UPDATE: I recently added an update to this article to address Kyle Johnson’s theory that was presented in this Google talk, which got a lot of internet face time. Scroll down to read my debunking of his perpetual-dream theory, and see the problems with the “everyone goes 1 layer up” hypothesis.
Having seen Inception three times now in the theater, and easily considering it my favorite movie (it vaulted to the top of my list very quickly), I felt the need to throw my hat into the ring with what I thought about it. I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion about it, theories and what not, and most of them I disagree with for various reasons, so here’s my analysis of it, what I like to call “the case for reality.”
I think it goes without saying that from this point on, spoilers a-plenty, so stop if you haven’t seen it yet. Also, there are spoilers from other Nolan films like Memento and The Prestige, so you should skip this also if you plan to watch those. Also, through the magic of the internet I can verify that every quote referenced from the movie below is 100% accurate, and not just me trying to remember what was said after the fact. I may come back to this post at a later date to add anything I missed, or to touch on things raised by other people.
First off let me explain what I mean by “the case for reality.” By that I mean that I think the top layer of the movie, the one in which the team is assembled, the heist initiated, and the one where Cobb gets back to his kids is in fact, reality. A lot of people have theories about the whole movie being a dream, who’s dreaming what and what not, so in my theory I will explain everything that, to me, proves the top layer of the movie is reality. Also at the very end I’ll look at a popular theory, and go over just why I think it’s inaccurate. To start things off, though, I’m going to over what I think Nolan was trying to do, and how he learned from his previous movies mistakes. If the Blu-ray comes out and Nolan himself refutes what I have to say below, then I’ll gracefully step aside. Until then, here’s my thoughts.
Learning From His Mistakes
In Nolan’s other movies, particularly Memento and The Prestige (I chose these because they use non-traditional means of storytelling), a great deal of the audience’s experience with the movie is spent trying to figure out the “rules” so to speak. In pretty much all of Memento, the audience is left trying to figure out how a scene affects the one that came before it, all the way to the end of the film. In that case, even when the narrative of the movie is completed, the audience has to piece it together to get the whole picture. Upon first viewing, the ending of the film seems supremely ambiguous. With The Prestige, there is a similar piecing-together effect during the film, except this time when we get to the end there’s the revelation that Borden (Christian Bale) has had a twin the whole time. Upon being given this knowledge the audience can then look back at the rest of the movie (the film itself even takes the effort to show us some key scenes edited back in), and we all get that head-slap moment of “why didn’t I see it coming.”
That said, most people’s criticism of Memento was that it was very hard to understand, at least in a full sense, where you know exactly what happened. This forces the audience to have repeat viewings of the film in order to understand it completely. With The Prestige, however, Nolan presents a woven narrative again, except at the end he shows the audience the exact reasoning behind the incoherent scenes that preceded it. The “prestige” (or reveal) of this magic trick of a movie does the exact opposite of what a real magic trick’s prestige would do – it explains the movie completely, and leaves no question of what’s transpired.
So in Memento we’re given a very confusing story, a very confusing reveal, little understanding, and a sense that we’d need to see this film again to understand exactly what happened in the narrative. In The Prestige we’re given a somewhat confusing story, a very literal reveal (the twin), almost complete understanding, and a sense that if we watched the film again we’d catch every little bit we missed the first time, and piece the film’s narrative together completely, leaving very little room for repeat viewings. Learning from the reactions of the general public to these two films, Nolan set out to craft a mind-bender, only this time with a story everyone can follow, and a reveal that leaves something open for interpretation.
Delving Into The Dream
So now we’re treated to Inception, Nolan’s first completely original work since Following (his first feature movie). If you’re reading this you most definitely must have seen the film, so I’ll jump right into my theory as to why I think the reality of the film is actually reality and not just another dream.
My first point goes back to what I think Nolan learned from Memento and The Prestige. In Inception, Nolan doesn’t want you have to have to try and figure out the “rules” of how this movie works like you had to with Memento. The first half of the movie is almost an instruction manual for how the second half of the movie is going to play out. Ariadne (Ellen Page) becomes the surrogate audience as Cobb explains the logistics of everything to her. Through her we’re told why the dream machines exist, how they work, how the levels of a dream are constructed, what happens with dreams within dreams, and just about every in-and-out of the process as she probes Cobb about his issues. Very little (if any) sci-fi aspects of this film are left unexplained.
To me, this level of exposition on how the whole system works immediately negates half of the theories out there, even without all the proof I’m going to outline below. A couple theories I came across were talking about how the entire movie was Miles’ (Michael Caine) dream to somehow test Cobb, or Ariadne’s (Ellen Page) to help Cobb work through his subconscious problems as his therapist. This movie makes it very clear whose dream we’re in and why, it’s a part of the plot. Arthur even gets called out on being the dreamer by Mal in the very first sequence of the movie. If the film is this comfortable with telling us where we are as the audience, there’s no reason to assume the whole movie is a part of some sequence occurring off-screen, never mentioned. You may say that’s taking the film too much on it’s own word, but it seems to me if the whole plot of the movie is based on who is dreaming and how their environment is affecting them, we have to throw out theories about the whole film being part of some dream sequence completely off-screen by characters with very little screen time.
All that aside, that was more just instinctual analysis about why I think the top layer is reality. Now we’ll get into actual things in the movie that support this theory.
The Case For Reality
At the end of the film, Nolan cut to black before Cobb’s totem (the top) could fall, and a loud sigh was let out by the audience as a whole. This very moment is probably what leads to most people not accepting this layer as reality. If we never see the totem fall over, how are we to know we’re outside of the dream? First, the top is very noticeably wobbling. I’ve studied the final frames of the movie closely, and can say with certainty that when the Blu-ray of this comes out, someone will invariably rip those last couple frames, and you will see clearly that the top makes quite a few jilted moves right, and a couple left before cutting to black. Not to mention that every other time the top is seen spinning endlessly in a dream state, it is stock still, not wobbling, and not even moving left to right at all. Nolan even goes to the lengths of showing us this with the bookend of the film, where Saito recognizes Cobb, and spins the top down in limbo. The audience is shown one last time (within the last 5 minutes of the movie) how the top operates in the dream world. Saito spins it, and there it spins, still. Also, during the entire “this world is not real” conversation, you can hear the top spinning, creating a perfect unwavering sound. Yet, a couple minutes later when Cobb spins it on the table, it moves left to right, then we cut to him going to reunite with his children. When we come back to the top, it’s wobbling slightly, and even the audio track for this final shot backs up the fact that it is spinning imperfectly. You can hear little jumps and gaps in the whirring sound of the top. This is not a top which is going to spin forever.
Also, this is the top that was also shown to have fallen numerous times earlier in the film at times that align with this final layer of the film. After the first job we’re shown on Saito goes bad, Cobb is alone in his hotel room. He spins the top, gun in hand. This is a man who is ready to shoot himself in the head the second he realizes that top is not going to fall. The top does fall, however, and he puts the gun down, relieved. A side note here as well, the top is spun on a wooden table in the hotel, similar to the one at the end of the film, and the audio track is the same slightly wobbly one before it falls.
A short while later when Cobb is giving Ariadne her first lessons in shared dreaming, they awake after she goes alteration-crazy in Cobb’s subconscious, and Arthur begins to explain the concept of a totem to her (and us). As he’s explaining the concept of an object that must act in accordance with how its owner expects it to act, Nolan cuts to shots of Cobb spinning his top in the other room. Once again, the top falls, and Cobb picks it up looking relieved.
Another cue that shows the audience that the top layer of the film is reality is that whenever Cobb is in a dream or memory, he is wearing his wedding ring. The fact that he has his ring on in the dreams makes sense, because in his subconscious, he is still very attached to the idea of Mal, and their marriage. When asked by Ariadne “Why do you do this to yourself?” Cobb replies “It’s the only way I can still dream.” She retorts “Why is it so important to dream?” and he replies “In my dreams, we’re still together.” This shows not only why he has the ring on, but he also confirms that the dreams and memories are the only way he can have access to Mal, again reinforcing that the top layer is reality, and Mal has killed herself and is gone forever.
In the top layer of the film, however, the ring is absent. You’ll notice that in the previous scene I mentioned in the warehouse, Cobb actually rests both of his hands on the surface he’s spinning the top on before it falls, this is a perfect time to look, and sure enough, no wedding ring. This scene is in the trailer if you want to check for yourself on YouTube. Nolan also goes to great lengths to show us this ring at very key times, at least once in every layer of the dream, right down to the final confrontation with Mal, when Mal tells Cobb to watch as she calls their projection-kids, Cobb turns away, grasping his hands together in front of him and the ring is clearly visible on his finger.
It is also worth noting that the appearance of Mal can act as the audience’s totem for determining if they’re within the context of a dream (aside from the final beach shot in limbo looking for Saito, because at this point Mal has been dealt with, and no longer haunts Cobb). She never once appears in the top layer of the film (other than flashbacks). I remember one reviewer saying that she appears to Cobb just after he awakes from Yusuf’s drug trial in the basement in Mombasa. I made sure to look for this upon repeat viewing, and during that scene right after Cobb splashes water on his face, there is a brief jump-cut to the shot of Mal with her hair blowing in the wind, sitting on the ledge of the building. But this is a memory of Cobb’s, out-of-context of the basement scene, and is meant only to show that Cobb is thinking of her, as he does throughout the film. Here the top also doesn’t spin forever, in fact it doesn’t even begin to spin, but rather it just falls to the ground.
To further this, in every dream the audience is brought into, a representation of Cobb’s subconscious problems appears randomly and jarringly. In the intro sequence Mal is present in Saito’s house/party, and rats out Cobb and his team. In the dream sharing training sequence in the warehouse, Mal appears under the bridge and stabs Ariadne. During Cobb’s memory elevator sequence, Mal and kids are obviously present. In Mombasa, Cobb dreams of himself and Mal on the train tracks. In Yusuf’s shared dream in the city, the train suddenly appears, hitting Cobb’s car. A layer down from that in Arthur’s dream in the hotel, while Cobb explains the Mr. Charles gambit to Fischer, his children appear outside the door, making him stammer briefly. During Eames’ dream of the snowy hospital, Mal appears from the air duct and shoots Fischer. It’s interesting to note here that Mal and the kids are not present in this snow layer to begin with, and it isn’t until Cobb demands to know if Ariadne made any alterations to the maze to help Saito and Fischer get in faster, that Mal appears. Ariadne actually says “I don’t think I should tell you, if Mal finds out then…” and Cobb cuts her off saying “We don’t have time for this, did he (Eames) add anything?” Then just minutes after Ariadne tells Cobb a secret (the air duct system through the maze), Mal appears — not surprisingly — from an air duct to kill Fischer. This just further goes to show that when Cobb has a chance to sabotage himself in a dream, Mal will exploit it. This only happens in dream levels, and never in reality.
The only layer below these dreams is limbo, where Mal resides, forever baiting her husband to return. However, after Cobb confronts Mal in the limbo-apartment, he effectively dismisses her as a mere “shade” of the wife he loved, and she’s then shot and killed by Ariadne, and not seen again. It’s also worth noting that Mal herself admits to being stuck in limbo during this conversation. When addressing Ariadne, Mal says “So certain of your world. Of what’s real. Do you think he [Cobb] is? Or do you think he’s as lost as I was?” By saying this she’s admitting she got “lost” and messed up in reality. She goes on to imply that limbo is no different than the life Cobb has in reality, being chased around by Corporations (projections), and even asks him to “choose” to remain down there with her.
After dodging the projection-kids, Cobb tells Mal “Those aren’t my children.” To which Mal retorts “You keep telling yourself that, but you don’t believe it.” This is a very pointed set of words, because when Mal tells Cobb he doesn’t believe those aren’t his kids, he replies with “I know it.” The obvious problem being presented here is one of belief versus logic. Mal furthers this by saying “You keep telling yourself what you know, but what do you believe?” To me, this very clearly shows that Mal knows she’s lost the intellectual battle for Cobb’s mind. He knows he’s in a dream. Upon hearing his “I know it” she immediately counters with “what do you believe?” trying to force Cobb’s emotional side to override his logical one, but at this point, it’s already too late, the Mal before Cobb is a “shade” and Cobb knows it. It’s just as Cobb states earlier in the film, “the subconscious is motivated by emotion, right? Not reason.” It isn’t until he realizes this that he can rid himself of Mal completely.
Nolan then takes the time in this final scene between the two main characters, the one representing reality (Cobb), and the one representing dreams (Mal), to have each character very clearly chose a side. Then, in no uncertain terms, he has one side prevail (Cobb), showing the audience that Cobb can now tell what is real and what isn’t, effectively anchoring Cobb in reality until the film’s end.
This conversation is even more important in the story arc of Cobb because just minutes before in the snow level dream, he was unable to decipher the difference between the projection of Mal about to shoot Fischer, and the real thing. Even when Ariadne says “no… she, she is not real.” Cobb replies very calmly “how do you know that?” Ariadne furthers with “she’s just a projection!” but it’s only after Mal has shot Fischer that Cobb shoots her.
To further show the complete eradication of the idea of Mal, when Cobb washes ashore in the opening scene of the film, only the kids are present with a sandcastle in the background. This shows two things: In the elevator sequence we see that Cobb has a memory of Mal and the kids at the beach building sand castles. However here, now that Mal is gone, the memory that he sees is the one of the sand castles (Mal removed), mixed with the forever turning-away-from-him view of his kids. If Mal was still plaguing Cobb, she would have been a part of that memory, but since it’s only his kids, it reinforces the fact that he has worked through his issues with Mal, and the last issue he has to deal with is returning to his children, which he does at the conclusion of the film.
As long as we’ve made our way down to limbo, there’s another point which backs up the idea of the top layer of Inception is reality. In limbo, those who occupy it are “gods” as Cobb put it. They can build anything they want, and effectively do anything they want. For anyone to have a theory that the entire movie takes place in limbo, they’d have to explain why in the film’s limbo anything is possible, yet in the film’s reality, there are normal laws of life in place. And if the solution to that is a flimsy “well the whole thing is a dream, anything is possible, there are no rules” then this whole debate is off the table. Anyone willing to resort to such weak reasoning is missing the whole point and beauty of this masterfully constructed film. Also, Arthur explains limbo to be a place of “un-constructed dream space… just raw, infinite subconscious… nothing is down there. Except for whatever might have been left behind by anyone sharing the dream whose been trapped there before. Which in our case, is just you [Cobb].” This means that the limbo we see in the film is the only limbo which could exist for our set of characters, since every character sharing the dream goes to the same place. Cobb originally left his first limbo with Mal via getting killed by the train, only to return at the end of the film to find the same place he left behind. This shows that not only is the entire film not taking place is a limbo-like state, but that limbo itself is a very character-specific place, not just some abstract idea that can be malformed to fit a theory. If Cobb and Mal-specific memories are down there, only Cobb and Mal have been down there as far we the audience knows.
Additional (Kind of Meta) Proof Of Reality
Since this next batch of reasons are more about the film itself, I consider these more abstract reasons, but nonetheless, there are more. For everyone who says “the kids are wearing the same clothes and haven’t aged,” consider this: In the IMDB credits for the movie, there are two sets of actors for the kids. Phillipa (3 years) and Phillipa (5 years) is all you really need to see to know that the director’s intention (subversive or otherwise) was to have the kids be 2 years older. The director/writer (both Nolan in this case) gets to decide how the characters are referenced in the credits, and there’s your proof. Also, though James is wearing very similarly styled clothes (since he hasn’t grown much), Phillipa is wearing a different dress in the final scene than in every other scene.
Now on to the music. The song used for the “musical countdown” to make dreamers aware of the impending kick is “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien” (No, I regret nothing) by Edith Piaf. After having chosen this song, Nolan was made aware that Marion Cotillard (Mal) played Piaf in La Vie en Rose (another film), and he wanted to change it to avoid speculation on the coincidence. Hans Zimmer, the composer for the score of Inception persuaded him to keep it, presumably because he may have had his idea in place for the score already.
By slowing down “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien” by 300% you get sound which is very similar to the trademark slow “BURM” of horns of the Inception soundtrack. Keeping this in mind while watching the film, during the opening sequence when time is shifting between the dreams, and shots of the hands on a watch are shown, you can actually hear the original “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien” slowing down and being cross-faded with Zimmer’s score.
So what does this have to do with the reality of the movie? It’s simple. Just after throwing the projection down the Penrose stairs in the hotel, we’re shown a shot of Arthur in the van, headphones on, normal speed version of the countdown playing. Nolan then immediately cuts to Arthur in the hotel, who looks up, hears the same soundtrack we’re hearing, and remarks “no, it’s too soon.” We then transition to Eames who asks “Cobb, do you hear that? I first noticed it about 20 minutes ago, I thought it was the wind up here.” To which Cobb replies, “Yeah I hear it, it’s music.”
This means that the audience is not the only party involved hearing the slowed score, but so are our characters. Then, understandably, when Cobb and Ariadne descend into limbo, without any headphones on to re-adjust the tempo of the music, we hear that same pounding score, slowed down by 300% one last time. As Cobb and Ariadne wash up on the shores of Cobb’s subconscious, we hear the loudest, most drawn-out horn section of the entire soundtrack, taking place in the song “528491” for those of you who have the soundtrack. I made a YouTube video showing this progression.
That said, when the musical countdown is heard down a level from its origin, it’s slowed down by 300%, and when it passes down another level, it slows by 300% again. So since the characters can hear the music with us, the score itself is a hint at what layer of a dream we are viewing. Knowing this, the fact that score never dips into the slow droning in the reality level is a pretty good proof that the top level in the movie is indeed reality.
A Main Theory To Debunk
Recently, this Google talk has been getting passed around, so I figured I’d debunk a huge part of this theory, and I see major flaws with it. The main part of the theory I have problems with is mentioned here.
The problem with Johnson’s perpetual-dream theory is that Ariadne and Fisher don’t die to exit limbo and go “1 layer up” — a major hitching point of how he tries to sell this theory. It is instead the strong sense of falling which causes them to go back to the snow fortress. This is not only evident in the fact that this is the same method of “kick” used throughout the movie, but also in the fact that Ariadne and Fisher’s eyes open in realization at the snow fortress level, and in limbo, prior to her hitting the ground.
In truth, the only actual examples we have of people dying in limbo are Cobb and Mal from the train, and presumed Saito and Cobb via gunshot at the end of the film. All of which end up back in reality, not just “1 layer up”.
It’s also worth mentioning that the limbo of the film (the one Cobb and Mal build together) is the one all of the characters experience. We don’t get an Ariadne Limbo or Fisher limbo; we get Cobb and Mal’s limbo. And at the end of the film, when the final kick is alerting Ariadne to leave limbo, it is shown that like the other dreams in the film, limbo is collapsing as well. The buildings are shredding, and the world is being destroyed, much in the same way the dreams previously in the film are. Also, immediately after shooting Mal, Ariadne turns the gun on Cobb, and he shouts her down with “no no no,” so she doesn’t shoot him, presumably because he knows that if he and Mal are dead, limbo will completely collapse, and he can’t have that happen while Ariadne is still present.
Below is a theory I think is a unique take on the end, which I haven’t seen elsewhere online. Personally I think it’s pretty solid. Feel free to let me know if you see holes, and I can revised and tighten it up.
I’d say at the end/beginning of the film, Cobb and Saito are trapped together in a new shared limbo between themselves, since they both die in dream-body and mind in the above dream levels. The snow fortress collapses/explodes and their bodies are destroyed, the elevator crunches/explodes and their bodies are destroyed, and the van sinks, and their bodies drown. This would also explain why Cobb would re-appear face down on the beach at the end/beginning of the film. Many people have asked how/why he got there. This is explained perfectly since when we are shown Cobb and Ariadne initially entering limbo, they awaken in the waters washing up on “the shores of their own subconscious”. This also is shown when Cobb & Mal first enter limbo, waking up on the “shores of their own subconscious.” So it stands to reason that Cobb, knowing he has already missed the kick which would allow him to exit his Limbo, kills himself again on purpose (or just waits with Mal, and dies from being stabbed squarely in the chest with a large kitchen knife from her), and wakes up on the shores of his and Saito’s subconscious (knowing they are at this point the only two left sharing the dream). However this time, instead of waking up in his own limbo, which has collapsed, the shore is conveniently next to Saito’s lone pagoda house on the cliff, where he has grown old during the time that passed during the final minutes of the movie after Saito dies in the snow fortress, and before Mal/Cobb are killed in the apartment (“hours can turn to years down there”).
Then, abiding by the rules we’re given in the film said by Arthur, limbo is “un-constructed dream space… just raw, infinite subconscious… nothing is down there. Except for whatever might have been left behind by anyone sharing the dream whose been trapped there before. Which in our case, is just you [Cobb].” However now, the “you” involved is only Cobb and Saito. So what would be the lowest-layer of a shared dream between these two? The dream space once shared by Cobb and Saito in the beginning of the film: the slightly orange Japanese looking pagoda building on the edge of the cliff where the initial heist takes place. From there, Cobb convinces Saito they are sharing a combined dream, and they shoot themselves.
At this point back on the plane the rest of the original crew have awoken naturally out of the top-level dream (Yusuf’s). They see that Cobb and Saito are still asleep, and Ariadne fills everyone in on what happened in the final minutes of the film. She once again remains steadfast that “he’ll [Cobb] be alright” in his attempts to find Saito, and the team waits patiently on the plane to see what comes. After what could be anywhere from a couple minutes to couple hours of reality-time (years or decades limbo time) Cobb and Saito awaken on the plane of their own volition, into the plane which has already had all evidence of the pasiv device and heist setup scrubbed clean. And if you’ll allow me a little pure-speculation: the now-conscious Yusuf could totally have attempted to administer something to the unconscious Cobb and Saito to reverse or defer the affects of his custom sedative in the interim.
All that said, I remain still more affirmed that the ending of the movie is reality, and feel that a large chunk (maybe I’ll do more later) of Johnson’s theory has been substantially debunked.
More Early Theories To Debunk
One of the main people over at Rotten Tomatoes stated this theory in a “What The Flick” spoiler alert review, which I think a lot of other people probably agree with. He states:
“I think he’s in limbo, from the get go. …From the first frame of the movie that we see, Leo’s in Limbo. And… there’s a few hints of that.”
The first hint he refers to is that Cobb is using his wife’s totem, which he says shouldn’t work. This isn’t true because the purpose of the totem is to have an object only you know the special properties of. Since only Mal and Cobb knew of the top as a totem for reality, and Mal is dead now in the layer that Cobb uses it in, the only person who knows that particular totem’s properties is Cobb. Therefore the totem is still valid.
The second point he makes is that one of the first things Miles (Michael Caine) says to Cobb is “come back to reality, Dom.” This is actually wedged in the middle of their conversation, and isn’t stated in a way that’s as telling as the reviewer says. When Cobb asks Miles for an architect, Miles says “design it yourself.” To which Cobb says “Mal won’t let me.” It is at this point that Miles says “Come back to reality, Dom.” He says this because Cobb just said that someone who is dead is preventing him from doing something. That’s a very “radical notion”. Miles is suggesting Dom merely re-evaluate the words that just came from his mouth. The line the reviewer forgot to mention from this conversation was when Miles says “You want me to let someone else follow you into your fantasy.” This line alone refutes the previous claim. By saying this, Miles is stating he knows Cobb leaves the current plane to go into a dream; hence, they’re both currently in reality.
The third piece of supporting evidence stated is that when Cobb is in the group-dreaming basement room in Mombasa, the old man states to him that “The people don’t come here to dream, they come here to wake up, you of all people should know.” While I would agree that a line such as that would be pretty telling, but he doesn’t actually say that.
When Eames asks “they come here everyday to sleep?” the old man replies “No, they come to be woken up. The dream has become their reality. Who are you to say otherwise, huh?” This is a lot less loaded of a statement, and he is actually using “you” as a collective pronoun for anyone in the room, or anyone in general (who is anyone to say otherwise?) If those people chose to live in a dream as their reality, no one should question it. However, the fact that they are living in a dream state as their reality further proves that life outside of that dream state is reality. So this point is self-refuting.
Someone else stated that at the end of the film, the reason everyone is looking at Cobb is because he’s dreaming, and those are projections looking for the dreamer, as the rules of the film state. After having seen it so many times, I can say with 100% certainty that the looks he gets from the rest of his team are very pointed “job well done” looks, with nods and smiles included. The looks of projections are blank, intense stares, devoid of emotion. Also, at the end of the film, Cobb walks past every member of his team in the order in which they dream: Yusuf (City), Arthur (Hotel), Eames (Snow), Fischer (Snow/Limbo), and Saito (Limbo). This is clearly done on purpose to mirror the events which just transpired, further reinforcing that what happened actually happened (as everyone, not just Cobb) has the familiar glances during this sequence.
And finally, as a nice end cap to my laboriously long-winded analysis, when the team is discussing how to translate a business strategy into an emotional concept to use on Fischer, Cobb himself states “I think positive emotion trumps negative emotion every time, we all yearn for reconciliation. For catharsis.” Also, when in the warehouse in level 1, Eames states that Fischer’s relationship with his Father is more messed up than they could have imagined. When Arthur asks “and this helps us how?” Cobb once again states “The stronger the issues, the more powerful the catharsis.”
This is the one key point which ties the whole film together. The stronger the issues, the more intense, layered, and messed up the narrative is, then the more powerful the catharsis when Cobb finally does reunite with his kids. Could something this grand, this incredibly complex actually have happened?
Some viewers say no, it was all a dream. I, however, say yes. It all happened. And for those of you out there who disagree… perhaps Nolan’s story about planting an idea into someone else’s head reached beyond the silver screen. Either way, we all just experienced Inception.