Sunday, September 16, 2012

Inception - Analysis of the Movie - part 1: Introduction and plot synopsis


[Image at left from the Wikipedia 'Inception' page; "Inception (2010) theatrical poster",[a] licensed under fair use via Wikipedia.]

Welcome to the analysis of Inception. Buttons at the bottom of each post enable navigation through the parts of the analysis.

A description and a plot synopsis of the movie follow.

Inception is a 2010 science fiction/action heist film written, co-produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan. The film stars a large ensemble cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine.


Dominick "Dom" Cobb (above left) and Arthur (above right) are "extractors", who perform corporate espionage using an experimental military technology to infiltrate the subconscious of their targets and extract valuable information through a shared dream world. Their latest target, Japanese businessman Saito, reveals that he arranged their mission himself to test Cobb for a seemingly-impossible job: planting an idea in a person's subconscious, or "inception".

Japanese businessman Saito.

To break up the energy conglomerate of ailing competitor Maurice Fischer, Saito wants Cobb to convince Fischer's son and heir, Robert, to dissolve his father's company. In return, Saito promises to use his influence to clear Cobb of a murder charge, allowing Cobb to return home to his children. Cobb accepts the offer and assembles his team: Eames, a conman and identity forger; Yusuf, a chemist who concocts a powerful sedative for a stable "dream within a dream" strategy, Ariadne, an architecture student tasked with designing the labyrinth of the dream landscapes, recruited with the help of Cobb's father-in-law, Professor Stephen Miles. While dream-sharing with Cobb, Ariadne learns his subconscious houses an invasive projection of his late wife Mal.

Above left: Eames, a conman and identity forger. Above right: Yusuf, a chemist.

Ariadne, an architecture student.

Above left: Doms's late wife, Mallory 'Mal' Cobb. Above right: Professor Stephen Miles.

When the elder Fischer dies in Sydney, Robert Fischer accompanies the body on a ten-hour flight back to Los Angeles, which the team (including Saito, who wants to verify their success) uses as an opportunity to sedate and take Fischer into a shared dream. At each dream level, the person generating the dream stays behind to set up a "kick" that will be used to awaken the other sleeping team members from the deeper dream level. The plan is for Yusuf to drive off a bridge in the first level, Arthur to use the elevator in the second level, and Eames to create an explosion in the third level simultaneously.

Robert Fischer.

The first level is Yusuf's dream of a rainy Los Angeles. The team abducts Fischer, but they are attacked by armed projections from Fischer's subconscious, which has been trained to defend against extraction. The team takes Fischer and a wounded Saito to a warehouse, where Cobb reveals that while dying in the dream would normally wake Saito up, the powerful sedatives needed to stabilize the multi-level dream will instead send a dying dreamer into "limbo", a world of infinite subconscious from which it is very difficult to escape. Despite these setbacks, the team continues with the mission.

Eames impersonates Fischer's godfather, Peter Browning (Tom Berenger), to suggest Fischer reconsider his father's will. Yusuf drives the van as the other dreamers are sedated into the second level.

Eames impersonating Peter Browning.

In the second level, a hotel dreamed by Arthur, Cobb convinces Fischer that he has been kidnapped by Browning and Cobb is his subconscious protector. Cobb persuades him to go down another level to explore Browning's subconscious (in 'reality', it is a ruse to enter Fischer's).

The third level is a snowy mountain fortress dreamed by Eames. The team has to infiltrate it and hold off the guards as Cobb takes Fischer into the equivalent of his subconscious.

Yusuf, under pursuit by Fischer's projections in the first level, accidentally drives off a bridge and initiates his kick too soon. This removes the gravity of Arthur's level, forcing him to improvise a new kick that will synchronize with the van hitting the water, and causes an avalanche in Eames' level. The Mal projection kills Fischer, Cobb kills Mal, and Saito succumbs to his wounds; all three fall into limbo. While Eames sets up a kick by rigging the fortress with explosives, Cobb and Ariadne enter limbo to rescue Fischer and Saito.

Cobb reveals to Ariadne that he and Mal went to limbo while experimenting with the dream-sharing technology. There, they spent fifty years constructing a world from their shared memories. When Mal refused to return to 'reality', Cobb used a rudimentary form of inception by compromising her totem (an object dreamers use to distinguish dreams from 'reality') and implanted in her mind the idea that the world was not real. However, when she woke up, Mal was still convinced that she was dreaming. In an attempt to "wake up" for real, Mal committed suicide and framed Cobb for her death to force him to do the same. Facing a murder charge, Cobb fled the U.S., leaving his children in the care of Professor Miles.

Dom and Mal together.

Through his confession, Cobb makes peace with his guilt over Mal's death. Ariadne kills the Mal projection and wakes Fischer up with a kick. Revived at the mountain fortress, Fischer enters a safe room to discover and accept the planted idea: a projection of his dying father telling him to be his own man. While Cobb remains in limbo to search for Saito, the other team members ride the synchronized kicks back to 'reality': Ariadne jumps off a balcony, Eames detonates the explosives in the fortress, Arthur blasts an elevator containing the team's sleeping bodies up the shaft, and the van hits the water. Cobb eventually finds an aged Saito in limbo, reminding him of their agreement. The dreamers all awaken on the plane and Saito makes a phone call.

Upon arrival at Los Angeles Airport, Cobb passes the U.S. immigration checkpoint and Professor Miles accompanies him to his home. Cobb spins his spinning top to verify he is not still dreaming, but leaves it spinning on the table to join his children in the garden.[b]

Dom reunites with his children.



The film cuts to the closing credits from a shot of Dom's top beginning to wobble (but not falling) (see screencap at left), inviting speculation about whether the final sequence was reality or another dream. When asked in an interview if the top stopped spinning, Nolan replied, "I've been asked the question more times than I've ever been asked any other question about any other film I've made...That's definitely the question. It keeps coming back to that. What's funny to me is that people really do expect me to answer it."[c] Nolan said in the same interview, "I put that cut there at the end, imposing an ambiguity from outside the film. That always felt the right ending to me – it always felt like the appropriate 'kick' to me...The real point of the scene – and this is what I tell people – is that Cobb isn't looking at the top. He's looking at his kids. He's left it behind. That's the emotional significance of the thing."[c]

Nolan has also said, "I don't remember specifically where the idea [for stealing an idea] came from except that once I started exploring the idea of people sharing a dream space - entering a dream space and sharing a dream. That gives you the ability to access somebody's subconscious. What would that be used and abused for? That was the jumping off point."[d]

a. Poster for Inception: The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Warner Bros. Pictures, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.
b. Wikipedia, Inception. Web, n.d. URL =
c. Jensen, Jeff (November 30, 2010). "Christopher Nolan on his 'last' Batman movie, an 'Inception' videogame, and that spinning top." Entertainment Weekly. Web. URL =
d. Weintraub, Steve (March 25, 2010). "Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas Interview." Web. URL =

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Inception analysis - part 7: Wrapping up the analysis: The ultimate inception targets


Robert Michael Fischer, the heir to a business empire, appears to be the inception team's target. However, the true target of the inception is Dom Cobb (as explained below), with Fischer actually being a part of the (real) inception team. The implantation of an idea in Dom's unconscious while he's in a dream state is a metaphor for how certain movie-makers subtly plant ideas in the minds of movie-goers.

Some reviewers of Inception have argued that the film is itself a metaphor for film-making, and that the filmgoing experience itself, images flashing before one's eyes in a darkened room, is akin to a dream. Writing in Wired, Jonah Lehrer supported this interpretation and presented neurological evidence that brain activity is strikingly similar during film-watching and sleeping. In both, the visual cortex is highly active and the prefrontal cortex, which deals with logic, deliberate analysis, and self-awareness, is quiet.[a]

Christoper Nolan intended Inception to be a metaphor for film-making, so that we will realize that ideas can effectively be 'planted' in our minds by movie-makers, while we are in the above-described 'cinema dream-state' that occurs when we watch movies. Unscrupulous movie-makers have taken advantage of us while we're viewing their movies, to subtly influence our beliefs so as to help further certain agendas.

Recall the idea of a 'lesbian wedding' mentioned in part 4 of this analysis. Ariadne's totem is a bishop chess piece (above left screencap). The hat of a bishop (as in the Catholic adoption) is sometimes considered to be a phallic symbol. This points to a kind of 'maleness' within Ariadne, as does the way she is dressed throughout much of the film, e.g., as shown in the above right screencap, she's wearing shoes that look similar to men's shoes when she steps on the wine glass in Dom and Mal's wedding suite (recall that this action points to the lesbian wedding idea). What must have happened in reality (i.e., outside Dom's dream, which as we've observed, is constituted of everything we see in the film), was that Ariadne and Mal were lovers at some point, and Ariadne planned to 'adopt' Mal's kids so that the two of them could raise the kids together, without Dom. When Mal later decided she wanted to end the affair with Ariadne and stick with Dom, she stabbed Ariadne in an attempt to get rid of her. Once Ariadne fully realized what Mal's plan was (to get back with Dom, as stated), she shot Mal dead out of jealousy, making it appear to Dom as if it was a suicide; then, Ariadne framed Dom for Mal's death, in the sense that she effectively used inception to convince Dom that Mal's (supposed) suicide was his fault; and, she set things up such that it appeared to the authorities that Dom murdered Mal. Dom is dreaming the events of the movie while he's locked up in some kind of institution, having been found guilty of murdering Mal and trying to make her death look like a suicide.

The over-arching scenario being depicted in Inception is one in which, in reality, Ariadne was Dom's psychotherapist, she was having an affair with Mal (as stated above), and she used a combination of drugs and hypnosis to induce a dream-like state in Dom, in order to plant the idea within Dom's mind that he was responsible for Mal's death. In Dom's dream, the therapist, Ariadne, appeared to him as someone who was helpful, whereas in reality, she's a feminist ideologue, and was doing harm; in fact, in reality she was trying to separate a father from his children, not bring them together.

Ariadne appears to Dom as someone who is helpful, but she is, in reality, ill-intentioned.

Ultimately, the message of Inception is that ideological feminists are psychologically manipulating men so that they come to accept the tenets of feminism. One way these feminists do this is by being involved in making movies which influence men's minds while these men are in the above-mentioned 'cinema dream state'. Another way this happens is that psychotherapists who are feminists, subtly psychologically manipulate their male patients. In both cases, the method used targets men who have 'unresolved'/'unstable' animas. This weakness is used by these feminists to 'burrow' their way into the men's unconscious minds, by, in effect, 'usurping' that part of each man's anima that serves as mediator between his unconscious and conscious mind. Then, these women make subtle suggestions to each man's unconscious to further their feminist agenda, insofar as unconscious 'thoughts' of the men lead to their conscious attitudes and actions.

The overall point is that men are the ultimate targets for feminist inception.

Begin reading here if you arrived at this page by clicking on the 'Read the latter portion of part 7 of the Inception analysis' link, in the 'Recommended minimum reading for this blog' post:

Regarding the idea of movie-makers influencing the minds of audience members, Sergei Eisenstein argued that the film technique of montage, especially intellectual montage, is an alternative system to continuity editing. The montage technique relies on symbolic association of ideas between shots rather than association of simple physical action for its continuity. Eisenstein believed that intellectual montage expresses how everyday thought processes happen. In this sense, the film montage will, in fact, form thoughts in the mind of the viewer, and is therefore a powerful tool for propaganda.[b]

In her essay, The Politics of Sound and Image, feminist author Debbie Ging states,[c]

"Although Eisenstein's films and Soviet photo-montage are not generally directly associated with a revolutionary feminist politics, they still offer powerful techniques to feminist filmmakers in the context of a postmodernism of resistance.
"[T]he subjugation of women is not necessarily an inherent aspect of montage cinema, a point which I think is well illustrated by its successful appropriation for the purposes of political feminist cinema.
"What is of interest to this discussion is the fact that so many avant-garde filmmakers have successfully appropriated montage, as we know it from Eisenstein's earlier work, for the purpose of radical feminist politics." (emphasis in original).

If a movie-maker desires to convey a disjointed space, or spatial discontinuity, aside from purposefully contradicting the continuity tools, he can take advantage of crosscutting and the jump cut. Nolan uses not only montage, but several jarring jump cuts and crosscuts, in the action sequences in his Inception. Nolan's purpose in using these techinques in a movie about planting ideas in peoples' minds, is to tell us that certain film techniques are, in fact, currently being used by unscrupulous movie-makers, to influence the thinking of audience members.

Sergei Eisenstein c. 1935. [Image from the Wikipedia 'Sergei Eisenstein' page, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

There is some interesting material that is applicable to this analysis, in chapter 5 of Eisenstein's Towards a Theory of Montage.[d] Eisenstein tells us, "[A]ll cinema is montage cinema, for the simple reason that the most fundamental cinematic phenomenon - the fact that the picture moves - is a montage phenomenon. What does this phenomenon of the moving photographic image consist of?

"A series of still photographs of different stages of a single movement are taken. The result is a succession of what are called 'frames'.

"Connecting them up with one another in montage by passing the film at a certain speed through a projector reduces them to a single process which our perception interprets as movement...Montage pervades all 'levels' of filmmaking, beginning with the basic cinematic phenomenon, through 'montage proper' and up to the compositional totality of the film as a whole. So far we have not treated the question of the shot as a montage sequence of frames. Now we perceive even the still shot as a montage process, as the first link in a continuous chain of montage that extends throughout the entire work." (emphasis in original).

To develop the idea of a single shot as a montage, Eisenstein begins with some art history:

"[T]he method...of depicting sequential phases for conveying a sense of movement[,] is firmly entrenched in those paintings which particularly surprise us by showing movement while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of the object, person, or phenomenon depicted. Such qualities are possessed in equal degree, for instance, by the lithographs of Daumier and the ceilings of Tintoretto. The 'trick' of the unusual mobility of their figures is purely cinematic. Unlike the miniatures of the Middle Ages, however, they do not give the temporally sequential phases of the movement to one limb depicted several times but spread these phases consecutively over different parts of the body. Thus the foot is in position A, the knee is already in stage A + a, the torso in stage A + 2a, the neck in A + 3a, the raised arm in A + 4a, the head in A + 5a, and so on. By the law of pars pro toto, from the position of the foot you mentally extrapolate the attitude which the entire figure should be taking up at that moment. The same applies to the knee, the neck, and the head, so that in effect the figure drawn in this way is interpreted as if it were six successive 'frames' of the same figure in the various sequential phases of the movement. The fact that they are serially juxtaposed to each other forces the spectator to interpret them as 'movement' in exactly the same way that this occurs in cinema."

Note that the above description of the appearance of movement in a still figure, is suggestive of the movements of a marionette, i.e., of a puppet operated by strings. In fact, Eisenstein was interested in the field of biomechanics, and according to Alexander Zholkovsky of the University of Southern California, "Eisenstein extolled marionettes as an ideal model of centrally controlled and therefore perfect movement."[e]

By using montage in a movie about inception of an idea, Nolan wants us to 'drill down' to the idea of a single shot as a montage, and to derive the idea that we, the audience members, are like marionettes being manipulated by certain ideologically-motivated movie-makers.

a. Wikipedia, 'Inception'. Web, n.d. URL =
b. Wikipedia, 'Soviet montage theory'. Web, n.d. URL =
c. Ging, Debbie. "The Politics of Sound and Image: Eisenstein, Artifice, and Acoustic Montage in Contemporary Feminist Cinema" in The Montage Principle: Eisenstein in New Cultural and Critical Contexts, ed. Jean-Antoine-Dunne and Paula Quigley. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. pp. 68, 75, 76.
d. Eisenstein, Sergei. Towards a Theory of Montage, ed. Michael Glenny and Richard Taylor. New York: I.B. Tauris & Co., 2010. pp. 109, 110-111.
e. Zholkovsky, Alexander. "Eisenstein's Poetics: Dialogical or Totalitarian?" Web, n.d. URL =

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Inception analysis - part 6: The entire movie depicts a dream



The view of buildings and alleyways from above during the chase scene in Mombasa (above left), which supposedly takes place in reality, is reminiscent of some of the pen-and-paper mazes drawn by Ariadne (above right)

Two walls seem to close in on Dom during the chase, as might happen in a dream.

One of the key pieces of evidence that the entire movie is someone's dream, comes in the scene in Mombasa, in which Dom visits a room where people come to dream for several hours each day (above left). As the man showing Dom through the place (above right) says, these people come here not to sleep, but to be woken up: "Their dream has become their reality - who are you to say otherwise?" Since the man is here speaking to Dom, it is Dom who is dreaming everything in the movie; and, as will be explained in the next post in this analysis, he is the target of an inception.

The fact that the spinning top shown at the end of Inception begins to wobble, means that there's about to be a 'kick' out of the current dream (of Dom re-uniting with his children).


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Inception analysis - part 5: Dom is undergoing individuation


One thing that is being depicted in Inception, is Dom Cobb's process of individuation. According to Jungian psychology, individuation is a process of psychological integration, having for its goal the development of the individual personality. "In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated [from other human beings]; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology."[a]

Top left and right: The fact that the mazes Ariadne hands Dom to work his way through, are rectangular or oblong rather than square or round, respectively, indicate that they represent what Jung called 'disturbed' mandalas. The shapes of these mazes indicate an emphasis on the horizontal, and thus, an over-emphasis on the ego-consciousness at the expense of vertical height, which represents the unconscious.[b]

The fact that the arrows Dom draws in the scene at left, show a clockwise movement, indicates a movement toward the conscious (whereas a counter-clockwise movement is one toward the unconscious).[c] The line drawn between the arrows, however, indicates that Dom's movement toward the conscious is 'blocked' in some way.

a. Jung, C.G. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 6. Princeton University Press, 1971. para. 757.
b. Jung, C.G.. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 12. Princeton University Press, 1968. paras. 287, 291. Google Books. URL =
c. Ibid., para. 166.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Inception analysis - part 4: References to other films




Top left and right: The people sleeping in the room in Mambasa (left), is similar to the roomful of unconscious patients in Coma (right), the 1978 film based on Robin Cook's novel of the same name. (Coma was re-made as a television mini-series in 2012). Above left and right: Dom holding Mal's foot (left) is a reference to the same thing as the prominent showing of women's feet in certain of Quentin Tarantino's films, such as the fitting of a shoe to Bridget Von Hammersmark's foot by Colonel Hans Landa in Inglouorious Basterds (right). What both of these refer to is Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Jung's idea that in dreams, the foot represents the relation to Earthly reality.[a]

Top left: Some people sitting near Dom and Fischer in a hotel restaurant, look over at the two men. This is an indication that the people sense the 'foreign nature' of someone in the current dream. Top right: The liquid in Fischer's drink begins to vibrate as the hotel building becomes unsteady. Arthur tells Ariadne that this unsteadiness is due to Dom drawing Fischer's attention to the strangeness of the dream, which is making his subconscious look for the dreamer (supposedly, Arthur, who is sitting with Ariadne in a different part of the hotel). Above left: At certain points in Martin Scorsese's 1976 film, Taxi Driver, the main character, Travis Bickle, senses that strangers (such as these two men) are looking at him. As indicated in the analysis of Scorsese's movie on this blog, part of it depicts a dream Travis experiences. Above right: We're shown a close-up of Travis's drink 'fizzing' after he puts two antacid tablets in it.

Top left: Heywood Floyd touches the rectangular black 'monolith' in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. As indicated in the analysis of 2001 on this blog, Floyd's body is occupied by an alien life force representing 'feminine evil', and the monoliths in the movie were placed by an alien race representing the same. Top right: Inception's Ariadne touches a large rectangular mirror-door. This corresponds to Floyd touching the 2001 monolith; and as stated, Floyd's body is occupied by an alien life force representing feminine evil. Thus, the fact that Ariadne here sees herself in an object representing the Space Odyssey monolith, is a clue from the makers of Inception that in actual reality, i.e., 'outside' all of the dream layers of the film, Ariadne represents the presence of feminine evil, i.e., she is a feminist ideologue. As suggested in part 2 of this analysis, Ariadne's appearance as someone who is helpful to Cobb, a man trying to re-unite with his children, is really just a 'front'. The audience of Inception never sees Ariadne as she is in reality because, as will be described later in the analysis, the entire movie is a dream.

Above left: Ariadne steps on and breaks a wine glass, alerting Mal to her presence. Above right: Moments after Mal confronts Ariadne, we hear a crunching noise when Mal steps on shards of the same (now-broken) glass. In this scene, the two women are alone together in a suite in the hotel where Dom and Mal spent their wedding anniversaries together. In some lesbian Jewish wedding ceremonies, both participants step on a wine glass.

a. "The foot, as the organ nearest the earth, represents in dreams the relation to earthly reality..." (--Jung, C.G., The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 5, Princeton University Press, 1967, para. 356.)


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Inception analysis - part 3: Analysis of the major female characters


Mallorie "Mal" Cobb, Dom's deceased wife, is the film's main antagonist. Dom is unable to control his projections of her, challenging his abilities as an extractor. Note that Mal's name is pronounced like the word "moll" throughout the movie. A gun moll (aka gangster moll) is the female companion of a male professional criminal. In some contexts, 'gun moll' more specifically suggests that the woman handles a firearm. "Moll" derives from "Molly", used as a euphemism for "whore" or "prostitute" and attested at least since 17th century England.[a]

Ariadne is a graduate student of architecture who is recruited to construct the various dreamscapes, which are described as mazes. Her name means "most holy", composed of the Cretan Greek elements αρι (ari) "most" and αδνος (adnos) "holy". In Greek mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos. She fell in love with Theseus and helped him to escape the Labyrinth and the Minotaur, but was later abandoned by him. Eventually she married the god Dionysus.[b]

Mal and Ariadne taken together represent Dom's anima, i.e., they represent the totality of the unconscious feminine psychological qualities that Dom possesses. Ariadne represents the part of Dom's anima that serves as a mediator between his unconscious and conscious mind. Ariadne represents, within a certain context, the Christian Holy Spirit, in that she acts as a guide; but as we will see later, Ariadne is actually working against Dom, and is only making herself appear to him as if she is helpful - Dom only sees Ariadne as a kind of helpful guide.

Mal is the part of Dom's anima that has been cross-contaminated with contents from his shadow, in specific, with contents having to do with repressed primitive instincts.

a. Wikipedia, 'Gum moll'. Web, n.d. URL =
b. Behind the Name, 'Ariadne'. Web, n.d. URL =


Friday, September 7, 2012

Inception analysis - part 2: Analysis of Dom Cobb's first name


Dominick "Dom" Cobb is a professional thief who specializes in conning secrets from his victims by infiltrating their dreams.

The name Dominick is a variant of Dominic, which is a male name common among Roman Catholics and other Latin-Roman based cultures. Originally from the late Roman-Italic name "Dominicus", its translation means "Of Our Lord", "Lordly", "Belonging to God" or "of the Master."[a]

One Hebrew name equivalent to Dom is Michael.[b] Michael is from the Hebrew name Mikha'el, meaning "who is like God?". This is a rhetorical question, implying no person is like God. Michael is one of the seven archangels in Hebrew tradition and the only one identified as an archangel in the bible. In the book of Revelation in the New Testament he is portrayed as the leader of heaven's armies, and thus is considered the patron saint of soldiers.[c] The other two Hebrew equivalents[b] to Dom are Daniel, from the Hebrew name Daniyyel meaning "God is my judge",[d] and Amiel.

a. Wikipedia, 'Dominic'. Web, n.d. URL =
b. My Hebrew Name, 'Dom'. Web, n.d. URL =
c. Behind the Name, 'Michael'. Web, n.d. URL =
d. Behind the Name, 'Daniel'. Web, n.d. URL =


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