******************** INCEPTION THEORIES ******************** From a popular movie blog - Interpretation 1: All of Inception is a dream.(Note: This is the Inception theory to which I subscribe.) We are never once shown reality. Every frame of Inception is a dream. Whose dream? My money is on Cobb, though it is conceivable that Cobb is simply the subject and that he is in someone else's dream (see Interpretation 3 and 4 below). There are a number of key elements throughout the film - lines of dialog shared amongst the characters (Mal and Saito both tell Cobb to take a "leap of faith", Cobb predicts what Saito will say in limbo), acceptance of improbable events during segments of "reality" (Saito saving Cobb in Mombasa) - that support the notion that everything is a dream, but for me it all comes down to a simple question: What is our totem? We learn very early on that the one unimpeachable way to know whether or not you're in a dream world or the real world is to test your totem; an item whose behavior only a single individual can identify and predict. In the case of Cobb, it's his wife's spinning top. Arthur's is a single loaded dice. Ariadne's is a precisely weighted chess piece. But what is the audience's totem? What event in Inception is the audience aware of that no one else can know? There isn't one. There's no point in which reality is clearly and unimpeachably established. The film opens in a dream sequence (Saito's limbo) before transitioning to another dream sequence (Saito's dinner party), which then slides into another dream (Saito's secret apartment). The characters supposedly awaken from that last dream sequence aboard a Japanese train, this presumably being our first glance at reality, but one must ask how the characters arrived from the apartment to the train. There's no visual transition; no shot of "tunneling" from one reality to another. One second we're one place, a second later we're somewhere else, but can you remember how we got there? No, because we're never shown it; we're never shown the awakening process that bridges the two. And not being able to identify specifically how you got from point A to point B is clearly established within the film as a sign that you are in a dream. That transition, if it existed, would be the audience's totem; it would be the one thing we can cling to, whose behavior we can understand intimately and always predict. By not giving the audience a totem of their own, Nolan has flat out made it impossible to ever anchor any portion of the film as being real versus being a dream. Now, that's not to say that the movie is ruined if everything is a dream. It doesn't negate the emotional breakthrough that Cobb goes through, which is ultimately what the film is about. In fact, everything being a dream is the ace up Inception'ssleeve: if it's all a fantasy, then there can be no plot holes; the lack of deep characterizations for anyone other than Cobb can be chalked up to the fact that they are all his projections and thus do not require rich histories or distinguishable character arcs. It's basically a catch-all safety net for any complaints registered against Inception's narrative. Interpretation 2: Everything after Cobb's sedation test is a dream. If you do not require an "audience totem" to prove that the Japanese train sequence is our first glimpse of reality, then the first moment in the film that begins to shred the line between the dream world and the real world is Cobb's test of Yusuf's custom-made sedation chemicals. After hearing tale of how potent of a mix it is, Cobb goes under to see for himself. After "waking up" we see Cobb in the bathroom, splashing his face with cold water and then spinning his totem. However, he's interrupted before he/us can see whether or not the top falls over. He then sees Mal through curtains reflected in the mirror. It's presumed that this is one of the early signs that Cobb is losing his grip on what's real and what isn't, but if you combine his impossible vision with the lack of confirmation that the totem behaved as it should and it is conceivable that everything that follows his sedation test is a dream. If that's the case though, what's the benefit of such a "twist" from Nolan's standpoint? It has no real bearing on the overall story and is thus a less-logical intent than if Nolan had scripted that the entirety of the film is a dream.