IMDb – My long theory on ‘the long con’. SPOILERS!!!!!

Post image for IMDb – My long theory on ‘the long con’. SPOILERS!!!!!

by InceptionEnding

in Inception Ending

“…For me, the three biggest issues with taking this movie as “reality” have been:

1) Mal’s suicide and Cobb being framed for murder. It just doesn’t hold in “reality”. Even if he had been charged with it, he would certainly be acquitted by any relatively good lawyer. Even Cobb’s reason for not seeing his kids’ faces seems weird: How many times in your life “right now or never” was that strong that he couldn’t even take one minute to say goodbye to his kids, who were only a few yards away.

2) Saito’s omnipresence: He can clear Cobb’s charges with a phone call, he can set up Cobb and Cobol just to have an “audition”, he can sabotage Fischer’s plane, he buys a whole airline (even before knowing they needed the plane), he can rescue Cobb from Cobol’s thugs and make them magically disappear as soon as Cobb gets in his car. It seems quite ironic that this man with, apparently, infinite powers, can’t compete with Fischer’s company.

3) Ariadne’s uncanny knowledge. OK, she’s gifted, she’s a “natural”. She can create from the first moment. I can buy that. But, even in her first dream with Cobb, she already knows that Cobb can’t build anymore, she knows why Cobb can’t build anymore, she knows that there is something very wrong with his subconscious (why doesn’t she think, instead “OK, i was told not to change too much, and i did. I had it coming” or, “getting into people’s subconscious is dangerous in general” )

Now, the fact that these things contradict reality, doesn’t mean that they have to be part of a dream: There’s other things that contradict reality, two of which are: Deception and the fragility of memory. Nolan dealt with them before, in “The Prestige” and “Memento” respectively. I think that for this movie, he grabbed this concept again, and added dreaming, as a third element.

The background of the story:

Cobb and Mal went to Limbo, Cobb planted the Inception in Mal, they came back, Mal killed herself.

Cobb couldn’t cope with it. The guilt and horror for what he did consumed him, he ran away not afraid of the law, but afraid and ashamed of himself: He may have thought himself unworthy of enjoying being with his kids, he may have been afraid of, at some point, damage them like he damaged Mal.

Consciously, though, he wants to see them. But in his subconscious, he doesn’t deserve them. The only thing he has is his dreams and, just like a guilt ridden person can drown himself in alcohol or drugs, he drowns himself in dreams. His subconscious creates a scenario in which he is a fugitive, not allowed to go back to his kids again. His subconscious provides an excuse, and traps him. After so much dreaming, it’s that scenario, created by his own mind, that he recognizes as “memories”.

Like the old man said “the dreams have become his reality”.

He’s gone insane, and is suffering his insanity.

His friends, co-workers and Miles humor him (because it’s all you can do with a madman), and play along. He can still work, he’s still good at it. But as time goes by, his subconscious starts interfering more and more, and he’s becoming a bomb about to explode.

Miles figures out that, if they can’t help him in reality, they can at least try to perform some “therapy” in a dream: Enter Ariadne, trained in the basics of “navigating” people’s minds by Miles, and who learned all that Miles knows about Cobb.

At the same time, Saito, a powerful business man, wants to destroy his competition and has heard of Inception. He might have contacted Eames first: There is a not too clear relation between Saito and Cobol, and the fact that Eames was living in “Cobol’s backyard” makes us think that Eames may have done some work for them.

Maybe Eames accepted the job and attempted the Inception (he says he tried it before, and failed). Eames knows Cobb, so he must have been aware of his delusion, and comes back to Saito with a counterproposal: “I know a guy who can do it, a guy who has gone deep enough before. But you will have to offer more than money to this guy for him to accept. If you want this job done, you’ll have to do a little something for us”

Eames, being a forger, is the one who has the deepest understanding of people’s minds, and he’s also an expert con man. He knows that the only way to bring Cobb back to his family is to play into his delusion, and give him a way out from within the delusion.

Miles and Eames get in touch and realize that their plans are the two sides of a coin: Miles will help Cobb get rid of his guilt with the help or Ariadne, and Eames, by means of Saito, will give Cobb a way back home.

Nash is probably not only alive and kicking, but enjoying a load of money given by Saito as “severance pay” (plus some extra for taking a few punches). Why would Nash betray Cobb? It always bothered me. He didn’t. But the plan needed Ariadne, and making it look like Nash had betrayed them, and that Saito handed him to Cobol was the only way to make sure that Cobb wouldn’t hire him back.

The Mombassa sequence was orchestrated by Saito. Chances are Cobb is being chased by Saito’s men. The purpose? To make Cobb believe that Saito is a reliable man, to build trust. To make Cobb believe that Saito will deliver when the time comes.

Saito has the same reasons to go into the mission. Eames’s line when they visit Yusuf “this is no job for tourists, Mr. Saito” was probably just part of the “acting”, and the weird exchange of knowing smiles between Saito and Eames near the end might point at that.

I don’t want to make this even longer than it is, so i’m not gonna go through all the scenes of the movie according to this theory. You probably already got the gist of it.

Just one more thing: I think Arthur is clueless for the most part. Not 100% sure, but his dialogues with Ariadne when they’re alone points in that direction.

How could Arthur be kept out of the loop? Well, it seems to be agreed upon that he lacks imagination. “You need imagination to perform Inception”, Eames says, and you need a lot of imagination to perform a long con. Also, he’s Cobb’s closest collaborator. If Arthur knew, the risk of Cobb finding out would increase exponentially.

The end is real. Cobb is the last one to wake up. He has forgiven himself, and let go of Mal. He looks at Saito, as if reminding him of what he has to do. Saito (still confused after his Limbo experience) has nearly forgotten the last line of the play: To make a phone call that Cobb (as all of us) will assume is what he needs to go back safely into the US.

The long con worked perfectly, and Cobb is now back home to his family….”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Ed August 18, 2010 at 1:24 am

The only problem with your explanation is that it is too intricate and too complex. You have read far too much into the storyline and introduced too many possibilities that the writers would have to have made apparent to the audience to get the point across. However, I think your take on the ending is accurate. It was real, in the end, and he really did make it back to his kids. My reason why is much more simple. If he hadn’t made it back to his kids, then that means he didn’t make it out of limbo. If he didn’t make it out of limbo it could only be because he forgot that he was in limbo and began to believe limbo was real. If this was the case, he wouldn’t have remembered that he was really on an airplane trying to plant an idea and a businessman’s mind during the flight. He would have had to deny that reality and quit fighting to wake himself and Saito from the dream. That’s why the ending has to be the reality and the top really will stop spinning. Unless, of course, the entire movie was inside Cobb’s dream to begin with and he never really escaped the original limbo that he was in with his wife. That is the only way that the ending couldn’t be reality.


Ed August 18, 2010 at 1:49 am

I had this really long addendum to the possibility that Cobb may have really just been stuck in his own original limbo from the beginning. At first I was convinced that the end really was still real, but wanted to flesh out the possibility that it may not have been. However, it got deleted so I will post my musings in shortened version:

So his wife really got out of limbo but he didn’t. He keeps encountering her because she is really trying to get him out. Unfortunately, after so many times with no success, she finally gives him up but lets him down easy by letting him think that he was right. That way he can live out the remainder of his real life happy in limbo.

I then went on to talk about how this still couldn’t be accurate because Cobb has this constant drive to escape the dream and get back to reality. A drive he wouldn’t have if he had really been trapped in limbo ( in which case he would simply be convinced that limbo was reality). At this point, I realized that at the end, he WAS convinced he was in reality and it was the reality he wanted. Therefore, it could have been that he really was just hopelessly trapped in limbo.

After all of this, I conceded to the fact that the writers of this really were completely iron tight in their ambiguity. For that, I commend them. Best movie I have seen in many years. Possibly even ever.


Bufgu - El Calde August 23, 2010 at 1:39 am

Let me, after viewing many valid and thorough posts and hypotheses, present a different idea, if only for discussion, since we can argue all these points back and forth.

What is truly fascinating about this movie is how Nolan can make tangible even the most abstract things within the flow of the movie that it seems perfectly acceptable. 1.An actual elevator to go “deeper” into Cobbs brain from the beach to the hotel. 2. an actual architect rendering these levels for the dreamer to fill with information that is revealing to the extractors, or inceptors in this case. These are all almost silly when discussed but fully plausable for those who saw it. Also well done is the exaggeration of dreams based on actual factors. When Arthur is flopping in the van, the entire hotel shifts axis and everyone floats as if in a space simulation parabolic flight. In the fitst extraction, an Entire building begins to flood from the top windows. The avalnch in the third fortress level. Each further level one goes into, the more exaggerated even a little event feels (whch is why they use the kicks at the very least).

So with that in mind, I will say the whole movie is a dream and an exaggeration of a fully relatable problem many fathers faec with their children in the corporate day of age. He is always on the road, going from place to place, losing touch with his kids, who he would love to be there, and his wife, who he must have arguments with. He has lost reality by ways of his constant and demanding job (one could even question if he is an actual dream grifter/incepter – or that is just his symbolism for someone who is in psychology or even something like advertising where he can manipulate the mind into wanting to buy a product or figuring out what focus groups like–which is why i can even believe someone saying this movie is actually in the past {look at the clothing and hairstyles emphasizing the 1920 to 40s–then again the hotel had modern technology.. anyways).

He is a man always on the run, and in his dream, he had fabricated that it is not his fault he is constantly o nthe road —

1.”numerous anonymous corporations are constantly chasing you. “, which Cobbs wife uttered to him and questioned whther or not HE was dreaming, when they were both in limbo before she stabbed him.

2.a. His wife turned him in to force him to “take a leap of faith” with her and go into reality by jumping off the ledge. b.He is not allowed to go into the country because of this or he’ll be shot. c. Others seem to know about this without being told.

3.his kids are never facing him, but turning and runnin away, almost going on childhood withouthim.

4.His guilt creates a wife who is a menace and dangerous (which he calles a shadow) , even though she seems so pretty and harmless, as an excuse to leave as if he doesn’t have one good enough for himself.

So He is using companies and work as a scapegoat. He feel compelled to work just as much as he does to be with his kids. But the pressures of the corporate empire press down on him more than his guilt.

In this movie, his dream, his wife jumps off the ledge wanting to get out and into reality. She does this because she confuses reality with dreams based on his inception and follows his advice from a deeper dream to escape (by riding the rails so to speak). In actuality, its Cobbs own confusion of reality and perception of his day to day jobb. Cobb projects his wife, instead, being confused, and he jumping off the ledge is his own manifestation of him feeling he is losing his relationship with his wife. It’s exaggerated, since it’s symbolic in a dream, like the avalanche and the turning hotel. The reasons he is banned from the US based on this are almost absurd, since the police can find out the verdict fairly simply.

Cobb cannot jump with her, and be in a commitement with her forever, like he promised in marriage, his own perceived dreams by wearing the ring, and numerous times in the dream, because he is so reluctant to abandon his alternate reality: his demanding job -his day to day reality,, his dreeam/this movie and take a leap of faith to his family and kids.

Saito, is his fantasy. A man who can come and fix everything for him — by force no less. he can make a call, he can let him be with his kids. how? by Cobb convincing an heir to a corporate kingdom, to break it up into less powerful entities. How convenient. Cobb;s ticket to his family is by breaking up the establishment: convincing a corporate titan, the future runner of an international empire, to lay off, for lack of a term, and demagnify its hold of Cobbs everyday life. This is cobbs dream, a man to come sweep him and save him. Saito asks him to take a leap of faith, and cobb does… for a man in order to break up an empire first, family and guilt next. He cannot go back unless he takes care of his hecktic work situation and he cant take care of the work situation(by breaking apart the oppressive companies —the inception mission) until he can deak with his guilt.

The whole movie has a continuous loop theme. 1.the endless staircase 2. the recurring characters 3. most importantly, the clockwise depiction of a dream Cobb scribbled to Ariande, in her dream, of a mind constantly processiong and creating in a loop. Cobb then draws a line saying “this is what we need you to do, create, so the mark can process”. This line is what the movie is. Cobb processing his situation above the surface (not in the movie) and creating more based on that procession below the surface (what is shown in this movie). It is prefect how the movie, like a clock, basiclly ends where it began, on the 12, on the beach in Japan, but like a clock, the hand may still be on the same number but it is in a different time, not 12am but 12 pm. Saito is old, relecting now Cobbs anti-hero, the opposite of Saitos early depiction of a fantasy. Old and alone, regretting his inaction is saito, just like he told cobb not to be.

He is in his deep limbo here, on the beach, washed ashore on the coast of japan. his own mission to save, within himself, his sanity, is complete with the inception into fischer. He can go to his kids again, and not have to work. The totem spins, and just when it wobbles, the movie ends. It’s not important, Cobb doesn’t care anymore. He will stay in this state with his kids to leave reality and responsibility of work and fam.

The top – the top is cobbs totem all along, Not Mals. Why? The only totem not shown in the movie is either Cobbs or Mals. Many think the top is not cobbs, due to obvious scenes where it clearly shows her owning it. However, throughout the whole movie, Mal is a projection by Cobb. She is the only one guaranteed to not be in the movie. In no way is she hooked up to the machine on any level. Since the movie is a dream and all the figures in it are projections, Cobb can know their totems since he created them in his mind, whether his subconscious self knows about them or not. Since Mal enterred the dream with Cobb on the same level, and is now, one can argue, awake, Cobb’s subconscious doesn;t know his wife’s totem because she never showed it to him in reality. So, when he, in his limbo, projects his wife, his closest thing to him, he renders his token as hers since, when they entered the dream, he had no clue what she would use to know reality. By him projecting his wife to lock the totem safe in a vault, he is convincing himself on a deeply subconscious level that his wife’s dream of them to be together and not have him jet setting for work are unrealistic (since in that dream they made in limbo they were together always). He then spins the top and changes reality to make her believe this is not possible. This is him trying to convince himself his work is worth it. He ends up regretting it because his wife jumps off a ledge because of this.

By spinning this deepest level top, his whole perception of a totem being a link to reality. On his deepest level, he changed the meaning to what a top spinning means. So when his wife jumps off the ledge and the top is still, it is his reality since he convinced himself it is. He is confused, just as his wife said, just as ariande said, just like michael caine said (sorry forgot his name), and his totem lost meaning. So at the very end, when the top spins and wobbles a bit, He is in a fantasy land, but it doesn’t matter. He walks away to join his kids in a state he wants to be real and convinces himself to be, although it is not. He is in limbo.

how is that? well, the way the top wobbles is telling. nolan could have cut the scene at any time after the wobble, but only does when the top is perfectly upright. Of course, when filming, the top eventually fell, but when the screen is cut is totally arbitrary and the top looks as if it will recover. It is purposely vague, because this is scence is vague, even to Cobb, but it doesnt matter sinec he convinced himself to be able to accept the guilt of alienating his wife for work, at least in his make believe state. His kids, he can have now that the corporation is broken up and work is done. When he is in reality, he may have to quit his job, but for now all good.

why are the kids different? they are slightly different in dress and in positioning in the final scene which is extremely telling. Since in cobbs mind, he has not seen his kids in some time when he finally does his brain knows to render them a little differnt. However, his brain only has that one image to work with, so the alterations are ever so slight, but not enough to probably reflect reality, since he cannot.

who is ellen paige supposed to be. well, ellen paige is his own representation of a female young Cobb. A young Cobb, after college, would question cobbs actions constantly and and play counter to his actions. She is a flat one dimentional character, as is his wife, since they are projection by cobb to convince himself conflictiong things. They bother question if he views reality correctly and oppose his actions. They are made by a man to oppose a man, so its not deep. However, the college kid is described as being being “even better than”cobb was at her craft. the kid is his old self asking why do you do these things? old self knows. he views her as his better self.


A November 22, 2010 at 11:14 pm

He looks at Saito, as if reminding him of what he has to do. Saito (still confused after his Limbo experience) has nearly forgotten the last line of the play: To make a phone call that Cobb (as all of us) will assume is what he needs to go back safely into the US.

I don’t think that’s what happened. It was more like: Cobb and Saito look at each other to realise what they have just done in the dream and how they escaped and are successful in their goals. It was look of amazement, friendship and sacrifice (Cobb actually went into Limbo to bring back Saito alive) This was the most emotional part of the movie for me.


A November 22, 2010 at 11:35 pm

…continuing from post above…

And Saito was didn’t need “reminding” or “convincing” in order to make the phone call. As soon as he realised what has just happened (he was saved from death by a friend who told him they could come to reality and “live together as young men”), he willingly reached out to make the phone call. Which is why this was a very emotional scene. Actually made me cry.


A November 24, 2010 at 12:23 am

…continuing from post above…

It was the final musical score from the moment Cobb wakes up till the end of the movie that got me. And also Saito’s shaken up looks when he woke up. He had just realised that he had been saved otherwise he was going to die. In the end they both needed to wake up from Limbo to help each other. Cobb for his kids and Saito for actually coming back to reality from the Limbo state.


Alfreda Robertshaw February 12, 2011 at 10:24 am

I was aware about this already, but still there are some beneficial bits which concluded the image for me personally, thanks a lot!


Cleo April 24, 2012 at 11:48 pm

I noticed right away that Eames doesn’t like Cobb and won’t look him in the face – it’s very different from the way that Eames treats Arthur.


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