'Inception': Am I the only one who didn't get it?

arthur-inceptionImage Credit: Stephen VaughanThis particular blog post isn’t an analysis, or a description, so much as it is a confession: I found myself more or less entirely baffled by Inception. I tried, I really tried, to figure it out, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it — not really. For approximately two out of every three minutes the movie was unfolding on screen, my honest experience is that it was vague, obscure, scattershot, puzzling, confounding —  and, finally, maddening. There were moments, of course, when I was dazzled. How could you not be? Yet even then, I had the feeling that those moments would have provoked virtually the same reaction of “Oh, wow!” awe if I had seen them completely out of context. Take the scene in which the streets of downtown Paris literally fold, making the movie look like Godzilla recast as a physics experiment. Sure, my eyeballs just about popped out in delight. But what did the spatial-bending quality of this sequence have to do with the rest of the movie? Did its relevance, in terms of explaining the universe of dreams, ever truly pay off?

That’s the kind of question that nagged at me throughout Inception. Too often, I couldn’t connect the movie to itself; for most of the running time, the act of trying to put together what was happening made my head hurt. I’ve discovered that going back to read reviews of it, in the hopes that my fellow critics could shed light on what I missed, has only made my head hurt more. It’s not that they haven’t done a good job. It’s that simply hearing that damned plot described, over and over again, produces the same “What the f—?” I-get-it-but-I-don’t-really-get-it sensation that the movie did.

For let’s be clear: Inception is a reasonably easy movie to understand… in the abstract. I get that Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb wants to enter the dreams of a corporate heir (Cillian Murphy) in order to implant an idea in his head that will help a rival company. I get that Dom’s wife (Marion Cotillard) gave into the dark side of her own dreams — easily the best element of the movie (it should have been played up more). And as often as not, I could sort of make out what “level” of dream the movie was supposed to be taking place on. But all of that, to me, isn’t really Inception; it’s the bare bones of Inception. And it’s the moment-to-moment substance of the movie, the experiential flesh and flow of it, that I couldn’t begin to fathom.

I think that where I kept getting lost, over and over and over again, was in the leaps from one dream level to the next. I never really understood how this worked. When you’re inside one dream level, what’s happening, at the same moment, in the dream level above it? Does its significance vanish? How, precisely, does what’s happening in one dream level influence the next level? Since various people are occupying the same dream, who’s determining, at any given instant, what happens in that dream? Why does one person have more sway than the next? And why did everything, on all the dream levels, look like bits and pieces of the same action movie? What are the rules, and therefore the strategies? Frankly, it all seemed maddeningly arbitrary. It didn’t seem as if the psychology of the various levels of dreaming truly interlocked; it certainly didn’t interlock, to me, in ingenious or finely calibrated ways. In fact, I dare say that this is a dream movie without much psychology at all. So all the jabbering about the subconscious seemed to be just that: stray chatter that didn’t connect to anything. Ellen Page’s instantly famous line — “Wait, whose subconscious are we going into, exactly?” — appears to be there to elicit an intentional laugh. Yet the joke, of course, is that if she has questions about it, then surely her lack of clarity mirrors our own. The line comes off as Christopher Nolan’s way of neutralizing the film’s confusion without genuinely resolving it. I felt as if the real leaping between dream levels is what Nolan was doing, frantically, in the editing room.

It has become an article of faith that Inception is a movie you probably want to see, and maybe even need to see, twice. At the screening I attended, three critics I know were there for the second time, having seen it for the first time only the day before. In general, I’m religious about second viewings — to me, when a movie is good, that second time enriches and enlightens, deepens the pleasure. It’s like going back to eat a sublime dish you discovered at a restaurant. The second viewing is really all about savoring. But in my entire moviegoing life, I have never had the experience of encountering a movie like Inception that people felt compelled to see twice simply to figure out what was going on in it. Is the movie itself that rich, that special, that mysteriously subtle and exquisite in its logic? Or has the collective reverence for Christopher Nolan — a reverence that I share — made this a unique case? In Memento and The Prestige, Nolan proved a master brainteaser of a filmmaker, and so we spend much of Inception giving him the benefit of the doubt. Surely, we think, he must know what’s going on in this movie. And so, by implication, if we didn’t get it the first time, then surely the second time will clear everything up.

This is all, as you may have gathered, a rather frustrating position for a film critic to find himself in, because a big part of my job is to explain things — to find order even in disorder — but how can you clarify, and justify, your feelings in precise language when those feelings are haziness, confusion, befuddlement, and a vague sense of missed connections? In our day and age, a further question might be: How can you declare your confusion about a movie like Inception without inviting people to call you an idiot, a douche, a disgrace to film buffs everywhere? I expect (though without any iconoclastic eagerness, I assure you) to be insulted fairly venomously on the comment board of this post.

But let me answer those insults, in advance, by at least saying this: I think that “getting” Inception has, from the outset, been something of a parlor game of one-upmanship. In a cerebral/digital culture, where mastering new systems is an essential survival skill, to admit that you saw this film and are not one of the enlightened is to invite disgrace. And, of course, the movie, in what is (to me) its very incomprehensibility, might almost have been made for the blogosphere. It’s a movie designed, in its very structure, to be analyzed forever. But that’s because, in my view, it’s a cinematic videogame that keeps making up its rules as it goes along. And if you think that the film really does make sense, then I’m tempted to say: You’re dreaming.

So come on, fess up: Is there anyone else out there who simply didn’t get Inception? Who watched it, as I did, in a state of near-perilous confusion? Please, if you’re there, come out of the woodwork. If only so I can stop feeling like I’m the only dummy in the room.

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  • LOL

    Seeing it again won’t help. Although I enjoyed it, I’ll never fully understand every aspect of it.

    • CC

      I think Henry Sheehan’s review summed it up perfectly for me and my indifferent reaction to this movie (this is somewhat paraphrased): “Christopher Nolan’s persistent thematic idea, which is: ‘What we see is not true, it’s just a facade’. You see this in all his movies. But he never says ‘Why is it a facade, or what’s behind the facade?’ And because he never really does that in any depth, it weakens the film and it just seems like a gimmick.” Basically, there’s nothing to ‘get’ in the first place.

      • DaniVT

        I found it hard to connect emotionally to the film, so although it was visually stunning and interesting I didn’t care very much about most of the characters, so overall was disappointed in the film.

      • JB

        I like that the movie is complex and not easily explained. I also think the movie does have emotion and heart, but all of it tends to occur in a inner dream monologue for the characters. Dom is having this inner monologue with himself in the form of mal and Fischer Jr. has the fantastic inner monologue with the projection of his father. The movie isn’t really about the interaction between the characters but about the characters themselves.

      • dub

        I disagree with the idea that we never really see what’s behind the facade in Nolan’s movies. It is very clear in Memento, for example…which is about a guy living a facade, and we are clearly told why. The hero here is very much like the hero there – he has issues, and he’s working them out. What we see is that process. Again the facade is present in the Batman flicks (the costumed hero projected). And again we are given insight into the pain, anguish and instability that leads to that facade. If there’s a pattern in Nolan’s work, it’s to be found in the explanation of the facade, not in the presence.


      • Dwight K Schrute

        Glieberpoop, yes you are an idiot. Just stop reviewing movies, ok?

      • me here

        Owen, too bad it was a stroke or heart attack then we wouldn’t have to read anymore reviews from you!

      • AcaseofGeo

        Well, CC, I mentioned on a few stories on EW that the conceit doesn’t make sense. Do you mean to tell me that Saito paid ALL that $$$$ to just simply IMPLANT a suggestion deep into Fisher’s mind to dissolve the company? For What reason? And planting a seed does not gaurantee results. Plus, is Saito good or bad? If he’s good and dissolving the company for the good of mankind, then why did he have the original architect killed? If he is evil, couldn’t he just have Fisher killed and the ensuing scramble would result in a weakened company? Also, with NO FINITE awake stage to depend on, it takes all the “is this part a dream or is this part awake” cutesiness and makes it ineffective cuz you can just shrug EVERYTHING off as a dream and it loses its gravitas.

      • dood

        I dont understand what there is to get. Its incredibly interesting and complex, but nolan made it crystal clear. I saw it a second time and saw nothing new. It was still a great movie, and others were like “Dude I never noticed that OMGizzle!” buteven so. My big problem even though i love the film is that it doesnt say anything important. That keeps it from being a masterpiece. But its still amazing.

      • ya

        Maybe you should stick to the toy story series.

      • Laura K.

        @ ACase–Saito’s a businessman, no better or worse than any other businessman in the movies (which probably means somewhat evil). He didn’t have the original architect killed, though. He simply turned him over to the corporation that originally hired Cobb’s team, which we assume will kill him.

      • Nice

        Finally there are others like me who “got” the movie, but was hardly impressed. The “hero” was hardly a hero at all and I found myself rooting for everyone expect Leo D. It was an Ocean’s 11 construct using convenient dialogue to explain actions, not dreaming. They painted dreams like a virtual reality game. I still don’t understand how Leo D’s character was the ONLY one with subconscious issues. The entire team seemed like “Mission Impossible” drones. They had no problem supressing their own issues? Sure. And if your answer is that Leo was dreaming the whole time? Lame lame and more lame.

      • Alex

        i was very emotionally invested in the film. My heartstrings were pulled when he was talking about growing old with his wife, and that he had to let her go.

      • Sue

        Sounds like the last season of “Lost.”

      • Jason C

        CC: First off, there’s not always something behind the facade, but I’ve never felt there was nothing behind the facade of the characters in Nolan films. It should be said that Nolan doesn’t tell you everything in the course of a movie, too many American filmmakers prefer to give you everything rather than make you think for yourself. Sometimes you have to think for yourself rather than letting someone tell you what to think.

      • M

        An ambitious script, but a useless film…obviously Nolan is madly in love with full-lipped, teddy boys, that get more screen time, than short Ellen Page, doing double-0time to keep up with Di Caprio’s strides, or Cotilliard with that ugly wart in the middle of her forhead.

        Di Caprio also has this dirty, grisly beard throughout the entire film, deftly trying to cover up his aging jowls, as well as a painted on ‘Eddie Munster’ widow’s peak, that can’t compare to that geek from “3rd Rock ” and his painted on hairline.

        Nolan now proves that he has no idea what a good-looking woman is, as evidenced by his casting here, as well as his lousy choices for “Dark Knight” and “Batman Begins”…maybe he should do a remake of “The Boys In The Band”…

      • henrietta

        @me here – here’s a thought: don’t read gleiberman’s reviews. I realize that this concept is far beyond your grasp, but thought it couldn’t hurt to mention it. This is assuming, of course, that you CAN read. And we all know what happens when we assume…

      • Teresa

        I agree that the supporting characters were underdeveloped. I finally got tired of Leo’s storyline (especially since this is the third Leo DiCaprio film in a row I’ve seen where he’s tackling the same emotional issues). I ended up wanting to know more about the people who were backing him up–like Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s characters. At least JG-L was sort-of attracted to Ellen Page. That might have been actually fun to explore in a dream setting.

      • john

        @CC I agree with you yet the film still worked for me. That is, I enjoyed the movie, but any such “is it real or all a dream” structure does have inherent dramatic limitations. Most notably, when I spend all of my time wonder what/who’s real and what’s not, that’s time I’m not spending emotionally investing in the characters. That’s okay to me. That’s the tradeoff I accept for having my mind blown. But when the reality of people and events are so deliberately left ambiguous, yes, there’s nothing to “get.” There is only your interpretation and mine, plus 10,000 certain-yet-somehow-completely-different interpretations on this thread.

        I love how people claim to understand every detail of a deliberately ambiguous movie. Can’t get enough of that.

      • April

        I totally disagree with the comment that this movie means nothing. Like all of Nolan’s movie’s he is bringing the audience through the question of what is real. Memento is amazing for this… if our memory is unreliable then how can we know what is real… in this movie… we never find out what is real, Cobb could have been in limbo the entire time… his wife could have actually been right, and she could be the one who is alive… Nolan is getting us to think through these things! Go a little deeper people…

      • rock55


    • Joe

      The street bending scene was to show how creative the Architect was and how she was able to improvise when running in to a dead end, which then proved to Cobb how talented she was and how right she is for the job. It wasn’t just there for you to go “wow”. You (Owen) not understanding that part explains why you weren’t able to comprehend the whole movie.

      • my thoughts

        You really have to listen then you really have to understand what you are listening too. If you didn’t understand that scene then there is no way you can understand the rest. It was a smart movie that will one think for hours afterward. My whole perception of dreams and how the mind works is much more open to the impossible.

      • Melissa

        Yes, having just seen it I think the street bending was for the Architect to show off her creativity. It was also a chance for Cobb to emphasize that just because you can create any world and do anything you want in a dream, doesn’t mean she should. If she makes the dream easier for her but it doesn’t make sense to the subconscious of the person they’re invading, the construction is still a failure. It was a learning tool. And exposition to us as an audience to point out that yes, they can create anything in a dream but there’s a reason the dreams feel fairly normal.
        Then as far as the dream levels. First the architect creates the levels of the dream. Then come the dreamers. That would be the chemist first, then Arthur, then Eams, & lastly Cobb (albeit only in limbo). So initially, they are all under on the plane. Now from the van, everyone but the chemist have been put under. So while they are always working through various worlds buried in Fischer’s subconscious, a different dreamer is controlling the journey. In the van it is the chemist. The next level is the hotel. Here, Arthur is the one manuvering through the dream, hence he is the one still awake. In the snow level (what was supposed to be the final level) it is Eams who is the conscious one. Finally, in limbo, its really anyone’s game but because Cobb has been there before, he can navigate that level.
        Now to return or move back up, (if I understood correctly) is that there has to be a kick. Usually, being killed works but they are under heavy sedative. In this case, they likened the waking up to that of falling in a dream. When you fall, you wake up before hitting the ground. So the kick starts the drop. The architect drops in limbo. Eams sets the bomb which jerks her back to the 3rd level. In the 2nd level, Arthur made the elevator drop, his explosion jolts the crew out of the third level and back to his. The chemist’s van is falling and hits the water. that jolt brings them back up to a final level. From there, it seemed to be established that they could choose to pull out of the first level and back onto the plane.
        Each level of the dream is still going on. Again, that’s the key to the architect. She has created a dream world in each level that fits within Fischer’s subconscious. His normal business world, then a hotel he regularly stays at and finally, what is apparently a fortress that he is familiar with. The reason we have gunmen in each scene is because Fischer is trained against extraction. They are there to shoot the dreamers, thereby waking them up and ending the theft. (Note that the training that Fischer has is probably known by Seito & a good reason why the idea has to be planted. Fischer has to believe it is his idea, otherwise why break apart an empire? It’s not about the good or bad of Seito, its about doing a job right). And of course, the only people truly aware of what is going on at each level are the people invading the subconscious. Every other person is a projection of the subconscious. So when all but Arthur are under at the hotel, that’s why only Arthur is controlling the events. The rest are there but dropped to the next level, including Fischer.

        Finally, Owen, I just want to say that just as you don’t like the idea of people calling you an idiot for not understanding the film (whether there is or isn’t something to understand), its insulting to call many of us blind fools who say we got the movie just because we don’t want to admit confusion. Maybe some of us did actually get the movie. Insulting the people who do understand Inception is just as bad as insulting those who don’t.

      • Ryan

        You guys are missing it- he was asleep the while time. He and his wife were two levels down and when she ‘killed’ herself the second time, she was just waking up. The whole movie was his dream, which is why the kids in the end were same clothes same setting as his earlier memory and why the top kept spinning etc.

      • caryn

        @Ryan – I agree, everything was in his subconscious which is why some stuff didn’t make sense and some stuff appeared (the train, the people that were like dogs in a dogsled) that were important to Dom. {Ellen Page} was there to plant the inception that he could ‘leave’ his wife and go back to the real world. She first told him that his wife was just trying to make him feel guilty and he later took it on as his own thought.

      • ME

        Brava, Melissa. That’s exactly what I thought the movie was about. It seemed pretty clear to me, though I had to work hard at maintaining that clarity while watching the movie.

      • @Ryan

        Um, no. The very last shot of the movie is the top beginning to wobble. Maybe you should’ve stuck around a couple of seconds more, eh?

      • caden kranz

        No doubt. A movie like this REQUIRES the absolute attention of the viewer because each word, each scene and event is fabricated specifically to convay a very specific message or clue to the whole story. Now, given there were some spots that leave one saying, “well that doesn’t make sense because of a previous event/fact that I saw”, the whole movie does a wonderful job at showing the “strangeness of the dream” without feeling like this is simply a drug induced trip. Because of this, the street-folding scene is one of the best scenes due to its ability to blow your mind yet still continue to keep it understandable and relatable, as far as the subconscious is concerned. One more thing, if this “critic/reviewer” can’t understand tbe simplicty of the dream levels, he needs a bit of help from my girlfriend jane and her sister mary. Nuff said.

      • dub

        @Ryan – I know a lot of people who think that, but I disagree. Those kids were older, and credited as such. If this were still just his dream, they would have been EXACTLY the same in the end as they were throughout, not just similar to. But Nolan was obviously trying to invoke that reaction from you, so it’s cool.

      • Right

        No sedative that pushed a person through four stages of dreaming can be broken b/c of a “kick.” Just one of many reasons to this film felt convenient to me.

      • Doremifah Solatido

        @Melissa – great recap.

      • @right

        within that time frame, but just like any sedatives or drugs, they don’t last forever. Let’s say the sedatives only last an hour, the kick won’t wake them up within that hour but it will after. They put a timer for the injection on the plane. These were all explained IN THE MOVIE.

      • Alex

        It REALLY is not that difficult to comprehend what is happening in the movie. Its layed out pretty much all the way through. Just because it isn’t as simple to follow as one of your best reviewed films of the year “The Twilight Saga: Eclipe”, doesn’t mean it a bad film. Its hard to take you seriously when you do like the Twilight movies. I have seen them all and no one in their right mind would call those movies good, let alone give them the same grade as a true masterpiece like “Inception”.

      • nikki

        @Melissa, finally an intelligent well-thought out answer.

        @Owen and anyone else who didn’t “get it” for that matter, if you had seen Memento, you can probably get the gist of it/see where it’s going pretty much midway. If you haven’t already, read Melissa’s recap to understand the basics, watch it again and determine the plot yourself. Nolan left it up to the viewer to piece everything together, which might frustrate some people because they like everything explained to them. But appreciate that he’s letting you in on the moviemaking process.

      • Miss C

        @Jason C: I agree with you that “Sometimes you have to think for yourself rather than letting someone tell you what to think.”. Inception is an enjoyable cognitive exercise ^_^

      • strickens girl

        Insulting the people who do understand Inception is just as bad as insulting those who don’t.

        @ Melissa – Thank you for this. My thoughts exactly.

      • CP

        The architect was useless. She dreamed the whole thing? Or just the first level? And why didn’t she dream up some awesome mind-bending stuff like they seemed to prep her for? I love E.Page, but really, that job could have been removed.

      • DarkLayers

        CP, I would argue against that The Architect designed the 3 levels of the dream, all but limbo. She also decided to make the last level a hospital, which is key because it was Fisher’s dad in a realistic and plausible setting.

      • DarkLayers

        And CP it was well explained in the movie why she wouldn’t dream up mind-bending stuff. When she made that stuff happen in Paris, the projections started to mob her. Obviously, they wouldn’t want to draw attention to themselves like that.

      • SgtBaxter

        @Melissa – I would also further that Saito and Fischer were in on the inception of Cobb, hired by his father. Fischer was actually an extractor.

      • Newf

        @Melissa and anyone else who agreed with her…

        Re-read the article. The author doesn’t suggest that he doesn’t follow the plot, but that he didn’t understand the plot HOLES.
        Everyone missed the point completely.
        Also, people need to realize the spinning top at the end was intentional to plant the idea that it was ALL a dream. The “reality” of the final scene was most likely Cobb’s limbo to begin with, however he CHOOSES to accept this as his reality, much like Mal did in the subsequent limbo, which is why we see the top begin to fall, because this has now become the reality he chooses to accept.

      • CHFM

        @Ryan – I also respectfully disagree. Those who have watched the film a few times have caught differences in the children at the end (older, similar looking but not the same clothes, different shoes, etc). Nolan obviously wanted people to question if it “was all a dream”, hence the last shot, but here is where I really like it b/c if he didn’t show you the totem at the end it would have all been “definitely reality”. The last shot was Nolan’s own inception on the reviewer – planting the question/idea of if it was all a dream or not. I think if you go back and watch the film again, you can decipher that it was not (following Dom’s wedding ring for clues as to what is / is not a dream). BUT that last shot was meant to plant doubt and make you question what was and was not reality, not to answer it for certain. This felt like a cheap shot to me at first, but the more I think about it the more I like it. One small shot makes people feel so certain b/c the idea takes root.

      • Melissa

        I think you actually missed my point. I was addressing those items that were listed as “plot-holes”. If they can be explained within the plot, then it can’t really be a confusing plot-hole. If there was one I missed addressing please feel free to mention it specifically. I can’t find anything constructive in a simple you missed the point reply. Also, I’m fairly certain most people know that the spinning top at the end was supposed to make you wonder what the true reality was the entire time.

        @SgtBaxter Sorry, but I don’t know if I understand what you’re saying. Maybe explain more how Fischer is the extractor?

        Everyone else, glad you thought my explanation made sense. I wasn’t sure :)

      • dawn

        I sooo agree with you.
        Not ‘getting’ what Ariadne’s orientation was about really stunts any comprehension. I have seen this movie multiple times now,and the beauty is in the various possibilities. I think the one with the most validity is that Dom is being incepted to live a life free of guilt and anguish,so he can be a presence in his children’s lives. Fischer’s inception was part of the scheme,so Dom wouldn’t know he was the subject,and it helped him be free of a misconception.(fischer thinking his dad was disappointed in him/cobb thinking he caused mal’s death)I would like to say that although this critic should have tried harder before writing the review,I do admire the honesty in admitting he didn’t get it.

    • joan


      • Felipe

        Oh so just cause it’s a movie you can’t think about it? If Mr. Nolan had started it as a book would it be ok to think about it? how bout you stop being a donkey.

      • amanda

        Hah! So basically Nolan used Inception on us. He placed the idea in our heads. Once we see it we continue to think about it. It was a great movie in my book, it made me think. I love Nolan, he has a great mind and his movies are brilliant. I’m lookin forward to more. Besides movies are there for intertainment and some movies are there to make you think. I think this was a fascinating thing to think about. Kudos to him

      • CraiginPhoenix

        Let me guess. A huge A-Team and Karate Kid fan?

        Which is fine, but some of us love it when a movie does more than just entertains us and actually gives us something to gnaw on for a while.

      • Jason C

        Joan: So a movie should require thought and shouldn’t inspire discussion? Sometimes that can help us all understand the world around us. I suppose you’d rather not have any type of serious discussion though.

      • Jay

        @right: when they went in for the inception there were multiple kicks for each level of the dream. They said that one kick could not bring them out of that deep a dream. The van falling was the kick in the 1st level of the dream.



      • dawn

        Ummm….obviously you’re thinking about it to even be this far on this blog!!!!

      • ARH

        Joan, that was the best comment ever!!! Thank you.

      • cc

        The end was up to the viewer to determine as well. There are no absolute answers for everything in this movie. Nolan meant for us to think for ourselves. That’s why the movie was so brilliant.

      • jeff frost

        If many of you could control much less remember your actual dreams the movie would make much more sense.I have taught people how to dream and how to bend scenes within the dream to go where ever you want. The idea of dreams within dreams or multiple levels is not unusual though I’ve never gone past the third level. I wonder how many people saw the movie and wondered about the possibilities. as a side note in one dream I had I had electronics buried in my chest and lived in a room with computers. When I hit a rem or dream place the electronics in the room would react and jump me into a planned dimension jump to different where I was more or less a cop protecting each particular place….. The dream group took place about 35 years ago. And no I wasn’t on drugs. I wonder if any one else is interested in this aspect of the movie

    • Jake

      Is it me or did they never explain how the the gizmo, that the dreamers connect themeslves with, works? Instead of going into someones dreams to plant an idea… couldn’t they have used hypnosis?

      • moo

        There’s no need to explain it. The movie is science fiction, its about answering the question “what would happen if in the future, we had invented a machine that let people connect to each other and share the same dream?” The movie is about the *human consequences* of having such a machine, its about possible outcomes. The machine itself is just a mcguffin to let Nolan get on with telling Cobb’s story.

      • JV

        I agree with moo and would go further to argue with Owen about what else is there to understand? I think of this as when I was young and my mom and I went to see “Back to the Future”. We both enjoyed it but then my mom looked puzzled and mentioned that she did not really understand how a flux compassitor would work. I countered that it is not supposed to work – it is a movie plot device that cannot be explained but has to be accepted to follow along with the rest of the movie. (We now have a great laugh everytime we talk about that.) Anyway, I would suggest to Owen that understanding how the Architect does the job and details about how the next dream level pops in is besides the point. It is the sci-fi plot device to enable the story to be told.

      • @Jake

        They didn’t explain it but they showed it when the Architect went inside Cobb’s dream. The dream where they showed how his wife died.

      • Alex

        they all have to be connected through that machine. Otherwise how are they going to be inside each other’s dreams.

    • mark

      I too enjoyed, but did not understand Inception (mostly, I think, because it can NOT be understood). I’m a film major and a very analytical and observant viewer…Inception is pure, fun summer spectacle. Great but no one should be claiming it to be a masterpiece of any sort.

      • Andrew

        Mark, you are the last person who should be declaring what movies are masterpieces if you couldn’t understand the fairly straightforward Inception. Your purported education means nothing if there is no intelligence to back it up.

      • arlo

        Mark, I think you might be looking too closely at the details, but missing the big picture. Had this problem last night when I was talking scales with my guitar teacher. His comment was “Musically, I would call it adding an A to the scale. But the process you took to get there is fascinating.” So take a step back and ask, what makes sense. How does grampa teach in Paris? And make it back 2 days later to LA? How many sequences in “reality” do you remember a beginning for? Why would he be given tickets by mystery man one? How does Saito have connections to get murder charges dropped? How does Saito buy the only Australian airline carrier that flies to LAX in under a week? How does the mystery chemist just happen to have exactly what he needs where he is going to meet ‘the only forger good enough to do the job’? I see three probables, but will readily admit more.
        1. After he hits the beach in the start, until the plane lands is all flashback, then once back on the plane to the end is still sitting at the Dinner table w/Saito.
        2. His wife killed herself in reality he went nuts, welcome to his semi-lucid hallucination. (I discount this one b/c of shutter).
        3.He is still one level in on his wife’s and his dream, But that would require some massive sedatives or to be at least at second – third level, which means his wife may still be at first level waiting on him, or out entirely. But if that were the case, why could she not just re-enter as Ariadne did midstream. . . actually now 2 is sounding more and more plausible. Good luck.

      • NH

        This film was remarkably simple. If you couldn’t understand it I shudder at the thought of what kind of movie you could end up making in the future. This film, unlike most films today, was designed to make us think for ourselves and figure things out…that’s what makes it a master piece. Who wants to watch a predictable movie where every little detail has an explanation? Where is the entertainment in that? This is the best film I have seen in a long time. Most of the films made anymore just make people stupid because of their dumb plots. This one however, actually challenges viewers to think. I have only talked to few people who didn’t like this movie because they “didn’t get it,” and all those who didn’t ironically are the ones who hate to think and have no education or ambition in life.

      • mamalicious

        Arlo – I think you have the times wrong. I think the group spent months and months planning and finessing the dream layers. What makes you think that they only planned for 2 days?

    • CSF

      I didn’t get Inception either. and I am not ashamed to admit it. As an avid movie goer, who sees many foreign films, I am also not ashamed to say that I would rather follow subtitles any day than struggle through the choppy, disjointed and disconnected scenes that is Inception.

      • Nick T

        It was an awesome film, I understood it, BUT you’re right. The editing was to rough and the sound mixing made it impossible to hear a lot the dialogue unless you were trying hard to listen. Nolan is not the best technical perfectionist.

      • Ryan

        I agree with what you say. I think it’s important for people to understand, though, that those of us agreeing are NOT saying it’s a bad movie or that we didn’t enjoy it. It’s possible to enjoy the experience and still not think it’s perfect.

    • Alex

      This is what I think. You tell me.

      The main corrector and his wife where experimenting with dream within a dream. The two are stuck in the second dream and found a way to get out of one dream with the aid of the train track. Then we see the wife get out of the second dream by jumping out of a window. The rest of the film is the wife trying to kill the husband in the dream with her own hands or with the aid of dapperly dressed surrogates. That would allow him to get out of the dream. When he decided to let the wife go he latched on to something else that would let him survive in the dream, the kids. It did not matter if the top stopped or not because the law of the totem and the entire movie was formed in a dream level of the main corrector. So sometimes it would and sometimes it would not fall. It was all up to the main corrector.

      • Whhhaaa

        That’s a good explanation!! I hadn’t thought of that one.

      • doctorevil

        WOW that is a great one!! i did not even think of that!! bravo!

      • mark

        One thing not pointed out here is that the totem that Leo used was the same that his wife locked in the vault. It was her totem so it couldn’t have been his…. unless she did actually die and he took it out of the vault.

      • trish

        you should have done the rewrite of the screenplay, dude.

      • amocat

        What about the kick? Can’t his wife use a kick instead of offing him in a tag-team suicide if she is “awake”? BTW, I think the spinning top at the end symbolized completeness in Dom’s life, personally.

      • Alex

        Ownership of the totem and the use of the kick would have also been used and rules established in the last level of the main correctors dream state. The one argument that bolsters the fact that he is still in a dream state was him walking away from the totem at the end. It did not matter; he had the next thing that would sustain him, his kids.

    • DC

      The real truth is the “I-get-it” crowd are really dreaming they make sense of this intellectually hollow escapism.

    • Cyndi

      I got the underlying plot, and the action was great, but I did not understand the movie and seeing it again would never help!

    • Carla

      Totally agree with Owen – I have two master’s degrees and a obsessive love for the movies – this movie failed on so many levels. No connection to story plot or characters. Several people left the theater after about 45 minutes. The only time I walked out of a movie was “Interview with a Vampire”. After the first part of the movie, I realized that I just simply did not care what happened. I like when movies pull me in and “take me away” to its world. This movie failed to do that. Do not recommend – but, funny enough, I really liked Grown-Ups – go figure!

      • KT

        I too have two master’s degrees and an obsessive love for the movies, and I was thoroughly entertained. I feel like I understood it as it unfolded, I cared about the characters, and I never felt like I had been sitting for a long time. To me, it succeeded in what it set out to do: entertain and provoke thoughtful discussion. Just a matter of taste I guess – some people will like it and some won’t.

      • Andrew

        I have five masters degrees and two PH.Ds, and I thought this movie was amazing. Also, I saw 5 people get up and leave… only to come back with more snacks, because people getting up doesn’t necessarily mean they’re leaving the theater.

      • YouGuysAreAllRetarded

        Oh Yeah, Well I Have 10 Masters Degrees, 5 PHDs, My Massage Therapy License, And A Blackbelt In Karate, And You Bet Your Ass I Walked Out Of Inception. (Only Because They Didnt Turn The Air Conditioner On In The Theatre, I Had To Work Early In The Morning, And I Had A Stomach Ache From All Of The Ice Cream I Ate.)-Tone

      • Pleiades

        @YouGuysAreAllRetarded: LMAO. This thoroughly ridiculous conversation has been the most entertaining thing on EW all day.

      • Angela

        I feel sorry for you. I’d hate to have a theater experience like that. My experience was amazing and I loved the movie.

      • Sham

        I have a GED, a yellow belt, two lemonade stands, a spider man shirt, and 5 perfect attendance certificate and still,….wait! What are we talking about again?

      • Koala

        I have half of a master’s degree and a fondness for marijuana. This movie made perfect sense.

      • lenny

        I have a PhD in THUGANOMICS!

      • Cate

        Thank you! Now will someone fund my new research project into correlations between education levels and enjoyment of summer blockbusters?

      • Michael

        Walked out of Shutter Island. Will “never” put down cash for Leo again. The guy is simply horrid.

      • BY

        I think it’s hilarious that you felt like your two Masters degrees somehow magically make you a movie expert. Nolan actually did a brilliant job connecting the plot and the characters. It makes sense that you didn’t like it though since your idea of a good movie is grown ups. That’s one of those that is designed to make the viewer dumber! With all your degrees it would make more sense for you to enjoy movies that challenge you and cause you to actually use your brain.

    • Jason C

      LOL: Of course you will never get the film, you’ve already given up the exploration! People like you will never get it because you’ll never try. That exemplifies too many Americans these days.

    • Nathan

      How bout giving Nolan some credit for this beautiful and well thought out film, and for realizing the people in the audience are smart and would appreciate this puzzle. Unlike directors thinking their audience is dumb and only likes crap movies like dogs vs cats, the last airbender, or the a team. Kudos tou Christopher Nolan, can’t wait for Batman 3!!

      • strickens girl

        Thanks, Nathan! Very well said.

      • Riggs

        Good effort, but it still fell short for me.

    • lenny

      To me this Owen tool is a just a short-sighted, pompous jerk trying to discredit an enormously well made, undeniably entertaining, thought-provoking and, actually, very well executed summer blockbuster. OK, so it’s not perfect, but is anything? However, he was smart enough to get us to read and comment on his pure crap! BTW, the ones who agree with him seem like such a**holes to me; that’s just my opinion. Nonetheless, Inception will continue to get many, many more fans, HAA!

      • john

        And to me, you’ve got way too much of your self-worth invested in a movie and what strangers think about it, so much so that you refute none of their points and instead resort to name-calling. So what ya gonna do. Takes all kinds.

    • Tic

      Saw it today- thought it made sense, except when the logic didn’t hold- most notably (SPOILER)when they go down to the 3rd (4th) level, Leo should be much older than Kahn because Leo got there first. But like the Matrix, you have to ignore the holes in logic that were big enough to drive a truck through and just enjoy the concept and the ride.

      • Tic

        Sorry, that should be when they go down to the 4th (5th) level.

      • Sarah

        It’s all in the mind. Because it’s a dream, no one actually has to age. It’s only when the dreamer forgets its a dream and accepts their world as reality that they age (since their mind believes it’s the natural thing to do). However, it is all in their heads, so they could stay young indefinitely if they were actively aware of the dream the entire time.

      • Kerry

        He got there 2nd! (though he had been there before)

    • Louis

      Is there any point to figuring out the real story of “Inception”?

      Actually there is. Do you want to think that Inception is a good movie or a great one? Do you care about having emotions about a film? Or about the characters in it?

      To me, the best movies are the ones that make you FEEL something. Sadness, happiness, love, etc. If a movie can make you cry at the end because it was so damn good (like “Saving Private Ryan” did for me) then you know it’s really, really good.

      I knew that Inception was a great movie and well done, but I personally really wanted to know EXACTLY what the movie was about (and a lot of it was unclear on the first viewing) and the biggest thing that kept bugging me is that no matter how I put the pieces together it just didn’t completely make sense to me. Something about Mal kept nagging at me as well as some of the concepts people were coming up with. Something was telling me that there was more to this story than trying to break into Fishcer’s mind, and I think I have finally “got it”.

      The reward is that when you realize that it’s a LOVE story about a regular dude (Cobb) who’s wife (Mal) killed herself, it becomes an emotional movie, and not just a mental one.

      When that idea hit me, and I realized that this was really a love story, and that the entire dream heist took place in Cobb’s head, then it really made me care about Cobb a whole lot more and it made the ending a really happy one instead of an ambiguous one.

      The real story is absurdly simple: Cobb is just a businessman coming home from a trip who wants to get home to see his kids. After buying Robert Fischer Jr a drink to toast Robert’s late father (out of sympathy, not to drug him), Cobb fell asleep on the plane and dreamed the whole thing. All the other characters in the dream were just random people sitting in 1st class with Cobb, and Fischer became the focal point because Cobb was thinking about Fischer’s father’s death and his own wife’s death when he fell asleep. We learn about the circumstances of Mal’s death in the dream and about his love for her, and his guilt at not having been able to save her. She suffered from a mental illness, and even though Cobb taken her to see three psychiatrists who said that nothing was wrong with her, she ended up trashing their hotel room on their anniversary and threw herself off a building after talking some babble about getting on a train. It was the worst moment of his life, and her last words about the train are what are stuck in his head forever. Cobb’s whole struggle with Mal is about fighting between staying asleep and being with her in a dream or waking up and having her gone.

      Cobb wakes up at the end of the flight, everyone in first class goes their separate ways (Eames isn’t even looking at Cobb at the end, he’s just some guy waiting for his bags). Cobb passes through immigration without a hitch and Cobb goes home and his kids are there, everything is normal. Grandpa picks him up at the airport and was watching the kids while Cobb was away because Cobb is a widower.

      The top? It was just a keepsake that happened to be in his pocket which is why he spins it and casually walks away.

      That’s it! Simple.

      The “complex” version that everyone is arguing about and trying to figure out is that people are trying to make sense of the dream. Now, don’t get me wrong, the dream and story in it are totally amazing and I love it, because I love action movies and suspense movies, but ultimately the only 2 “main character” are Cobb and Mal.

      The only thing I can say is try my version. Go back and watch the movie again in light of what you just read and see if it doesn’t kick the movie up to a whole new level.

      Christopher Nolan deserves the Oscar for best picture. Period.

      • yony

        your theory is very interesting, but you didn’t explain everything that happens before they go under on the plane. please enlight me

      • CuseFan

        Great idea. I have one major glaring problem with it. In his dream he sees his kids, no faces but they are playing in the yard. When he gets home and spins the top, he then walks to his kids who we now see along with their faces. You are saying this is now “real life”, right? BUT, they are wearing the same cloths we have seen them in during the other images AND they are outside in the grass in the same positions. This is why I think he is still asleep.

      • Tamm

        i understood the whole movie except this.
        if they have no gravity in the second level because the van is falling in the first… why isnt there a feeling of no gravity in the third and fourth levels??

      • VH

        Gleiberman, whoever you are, was becoming a movie critic your only career option? Those of you who keep complaining that you “just don’t get it” are trying to make it more complex than it actually is. In all actuality the movie is remarkably simple. The thing I love about this movie, and all of Nolan’s movies in fact, is that it allows us to draw our own conclusions. He did not meant for there to be any explanation to the dreaming sequences and what it all meant. That’s what makes this movie so brilliant. As for the emotional aspect of the story, Nolan did a fantastic job of pulling you into the lives of the characters. I don’t know how you can watch this movie and not see the psychological side of it! If you have ever studied anything on the function of the brain and especially what happens to the brain when we dream, it makes perfect sense. You can’t expect for every little detail in a movie like this to have some profound explanation…he simply wanted to make a movie that allowed us to wonder and to think…and he succeeded!

    • Sam

      You guys are all idiots. It was difficult to understand yes, but after i thought about for a good long while, everything made sense and now there isn’t a single piece of the movie I don’t understand. This is probably one of the best movies i’ve ever seen and i even said that before i understood everything.

      • Jules

        I agree. There were clues left throughout the movie.

    • Dave

      I’m kind of astonished by this admission. In any event, I grant you this movie made me work pretty hard and pay attention, but if you do the work it’s very logical and straightforward; you just have to keep up. The payoff at the end was just excruciating; all the levels moving at different speeds, and the van falling for the “kick,” just great filmmaking. When the screen went dark, the audience in the theatre where I was gasped, and a buzz of conversation broke out. That’s a good movie!

    • Lili

      People should just watch episode 1 of Fringe, Walter Bishops explains how to travel in ones’mind. Maybe it would help the helpless regarding the easy to understand Inception.

    • Loved this Movie

      Seriously gotta question the intelligence of the people who don’t get this movie. I can understand that some parts are confusing, but w/in minutes later, Chris Nolan gives you a break and gives you the answer. I don’t get people who still don’t get after the movie ends. It’s an amazing movie and too bad their own limitations prevent them from appreciating that – Owen.

    • Michael

      Leonardo can’t buy a good part in a film, nor can the man act worth a crap. Somebody help me understand how this guy is able to be cast with such brilliant actors time and again as a second rate actor? And not only that, achieve a Lifetime Award at 30?

      Somebody has to let me in on that joke, as Leonardo Dicaprico is nothing short of the greatest marketing ploy Hollywood has used consistently for the last 20 years. And people keep shelling out cash, only to be disappointed time and again. I already swore off Dicaprio after walking out of Shutter Island. This guy is beyond being the under dog you hope hits a home run. This kid doesn’t care, doesn’t even try, but you better believe he gets paid.

      • scyren

        only movie I really like of his is What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

  • Corben

    The film is more of an experience than a story. It sticks with you after the credits roll, but as you start to contemplate the plot it almost falls apart. It was mind blowing, just not a masterpiece.

    • Brianna

      of course its a masterpiece… get it together yo.

    • Zach

      um, no, Corben, the whole thing is made-up, so it takes several leaps of faith. but there really aren’t plot holes. everything “works” on its own level. Nolan has his own internal logic.

      • AcaseofGeo

        No Zach it doesnt work on every level. As I wrote above, WHY would Saito spend all that money just to PLANT a seed of thought with no guarantee of results. Is Saito good or bad? Why was there no grief from the “team” when Saito has the original architect killed? Is Saito good or evil? If good, why the murder? And if he is evil, why not just assasinate Fisher and create chaos in the company he’s trying to unravel? All this is plot points not even related to the actual dream sequences which DO seem to hold together upon reflexion.

      • dood

        Ok allow me to explain this to you: Saito is neither good nor bad, in fact none of the characters are really. If you’re the one getting your dreams and mind pillaged they are bad. If you’re the one paying them they are good. I dont know if you understand the word “ambiguous” but it is allowed to create characters that aren’t black and white. In this film Seito is a good guy since he helps the protagonist (Cobb) get home.

        The original architect sold the team out to the first corporation that hired them. He endangered their lives, and then when Seito killed him there was no remorse because he couldn’t be trusted and he put their lives in jeopardy as well as their business.

        If you assasinate Fisher then the assets move on to whoever he leaves them to, or the company goes public. You can’t just kill people and have your problems solved. The company would most definitely survive because whoever gained control would never break it up since they would have a monetary investment in it over and emotional one, unlike Fisher.

        And the other “hole” people point out is why couldn’t Cobb have his kids meet him in some foreign country? Because if he had them flown out, don’t you think some agency might notice, and maybe go on the look for one of Americas Most Wanted potential murderers? They would use his kids to find him and take them away again and he’d be extradited and jailed, or killed.

        I hope that clears things up for the nitpickers. Its a film that DOES work on every level. Incredibly coherent for a film that portray multiple layers of conciousness at once, it was no masterpiece due to it’s lack of philisophical or emotional implications (a truly great film be it 2001, Blade Runner, Saving Private Ryan or No Country for Old Men says something important and/or is emotionally resonant). Even so, it is still one of my favorite films, and I can’t imagine a better way for it to have been done.

      • ccg

        They clearly discuss the fact that if they do successfully perform inception the results are guaranteed, they just cant guarantee that they can perform inception and Saito doesnt have the first architect killed and why should they care if he did because the first guy sold them out. As for all the other plot holes you people are babbling about you need to pay more attention. I understand every aspect of the film perfectly (and am not, contrary to popular belief, a liar) You can mess with the dream state too much or the subconcious will maul you, he was able to do it to his wife cause he was down so deep, had years and the raw idea was simple and everyone in the world isnt interested in in because it is ILLEGAL, complicated and dangerous

      • Juneau

        I’m with Acaseofgeo. I had lots of the same questions – even as I was watching the movie. It wasn’t logical. No, Owen…you are not alone. And you are not an idiot.

      • AcaseofGeo

        So Dood, you said “you can’t just kill people to have your problem solved” and yet you pointed out that Seito had the architect killed because he sold out the team. Well, the “team” itself had nothing to do with Seito. He was a CUSTOMER and had NO business to kill someone from the team. Get it? I’d also like to know 2 things about the Cobb character’s freedom at the end. How could Seito be so powerful to “make a call” to clear his name in the U.S. and wouldn’t the people who were trying to kill Cobb just track him down to the U.S. and kill him? I say its a great movie becuase it leaves you with so much to think about and discuss as far as the dream-invading techniques are concernced, but the plot holes in the “real time non dream” story are perplexing and don’t hold up. And people, do we REALLY NEED to insult each other? We’re supposed to be having grown up discussions here, not call each other idiots or liars.

      • kt

        AcaseofGeo – I thought Saito didn’t kill the original architect. He told Cobb to get in or he would kill the architect. Then Cobb didn’t use that architect for Saito’s job because he already failed in the first dream and didn’t design the level detailed enough to trick Saito. So he went to find a better architect.

      • Beepela

        @AcaseofGeo – this is because it was a dream! Watch it again. The walls closing in on him as he runs, Seito just “happens” to be there to pick him up, the overly simplistic dream machine (tubes and a big button). As they said, in a dream (or a movie) things make sense at the time, but afterwards, inconsistencies with reality become clear. Of course Seito could not make one call minutes before they land and clear him. It is dream logic. If you watch it from the perspective that it is all a dream, then it all works.

        And I also don’t buy the whole “if it was all a dream, none of it maatters” line. The whole point of the movie was that dreams DO matter, catharsis can be achieved, ideas born, and characters developed. The emotions you feel after a dream (or movie) are no less valid than any other emotions.

      • Laura K.

        The architect was dragged off to be handed over to the corporation that hired Cobb’s team to extract info from Saito. Since the team failed, presumably THAT corporation will kill the architect, but Saito did not, nor did he order it.

      • Alex

        It really does work. I have seen it three times, and there are only very very minor plot holes. And who cares about a film studies class. Because you’ve taken a film class, does that mean you know more about movies than us?

    • Owen you are right

      Zack are you kidding yourself. There are huge plot holes. (1) if you can create anything in dreams, (as Paige’s character did with the mirror) then why can’t you create some wall or other worldly devises to kill the people shooting guns at you. If its a dream then anything should be possible: Aliens coming to the rescue, guns implaned in your body. Technically if you can turn Paris upside down then you should be able to easily get away from people with guns. (2) If Inception is so complicated and virtually impossible as they try to say it is then, then how was he able to implant the idea in his wife so easily. (3) If Inception is something that everyone in the world seems to know about (the people in Mubasi sleeping, Murphy’s character being able to fight off “dream stealers”) then why wouldn’t everyone be interested in doing it. Why does it seem like Cobbs job is so rare, if most everyone that they encounter seems to know what it is. I could go on and on, and anyone on this site trying to say that they understood everything in the movie and that it wasnt confusing is a liar, not only in your comment, but you are lying to yourself. You didn’t understand…no really you didn’t…..nope don’t try to say you did, cause you didn’t.

      • Wow

        Those 3 items you listed indicate that you didn’t understand most of the movie, even beyond Owen’s confusion. 1) One major point of Ariadne’s first dream experience was to explain why you can’t bend reality too much, or the dream is no longer believable, 2) he had a lot of “time” to work that idea into his wife’s head, 3)you are clearly not understanding the difference between inception and extraction, which they spent a lot of time trying to explain.

        It was a very complex plot and I’m sure it doesn’t make sense when completely analyzed, but these points are not ones that there should be confusion on.

      • LaShawna

        Here is how I interpreted all of that. Cobb did say that you could create anything in a dream. However, all the architect does is build the maze and the dreamer populates it on his/her own. When a dreamer is being extracted, anything that seems weird and out of place would cause the dreamer to wake up. So the extractors just have to go along with whatever the environment they find themselves in. As for everyone seeming to know about extraction, the only people we see in the movie are either extractors or people at risk for being extracted. Cobb’s team seems to specialize in industrial espionage. It stands to reason that captains of industry would know about the risk of extraction, and take steps to counter it. The movie didn’t really show anyone that wasn’t affiliated with either party, so it is hard to know how common is the knowledge of extraction.

      • dood

        And it wasn’t easy for him to implant the idea in his wife. They were in f**king limbo for gods sakes. They were ridiculously deep into it, making her subconicous more vulnerable to suggestion. Thats why they went deep.

      • Alex

        They explain to you in the film that you can’t change your surroundings too much or the projections will get pissed off. So if they were to put up a wall to stop the bad guys, then the thousands and thousands of projections would notice and be after you as well. Owen your ARE wrong, and I think you will start to like and understand more the more you watch it.

      • lenny

        I love how “wow” laid the smack down on “owen you are right” because that person truly had even the easy things all wrong.

  • The Internet

    Well, that’s much the point about Inception. I beleive that it -forces- you to think. I didn’t find anything very confusing about it at all. I won’t insult by calling people that didn’t get it ‘stupid’, but I also don’t beleive it’s that difficult to follow.

    • davey

      Right….you have it ALL figured out :)

    • Ames

      I could try to “explain” what I thought was happening, but why? It’s art. When you walk through an art museum, you don’t have to “get” every piece. Some strike you, some don’t. And you move on.

      However, I don’t know if others experienced this, but the music in the movie was really loud, and sometimes drowned out the dialogue. I found it hard to hear what everyone was saying. Did anyone else experience this?

      • JV

        Agreed – I saw it last night in an IMAX theater and missed a lot of dialogue. I was sitting near the top of the theater near a big speaker so that may have been part of it. I could hardly hear any of Saito’s dialogue at times.

      • sarcastic

        okay of all the comments, this was the best: “I don’t know if others experienced this, but the music in the movie was really loud, and sometimes drowned out the dialogue. I found it hard to hear what everyone was saying. Did anyone else experience this?”

        although, no i didn’t experience this.

        this is what baffles me: everyone here keeps complaining that ew reviews suck, so how do they get here? it doesn’t make sense.

        oh, i get it now. nothing makes sense, because …


  • K. Bowen

    Owen, it’s really not that hard. If you’re busy obsessing over the plot detail, you’re missing the movie.

    • paige

      exactly! dont watch Mullholland drive if you find Inception too puzzling…

      • Colleen

        I had the same problem with Memento. The Prestige and Dark Knight were easily understandable, with the exception of why Maggie Gyllenhall was cast as the love interest.

      • Al

        Mulholland drive was just too pretentious for me.
        On the other hand, I loved Inception and Memento.
        In Inception there the filmmakers set the ground rules and played by them (limbo, architect, effect of the levels above, death, etc.). I really liked it because of that, it wasn’t experimental or arbitrary.

      • Smooth-E

        Exactly! It was like a math geometry problem with all the theorems established the first quarter of the movie. If you didn’t follow and remember the rules that Nolan established for you, then yes, I can see how it’s a difficult movie to follow. But you need to watch the movie with your entire focus…you have to be prepared to use your brain.

    • chris

      See, but this is a plot-obsessed film. The entire movie is devoted to explaining and re-explaining its plot, wrapping the audience tighter and tighter with variants of the same plot-driven dialog. If you find yourself watching ‘Inception’ and obsessing over every plot detail, don’t worry: Christopher Nolan is doing the exact same thing.

      • Jon


    • Sammy K. Nitpicker

      It’s not too much to ask that a movie make sense both in its overarching plot and in the small details.

      Inception was a film full of logical fallacies. I think the creators were hoping that the film’s strong premise would be enough to make moviegoers overlook the inconsistency of the rest of the plot.

      • Christine

        What specifically was inconsistent about it?

  • Ian

    I’d have to write a pretty lenghty response to answer your questions, the answers to which seemed perfectly obvious to me after just a little thought. For now, this diagram helps: http://www.cinemablend.com/images/news/19643/_1279559876.jpg

    • Courtney

      WOW! that diagram is amazing!!!!!

      • JLC

        That diagram is excellent. I always wondered what would happen if the 747 hit significant turbulence and caused them to enter free-fall while they were still awake in Level 2.

      • ericalina

        very cool diagram. but i thought cobb said they were in fischer’s dream though for level 4 (the fortress). and isn’t mal in the snow fortress too? am i being picky, or just confused? lol

      • Rhonda

        ” I always wondered what would happen if the 747 hit significant turbulence and caused them to enter free-fall while they were still awake in Level 2.” – I wondered the same throughout the movie … and evenmore so when level 3 became weightless ..

      • Laura K.

        Ericalina–Nope, they were in Eame’s dream. The question was “Whose subconscious are we going into?” and the answer was “Fischer’s,” but the subconscious being entered is not necessarily that of the dreamer. The snow fortress was the equivalent of a bank vault or safe–something secure where the subject would store his secrets. So the fortress itself represents Fischer’s subconscious, but Eames is the dreamer on that level (which Ariadne designed).

      • ericalina

        thanks laura! i knew there was something said about fischer…time for a re-view?? :)

    • Jeff

      The chart is wrong. After the snow fortress is cobb’s dream, of which Cobb, Ariadne, and Fischer are a part of. Then Saito dies and goes into limbo. Then all the kicks happen and everyone except Cobb wake up and swim out of the drowning van. Cobb dies by drowning in the van and ends up in limbo (in the water, on the shore; hence the drowning death). He meets with Saito (who is much older now because he died earlier).

      • Mariah

        Actually, you are wrong. The movie very clearly stated that the snow fortress is Eames’s dream. Cobb even asks Ariadne who’s dream it is and she is reluctant to tell him. Cobb can’t be the dreamer as it would make it easier for Mal to find them. By my understanding, Limbo is actually Cobb’s dream only because he’s the only one who has been there to give it shape and focus, but in theory it is just shared undefined dreamspace.

      • JB

        There is an easy way to tell whose dream is in each level – the person that hears the music in that leval is the person dreaming. Remember, the person in the previous level turns the music on to alert them of the impending kick. Arthur hears the music in level 3 and Eames hears the music in level 4.

      • Jimbo

        Go see the movie again. First 3 stages are Fischer’s dream. Last one is limbo, where dreamer’s get lost. Cobb was there with his wife before for 50 years. Then he put inception in her subconscious to kill her self because the world wasn’t real. Unfortunately, that inception made her commit suicide in real life. This was a great heist film in tradition with movie like Ocean’s 11, where they tell you what they are going to do and then something goes wrong and then in the end everything turn out ok. It reminded me of the way Quentin Tarantino make movies. He turn genre movie upside down. When you watch the movie again, listen to Ellen Page character. She represents the audience, not Cobb.

      • Jeff

        To Mariah: I know the snow fortress is eames’s dream. If you wouldve looked at the chart and *read* my explanation, you would understand that the chart is erroneous in saying that limbo is right after the snow fortress. In fact, it is Cobb’s dream (where fischer and Ariadne jump off the roof), then it is limbo when Cobb dies in the van and washes up on shore to meet Saito. There are *6* layers, not 5.

      • MaryJaneWatson

        The chart is cool but absolutely wrong. The architect built the dreams- and if you remember there were scenes where she was taking the chemist, point man, the forger and Saito into her creations n their workroom before the actual inception takes place. She was not even supposed to be in them- except she discover Cobbs problems with Mal. So Level 1 is the plane or “reality” if you so believe. Level 2 is Fischer’s dream, they are all inhabiting it and the chemist is left there to perform the kick. They cannot put an inception into Fischer’s mind if they are not in his dream- hence his subconscius army. The train is Cobbs’ uncontrolled projection as an invader in Fischer’s dream. Level 2 is Fischer’s dream as well, a dream within a dream. The point man is left behind to administer the kick. The dreamer in Level 3 is Eames, who in Level 2 is impersonating the uncle, whom Cobbs tells Fischer they will need to perform extraction on. Later in Level 3 Cobbs asks the architect what other routes Eames put into that level, as it was always to be his dream. Level 4 is Cobbs’ dream. He is both architect and dreamer. He stays on Level 4 with Mal knowing he will die in the van in Level 2, therefore sending him to limbo, where he in turn rescues Saito. Simple really!

      • MaryJaneWatson

        And let me clarify- when I say dreamer- I mean the subconscious which is being invaded. The architect hooks themselves up to the “dreamer” via machine to create a dream space but the subconscious which is being invaded is in the truest sense the “dreamer.”

      • limpengus

        you sir, are a genius. pure and simple. you explained to me the most confusing part of the movie. awesome. i love you

    • Xoynx

      Nice, but I believe the whole movie was a dream, which resolves all of Gleiberman’s questions/complaints.

      • Alex

        Interesting. And I think its interesting to think about the reality of the dream. by that I mean, does everything in a dream have to make sense. By setting the movie in dreams, Nolan can take great leaps of faith in terms of logic. Also, I think people should go watch or re-watch Vanilla Sky.

    • Morgan

      Ian, very impressive chart. I however am going to disagree with you and state that (I think) the second level–or first level of the dream is not Yusuf, but Fischer. It has to be his dream somehow for the inception to happen. Of course I could be wrong; just my 2 cents. Also I like Jeff’s assessment of the whole sequence–I see now why Saito was so much older (because he had died before), and how Cobb ended up in the water. Also I think Jeff is stating that “after the snow fortress dream, the limbo dream is Cobb’s” and not that Cobb’s dream was the Fortress dream (that was indeed Eames’ dream). I gotta get my butt back for another viewing….

      • Mike D

        100% correct

      • jj

        Another easier way to tell, (with the exception of the last part) The person left behind is the dreamer.
        Chemist- dreamer on plane
        – was left to drive
        pointer-dreamer on van
        -was left to protect them in hotel
        Forger- dreamer in hotel
        -was left to defend in white fortress
        You can also imply that the person doing the waking is the dreamer in the lower level.
        The architect shows everybody except Cobb the layout/blueprint of the dreams before they ever went to sleep, which is why she has to be in all levels of the dream, and also why she knew where the weak spot were in the fortress.

      • Morgan

        You know… After a 3rd viewing, I’m going to take back what I said earlier and state that now I think the chart is correct. The Chemist is the first dreamer on the plane; or at least there is a good argument for it. So Fischer Jr. is never the actual dreamer, but the subject instead. Like someone said earlier, Cobb states there is a dreamer who invites the subject in and that subject fills that space with his own projections. So Fischer Jr. fills the space with all his projects (as does Cobb).

      • Details

        There is a very subtle piece of evidence that suggests that the first dream “Level 2″ is the Chemist’s and not Fischer’s. Immediately upon entering the dream one of the characters (i forget who) complains to the Chemist “Couldn’t you have peed before we went under?” implying that the reason that it is raining so much in the dream is because the Chemist has to pee in real life.

    • SnowEater

      That’s a nice diagram, but it misunderstands “the Dreamer” and confuses it with the person that stays at that level of the dream in order to control the “kick”.

      Level 2 was clearly Fischer Jr.’s dream. That was clear when they realised that the projections were trained and militarised. They weren’t expecting that level of resistance from Fischer.
      Yusuf stays on level 2 as a control.

      Level 3 was Fischer dreaming in a dream. Cobb turns Fischer against Fischer’s own subconcious projections by exploiting Fischer’s training.
      Arthur stays on Level 3 as a control in order to administer the kick.

      Level 4 was different and Cobb deliberately didn’t know who the dreamer was until they had to change plans on the fly.

      • Breckster82

        none of the dreams are Fischer Jr.’s. cobb states in the beginning of the movie that their job is to create the dream, invite the subject in, and let them fill it with their projections. this is also pointed to in saito’s extraction when the first architect says “no, it’s my dream”

      • mon

        Bingo on level 2 interpretation. The security, and the TRAIN trying to block Leo & company from inflirtating Fisher’s dream.

      • Tony

        No, it was Fisher’s subconscious attacking them. I also think Cobb was the main who put the security in place on a previous mission years ago. Hence why a train came through.

      • Dreams

        fischer was having the first three dreams. You are confusing the “dreamer” with the “architect”

        Each level had a new architect (who had to run away from projections wanting to attack the foreign influence on the subconcious)

      • Vyshak

        Yusuf was the architect of the dream in the 1st level. If your remember its raining in that level, and arthur tells him ” Couldnt you have used the bathroom before ?” or something to that effect. That proves that he was thinking of peeing and thats why it was raining.

      • Jon

        Did Ellen Page say something about the train being Cobb’s? Which then later we understand as the way by which Cobb and wife killed themselves to get out of limbo?

      • Laura K.

        The dreamer is different from the subject. The subject creates the projections. The dreamer creates the dreamspace based on the architect’s designs.

      • lenny

        I agree with Breckster82 and Laura K.

    • T-mak

      On the diagram, isn’t “who dreamed it?” Fischer Jr. from level 2 – 5?

      • Ian

        No, the dreamer is the one who is holding that dream space steady. Fischer was the one allowed to fill each level with his own subconcious projections.

    • SoyBombGuy

      This Chart is GREAT! I don’t care if it’s 100% accurate or not (which it maybe is, for all I know). If I ever see this movie again, I will have this printed out and right on the arm of my chair.
      And Owen – I somewhat agree with and identify with you, dude. I found myself “detaching” in the same way I do when any movie gets to a car chase scene, just to ensure I don’t get dizzy from the effort of it

    • LIGrrl

      Great diagram. One of the biggest pet peeves I had was in Level 3, The Hotel. In Level 2, when the van is flipping, it causes the hotel in level 3 to flip. But why don’t the next levels (snow fortress, etc) flip as well, since the dreams are all built on the levels before them?

      • BL

        I am guessing this is because the effects of each dream are lessened in the subsequent dream. For example, Saito is shot in the first level, but the pain is a little less in each level…although it eventually kills him in the snow fortress level. My best guess. I was thinking this while seeing it for the second time today.

      • Vyshak

        That would be because arthur was the architect of that level 2. Thats why the hotel starts to flip. The other levels dont flip because arthur is not the architect of those dreams since he remains on the second level of the dreams.

      • Isaac

        The other levels of the dream don’t flip because the “van flip” happens BEFORE they entered the snow level dream.

    • nich

      That chart is cool! Thanks!

    • Rebekah

      Excellent link! Thanks!

  • paul

    I see what you’re getting at Owen, and maybe I agree with you. I had no trouble enjoying Inception, or discussing it afterwards, and I just about kept up, but in terms of digging into it’s true meanings I think i would need a second go-round. I think I was expending too much brainpower to keeping up the first time to appreciate the levels and meanings on offer (because I’m sure there are plenty). Of course I could just go see it again to watch the amazing floaty fight scene!

  • John

    Seriously man… don’t bother watching Lost if inception isn’t working for you :) As far as the different dream levels, yes they are all simultaneous time keeps moving no matter which you’re at – but faster depending on which level of dream you’re in. This was actually explained in the movie. I think you do need a 2nd watch to see the things maybe you missed in the 1st go round :)

    • Angela

      Like the comparison to Lost. I thought of Lost after I saw Inception. They’re both awesome and I understand both of them, but it’s virtually impossible to explain them to someone that doesn’t understand them.

  • Growler

    I haven’t seen it yet but will, but no insults here!
    What you describe — in a way I can relate to — is very similar to how I was feeling throughout most of the entire final season of “Lost”… making it up as they go along.
    I appreciate the insight Owen, it’ll help me going in to see “Inception”.

  • Nick

    I was prepared to be mystified, but honestly, I understood it all. It was pretty clear cut for me. It did get a bit confusing when they were flipping between the three dreams, but it was still pretty easy to reset.

    I’m going back tonight to see it again!

  • Michael Ellis

    Just my $0.02, but Devin Faraci’s analysis (search for “NEVER WAKE UP: THE MEANING AND SECRET OF INCEPTION” in case link doesn’t work) is really good. Read the comments on his post, which gave me even more insight into possible interpretations of the movie.


    Isn’t it fun to see a future classic when it actually opens?

    • mike

      that CHUD article is spot on!!!

    • Rhonda

      This link is a MUST READ. Excellent deconstruction and analysis. Thank you for the link. I will be making CHUD a favorite website. :)

    • Ashton__K

      Inception is definitely on it’s way to beig a classic. I understood it and loved it. Predict nomination Best Picture, Best director, best actor, best editing..best supporting cast.. etc, etc etc…:)

      • nrfan

        haha that’s so cute you think leo will get a best actor nom for this. he’s just not a good actor and i think his “snub” for revolutionary road proved the voters agree. and the supporting cast won’t be nominated bc no one had enough character growth. can you really compare any of the supporting actors’ performances to christoph waltz’ performance in Inglorioius Basterds? i don’t think so.

  • Butters

    Yes I got it. Though this explains your good reviews of Dukes Of Hazzard and Transformers 2. Those are admittedly easier movies to “get”.

    • thin

      Yeah, and I love the way he concludes the article. It’s essentially saying that you either didn’t get it or you’re afraid to admit that you didn’t get it. I generally try not to insult an author in the comments on an article they’ve written, but the staggering arrogance of that position makes it really hard to refrain from doing so. There’s a third option, Mr. Glieberman, which I think a smart guy like yourself can figure out.

      • William

        Really. What a douche. Ya that’s right Mr. Gleiberman, we just won’t admit that we didn’t get it. (sarcasm)

        You know…there are such thought-provoking discussions going on about this movie with people who got the movie and finding more and more layers to it, and then there are these guys, that are confused by the main plot. Brilliant.

  • Sara

    While I understood most of the movie, I will admit that the inception plot was brushed over a lot in order to just create interesting imagery. I thnk we spent too little time on the actual ‘mission’ because of the cool effects they could do with Joseph G Levitt in zero gravity.

    That being said, I wouldn’t be willing to give that up.

  • jon

    I’m with Owen on this one. It’s an idea about a movie, but not a movie. And I say this not because I’m beholden to narrative…far from it. It’s so arbitrary that the only conclusion I could come up with is that Inception starts with what the effects crew could make possible and the rest was built around that. Scratch that: the rest was *described* around that, in its painfully exposition-heavy script.

  • well

    Owen… UGH. What is going on with you? Inception is different and creative. I “got” it and loved it. I know it is no Toy Story Three, but you need to calm down.

  • BadgerRed79

    Pretty much everything you said you had trouble understanding was explained at one point or another. Now, that doesn’t mean I think anyone who “doesn’t get it” is stupid. Maybe it’s just the result of the fact that most of today’s media requires a maximum of seven minutes of attention at a time. Or maybe this movie really is super hard to understand, and I should apply for a MacArthur Fellowship.

    • Skip182

      That’s the biggest problem I have with Owen’s criticism. He claims the rules are arbitrary, when in fact Nolan gives in-depth (almost too much so) dialogue to explain what the rules are. If Owen missed ALL of them, then that falls on him, and it makes me question his skills as a film critic. It’s like when you were a kid and got that not sent home from school: “Owen listens, but does not pay attention.”

      • racso23

        I couldn’t have said it better myself Skip182…. I honestly question each so called film critic from these type of magazines sometimes… I truly believe that no film should be criticize by these so called critics… only the fans that actually go to the movies should post their opinions…

      • Darrin

        Exactly – as the movie clearly explained, each moment lasts infinitely longer the more levels down you go. Therefore, in the deepest dream levels, basically nothing was going on in reality or the first level, because only seconds were passing.

      • Maddi

        Not to be blunt, Owen, but yes. There was a great deal of time and effort given to explaining the rules of dreams in the movie. I saw it in a theater full of normal people who aren’t paid to do this for a living, and that you didn’t pay enough attention to understand it while they did (you should have heard the depth of the conversations on the way out) is a bit disheartening.

      • James S.

        Amen to that, Maddi. Complex? Yes. Entirely baffling? No. Someone didn’t pay attention.

      • cjsamms

        As someone else already mentioned, they explained the rules so many times that it almost detracted from the movie. The problem is that a critic’s mind is too busy deconstructing the movie to actually watch the movie for the sake of watching the movie.

        It’s kind of like the difference between having a debate and having a conversation. When you’re debating, your attention is split between listening and thinking up a clever response. When you’re just having a conversation, you’re listening because you’re actually interested in what’s being said. It’s easier to “get” it when you’re not trying to tear it apart.

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