In his insightful and detailed article, Never Wake Up: The Meaning and Secret of Inception, Devin Faraci explains the two things we must accept when considering Christopher Nolan’s film. The first thing is that the entire movie is a dream. Faraci points to the many clues that indicate Cobb as the dreamer, creating the entire fantasy in his subconscious. Take the scene of Mal’s death.
– note that when Cobb remembers her suicide she is, bizarrely, sitting on a ledge opposite the room they rented. You could do the logical gymnastics required to claim that Mal simply rented another room across the alleyway, but the more realistic notion here is that it’s a dream, with the gap between the two lovers being a metaphorical one made literal. When Mal jumps she leaves behind the top, and if she was right about the world being a dream, the fact that it spins or doesn’t spin is meaningless. It’s a dream construct anyway. There’s no way to use the top as a proof of reality.
Remember, the top is Mal’s totem, not Cobb’s.
After a second viewing for myself, I’m convinced of the argument… for the most part. I couldn’t spot any dead giveaways in the first act when they were supposedly awake, but they are peppered throughout the film. The ending was supposed to be real, right? Then what was Michael Caine doing there at the airport?
Faruci’s other point is the main thrust of his article; the whole stucture of Inception resembles the making of a movie, more precisely, a Christopher Nolan movie.
The heist team quite neatly maps to major players in a film production. Cobb is the director while Arthur, the guy who does the research and who sets up the places to sleep, is the producer. Ariadne, the dream architect, is the screenwriter – she creates the world that will be entered. Eames is the actor (this is so obvious that the character sits at an old fashioned mirrored vanity, the type which stage actors would use).
More deep thoughts about this unique film at CHUD.