Musings on Inception

This has been a bitch to write! As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have been struggling for weeks to write this. It has undergone many transformations in the meantime. What I had originally set out to write turned out to be completely different than what I have actually written. But then, that’s the way it always goes, doesn’t it? Somehow it always ends up about being me, even if that wasn’t my intention in the first place…

A word of caution beforehand: it is of course quite impossible to discuss Inception in detail without revealing any spoilers. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you should refrain from reading any further.


Well dreams, they feel real while we’re in them, right? It’s only when we wake up that we realize how things are actually strange. Let me ask you a question, you, you never really remember the beginning of a dream do you? You always wind up right in the middle of what’s going on.

Inception is a dream; that’s my interpretation of the movie. In my opinion, there are just too many elements that do not fit or just seem strange, and I believe that Cobb’s subconscious is filling in the details as the story unfolds. It is never explained where the extractors come from, and also we never learn what happened to Cobb in the time between the death of his wife and the events in the movie, which only increases the feeling that we just “wind up in the middle of what’s going on.” However, I’m not here to convince you of my own personal views. I believe that the events in Inception are open to many different interpretations, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already forgotten many of the elements in the movie. In fact, I even believe that Nolan deliberately kept things ambiguous in order for us to form our own opinions based on what we encounter in our subconscious – remember, inception only works if we believe the idea originates from ourselves. So suffice to say for now that this is how I personally interpret it. Instead, I want to focus on how this interpretation affects my perception of the movie.

Subconscious is fueled by emotion, right? Not reason. We need to a find a way to translate this into an emotional concept.

When people have discussions on Inception, they tend to focus on the “intellectual” or “mind-bending” part of the movie. The emotional part, if not exactly neglected, is mostly just seen as a plot structure to facilitate the intellectual part, nothing more. I don’t remember anyone mentioning it as an integral part of the movie, but for me it is. Perhaps it is just the way I am wired. More fundamentally however, if I believe that it is all a dream, then I have to acknowledge that I have a lot in common with Cobb. Both of us are dreamers, and we both tend to escape into our private little world when encountered with emotional pain.

Because building a dream from your memory is the easiest way to lose your grasp on what’s real and what isn’t real.

The major difference, at least as I see it, is that Cobb’s dreams occur on a subconscious level, whereas I am in general still very much aware of my thoughts and fantasies. Which of the two is worse is debatable; I guess you could argue that my case is worse as I’m doing it deliberately. I don’t disagree, but I don’t necessarily agree either. As least when I’m doing it consciously, I am aware that I have a choice; at least I am still aware of the difference between fantasy and reality. This is not to say that I am able to handle these situations better, as I had never had to deal with a loss as large as Cobb’s. I know I am terrible in coping with my emotions, and as such I can easily lose myself within my own daydreams. So who says that I won’t lose the distinction between dream and reality when faced with a similar situation?

The team needs someone who understands what you’re struggling with. And it doesn’t have to be me, but then you have to show Arthur what I just saw.

There is another reason why I believe that Inception is a dream, and which isn’t mentioned often – the character played by Ellen Page named Ariadne. In Greek mythology, Ariadne is the one who helped Theseus escape from the Minotaur’s labyrinth, and I believe that the name Ariadne is filled in by Cobb’s subconscious. Perhaps it’s not exactly a perfect fit, as Ariadne is the one who creates the dream labyrinths in the movie, although she is then of course the one who guides the other team members through them. In a more metaphorical sense however, Ariadne is the one who helped Cobb escape from his own personal labyrinth. As such, Ariadne is really the key to Cobb’s development throughout the movie; without her he probably still would have been stuck in his own projections. Because she is the key to his development, perhaps that is the reason why his subconscious has given her a symbolic name, whereas the others seem to have generic names.

Perhaps you find it strange that Cobb would rely on a figment of his own imagination for moral support, but for someone like me it’s completely natural; it’s what I do all the time. In my own daydreams, I often feel the urge to pour my heart out to some fictional character (who incidentally is always female – just doesn’t work with a male character). I create a safe environment for myself that I can reveal my feelings, and I believe Cobb is doing the same. It is otherwise rather amazing how someone as closed as Cobb is yet so willing to bare his innermost feelings to someone he hardly knows. I know, it’s freaky, but it works to a degree. Under certain conditions, it’s simply a way to cope with our emotions so we are able to move on.

The moment’s passed. Whatever I do I can’t change this moment. I’m about to call out to them. They run away. If I’m ever going to see their faces I’ve gotta get back home. The real world.

In the end, that is exactly what Cobb has done: move on. I’m not sure whether the last scene is a dream or not. Sometimes I think that is the only scene in the entire movie which is not a dream, and at others times I believe that literally everything is a dream. But perhaps it is not a significant difference in the end. What’s truly important is that he was finally able to reject his projection of his wife, and to accept that it is not real. Whether he is awake, or whether he is still going to wake up, this acceptance is what lingers, so he will finally be able to go back to his family and start living his life in a meaningful way once again.

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