Episode 107: A Dragonball Z Solution to an Inception Problem

The Overthinkers tackle Inception. Spoilers abound.

Matthew Wrather hosts with Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, John Perich, and Jordan Stokes to overthink Inception. Spoilers abound.


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45 Comments on “Episode 107: A Dragonball Z Solution to an Inception Problem”

  1. David (uk) #

    I read on a different forum the answer, and I have no doubt it’s right. He’s awake he’s definately awake. There’s proof throughout the whole movie that he’s awake. For instance in the real world, it doesn’t always follow him. Hell there’s a scene of Joseph Gordon Levitt training Ellen Page while he is on the other side of the world, and he has nothign to do with it. That wouldn’t happen if they were all a projection in his dream. Theres others, scenes where you clearly see that the top falls over.

    So why cut it where he did? Because of inception. He did exactly what Leo did to his wife. Nolan Incepted into our heads the idea that maybe it isn’t reality, with something as simple as a spinning top. It was fairly easy to tell that the top was about to fall over, in fact I’d say the put the cut just a split second before it did. But that was enough to put that bit of doubt in our minds. It’s not about real or not real. It’s about inception.


  2. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Great, great movie. But (and I haven’t heard the podcast yet, so excuse me if I’m rehashing the discussing) I personally don’t feel, in my guy, that’s iall a dream at the end. My girlfriend found it very suspicious how the kids are in the exact same spot, wearing the exact same clothes, at the exact same age. Maybe it’s a little too perfect.

    But then explain to me what REALLY happens? Leo goes into his subconscious to save Ken Wanatabe, but he finally loses his grip on what’s a dream and what’s not. He dreams he finds Ken and dreams he wakes up in the airplane. But actually, he’s still under. He might spend 50 years of dream time while he’s actually asleep on the airplane. And then, presumably, his teammates finally wake him up when the plane is about to land, and he’s completely crazy from having spent a lifetime in a dream he thought was real. Something like that?

    I guess I never have much interest in debating ambiguous endings, because there IS no answer. Maybe Nolan, on the DVD commentary, will reveal what HE believes. But I’m pretty sure the “text” of the film itself isn’t going to tell us what happened, 100%. And that’s totally fine.

    I was always amused after the Sopranos, when people debated vigorously about whether Tony was dead or alive. Clearly, the point is WE DON’T GET TO KNOW. But people (some people, at least), were certain there was a definitive answer, if you looked closely enough.


  3. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Here’s what I want to know about Inception. I have some serious questions about how much time elapses in each “level” of the dream. During the planning, Leo does the math and figures they will spend a week at Level 1, 6 months at Level 2, and 10 years at Level 3. This does NOT happen. I’d say they spend maybe 24 hours at Level 1 (overnight in that warehouse), a few hours at Level 2 (in the hotel), and a couple hours at Level 3 (storming the fortress).

    But wait! You have to account for exactly how much time relative to Level 1 they spend in each level. For instance, they probably don’t enter Level 3 until the van on Level 1 is about to plunge off the bridge. Am I remembering right? So let’s say that relative to Level 1, they spend 15 seconds on Level 3. So 15 x 20 = 300 seconds x 20 = 6000 seconds = 1 hr 40 min. Which actually seems just about right!

    Or, another example: they enter Level 2 mid-car chase, and exit it when the car hits the water. It’s really hard to estimate how long the car chase goes. But let’s say it’s 10 minutes of driving and dodging bullets. That’s 3 hours and 20 minutes on Level 2. That’s ALSO about right!

    HOWEVER, here’s the part I really don’t get. They can’t just exit the dream anytime they want – they’re stuck in it (via sedative) for the whole 10 hour flight. So logically, everyone on the team besides Leo and Ken Watanabe have no choice but to spend 5 days on Level 1 after the mission is completed, waiting for the sedative to wear off so they could wake up. And I thought everyone was pretty clear that there is no way they could survive that long. The projections were going to hunt them down and shoot them, and then they’d all be in limbo after all.

    My best explanation is that after the mission is completed, Fischer is so happy and at peace with himself that his mental guard dogs are basically called off. No one is hunting the dream invaders anymore. Everyone on the team (except the two people lost in limbo) just spends five days of dream time lying low and playing cards, waiting for the dream to end. I can buy that.


    • David #

      Regarding the time spent on each level, the rule they mentioned was that time would be multiplied by 20, and all of the instances where they actually give numbers, this rule holds. When Cobb gives his first estimate, it comes out about right. 10 hours x 20 = 8 days (about 1 week), 1 week x 20 = 20 weeks (about 6 months, considering the days were rounded down from 8 to 7), and 6 months x 20 = 10 years. They never planned to stay that long on Levels 2 and 3, thanks to the synchronized kicks, and presumably they did wait out the week on Level 1 to wake up on the plane. When the van is 10 seconds from driving off the bridge, the estimates are 10 seconds on Level 1, 10 seconds x 20 = 200 seconds (about 3 minutes) on Level 2, and 3 minutes x 20 = 1 hour on Level 3, so again the rule holds up. It’s also accurate for the time it takes the van to hit the water.

      However, the rule doesn’t seem to make sense when looking at the total elapsed time before the synchronized kicks. Assuming they spent about an hour on Level 1 (I believe one of the characters said this), that would come out to 20 hours on Level 2 (a bit of a stretch, but still believable), which would mean they spent a couple of weeks on Level 3 (way too much of a stretch there). And even if the subconscious soldiers forced them to spend even less time on Level 1 than anticipated, cutting it down to, lets say, a quarter of the time, that would be 5 hours on Level 2 (much more believable), and 4 days on Level 3 (still too long, unless they spent 3 days waiting on top of the mountain, but nothing in the movie indicated that).


  4. Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

    We talked a lot on the show about source-texts for Inception, especially as regards ambiguous cross-cutting across time, space, dream, memory, and reality. I think i have to turn in my film-geek credentials; reading the Internet this morning, I was reminded of Last Year at Marienbad. Duh.


  5. Chris #

    Here’s how you know whether or not it is all a dream:

    Was anybody reading Word Up magazine?

    That’s all I have to say regarding this movie, since I have no intention of seeing it because a movie taking place in people’s dreams crosses my threshold for what I am willing to abide in a movie in terms of believability, particularly for a drama.


  6. Chris #

    Also, although I haven’t seen the movie I can add this to the discussion (and I can also admit my joke about Word Up Magazine might not make sense because I don’t think reading said magazine isn’t part of the dream that Biggie refers to but I couldn’t resist) and that is that I sort of agree with Belinkie’s take on the ending. When it comes to movies and TV and other storytelling mediums I only take them at face value based on what I am presented and parse it accordingly.

    That is to say, I don’t try and read into anything or look for allusions or allegories. Even Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, an admitted allegory, I take as a story about a washed out boxer going up against a union. I just feel that a definitive story is being presented to us and that is what the movie should be viewed as.

    As such, if the ending of Inception is undefined (which it is, since I read about the movie on Wikipedia after listening to this podcast) then thus from my perspective there is no ending. I feel the same way about The Sopranos ending or A Serious Man for that matter. Obviously something happens, but we don’t know what it is and it isn’t part of the text, as it were. It would appear that the point is that Leo doesn’t care what happens with the top.

    However, and I suppose this is a spoiler to those that haven’t seen the movie (or read about it on Wikipedia) but theoretically even if he leaves the top spinning wouldn’t it keep spinning continuously if it were a dream. Thus, he could get up, go play with his kids or what have you and then come back to the top and see if it is still spinning? I mean, that’s not relevant to the movie as it is presented to the audience, but just simply on a theoretical level he’s not completely tossing away his concern for whether or not he’s dreaming, he’s merely delaying it. Eventually, he’s going to find out whether or not he’s dreaming.


  7. Gab #

    The trailer score was written by a different person, Zack Hemsey. And the song by Piaf was part of Nolan’s original idea for the movie (can’t remember where I read that, but I did, I promise), before he cast the actress, and he gave it to Hans to incorporate. BUT, he also made Hans write his music before he let him see the movie, and I assume the score then got tweaked a little to fit certain moments.

    My “thing” with the top is small, but here goes: If it’s a dream, couldn’t Leo’s character simply dream it to fall over in every instance it *does*? Not even on purpose, but if the architect can control the physics of the entire setting, I’m sure they could subconsciously, thus without realizing, make a little metal spinner topple to the surface upon which it’s spinning.

    I enjoyed the death=life=death motif a lot, though. The “life” within the dream between Leo and his wife was one long death- they grew old together. But to live in the real world, one must die in the dream. To “live” in the dream means, essentially, death in the real world because your real body would go brain dead. Which leads to another thought.

    The movie itself focuses on the mind and consciousness in its wording and diction, even the science (or “science”), but the themes and conversations are easily translated to the soul and what makes a person a person. True to form, I think Nolan is again pondering identity and self-worth, something he has done in, like, all of his movies- but so well that it feels new every time. Love that. Anyhoo, my point is if you’re more yourself in the dream than when awake, why shouldn’t you be allowed to choose Limbo? At first, I thought it would be absolutely tragic if the end sequence wasn’t real, but then I pondered a bit and decided so what? Because if in the real world, he’d be arrested and taken from his children, what does he have to live for there? If his soul is in his dream and he is what he wants to be- good, clean, redeemed, why pry him away from that by waking him up and forcing him back into the real world? His soul may be clean in the real world, but it would not have the rewards that cleansing earned him. Now I sound like I’m about to talk about Heaven, so I think I’ll stop before I go there- I know reading religion (or at least spirituality) into things gets annoying and old.

    Amazing movie, though. I’d like to see it again to look for more clues and indicators, now that I know the storyline.


  8. stokes #

    Gab – by the trailer song you mean those huge booming brass chords that play on the beach in limbo? That’s really interesting. They fit so seamlessly into the overall fabric of the score! But then, for better or worse, Hans Zimmer’s “house style” is becoming a kind of film scoring lingua franca), and one of its trademarks is that it’s all about texture and sonority (as opposed to, say, melody), which makes it much easier to blend in with.


  9. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @ Gab – You touch on a nitpicky thought I had: the top is a TERRIBLE totem. Awful. The totem is supposed to be something that only you have knowledge of – therefore, if you’re in somebody else’s dream, they can’t possibly recreate it right. The loaded dice are a good totem – only the kid from Third Rock From the Sun knows how they will land. The top, however, is dumb. It doesn’t spin in any unique way that no one else knows. His test is whether it FALLS DOWN or not. I’m pretty sure that any dreamer who wanted to fool Leo could make the top fall down – gravity is not some big secret.

    Let me make the question even more basic: Leo says that in a dream, the top just keeps spinning. WHY? The dreamer has total control over the laws of physics. Is this some sort of magic top that NO ONE can dream falls over? No matter how good an architect I am, I can’t create a world in which Leo’s top obeys the Laws of Thermodynamics? It really seems to me that just seeing if the top falls over doesn’t prove whether he’s in a dream or not, in any way. Especially since everybody in the movie KNOWS that his test is seeing if the top falls over.

    Don’t get me wrong, I totally give Nolan a pass, because the spinning top ending is just wonderful.


  10. Krin-dogg #

    A few musings:

    1). Do you think that because so much of the action in this movie takes place in the dream world, we have to automatically excuse minor discrepancies/oddities? This came up briefly during the podcast during a discussion about Eames’ fighting abilities. In any other movie, we might question whether or not it is plausible that he can fight so well while skiing down a mountainside, but in this movie, it seems that we can always say: “well, it’s in a dream world, and dream worlds operate under different rules and don’t have to be internally consistent.” I’m not suggesting that we either should mercilessly nit-pick continuity errors, or completely ignore them. I’m just wondering to what extent we have to worry about the internal consistency of Nolan’s universe.

    2). Regarding the ending, is it possible that Cobb (Leo) is actually operating within Miles’ (Michael Caine’s ) dream? I seem to recall that Miles is in the final scene and shoots Cobb a curious glance, which may be a clue. Earlier in the film, Michael Caine’s character also tries to dissuade Cobb from attempting Inception, so perhaps Miles intervenes to give Cobb what he wanted in a different form. When/where the Miles dream begins, though, is also open to interpretation.

    3). I was reading A.O. Scott’s review of the film (http://movies.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/movies/16inception.html), and he points out that despite many amazing visuals, most of the dreamscapes in this movie are “curiously pedestrian.” To be fair, I didn’t go into this movie expecting the kind of craziness you can see in What Dreams May Come, but it is interesting that so much of what happens in the dream world falls into the standard action movie rubric (car chases, gun fights, fiery explosions, etc.). Thus, while I liked the film very much, I wonder if there was more room for the fantastical.


  11. John Perich OTI Staff #

    @Belinkie: Nolan’s sort of vague on how the totems work. I don’t think Arthur has to roll his loaded dice to see if he’s in the real world. I think he just jogs them in his hand and sees how they feel.

    To that end: maybe the validating aspect of the top as totem isn’t whether it falls down. It’s whether Dom can keep it up. If he’s still in a dream, then he still has some control over reality and could (conceivably) will the top upright forever. If he’s in the real world, entropy will eventually take over.

    (Of course, if he’s in a dream, he could CONVINCE himself he’s in the real world, and SUBCONSCIOUSLY nudge the top into falling over)

    Or perhaps, by fiddling with the top so much in the real world, he’s given himself the subconscious suggestion that “this top will always stay upright in a dream.”

    I recognize that it’s not fully fleshed out as a technology, but I don’t think that’s to the movie’s detriment.


  12. fenzel #


    1) The action in Inception is sort of like an elaborate “hacking” sequence from a nonsense late-90s movie, except that it looks awesome and not stupid. They’re probably not really “fighting” these people — after all, they’re incorporeal mental constructs. It would be easy for a dreamer to simply imagine soldiers immune to bullets if we were really concerned with shared imaginations concerning the specific interaction of bullets and the human body. The people are engaging in mental battles, battles of imagination, not physical ones, so we can forgive when the physical representation of it seems off or doesn’t manage to match up with what would be reasonable in a movie primarily concerned with the physics of bullets or jumping cars or parasailing.

    I wouldn’t say that internal consistency doesn’t matter — there are places where it definitely matters. But the action sequences aren’t those places.

    2) Yes, this was one of my theories, too. It definitely seems possible. It is also possible we are all living a shared dream of Michael Caine and Gene Hackman, which would explain why they are always on television. I read a thesis on that once, written by this guy from this crazy college in Connecticut. Or maybe that was a dream I had.

    Seriously (sort of) though, I think that Michael Caine being responsible for a lot of what is going on is one of the potential plotlines that Nolan deliberately weaves into his ambiguous narrative — because the introduction of Ariadne turns out to be the least “realistic” thing that happens in the “real” world, and he’s responsible for it.

    3) There definitely was, but it almost certainly wouldn’t have done as well at the box office or been as fun to watch. The action sequences were important because they were the familiar thing that made us tolerate all the crazytown in the rest of the movie.

    Which is ironic, because in most action movies it’s the cop going home to his apartment and drinking out of a carton of milk that reminds us of reality before he gets into a gravity-defying gunfight with Japanese Crypto-Gangsters or whatever. Usually the character stuff is Abbott and the action sequences are Costello. In Inception, the action sequences are Abbot, and the character stuff is Costello.

    For example, if Inception were an anime, it would fit right into the medium, but the comfort level of this kind of story in that kind of presentation would have justified much crazier dream sequences, probably involving bleeding teddy bears.


  13. fenzel #

    Also, if Leonardo DiCaprio ever tried to run an extraction on Mark Lee, he’d be FUBAR, because we all know at least half of Mark’s subconscious is populated by either T-800s or T-1000s.


    • Timothy J Swann #

      That was my one great lament about this movie (Not that it wasn’t all about Mark, that’s more of a minor disgruntlement) – that we have to leave the universe behind. I want to see a TV show of this – there’s so much scope for extractors and inception to be a weekly arc driven show. And one episode could have Terminators.


  14. Gab #

    @Fenzel: Ah, but what’s their power level? It would have to be over at *least*… you know.


  15. Gab #

    Okay, for some reason the top of my comment disappeared, so sorry for the double.

    @Stokes: Zimmer is my favorite movie composer. He has been imitated a lot lately, but there is something about *his* compositions that make them distinct from the imitations. I think of the imitators like knock-off purses- I can usually spot that they’re a knock-off of, but sometimes it takes really close inspection, perhaps going so far as to checking the credits the way I’d check the lining of a purse- but while I may sometimes not attribute ZIMMER correctly, I know instantly when it’s *not* him, a quality I find unique to him. And, of course, he isn’t innocent of knocking *himself* off- compare _Bicentennial Man_ to some of _Braveheart_, for instance. But still. His score often becomes a character in itself- not just enhancing a scene, but actually playing a role in it. Others like Williams, Horner, Silvestri, they may push the theme or emotion, beat you over the head with it (“YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE SAD RIGHT NOW!” “Triumphant BATTLE MUSIC!”) but they don’t create their own (a tremor in an otherwise calm scene, a pop out of nowhere that sounds like it was caught by the boom mic on the set, etc.). (I’m stopping myself- I could rant about film scores a lot.)

    Totems weren’t really described in detail, and I think quite on purpose so as to leave that ambiguity. I had the impression how the person identifies it is unique to them. In Arthur’s case, it was the side on which the die was loaded- he could feel what dots were facing what way in relation to the weight. I thought Ariadne’s would have to do with the texture- she was engraving the piece herself, after all, and I theorized she may have been adding some grooves or something inside the traditional ones, making them bumpy or jagged in a pattern of her own design; I guess sort of like the texture of the inside of Wrather’s finger puppet. For some reason, I never thought hers would have so much to do with weight, but feel. I only saw it the one time (so far), so I can’t be sure if that was because of what was said, what *wasn’t* said, or what, but there *is* still a problem overall with totems that doesn’t bug me, no, but still exists.

    A totem may tell you the difference between the real world and someone *else’s* dream, but again, to sort of go back to what was already stated, what if it’s your own dream and you don’t know it? Subconsciously, you could make the dream totem do whatever it’s supposed to do. Arthur could be deeper than he realized in his own subconscious and, without realizing it, architect the die in his hand to act as if he were awake (yes, I used “architect” as a verb), meaning make it “loaded” however he “knows” it’s supposed to be.

    Like Belinkie, whatever holes in the totem concept there are, I totally forgive Nolan for them because totems were dealt with so artfully and well, and the holes don’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie at all.


  16. lee OTI Staff #

    “Also, if Leonardo DiCaprio ever tried to run an extraction on Mark Lee, he’d be FUBAR, because we all know at least half of Mark’s subconscious is populated by either T-800s or T-1000s.”

    @fenzel, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said about me in a long time. ;-)


  17. Chris #

    Another thing tangentially related to Inception; I think it has solidified Christopher Nolan as one of the preeminent filmmakers of our time. His movies aren’t just critically acclaimed, and usually quite good, but he also finds box office success. In terms of the latter, this movie proved that he can do it without the help of the Batman franchise, plus he deserves points for resurrecting that moribund franchise after Mr. Freeze put it on ice (Hey-O!).

    While some directors make a lot of money (Michael Bay, for example) they don’t necessarily make good films. In fact, some would say the stuff they make is utter garbage. Meanwhile, people like the Coen Brothers and Scorsese, while they make some excellent movies, they don’t usually make a lot of money with them. Why, The Big Lebowski, perhaps the Coens’ most beloved movie, was a box office dud.

    Nolan appears to have managed to put himself in the rarefied air of guys like Spielberg, which is a tremendous achievement. When you consider how much writing he’s done for his movies it becomes even more impressive. Also, I think The Prestige is his best movie.


  18. Mark #

    Just saw it last night, and haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but here are a few of my (many) thoughts:

    -It makes sense that the dreamers would be more powerful than the projections in the action sequences; the projections are like video game AI: relentless but predictable, following a script but without full consciousness behind them (in fact, didn’t it say that they’re entirely subconscious?). Also, the dreamer doing the fighting is pretty much always the “host” of that dream level (Yusuf in the car chase, Levitt in the hotel, Eames on skis) and that has to give him an edge.

    -That leads to my main question: who is the “host” of limbo? If Fischer goes down into limbo first, why is he captured by Cobb’s memories in Cobb’s crumbling dream world? It seems like given enough time you create your own reality in limbo (i.e., old man Saito back in his japanese mansion) but why would that reality persist after you wake up? Or does the city still exist because Cobb’s wife really did somehow leave her consciousness in limbo, so that she is just “dreaming” in the real world and is right to kill herself to “wake up”?

    -My only issue with the movie is how they establish the “rule” at the beginning that getting killed in a dream wakes you up, and then abandon that rule halfway through to add tension. Why not just say that dying in the dream is bad in the first place, a la Matrix? Not to mention that dying sends you to limbo, but then killing yourself in limbo wakes you up again; what’s up with that?


    • fenzel #

      – Yeah, it was all very FPS. The snow dream is I believe a multiplayer map from James Bond: Agent Under Fire for the N64. And yeah, having the dreamer being the one doing the fighting is a big part of their strategy and why they plan paradoxes in the levels.

      – Limbo is stll a subconscious state, not a geographical place, and the only reason anybody goes there together is because they are linked by the dream machine. It’s supposed to be a place of pure subconscious, but they didn’t really deliver on that – they just made it kind of a crappier deam. Cobb was in limbo before, so presumably what you build in your own limbo is a deep-seated part of your subconscious and sticks around.

      As for Fischer, if there were ever a time Fischer was in limbo without Cobb, we don’t see it. Fischer gets pulled into Cobb’s limbo because Cobb has built his limbo, while Fischer hasn’t built his yet — although that also doesn’t make much sense, because if it’s this place of pure subconscious, you’d think one should build one’s limbo around oneself fairly quickly.

      Another option is that Cobb’s problems are so fearsome that they overwhelm all those around him by sheer force, like he’s some sort of musky dreamscape Gilgamesh – and that would really only happen because he’s the protagonist and we easily accept that the protagonist has vaguely defined supremacy over everybody else. But it’s still a little sloppy.

      – They need to set up the ambiguity between waking up and dying to develop Mal’s death. There has to be some question as to what happens when you wake up / die or the central act of the movie doesn’t function the same way (which is, in an ambiguous and confusing manner).


      • fenzel #

        Another thing about limbo is that nobody “owns” limbo. It has no formal structure – everybody in it is able to build and populate it equally. They don’t really explore it in the movie.

        (technically, since they divide “building” and “populating” into separate roles with separate functions, limbo should be a barren wasteland that just has hundreds of people in it, but that wouldn’t be as filmically impressive)

        So, they use Fischer’s death to go down to Limbo, because they hook into the dream machine and travel with him — but it isn’t “his” limbo.

        The speed with which Ariadne comes up with this ludicrous plan is one of the big reasons I think of the movie as an inception being deliberately run on Cobb by either Mal or Michael Caine.


        • Gab #

          (Wow, these reply things are awesome.)

          Or just Ariadne in general. She is conveniently placed into Cobb’s hands by his father, and she is, conveniently, better than Cobb and thus a total prodige, picking up on everything at a rate even Cobb is impressed by. So while the plan she comes up with on the spot fits into that protige characterization, the reason for her ability to do it at all could very well be that she was “programmed” that way by whomever was planting the inception in Cobb’s mind in the first place. Also, the fact that she’s the only one to stand up to him- she’s meant to “accidentally” figure him out so she can point him in the right direction, or rather the direction the person incepting (what a word) him wants him to go. Ariadne could be the “Mr. Charles” of the inceptor (I can’t believe *that’s* a word, too, yeesh).


          • stabbim #

            The way Ariadne’s primary function as a character seems to shift about halfway through the film from designing/maintaining the dreamscapes to shepherding Cobb through his psychological issues certainly suggests to me that she’s part of a second inception being run on Cobb, the purpose of which is to get him to let go of his guilt and regret over Mal.

        • Timothy J Swann #

          My interpretation was that Limbo is the Jungian universal unconscious, that was the only way for me to square that Fischer went down first, so was the lead dreamer, and yet it was the world that Cobb and Mal had built… anyone think the Firefly names are deliberate?


  19. applejack #

    I enjoyed the movie, but did think that it was over-hyped. I was disappointed in the theater when I saw that there were no great action sequences that had not already been shown in the trailers.
    I’m surprised nobody mentioned Shutter Island in the podcast. Obviously Nolan didn’t know about that film before he started Inception, but the extreme similarities between Leo’s character in both films was a constant distraction when watching Inception. The guilt/grief/possible insanity of the husband over his late wife is at the heart of both stories. In fact the horrible reveal at the end of Shutter Island about what the husband and wife had done made the Inception reveal seem pretty tame in comparison.
    In fact I think the husband and wife stuff dragged the film down a bit. I think if Nolan had just kept to the heist aspect — an Ocean’s Eleven for the mind — it would have been a better flick.
    This was mentioned already, but I’ve got to reiterate how boring these dreams were. Yeah they were mostly constructed to fool someone into thinking they were in the real world, but still imagine what crazy shit happens in regular dreams much less COLLECTIVE dreams. This could have been an explosion of awesome randomness, but instead they just run around a dull grey city.
    One further nitpick is that the exposition was endless and not entirely necessary. Why does someone need to say – more than once that, “Dying in the dream world wakes you up.” When all they needed to do was show Arthur getting shot in that first sequence and then waking up in the other room.
    Another aspect that was not mentioned in the podcast was how reliable a narrator Don Cobb is. Is it possible that he really did kill his wife? Why else would he feel so much guilt?
    Why did Cobb need to use Inception on his wife in the first place? Wouldn’t she want to return to the real world and see their kids again anyway? And then why wait 50 years in Limbo before going through with it?
    And what was the secret thing that Mal had kept hidden from Cobb in Limbo? was that ever explained?


  20. applejack #

    I think Nolan was a bit too ambitious here. I’d rather see a Soderbergh version of the dream heist part, and then a Charlie Kaufman version of the dream within a dream, is-this-real-life?, meta-narrative stuff.
    just sayin


  21. lee OTI Staff #


    I actually did see “Shutter Island” and was somewhat distracted by the similarities with “Inception,” but in the end I didn’t think they made “Inception” a worse movie. Also, I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two movies’ respective reveals. The way they functioned in the overall narrative arcs were quite different.

    No, I was more distracted by the fact that none of the characters in the movie had seen “Total Recall.” Or “The Matrix.”

    More on that in my post for next week. ;-)


  22. lee OTI Staff #


    Unless we’re thinking of different “reveal” moments–what were you thinking of for “Inception”?


  23. applejack #

    *Shutter Island Spoilers*
    In Shutter Island we find out that he left his kids with an unstable wife who ends up killing them, and then he kills his own wife for what she’s done. In Inception we find out that his wife killed herself because Leo had planted the idea in her head. But the foreshadowing seemed to suggest something worse. Unlike in Shutter Island he really wasn’t guilty of anything. He thought he was just waking them both up.


  24. stokes #

    @applejack – The way I understand it, some of your questions kind of answer each other.

    Limbo as we see it in the film is not quite the same as the limbo Cobb and Mal hung out in for 50 years. That one was a lot more like the real world – so much so that they forgot it was fake. Thus, what Mal had hidden away (from herself, more than from Cobb) was her totem, i.e., her knowledge that Limbo is a dream. Leo needed to use inception to return this knowledge to her (or rather, to implant almost identical knowledge that ends up consuming her psyche like wildfire). Even after he does it, you get the feeling that when they lie down on the train tracks neither one of them is *sure* that it’s going to work. They just have an idea.


  25. Adam #

    I have confirmed Perich’s theory about the “BWAAAAA” from Inception being the opening notes of “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” at an extremely slow speed.

    I’ve got the full break down of it at my blog: Inception: The Source of the BWAAAA


  26. Megan from Lombard #

    Last Friday Craig Ferguson made the ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ joke as well.

    I felt that the movie was too long and that majority of the stuff that they had in there could have been cut. But I do agree that it was a good movie, and the reasons that you give for it being a dream (his kids were the exact same age and in the exact same OUTFITS as they were in the memories) are what my friends and myself came up with.

    DISPICABLE ME PODCAST PLEASE! I love that movie so hard and actually think that it could be compared to the relationship between Russia and the US (both during the Cold War and the whole to-do that’s been going on).


  27. TomFool #

    So this post is a little late, but I just saw the movie today. I have several observations/questions.

    1. Does anyone else think that the kids were just a part of the dream constructed by the main character and his wife? In every scene in which they appear they have a dreamlike quality to them. Also, he can never see their faces which is typical of dream images. Since it is clear in the film that he had an entire life with his wife in limbo and grew old with her, could they have constructed a whole family with their god-like dream powers?

    2. If the whole movie is a dream (I personally don’t believe it is), then that means all of the other characters are projections of Cobb’s subconscious and represent different aspects of that subconscious. What aspects does everyone think these characters represent?

    3. I don’t think it matters if the whole experience is a dream because the story is about Cobb dealing with his subconscious/conscious guilt over his wife. Once he deals with that guilt he can continue his life. The only reason that limbo was a problem at first was because it would be spent with a self-hating, vengeful spirit from his subconscious. Now that he has overcome that problem he is free to allow himself to be happy. The warrant for his arrest was nothing more than his desire to punish himself as he feels he is unworthy of happiness.

    4. With regards to limbo and why it becomes Cobb’s limbo one of the characters did say that the limbo was formed by subconscious desires, but also by what anyone had created that had been there before. At least I understand them to have said this. I want to watch the movie again to listen closely to the description of limbo in the warehouse. This would mean that since Cobb had already been there it was shaped by what he created. Does that mean that only one limbo exists for all minds? I think it could also be because Cobb’s subconscious self-hating burst into the 3rd level dream to ruin his desires and destroy his attempt to be with his children.

    Then again maybe I’m totally wrong. What do you guys think?


  28. TomFool #

    I forgot one thing in the last post. With regards to setting up the idea that dying wakes you up in dreams and then taking that away I liked that point. It set up a safe world where we thought the protagonists would have no negative consequences. Then when we are comfortable it destroys that idea making the situation feel all the more threatening because of it.


  29. applejack #

    They mention that the Limbo they will go to is Cobb’s because he’s the only one in their group to have been there before.


  30. TomFool #

    Sorry I keep posting, but I keep getting new ideas.

    So I was wondering if the name Ariadne might have some meaning. She was the daughter of King Minos that fell in love with Theseus and provided him the answer to solving the labyrinth and thus being able to get out after killing the minotaur. In the film, Ariadne is hired to create mazes in the dream which didn’t make much sense since the dreams weren’t really maze-like. I think maybe she is there to provide the hero Cobb with a way out after facing his minotaur, his wife, at the end of the labyrinth.

    Also, the whole kick thing seemed to be confused in the movie. In the first dream, Cobb is kicked by being made to fall backwards in the dream he is asleep in, but later the kick is a fall in the dream level they are currently experiencing. Ariadne had to jump/get pushed off a building to experience the fall and wake up in the next level. Is this an inconsistency in the film or have I misunderstood what is happening?


    • Gab #

      Oh, I don’t think anybody would attempt to say Ariadne’s name was *not* deliberate- it had the subtlety of a tack hammer for anybody familiar with Greek mythology, which is why some viewers of the movie were disappointed in Nolan for it. Sort of like, “Really, Chris? Labrynths? Ariadne? REALLY?” I believe a couple of the podcasters had that reaction, in fact, although I can’t remember who it was at the moment.

      The kick part got to me a little, too. It was cool that Arthur tied everybody together and guided them to the elevator and all, but that choice just didn’t really make sense to me (for a particular example). When Ariadne jumped, I didn’t get the impression she was going for a kick, but for ascension- she was already *in* Limbo, so she needed to wake up. And I feel the concept was still left somewhat ambiguous, but to its detriment, as opposed to the ambiguity of the totem concept.


  31. Tulse #

    I have one burning question regarding the film, related to the prosaic nature of the dreams — why the hell would a pair of architects who can will literally anything into being create nothing but huge blocks of early ’60s modernist apartment buildings? What the fuck? If I were in Limbo, I’d be making frickin’ Roger Dean album covers, with floating islands and weird castles and architecture that cannot be realized in the real world. Instead they do miles and miles of Mies Van Der Rohe knockoffs. Really? That’s the best they could come up with after fifty frickin’ years? And in a universe where you are the only people, wouldn’t that just get super creepy after a while — making row upon row of empty office towers and condos? I thought that the lack of imagination in this section of the film was very disappointing.


  32. Nathan #

    I don’t understand why people are confused about Limbo. There’s no such thing as Cobb’s limbo or Fischer’s limbo. Limbo is a shared subconscious. The reason that Cob’s world is there is because he and Mal were the only people who made it to Limbo before the events of the movie.


  33. Timothy J Swann #

    Just listening now, as I finally saw Inception last night, but I have read that Level 3: The Ice Boss was not merely as Fenzel joked but actually and genuinely an homage to the level in Goldeneye.


    • Timothy J Swann #

      And that will teach me to read all the comments first – my apologies, Mr. Fenzel. I think I was actually worried about getting spoilers about the podcast, which is a whole new level of paranoia.


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