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What is Inception about?
Inception is a heist movie that’s actually exploring ideas of psychological closure and catharsis. The heist is simply an entertaining way to get at the deeper conversation of mental health. Inception’s actual story is about Dom Cobb’s grief and the way in which his grief has separated him from his family. This process is defamiliarized through the plot device of dream-sharing, allowing the film to manifest Cobb’s deceased wife, Mal, through his subconscious thoughts and feelings. He’s then able to have “direct” interactions with her that represent his hanging on to grief and guilt. Ultimately, by defeating this version of Mal, he gives himself permission to move forward with his life.
The heist itself embodies the ideas of closure and catharsis, as it relies on infiltrating the dreams of Robert Fischer, heir to a major business empire, to convince him to dissolve his father’s kingdom. To achieve this, the team has to help Fischer come to the conclusion that his father loved him and wanted Robert to build something of his own. If Robert was unconvinced of his father’s love, if he carried around a sense of an unfulfilled relationship, then he would keep the company whole. It would be an emotional attachment. Because the team helps Robert believe his father loved him, Robert doesn’t need the company to feel a sense of connection so can wake up and decide to build his own legacy.
Inception ends with Cobb in a better place. The dream of returning to his kids has finally become reality.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Dom Cobb (the extractor) – Leonardo DiCaprio
- Mal Cobb – Marion Cotillard
- Arthur (the point man) – Joseph Gordon-Levitt
- Ariadne (the architect) – Elliot Page
- Mr. Saito – Ken Watanabe
- Eames (the forger) – Tom Hardy
- Yusuf (the chemist) – Dileep Rao
- Robert Michael Fischer – Cillian Murphy
- Professor Stephen Miles – Michael Caine
- Written by – Christopher Nolan
- Directed by – Christopher Nolan
The ending of Inception explained
During the dream heist, Cobb has to go to the lowest realm of mental Limbo. For three reasons. First, to confront his subconscious projection of his deceased wife, Mal. Second, to retrieve Robert Fischer. Third, to retrieve Saito. Ariadne helps him with one and two. Then Cobb’s on his own for three. The scene where he confronts Saito brings us full circle to the opening moments of the film. The two share a brief conversation where they manage to awaken each other to the nature of their reality and wake up from the dream. This ties up everything regarding the dream heist.
The characters all wake up aboard a 747 that’s minutes away from landing in Los Angeles. Cobb and his team are relieved. Robert Fischer is contemplative. Saito makes a call. He had promised to clear Cobb’s name as a suspect in his wife’s death. Cobb had spent years outside of the U.S. for fear of being arrested. So when the plane lands in Los Angeles and he is in customs, it’s a moment of truth. Did Saito pull off the impossible? Yes. Cobb’s allowed in. He meets with his father, and the two go to his old home. There, Cobb finally reunites with his children, James and Phillipa. Before he goes to them, he spins the top, his totem. The camera then goes from Cobb’s family reunion to the top of the table, still spinning. It focuses on the top. The top spins. And spins. And cut to black.
Let’s get the most important thing out of the way, first. The top falls. Cobb’s not in a dream. He’s not stuck in Limbo. The end of Inception is in reality. We know this for a few reasons.
First, Inception made a point of Cobb seeing his kids in dreams but never seeing their faces. They’d get up and run away. Or something would demand his attention. This happens several times. Which is a very dream-like experience. Because he can’t see his kids in reality, his subconscious manifests that in the denial of the facial visual. When Cobb first arrives home, his kids are out in the yard, heads facing away as they had in the dreams. Except this time they look up. Their faces are clear as day. No denial. No running away.
Second, Michael Caine was at the Film4 Summit and told the audience that Nolan told him that every scene Caine was in was reality.
Lastly. Cobb always wore his wedding ring in dreams. He never had it on in reality. This is consistent throughout Inception. It makes sense. In reality, externally, he’s trying to move on from Mal’s passing. But internally, he’s still hung up on his marriage. That’s why “Mal” keeps appearing in the dream-shares. The wedding ring is part of that. Just one of those things his mind creates. So there’s never a time he has the ring on in reality. And never a time he has it off in the dream. Even when saving Saito, after he’s let go of Mal, he still has the ring on in Limbo. But when he wakes up on the plane and goes back to his kids: no wedding ring.
So why does the camera linger on the top? Why does Nolan even plant the idea in the audience’s head that Cobb might still be dreaming? The short answer is: it’s just to show that sometimes life can feel like a dream. The more complicated answer:
Inception is essentially a complicated example of therapy. Specifically, it demonstrates how working through internal issues can have a positive result on your external life. Cobb has to confront the multitude of repressed emotions he’s carried around since his wife’s passing. And Robert Fischer, the focus of the heist, is dealing with issues after his father’s death. Cobb has felt responsible for what happened to Mal. While Fischer struggled with feeling like a disappointment and the lingering pain of never having his father’s approval.
So the climax of the heist involves both characters, Cobb and Fischer, each reaching the tipping point for their woes. Fischer has this encounter with his father on his father’s death bed. The father, too weak to speak, says “I was disa… I was disa…” and Fischer attempts to finish the sentence. “I know. You were disappointed I couldn’t be you.” That’s the belief Fischer has carried around for years. It’s the feeling that defines him. That haunts him. Especially now that his dad has passed. But the dream version of his dad rejects that statement. He says, “No. No, no, no. I was disappointed that you tried.”
That is a paradigm shift for Fischer. He had spent his life trying to be like his father. And failed. Yet here he awakens to the idea that all he ever had to be was himself. The cherry on the sundae is that inside his father’s safe is a pinwheel Fischer had made as a kid. This silly thing. It being in the safe shows how much the father cherished it. And thus how much the father cherished Fischer. That’s closure. When we see Fischer awaken from the dream, he looks at peace.
Cobb goes through a similar experience with Mal. The argument he has with her in Limbo is actually an argument he’s having with his own subconscious. It’s not Mal who blames him. Mal’s just the representation of Cobb’s own self-loathing. By pleading with her, he’s pleading with himself. By forgiving her, he’s forgiving himself. By letting her go, he’s letting go of that part of him that hasn’t been able to move on.
As dramatic as Inception makes these journeys out to be, they’re very normal. We’ve all gone through similar processes in life. Whether it’s getting over the end of a relationship, or letting go of a career, or accepting becoming a parent, or forgiving yourself for a stupid decision. We work through these emotions in conversations with others, out loud with ourselves, quietly in our own heads, in daydreams, and, yes, even in dreams. For example, after my mom passed away, I was the executor of her estate. I was only 25. My dad had passed away a few years earlier. Only child. It all fell on me. For months, I had recurring dreams where something was chasing me. I’d run away but would forget how to run. My legs were heavy. My feet would stick to the ground. I moved in slow motion. And I could feel whatever it was getting closer. I kid you not, one time it was velociraptors. But once the estate closed and I had the house up for sale and had a new place in a new state, I had a dream where I could fly. Took off. Soared around like Superman. Speeding around. Lifting, diving, weaving between trees and stuff. It was such an amazing feeling.
That flying dream wasn’t some random occurrence. I had it because it reflected my reality. Dreams often do that. Likewise, life can, sometimes, feel like a dream. That’s why we have the phrase “a dream come true”. Cobb spent years dreaming about returning to his kids. When it finally happens, he’s skeptical. He wonders if he’s dreaming. So he spins the top. But, really, it doesn’t matter to him. If he’s in reality, he’s with his kids. If he’s dreaming, he is, finally, with his kids. Either way, he’s happy.
But I think Nolan makes it pretty clear this is reality. And the shot on the top is just supposed to suggest the idea that dreams and reality sometimes overlap. Sometimes we really can’t tell. And hopefully that’s something we’ve all experienced. Even if it’s brief. Like when you share that first kiss with someone you’ve had a crush on. Or when you graduate from school. Or if you’ve always wanted to live in a specific city and finally move there and that feeling when you step into the apartment or house for the first time and have that overwhelming sense of this journey is really happening. That’s what the spinning top conveys. That there are these moments in reality that feel like a dream. And we have no idea how long that feeling will last. That the top is already starting to wobble. So enjoy it while you can.
The themes and meaning of Inception
Grief, Guilt, and Catharsis
Inception is superficially a heist film, but the main character journey is about Dom Cobb’s relationship with grief and regret. He feels responsible for the death of his wife, Mal. Cobb incepted her with the idea that her reality was only a dream and that led her to taking her own life. Cobb’s interactions with his subconscious manifestation of Mal are a defamiliarized way of showing someone processing grief and guilt. This reimagined Mal continuously punishes Cobb because he’s unable to forgive himself.
Cobb’s anguish dovetails with the target of the heist, Robert Fischer, as Fischer is reeling after the passing of his father. Fischer and his father were never close. Their distant relationship caused Fischer to spend much of his life seeking his father’s approval. Now that the father has passed, it’s impossible for Fischer to, in reality, ever bridge the gap. So he’s left reeling from the unresolved emotions.
For the film’s heist to work, Cobb and his team design a dream sequence that leads to Fischer confronting his father. It just so happens to also lead Cobb to confronting himself about Mal’s death. Both men end up working through their grief and guilt. Cobb lets Mal go, absolving himself. And Fischer comes to believe his father did care about him, which allows Fischer to, finally, live his life for himself.
Ultimately, the heist is symbolism for the process of someone confronting their pain and unlocking catharsis. The act of which is a leap of faith.
Reality vs Dreams
Portions of Inception take place in the real world, while a majority of the film occurs in dream sequences. While the two worlds are distinct, they aren’t completely disconnected. We see how if, in the real world, a dreamer plunges into water, the dream fills with water. Or how experiences that occur in the dream can stay with someone when they wake up. The very end of Inception focuses on the spinning top, a totem that’s supposed to spin forever in a dream but eventually fall over in reality. The camera zooms on the top and tension builds as the viewer realizes that maybe Cobb’s return home was just a dream. But then the movie ends.
As at odds as reality and dreams can initially seem in Inception, the movie makes a point to end that spinning top in order to show a convergence of dream and reality. What Cobb’s experiencing in that moment is a dream come true. He’s spent years wanting to return home to his kids. It’s all he wanted. And it’s finally happened. Dream and reality can, at times such as this, feel one and the same.
Of course, there is antithesis. Cobb’s reality had become a bit of a nightmare. His wife was gone. He couldn’t see his kids. All he did was work a pretty dangerous job. When he was in the dreams, his subconscious continually interfered. Mostly through Mal. The dream reflected those negative qualities of Cobb’s reality. Just like his reality, at the end, reflects something that seemed only possible in dreams.
Why is the movie called Inception?
To understand the title Inception we should start with the definition of the word. It’s from the 15th century and means “a beginning; an undertaking.” Usually used in reference to an entity or era. A company might say, “From our inception, we’ve cared about quality.” Or an artist might say, “The work’s inception was during a winter’s day when…”
But there’s more nuance when you change the word from a noun to a verb, from inception to incept. To incept, means, of course, “to begin”. But also “to take in”. It’s similar to ingest. The difference mostly being that ingest gets more solely at the act of consumption. While incept still has the subtext of a beginning, so goes beyond the mere act of “taking in” and implies it’s the start of something more.
And we see that in the film’s story. Dom and his team want to plant an idea in someone else’s head. If they do a bad job, the person’s subconscious will reject the idea. But if they do a good job, then the subconscious will accept the idea, ingest the idea, and it will be the inception of a whole new outlook.
Specifically, Mr. Saito wants Dom to convince Robert Fischer to dissolve Fischer’s father’s company after inheriting it. The company is a giant in the utility industry, so Fischer has every reason to keep things as they are. So Cobb plans to incept Fischer with the notion that Fischer should build something of his own rather than relying on his father’s legacy.
The moment of inception happens when the team constructs a dream scenario where Fischer confronts his father at his father’s death bed. The father’s saying “I was disa… I was disa…” but is too weak to finish the line. Fischer walks up and says, “I know. You were disappointed I couldn’t be you.” That is Fischer’s current truth. The thing that has defined his reality for so long. He’s lived in the shadow of his father and felt such frustration at not being like his father. And has felt his father judged him for it. Maybe that’s true. But the dream version responds with, “No. No, no, no. I was disappointed that you tried.”
Boom. Just like that, Fischer’s entire perspective shifts. His entire identity. Being like his father is a bad thing. Trying to be like his father is what distanced them. It’s been the problem this entire time. So now Fischer should do the opposite. It’s not enough to be himself. He has to distance himself from his father’s legacy. That’s the inception of an outlook that will lead to dissolving his father’s company.
Because the heist makes up the film’s main plot and is core to the theme, Inception makes for a relevant title. It also gets at the film’s end. Cobb spent years unable to return home to his children because authorities thought he had something to do with his wife’s death. Since Saito gets the charges dropped, Cobb finally returns home and can be with his kids. So we end with a new beginning, the inception of Cobb’s next chapter.
Important motifs in Inception
There are a handful of examples of someone’s subconscious interfering with the dream-share. The first is in the opening sequence. Nash, the initial architect, can’t maintain the dream as his subconscious has rebelled in the form of an unruly mob attacking everyone in the room. A bit later, the same thing happens when Ariadne toys around too much in Cobb’s dream. The NPC people start giving her mean looks, then bump into, and begin to turn aggressive. Then Mal shows up. Mal, of course, interfered in the opening sequence and continues causing problems for most of the film. Then there’s the train during the first level of the Fischer heist.
These subconscious intrusions are all symbolic of real emotions. They’re just given concrete form. For example, Mal isn’t really Mal. She represents Dom’s emotions around the death of his wife. His longing for her, the guilt, the anger, the desire to punish himself. In real life, Mal was lovely. But in the dreams, she hurts Cobb because part of Cobb believes he deserves it. The angry mobs are just the subconscious mind realizing someone else’s consciousness is present and attacking the intruder the way white blood cells do a virus. And the train? The train is part of Cobb’s psychic unease.
When Cobb and Mal spent decades in Limbo, they eventually woke up by laying their heads down on train tracks. A train then ran them over. It was a big moment because they had been in Limbo for so long and so content with one another. The train was the end of that chapter and the beginning of the next. Except when they returned to reality, Mal couldn’t cope and believed she was still dreaming. That Limbo had been real. Unfortunately, she tries to go back. The train symbolizes the choice Cobb made to leave Limbo with Mal. He’s still haunted by it all. And the train is part of that.
Inception involves a lot of locomotion.
- The film’s first sequence is the Saito extraction that occurs on a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto.
- There’s the helicopter ride where Saito requests Cobb to incept Robert Fischer.
- Cobb and Arthur leave the helicopter and board a private jet and have another conversation.
- Ariadne and Cobb go on a long walk as Ariadne learns the rules of the dream world.
- When agents of Cobol Engineering chase Cobb in Mombasa and try to kill him, Saito saves Cobb by pulling up in a car and driving him away.
- The climactic dream-share, a sequence that takes up more than half the film, begins aboard a 747 flying from Sydney to Los Angeles.
- The first level of the Fischer heist heavily involves cars and car chases through a city.
- Cobb’s car is hit by a runaway train that barrels through the city streets.
- The third level has snowmobiles, people skiing, and snow trucks.
- For level two, you could count the use of the elevator as a vehicle for the kick to wake up, but that seems a bit of a stretch.
- But, Mal and Dom woke up from Limbo by putting their heads on a train track and having a train run them over.
- The heist ends with everyone waking up on the 747 and sharing a moment of accomplishment.
The main thematic aspect here is the train in the city. As discussed in the “Subconscious intrusions” section, the train is a figment of Cobb’s memory, symbolic of how haunted he is by what happened with Mal. What’s interesting is that Nolan could have had Cobb and Mal wake up from Limbo in an infinite number of ways. Jump off one of the thousands of skyscrapers they built. Drown. Fire. Fall on swords. Dream poison. Diet Coke and Mentos. They just have to die. Yet he went with “putting their heads on train tracks and waiting for the train to run them over.”
Given that such an important moment revolves around a train, it’s interesting to note how prevalent modes of transportation are throughout Inception. Part of that is simply solving logistical issues of having characters all be in one location for a long period of time without being interrupted. Planes and trains are great for that. But there’s maybe something to be said about the way in which the mind races. Inception is, more than anything, a psychological film that’s very interested in the human psyche. The brain is a busy place. Maybe having the characters speed around so often and in such diverse ways is a means of capturing the momentum of the mind. At the very least, it gives Inception a “running downhill” vibe as no one is settled in one place for too long.
The faces of Cobb’s children
Several times, Cobb has subconscious intrusions around his kids. They appear but have their back to him. And just before they turn and look at him, he wakes up or is distracted by something else. He never sees their faces. Since the authorities blame him for Mal’s death, Cobb hasn’t been able to go home to his kids. So the inability to see their faces in dreams represents his inability to see them in real life. It becomes a point of pain and sadness. The repetition begs for resolution. Which ultimately sets up the final scene where Cobb gets to go home. His kids look up the way they had in the dreams, except there’s no cut or distraction. Their faces are clear. The tension resolves. Both Cobb and the audience feel relief.
Questions & answers about Inception
Did Cobb stay in limbo at the end? Is he stuck in a dream?
The end of Inception is ambiguous in a way where the audience doesn’t know if Dom’s in a dream or in reality. Is he really back home, seeing his kids? Or is it all in his head? Will the top fall or spin forever?
I would argue that Cobb’s in reality. And that Nolan wanted to convey the idea that Cobb returning to his kids is like a dream come true. That, for all intents and purposes, reality has become a dream. So the top spinning is merely symbolic of this state of being.
Of course, you can make the argument for Cobb still being in the dream. That would bring us full circle, as Inception started with Cobb stuck in a dream and trying to get out. Stories often end similar to how they began but with a reversal of energy. Like Godfather starts with a wedding where don Vito Corleone has a bunch of people paying tribute to him. And it ends with Michael Corleone, the new don, having people show up and pay tribute. Similar situations, but we’ve moved from the father to the son. And all the innocence Michael had at the start, when he was outside the family business, is completely gone, as he’s now a ruthless mob leader. That’s a reversal of energy. If someone is innocent at the beginning of the story, they’re experienced by the end. If they’re angry at the start, they find peace. If they’re peaceful, they find anger. Opposites.
That would be, I think, the major argument for the end being a dream. But Cobb’s whole character arc is about finding closure in regards to Mal’s fate. And he does. He makes peace with her. It’s a bit pointless to go through all of that character growth just to have Cobb inexplicably get lost in the dream and for the film to then ignore the consequences for all the other characters. There’s a way to make that work, but that’s not what’s implied by any of Nolan’s choices.
So, I’m going to say again—Cobb’s in reality. And the reason the top’s still spinning is just to convey the sense that Cobb’s dream has come true. But, really, it doesn’t matter. If he’s dreaming, Cobb’s happy. If he’s in reality, he’s happy. Either way, he’s found closure.
According to Michael Caine, Nolan told him any scene Caine is in is in reality. And Caine’s present when Cobb lands in America.
Why’s the top spinning at the end of Inception?
The spinning top was Cobb’s wife’s totem for the dream world. When she was awake, the top would spin for a bit before falling over, how tops do. When she was dream-sharing, it would spin forever. The point of totems was to serve as a clear indicator if you’re awake or dreaming. So Inception ending with a shot of the top spinning has a huge implication that maybe Dom’s still dreaming.
But the context matters. Cobb had spent years wanting to return home to his kids. But he couldn’t since he was wanted in suspicion of the death of his wife, Mal. You could say getting back to his kids was his dream. So when he finally is able to do that, it’s a dream come true. I think the top spinning during the reunion is just to symbolize the dream-like nature of that moment in reality. Imagine you won a $250 million dollar lottery. There would be a period where you felt like you were dreaming. Eventually, that feeling would end. But for a time it would be wild. That’s what Cobb’s experiencing.
Also, the top was Mal’s totem. So it adds a bit of bittersweetness to the moment, like she’s present in just a small way.
What was Cobb’s totem?
There’s debate about what Cobb’s totem was. Most people believe Cobb’s totem is the top. And all the relevant scenes in Inception reinforce that reading. Yet the theory emerged that this was a red herring. Why? Because the top originally belonged to Mal. Which means Cobb had his own long before using the top. So an entire subset of Inception fans believe there’s more going on here. Especially since there’s that scene where Arthur tells Ariadne to never let someone else touch your totem. That dialogue adds a degree of mystery to totems. So if the top isn’t Cobb’s totem, what is?
The theory goes that Cobb’s wedding ring is the actual totem.
It’s true that Cobb has his ring on whenever he’s in a dream and it’s not there when he’s in reality. But that can just be his subconscious generating the ring because he’s still not over Mal’s death and thinks of himself as still married to her. Which is the whole point of his character arc: letting Mal go.
There’s a YouTube video that debunks the ring theory by saying totems have to be physical objects and the ring isn’t a physical object. But that doesn’t make sense. Totems don’t physically travel into dreams. They just have to be something unique enough that someone else’s subconscious can’t recreate it. Cobb could absolutely use his wedding ring as a totem, since only he knows the weight and feel of the ring on his finger. Someone else’s subconscious could generate the ring but not get the feel of it right. He also never wears the ring in reality, so if it’s on it’s a sign he must be in a dream.
You may think I’m defending the ring theory. I’m not.
The reason the ring theory doesn’t work is that we never see Cobb react to not wearing the ring in reality. There are multiple times he panics about the divide between dream and reality and rushes off to spin the top. And he does it when other characters aren’t even around. So it’s not like he’s playing some super secret game of hiding his real totem. Whatever his original totem was, it’s been retired. The top has become his totem.
As clever of a filmmaker as Nolan is, he’s not some super subtle “you must read between the lines to figure things out” kind of storyteller. He has twists and turns. He sometimes suppresses information. But he always, always, always reveals everything that needs revealing. Remember, he makes movies for mainstream audiences. There’s nuance, but not buried treasure. So you’ll get a detail like the wedding ring being on in dreams and off in reality. That’s nice. That’s cool. But it’s not some big, unrevealed thing that unlocks an ocean of previously unknown insight.
What are totems in Inception?
A totem is a physical object used to help determine if you’re in a shared dream or reality. Ariadne initially asks Arthur if a coin would work. He says no, because a coin is a generic thing, and the purpose of a totem is that someone else’s subconscious can’t recreate it. His example is a loaded dice. It rolls in a very specific way only he knows. Meaning if he was in a dream and rolled the dice and it rolled normally, it would stand out. So a coin could work if it had some special prosperity, like it looked like a penny but weighed 10x a penny.
Honestly, Cobb’s totem doesn’t make a lot of sense. It spins normally in reality but spins forever in a dream. Why would someone else’s subconscious have the top spin forever? Wouldn’t they just have it spin then fall like a regular top?
Honestly, the entire concept of totems doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why would someone else’s subconscious even create the totem in the dream? Especially if they don’t know it exists in the first place? You could argue that since it’s a shared dream that the subconscious of the totem owner is what creates the dream totem. But if that’s the case, then wouldn’t the dream totem have the identical unique properties of the real totem? And thus defeat the purpose of having a totem?
Really, the only reason totems exist in Inception is for that last scene. They’re not supposed to be all that important in the story. Meaning the viewer isn’t supposed to think too deeply about how they work or why. We’re just supposed to accept the concept in order to set up the tension of Cobb spinning the top once he’s back with his kids.
People touched Cobb’s totem, does that mean it doesn’t work?
No one in reality ever touches the top. The only time people touch the top is in the dream. And it doesn’t matter if they touch it in the dream because the dream totem is always false. The whole point of the totem is that the dream version doesn’t replicate all the properties of the real totem. So the only time someone touching the totem matters is in reality. So dream Saito spinning the dream top shouldn’t affect the top’s performance as a totem.
Even in reality, it only matters if the person sharing a dream with you has touched the totem. So if your totem was your watch, it’s not like no one else could ever touch your watch. Only the people you’re sharing a dream with can’t know the hidden trait that makes the watch a totem. Cobb’s kids could spin the top every single day. It would have zero impact if Cobb then jumped into a dream with Ariadne, Eames, and Arthur, because those three still don’t know what the top feels like.
What does the name “Ariadne” mean?
Ariadne is a name from Greek mythology. It’s not a random choice by Nolan, as the Greek character is part of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur.
The story goes like this: Zeus had a son named Minos. Minos was the king of Crete and a bit of a jerk. His son, Androgeus, was a tremendous athlete but unfortunate. Various stories exist as to the why but they all agree that Adrogeus died in Athens. In some versions, it’s an accident. In others, it was political. Either way, Minos was angry. As retribution, he went to war. Even asked his dad, Zeus, to mess up Athens. So there was war, famine, and plague. Athens gave up and asked Minos what he wanted. Minos demanded a recurring sacrifice. Every seven years, Athens would send a group of young men and women to the labyrinth of a minotaur for the monster to feed on.
Minos actually assigned his daughter, Ariadne, to oversee the minotaur’s labyrinth. Which seems like a pretty awful job. But one year, this kid named Theseus was part of the group of would-be sacrifices. He swore he was going to defeat the minotaur and free Athens from this barbaric ritual. Ariadne liked that. In fact, she loved it. And loved Theseus. So to help him out, she gave him a sword and this huge thing of thread he could use to navigate the labyrinth. This worked! Theseus succeeded against the half-man-half-bull then he and Ariadne ran off together.
So Ariadne is historically associated with mazes and labyrinths and helping a hero slay a monster. Which makes Cobb a bit like Theseus, Mal a bit like the minotaur, and Ariadne the one who helps the hero overcome the monster. As original as Inception is, it still uses the Greek myth as a foundation.
What’s the meaning of “take a leap of faith”?
Near the end of the movie, Saito and Cobb are in Limbo, as old men. They exchange this dialogue:
Saito: We were young men together. I’m an old man.
Cobb: Filled with regret.
Saito: Waiting to die alone.
Cobb: I’ve come back for you. To remind you…of something…something you once knew. That this world is not real.
Saito: To convince me to honor our arrangement.
Cobb: To take a leap of faith, yes. Come back. So we can be young men together again. Come back with me. Come back.
This echoes dialogue earlier in the movie. Saito offers that if Cobb can incept Fischer, Saito will have the charges against Cobb erased, meaning he can return to his family.
Cobb: I need a guarantee. How do I know you can deliver?
Saito: You don’t. But I can. So. Do you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone? Assemble your team, Mr. Cobb.
Initially, Saito’s the one asking Cobb to take the leap. Trust that Saito can deliver on his promise. But in Limbo, Cobb’s the one asking Saito to trust him. Remember, that the insidious thing about the dream world is that it becomes easy to forget it’s a dream. The passage of time is so immense, especially since Limbo is the lowest of the dream levels, that you forget the other world ever existed. That’s what happened with Mal. Saito has been in Limbo for what would be to him an eternity. So the leap of faith is the reminder that Limbo isn’t real, that there’s this other world that awaits them.
It shows a nice twist in the power dynamic, where Cobb goes from being at the mercy of Saito to the one being somewhat heroic and good. But it also is a bit redemptive. It recreates his attempt to bring Mal back from Limbo. Something he failed at earlier. By rescuing Saito he’s achieving some sense of closure.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Inception? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!