My theory is that Cobb is never really awake but is lost from the very beginning in some sort of limbo that he has created for himself. A world that is complete utter hell because from the very beginning he is possessed by his own guilt. That guilt is projected by his wife, Mal. She is also in the limbo of her own conscious after letting go of what she believed to be “reality”. Saito is also in limbo from dying on different levels of his consciousness.
While some people that have watched the movie believe that Cobb is awake because of the little totem that topples at the very very end of the credits (or at least the sound of something toppling) we must be reminded that this is Mal’s totem and not his. I have also heard other reviewers saying that his totem is possibly his ring but I want to suggest that perhaps that possibly his totem is his children’s faces (ie something personal to him that would let him know that he is not dreaming)
My theory is that at no time is there not a dream. I believe that Cobb is in limbo simply trying to remember, trying to come to grips that he is dreaming. Saito helps him remember as well as Cobb does the same for him. I believe that Saito shoots Cobb which in turn, causes Cobb to reboot his dream in limbo and recreate a world that he loves (one without guilt). Mal is gone now in this existence because 1. she was killed in limbo consciousness and set free to recreate another. 2. Mal represented his guilt that he no longer had.
Mal only popped up when he was in his memories or when he was poking around in other peoples dreams. Once he came to terms with the idea that he had started all of this and that he was the blame, and she also came to terms that she had been manipulated they both let go.
I think that Mal no longer was being held in his reality nor did she desire to be there after that. Her consciousness was allowing her to intercept his dreams because he trapped her there.
So in the end he sees his kids’ faces so that should mean he is awake right? If there was ever a such thing. He is awake to the fact that he is guiltless and has created the world he wants. A reality that he has no longer manipulated and controlled.
The deep levels of INCEPTION deal with the fact that there must always be one dreamer. Every other subsequent character is either a projection of that dreamers mind or an invader. An invader is thus fought against by whatever situations. The question or idea that inception is attempting to plant in the mind of the audience is…
1. Are we merely projections of someones mind?
2. When we dream or die do we merely create or wake up in another dream world that is of our own creation?
3. Is the realization that this life is but a dream the way to “wake up” ?
4. Is conflict the result of those who are consciously dreaming versus those that are mere projections of the dreamer?
There are some key elements that make me think that Cobb created the whole dream from the beginning and that the complete thing is his dream. I actually have only one idea that I would like to plant:
When an in invader arrives they are attacked by the other projections in the dream. Things that pertain to Cobb’s life constantly seem to invade the dreams (the train driving through, Mal, the kids) These details are projections of Cobb’s mind when we are told the dreamers are the other people in his team But even as they sink to lower levels and one of Cobb’s comrades takes “the drivers seat” as the dreamer they are still being attacked by the projections of their own dreams which would only go to show me that in actuality, they are not the original dreamers but at all times Cobb is the original dreamer (and his projections are the ones attacking) and the only reason he is being attacked is because he is with his team or he is warring with himself over his guilt in limbo.
When he finally makes peace with “trying to control others” his whole reality becomes what he truly wants.
The reality is …there is no reality. All is a dream for Cobb and that limbo at first is hell because he can not wake up and he can not come to grips with letting go of his guilt. He attains his “heaven” by letting go the guilt of manipulating his wife. She lets go of him and he creates a world he is happy with.
It is not that any one person is really in control, or that they are share dreaming, but it is the fact that they are conscious of the fact that they are dreaming. The reason that they can do nothing in their present reality is that they believe that they are NOT dreaming in that one.
(or perhaps they are conscious higher level dreamers and from the beginning they are going to save Cobb to retrieve him from the depths of his own hell)
Several times they showed that if a person dreaming believes they are not dreaming they will believe the dream to be reality and act accordingly. But if a person dies in that dream they simply wake up in another consciousness (either a higher one…realizing that they were dreaming or a lower one forgetting even more and sinking into forgetfulness) They shoot and kill people without thought justifying it by saying “these are just projections of the dreamer they’re not real.”
It plays on the idea of consciousness and that if we believe that we are dreaming then we are. That we are but share dreaming this reality. As we awaken to become co-creators or “architects” in the said dream the other projections of the dream system fight (very matrix themed) but by waking up in a higher consciousness you actually are creating what you want and not what don’t want or even a state of waking up in forgetfulness.
I welcome your thoughts …if i haven’t been too confusing.