative, you might never wake up from that dream.

                    • @ty

                      I was more talking towards Mal and Cobb and their use of the PASIV device.

                      I realize the machine in the dream(s) is a made up thing to facilitate the belief of it happening, (for the dreamers) and there is suppsoedly a device like that in real life.

                      Funny thing (just now) reading over the script looking for the scene in the opium den….

                      Yusuf speaking about the drug he has made…. “Binds the dreamers tight. Let’s them dream as one.”

                      So it seems like it is the drug that allows the dreamshare? As he goes on to say…
                      YUSUF
                      Not possible. That many dreams within dreams would be too unstable.
                      COBB
                      I’ve done it before. You just have to add a sedative.
                      YUSUF
                      A powerful sedative.

                      Which it seems they are referring to Somnacin (or a stronger version) as the compound that allows dreamsharing. Somnacin is not the sedative, Somnacin is the catalyst to allow dreamsharing?

                      Ive checked the wiki (I know but it is a source) and they seem to agree.

                      So Somnacin mixed with a sedative administered by the PASIV device. Without Somnacin (or generic) you can not get to the dreamshare.

                    • Are you seriously forgetting the reason they needed the POWERFUL sedative?

                      COBB
                      Great depth.
                      Yusef
                      2 levels?
                      COBB
                      3.
                      Yusef
                      impossible. That many dreams within dreams becomes too unstable.
                      COBB
                      You just need a sedative.
                      Yusef
                      A POWERFUL SEDATIVE..

                      etc etc
                      etc etc

                    • “Are you seriously forgetting the reason they needed the POWERFUL sedative?”

                      What? I never said anything to make you believe that I forgot what they needed a powerful sedative for…

                      All I am saying is the PASIV device is NOT the thing that facilitates dreamshare.

                      Somnacin (or Yusufs generic) is. They then add a powerful (or regular depending on the required depth) sedative to the mix.

                    • Have you not seen the dreamshare interview Nolan did for the viral campaign? Somnacin is mentioned there , as a drug that let’s people share the dream.. Intruiging =)
                      The PASIV device is made out of rules as well..the Dreamshare manual refers often to this. Like Water. There are drawings in the manual that shows a man being showed with water in reality, but inside the dream a huge tidalwave is coming towards him. etc

                    • So we agree it is the drug not the PASIV device that facilitates dreamshare?

                      The PASIV device helps regulate the sedative and Somnacin.

                      I have an easier time believing it is the other way around…. ;)

                      A drug that you and I can take that will allow us to share dreams is a little far fetched even in a make believe world….. I mean I guess the drug could augment supressed ‘mind powers’….. :D

                      Also what drug was Cobb and Mal taking to go so deep to hit limbo? To hit limbo he would need to go deep right?

                    • If we agree that the PASIV machine is needed to be able to share the dream, then yes, we agree.

                    • Nope I guess yet again we dont agree…

            • Flawed? Seriously? What you think is making Inception flawed is what I believe is its true genius. There are many valid interpretations possible.

              LUKE
              I don’t..I don’t believe it.

              YODA
              That is why you fail.

        • Ariadne builds the Dreamlayers before going into the dream. That is something else you are opposing right?

        • EDIT. *Ariadne builds the Dreamlayers via the PASIV before entering the mission.*

    • how narrow minded!! The whole point of watching a film is to draw your own conclusions, which people are doing. But to slam them and say everyone’s theory is wrong but you’re right is very sad. Try being objective when watching a film, you might get more joy out of them rather than taking them at face value. If you can say 100% that you believe the whole thing is real, without question, then why comment on this site?

  12. Perhaps the “reality” that Cobb perceives in the end is actually a concoction of his father’s (Michael Cain). Cobb is lost in his “dream” and his father actually sent in Saito to “bring him back” to reality with his children.

  13. WOW. 7,625 Comments?! Amazing…
    I for one think Cobb woke up in reality and went to see his kids in real life (hence the totem starting to get unbalanced just as the credits started rolling) – that’s the ending I WANT to believe,…
    That’s just the way I see it, and I think it’s incredible that a single movie can have so many possible ending… I’m sure Nolan’s plan was to have all these theoretical possibilities so that every person could experience it in their own way – which is an amazing feat.

    Kudos to Chris Nolan for making this. (If he’s surfing the web and comes across this article, I’m sure he’ll be laughing maniacally for weeks on end ;))

    • ha, for sure, nice post man.

    • Hey TA you stalking me? :D

      As for possible endings…. Only 2. He is either back with his kids or he is not……

      This movie could be about the destination not the trip. Cobb wanted to return to his kids and he did. Was he dreaming it or was he not…… its like how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop….. the world may never know ;)

  14. One question, how does saito remember the exact number to dial after supposedly waking up after a few decades from limbo??

    • Maybe it was a reality-check-telephone-number he used?

    • man,

      When sleeping time in real life can come to a crawl. So if he was in limbo for 100 years it may only be 10 mins ‘real time’. (not accurate just thrown up there)

      So all he may have had when waking up was a quick glimpse/remembrance of his dream in limbo. He would not forget a number he knew before he went to sleep 10 hours ago.

  15. I can’t believe people are still talking about this movie but that is testament to how groundbreaking ‘Inception’ is. Normally a film only interests me if it is part of a franchise like Nolan’s Dark Knight movies but Inception is that kind of movie you dream of watching but rarely see in real life: a thinking man’s movie that is actually extremely entertaining.

    Everything in this movie blew me away: from the complex, labyrinth plot to the ominous, haunting music. My best scenes were the cityscapes in limbo- those tall anonymous skyscrapers that Mall and Cobb built. They looked so empty and lonely and yet so strangely beautiful that I finally understood Nolan’s fetish with buildings.

    When I first watched it I thought Cobb was still dreaming at the end. Then I watched it again and noticed the totem wobble which it never does if it is a dream. Then I watched it again and I wasn’t sure. But ultimately it doesn’t matter. What is important is that Cobb is happy.

    • “Then I watched it again and noticed the totem wobble which it never does if it is a dream.”

      How do you know it never wobbles if it is a dream?

  16. So Aknot..the film shows us ONE suitcase used for sharing the dream. They even pull out wires on the plane from the a single suitcase and hook into the PASIV for Somnacin administration and Dreamshare ability. Clearny a connection there so why you choose to ignore it is probably why I wont reply to you anymore.

    How are they supposed to share the dream if they aren’t hooked up to the sci fi device that drives the film?

    • Was flagged as spam yesterday…. lets try again…

      The dream is not shared because of the PASIV device. The dream is shared because of the drug (it is stated as such in the movie and in the viral campaign as you mentioned). The device is just a way to facilitate the delivery of the Somnacin and sedative.

      The only connection is it is better to have the device than a nurse going around making sure everyone is dosed properly for the length of thime they need to be.

      It is a timing device that administers. It is just a high tech IV machine.

      • This is why I aked for elaboration. Wasn’t saying you were wrong, was just needing a more definitive answer (I obsess over the little details lol)
        I’m inclined to agree with this, as it fits both realities and there is no reason to say it isn’t true.

        Somnacin is what (somehow) causes dreamshare. This is a fact. We know this. And the PASIV regulates that. We know this also. so logical step is, it’s a delivery device. When i neended anti coagulants, Heparin was the blood thinner, and a machine was used to administer the drug. I can just imagine that machine just being called PASIV and it’s the same principle.

        I guess as it’s made up science, and there’s so much ambiguity regarding it, there is going to be other possibilities, but with the information we have? Aknot’s seems to be the most prevalent

        • And this is why Ive always stated I have to have a logical explaination. Even if its a scifi one. However it NEEDS to be included or found in the movie itself.

          If a character who is proficient in that topic agrees/states that the drug does it we cant say otherwise.

          Which is why I fall back on Arthur giving the correct explaination of the use and properties of a totem and not Ari.

          I dont use ‘outside’ the movie influences. (or try not to unless someone keeps metioning it) I dont use real world scientific information. I use what Nolan in the movie gave us. The movie and information contained therein should be enough to explain the movie.

          I dont mind made up science especially when its expalined by the movie. The Force? Explained well enough to accept it. Insomnia? Made me believe in a between world. Close Encounters? There are quite a few people that believe the Govt is covering stuff up.

          I just feel Nolan gave us enough in the movie to have it make sense. I dont beleive he leaves ‘stones unturned’ so to speak. He is allowing us to take all the information he presented us with and say this could be real….

          He gave us the end of a movie where a father returned to his kids. Cobb twirled his totem.. so that means Cobb himself had doubt. However at that point he didnt care where he was because HE believed he was with his kids.

          Who are we to tell him otherwise. ;)

          • Yea, the more I read the more I lol. “logical explanation” will never be given since we were never shown much, so using your own has been hilarious in this case. I guess it can be valid too of course, since we never were really shown how it works. Surely Inception is open to interpretation, but ignoring the PASIV is simply astounding and off the wall.

            • You again show your ignorance. Where do I ignore the pasiv device?

              The pasiv device is a device that administers the drugs. That it all it is.

              We were shown exactly how it works in the movie and in the viral campaign you so lobbied for.

              It is a device that administers the drug. Nothing more nothing less. Is it needed? Yes. It is needed so the proper does of Somnacin and sedative can be given to keep the users under.

              Without the PASIV device someone would have to be there constantly checking vitals and the such to make sure the users are given enough Somnacin and sedative to keep them under.

              It is NOT a device that shares dreams.

              So LOL all you want however using the film anyone can see what the PASIV device is and what Somnacin is.

              As for how it works…. its it the name….
              Portable Automated Somnacin IntraVenous (PASIV) device.

              Here since you are so LOLing and may not understands…

              Portable – Meaning it can be moved around easily.
              Automated – Its automatic. Set it and forget it.
              Somnacin – The drug that is used in it.
              IntraVenous – the infusion of liquid substances directly into a vein.

              TADA… nothing in that PASIV device even hints it is needed to dreamshare.

              When you finish LOLing please let me know how you could think (if you do) the device was anything other then that.

              • The Dreamshare manual also shows it has a rule-set, and is not just related to normal dreaming. They are taking over the creating part which fools the subconscious. Water is a big ingredient for waking up from it. Sadly much in the manual is marked over, but plenty can be read in the imagery.

              • Lol wow and you want to talk about ignorance? The PASIVE Device is obviously what makes people share dreams. It is not exactly said, but is pretty much implied. The device has everyone connected to it. If it was not what makes people share dreams, then everyone in the scene were people “go to dream” in the cellar would all be sharing dreams. but there not sharing dreams because they don’t have a PASIVE device thats connects them all together so LOL. They were getting their own personal Somnacin. The fact that you think just getting somnacin to share dreams is just ridiculous. If that were true then they wouldn’t need to be connected to share dreams. LOL!

                • Bojangles when you get done also please take time to watch the movie and read the script.

                  ‘Binds the dreamers tight. Let’s them dream as one. Makes it real.. Guess what Yusuf is talking about? I will give you a hint it is not the PASIV device.

                  ‘The compound we’ll be using to share the dream is an advanced Somnacin derivative. It creates a very clear connection between dreamers, whilst actually accelerating brain function.’

                  Here is another question for extra credit. Just for you Bojangles. Is Yusuf in that quote above talking about:

                  1. Somnacin
                  2. An Advanced Somnacin derivative.
                  3. The PASIV device.

                  • ….So… You are still saying if you and me injected ourselves with somnacin, without using a PASIV device, we could share dreams? O and all the people in the basement were sharing dreams? lol yea you are smart man. REALLY!

  17. A nice presentation behind the marketing of Inception:
    http://www.slideshare.net/SianLynes/marketing-of-inception

  18. So 1 thing i didnt understand :) and its my favourite movie, ive watched it 15times… how does (mm i dont know how to name this) when they all go sleep they are always are in the same dream i mean combine each other mind in the same dream? i never understood that…how excatly do they link with each other and end in the same dream, i get the idea of the architect but how do i enter someone elses dream?

    • People are discussing this on this very page. It is the drug somnacin enables dreamshare: a powerful sedative is added so people do not wake up prematurely. You might ask how that could be. Are people really, in the reality of the movie, telepathic while they are dreaming and somnacin enhances this? Or is it all Cobb’s dream?

  19. The ending is quite simple IMO. They all begin in reality on the plane, once Fischer gets shot in the 3rd dream Cobb and Ariadne are forced to go to the 4th dream in limbo for Fischer. Meanwhile Saito dies off to limbo, Ariadne kicks(drops) Fischer to dream 3 out of limbo to finish off the idea planted in his head with father. While Cobb fights with Mal (Cobb fighting with his own memories to let go of her, shes not real) Ariadne rides the kick all the way back to the Van. There all safe, but Cobb and Saito still in the water, Cobb needs Saito to honor his arrangement to see his kids.

    Now the tricky part Saito is old likely been in limbo for 40 years etc, while Cobb is young suggesting Cobb had made it back to reality, then after a couple days got the team back together to retrieve Saito whos 4 dreams deep which is like 12X12X12x12 etc in time so a couple days in real time is enough for him to become an old man, and built his own dream world. Cobb says hes come back for him and plants the same idea with the dreidel in his head as he did Mal to get her back to reality. So this works and it ends with him seeing his children.. (Maybe)

    The fact that they dont show the dreidel at the end fall doesnt give fact to what I previously wrote was the ending (although is most likely, because Cobb sees and hugs his kids, which he wouldnt ever do before outside of reality) it just means the viewer doesnt get to know whether that’s how it ended or if Cobb has dealt with Mal, and now is stuck in reality constantly fantasizing coming back for Saito and it all working out in the end. Which hes givin up hope that he will ever see his kids again so he says screw the dreidel at the end walks away as its spinning and hugs his kids.. (Note: he cant be stuck in limbo, because he would have drowned in the van and be dead already, plus he knows how to get out)

  20. Somnacin wont work without the PASIV. Dreamshare wont work without the PASIV.

    • And you know this because????? Somnacin is a drug. It is not reliant on the method of delivery to be effective.

      Thats like saying I have to take fluids via an IV. No I can get fluids into my body by drinking them. IVs are just an easier (and quicker) way.

      Dreamshare will work without the PASIV device. It just wont be as stable or reliable because the appliacation of the drug will need human interaction instead of an automated process.

      • Dreamshare only works with the suitcase. That is what the film shows. The drug, powerful, is needed to dream further inside dreamshare. Pure and simple. Try and deny it all you want, its starting to just become silly and laughable now as you dismiss its importance. The server we agree on is inside the mind of the dreamers, but there must be a technology that allows people to share the dream. A drug is not all that is needed.

      • So you are saying that if I took some somnacin and you took some somnacin we could share the dream even without being connected to the PASIV device? lawwwwwl.

        • Aknot is in total denial. Dream share cannot work without the PASIV device! As I said earlier, if somnacin is all that was needed to do dreamshare then every person during the scene of the cellar where people “go to dream” would be sharing their dreams together. Wich they were not because they were not connected to a PASIV device.

  21. Not sure if it was mentioned yet, but an easy thing to over look….. how long was COBB away from home??? (dunno if they said it)

    although we never see their faces.. they dont seem to have aged PLUS what are the chances that they are wearing the same EXACT outfit

    i do wanna believe its reality… but there are so many things to question

    • If you try to think about it logically it could be a long time. Lets assume….

      Cobb was doing jobs while Mal was still alive. Seems kind of unlikely as his kids would be alone as the assumption is Mal is addicted. Cobb going off to work would take days/weeks of preperation… and I just went off on another thought….

      It is kind of funny you mention this…. think about it… The kids are what lets say 5ish.

      Cobb and Mal met via Caines character (need verification). So they hit it off and for ‘x’ years (again an assumption) they get to know each other while the expierement with dreams.

      What if the kids were a projection they created in dreamshare? Meaning they dont have kids in the real world. This still anchors on Cobb dreaming the whole movie. However Mal kept telling Cobb his kids are right here….. he was just not ready to accept them. Why? The guilt he had over Mals death reminds him this is a dream. Again it all falls into place once Cobb accepts his wifes death and her never returning.

      I still believe they may have been married. I beleive they dreamshared together and she lost grip on reality. I still believe he accidently incepted her. After that its Cobb accepting the dream as real. In order to do that he had to come to grips with his guilt. Once he did that he accepted that perfect life they created in dreamshare as real…to include two kids.

      Yeah im sure Ty will not be excited to read this but hey its what a comment section is for. :D

    • @ J-dan. Wow…. The kids were not wearing the same clothes at all. and they only aged about 2 years. The children have 2 different actors for the daughter and son. Each one was 2 years apart.

  22. Best movie I ever seen wish their were more like it

  23. i think i’vi seen inception 3 times or 4 ,but i’m confused wearing his ring because when he dream his wearing the ring but when in the real world his not wearing it.. can somebody find what is the answer of this?

    • this is true. Cobb does not wear the ring in the end when he comes home, so visually clue wise, he is back in reality. The customs agent that lets him through has a way higher rank compared to the others as well. Saito probably called this man to give Cobb “no trouble with immigration”.

  24. In the ending explanation one of the things said is he can use Mal’s totem because Mal is dead, so he is the only one that knows the weight and feel of it. But, if he is in fact dreaming like Mal thought he was then wouldn’t that mean Mal is actually still alive, and therefore the totem would not work for him. Not sure if that makes complete sense my mind works in strange ways.

  25. I still havent made up my mind if the whole movie is a dream or if in fact he is back to reality at the end (the top falls over). However, I just thought of a curious question. If it is all a dream, what if Ariadne is actually just a younger version of Mal that Cobb created in his dream world that he has made up. They do look a little similar (different eye color though). Just an interesting question to think about.

  26. i have a question :
    when you die in a dream you go to limbo or you just wake up

    • If you die in a dream you wake up. But if you die in a dream while heavily sedated, you wake up in Limbo to a new reality.

  27. If I may point out, (In what I am sure must have been pointed out countless times earlier) Even if Cobb didn’t look at his totem at the end of the film, at some point afterwards he will get around to checking. We can assume that after that he will either remain in reality, or make his way to the true reality.

  28. The simple image of the top still spinning suggests that he indeed is still dreaming, however what is the concept of the film ? Inception, and the very basis of Inception is to plant seeds of thought which grow into ideas. The spinning top represents the concept of reality and its tangents. As a result the obvious comparison is that we think he is still dreaming. What Nolan has done here is somewhat tung in cheek and dived deeper by planting the question in the audiences head of “what is reality and is our world a dream world”. Thus playing his own “Inception” on his audience.

  29. I’ve seen the movie many times. Nolan is too smart to leave clues to “an open ending”. By definition, an open ending leaves the audience the option to choose their own ending. So why spoil that?

    • Some people will always claim there is absolution sadly.

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