ComicBookResources – Permanent Damage

Post image for ComicBookResources – Permanent Damage

by InceptionEnding

in Inception Ending

“…the first two things you need to realize about INCEPTION:

1) Only one scene takes place in the film’s real world. All worlds depicted are dream layers.

2) There are only four real characters in the film: Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio); Miles (Michael Caine); and Cobb’s two children. The other characters, save Cobb’s wife Mal, are strictly constructs of the dream.

Much scorn has recently been heaped on both the lack of “dream imagery” and the “rules” of INCEPTION‘s dream worlds, and the almost pedantic statements of the latter throughout the film. But all these are central and necessary, Nolan also playing his script on several levels at once. From the moment INCEPTION begins, we – and the “characters” in the film, beginning with Ken Watanabe’s Saito – are told how the mind blurs reality and dreamwhile in the dream. In the first scene, Watanabe is “awakened” to the idea that he is already in a dream, to his surprise. When he “awakens” for “real” following Cobb’s failure to rob his mind, he’s caught off-guard when he finds he’s still a dream, but a different dream. When Cobb later inducts Ariadne (named for the princess who in Greek myth provides Theseus with the means to escape the inescapable labyrinth; this is no coincidence) into his heist crew, he meets with her at an outdoor café and asks, “How did you get here?”

As far as the audience is concerned, there’s no mystery until the subjects come up; Cobb and Adrienne arrive at the café, Watanabe at his meeting, via the simplest of film conventions, the cut and the fade in, respectively. Nolan’s challenging of this conventions as story mechanics is his invitation to view events in INCEPTION as never being what we think we’re seeing. This holds true across the board. The heist is not a heist. The objective is not the objective. The least seen character – Miles – is the most important.

This is important to perceive about INCEPTION: inception. It’s not a heist film. The “heist” is simply setting, or, in the film’s terms, architecture. It’s “real world” is just another dream level that Cobb believes is the real world, as Saito believed the world he first appears in is the real world. The chase in Mombasa tips us off that Cobb’s world isn’t real, in the scene where he escapes gunmen by fleeing down an alley whose perspective never changed with Cobb’s position, until he (barely) slips through the narrow far end, reflecting the “Escher staircase” Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) demonstrates later to Ariadne.

If nothing we see in the film is real, bits of reality slip in. While there’s no way to judge the accuracy of the tale, we can pick up from context that Cobb’s tale of his tragic adventures in the dream state with wife Mal, and the “inception” he puts in her mind that inadvertently causes her to kill herself are not only, at heart, true, but form the emotional core of the film, though the circumstances of her death, as described, and Cobb’s subsequent flight from murder charges, make no apparent sense except in dream logic. Again, Nolan plays with the idea of the invisible hand: Mal’s persistent state as least developed character in the film makes her one of the mostdeveloped, since what we see of her is not Mal herself but a vengeful manifestation of Cobb’s overbearing guilt over her death. His guilt taints all his experiences, and constantly taunts him to take his own life, for atonement. Offsetting but not quite balancing the guilt is Cobb’s guilt over abandoning his now functionally parentless children – but he can see no way to get back to them, since if he tries he’ll be punished for Mal’s “murder.”

And this is what INCEPTION is really about. It all takes place in Cobb’s dream, though (we can infer) controlled by Miles, who’s credited with inventing the “group dream” technology in the first place, with “dream architecture” strictly controlling the circumstances and imagery to prevent the dreamer from recognizing his environment as a dream (hence the lack of talking dogs or women with horse heads, though the freight train down main street was a great bit of imagery) and “the rules” constantly reiterated not only as an expositional gimmick for the audience but to constantly reinforce them in Cobb’s mind. (This suggests Cobb is as much in hypnotic state as dream state, but it’s no secret dreamers are more open to suggestion.)

The entire film, save for the last scene, is an elaborate game, designed to turn Cobb against his subconscious (as he later does with Cillian Murphy’s Robert Fischer), force him to confront his conflicted feelings about Mal once and for all, and drive Cobb to the depths of his own subconscious where, via his message to lost Saito in his desert island fortress (Cobb’s own “safe”; the “guards” – also Cobb’s subconscious defenses – are “tricked” into dragging him inside the safe, where he needs to be) an idea can be “incepted” into the core of Cobb’s psyche in such a way that he seems to have thought of it himself (again, as is spelled out via the Fischer plot). A very simple idea:

We have to go home.

Once that idea is placed there, events pass in a blink. Cobb and Saito return to the dream jet, signaling the success of the plan. Subsequently Cobb passes through customs – a final test to make sure Cobb’s subconscious has fully accepted the inception – and then he moves through the only scene in the film genuinely dreamlike, as all the other players freeze in place and watch with beatific smiles as he passes among them, heading toward the exit. And Miles – the only player on the scene not directly involved in the heist – is abruptly there to greet Cobb with equal giddiness, and guide him “out,” the indication that Miles is the “dungeon master” of the whole thing. (It’s also the conversation with Miles in Paris early on that plants the initial idea – you have to go home to your children – that Cobb carries with him to his depths.) Then Cobb and Miles are home; Cobb pauses a moment to disbelieve it – he starts his talisman, the top, spinning – but accepts his children as his reality and goes to them. The top itself is a red herring. The talismans are set up as a means for the dreamthieves to tell what’s the real world and what’s not – Arthur states you never share yours with anyone so they can’t copy it – but the top isn’t Cobb’s, it’s Mal’s. It has no objective reality for him, and ultimately can point him nowhere but back to her. But he abandons it for his children, and the top’s faltering spin – there’s really no question that it’s collapsing –is the end of the story. (It’s possible the other characters are real people also taking part in the shared dream, but there’s no strong indication of that, and some indication – occasionally knowing things they shouldn’t be able to know, if it can be chalked up to intent and not sloppiness – they are strictly constructs.)…”

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

David S. August 11, 2010 at 4:55 pm

I would also like to support your theory by adding a fact about dreams. Let’s say that you see a random person walking down the street. Even though you’ve never met this person before, or even talked to this person, they can still end up in your dream leaving it up to yourself to decide what you believe their personalities would be. Saito, Arthur, Ariadne etc. are all people that Cobb may have just happened to see walk by him one day in the real world. For each person, he developed their own unique personalities in his dreams. Each personality helping him cope with his wife’s death in their own way. Arthur being his partner in crime, Saito the antagonist, and Ariadne the voice of reason who symbolizes Cobb telling himself to move on.

As for Miles, the only person Cobb actually knows outside of his dreams and the one who planted the idea of getting home to his kids in his mind, in the final scene Miles quickly called for Cobb’s kids so Cobb would see their faces leaving him helpless to truly decide if he’s still dreaming or not. So in conclusion, Cobb is still in limbo, but this time with the memory of his children and not the memory of Mal.


Ken August 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Just saw this movie last night, and I’ve been going through some of the spoilers to see what people have to say. I’m not going to agree or disagree with the comment right now; but just play devil’s advocate in the attempt to maybe get more information that I may have missed.

1. Is his wife really dead? I mean if most of the movie is out of reality (in a dream) then are we assuming that his wife is dead and his kids are alone. That’s a pretty big assumption to be making; and if the entire move is in a dream, that would kind of imply that she is still alive since he may have dreamed the entire thing?

2. Miles being the dream would require him to be sleeping and creating the world for an extremely long period of time; do you think a father would give up that much, so that his son could stay protected? Where in a prison? In some back alley sleeping hut to allow this to continue. I realize that things are exponential in the dream, but in order to keep that going you would need to sleep with him for over a year; again assuming that the final scene is on the first level of dream and not any further level of dream.

3. My last thought really solidifies the movie based on whether the scene with him spinning the top and it toppling (with the gun in the hotel room) is real; and since you believe it’s not this is a moot point. But when he says that he’ll send presents home with grandpa, then he shows up at grandpas with presents (in which you say is the only REAL scene), then his grandpa is at the airport (since it was foreshadowed that the grandfather would be going home. Although what gets me is that the grandfather lives in another country than the grandmother? Unless of course the kids are with her parents and his father is still allowed to visit them, which would also be ridiculous since as soon as the grandfather showed up in the US i’m sure he’d be a detained if Decaprio was THAT much of a fugitive. But this would also disprove your theory him meeting Miles being the only real scene?

Anyhow, just some thoughts, insight would be appreciated (as long as it’s constructive).



James August 19, 2010 at 10:46 am

You’re welcome Ken.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: