10 'Inception' Fan Theories That Left Us More Confused Than We Already Were

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Vote up the most interesting fan theories.

Ever since its debut on the big screen, Christopher Nolan's Inception has been a hot topic of debate in the fan theory community. What really happened at the end of Inception? While some theories are more plausible than others, one thing is for sure: Inception will live on to be one of the most mind-bending movies of our time. 

  • 1
    125 VOTES

    Cobb Doesn't Have A Totem: He Has Found A Better Way To Tell If He's Dreaming

    From Redditor u/D*ckwaffler:

    In the Inception universe, a totem is a clever method, devised by Mal, of detecting if you are in someone else's dream. A totem is a physical item that secretly behaves abnormally in the real world; for instance, the weight or feeling might be different than one would expect. Therefore, if an Architect attempts to recreate your totem in their dream, it will not feel right and you will know it's a dream.

    So let me reiterate: a totem behaves normally in a dream but abnormally in the real world.

    But this contradicts the action of the top, which behaves abnormally in the dream world and normally in the real world. Why would an Architect assume that the top would behave so strangely? Any person would rightfully assume that the top would fall over in a dream and make that the reality, making the totem check useless...

    Cobb, as the world's most skilled extractor, has developed a better test of the dream world.

    Once a dreamer becomes aware that they are dreaming (becomes lucid), they gain the ability to manipulate their reality within reason. This is why the team was able to summon guns out of nowhere and how Eames is able to project himself as different people.

    Cobb's reality check is to assume that he is in fact dreaming and attempt to bend reality. In this case, he focuses on making the top keep spinning. If it topples despite his focus, then it must be reality; but if he is able to keep it spinning indefinitely, it must be a dream. Notice how intently he stares at the top whenever he spins it.

    This theory lends special credence to the end of the film. Cobb spins the top and walks away. The top is wobbling, obviously preparing to fall over, but this doesn't prove anything since without Cobb willing it to behave strangely this will prove nothing. However, notice that Cobb isn't watching anymore. He doesn't care if the top spins or falls because this reality is where he wants to be, dream or not.

    125 votes
  • 2
    138 VOTES

    Cobb's Totem Was His Wedding Ring - Proving He Was In The Real World At The End

    From Redditor u/Dravved:

    In Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio's character is in the real world in the ending scene. He talks about how totems only work for specific people. The top was his wife's totem. It wouldn't work for him. His totem is his wedding ring. In the dream world, his wife is alive, and he is still married to her. Therefore he wears his wedding ring. In all the scenes in the real world, his wife is dead and he is no longer married. He doesn't wear his ring because of that. In the last scene, he isn't wearing his ring.

    138 votes
  • 3
    88 VOTES

    Cobb Is The Actual Target - Mal And The Others Are Trying To Save Him

    From Redditor u/GibbyGibsonUSC:

    Cobb is the one stuck in a dream; when Mal killed herself, she actually woke up in reality. Cobb is essentially stuck in a coma-state in the real world, where Mal and others are continuously entering his dream and trying to figure out how to convince Cobb he's still dreaming and wake him back to reality.

    The reason Mal can't just enter back into his first-level dream and tell Cobb he's still dreaming is because he's in denial, and he has to convince himself that he's still dreaming on his own, essentially the whole point of the movie. They need to perform Inception on him to convince him he's still dreaming, they can't just tell him outright for it to work. 

    Cobb is the one who got lost in his dream. He purposely "forgot" his actual totem, and made up the intricate backstory about taking Mal's totem (the top), so he can fool himself into believing his dream (first-level) is a reality.

    (Read the full theory here on Reddit)

    88 votes
  • 4
    55 VOTES

    Every Theory Is Plausible To Mimic The Chaotic Nature Of Dreams

    From Redditor u/bigpig1054:

    My theory is that the Nolans crafted the screenplay in just such a way that every possible theory ends with at least one loose thread that could unravel it.

    There is no "single answer with a bunch of red-herrings" to it.

    The whole thing is meant to be convoluted, the way actual dreams are when you try to remember them. Asking "what is the movie about and what ISNT the movie about" isn't actually possible. At different points in the movie you could say "this is what the movie is about" only to have that answer be completely contradicted later in the film. The movie isn't about any one thing. It's just a visual representation of how chaotic and convoluted our dreams can be.

    It's Schrodinger's Cat and an Escher painting rolled into one.

    55 votes
  • 5
    68 VOTES

    Mal Planted The Idea Of Cobb Proposing To Her - Leading To His Obsession With Her

    From Redditor u/levee6reaks:


    In Cobb's dreams Mal's projection says that he had a dream about asking her to marry him. Considering that they both were very experienced mind extractors and worked together, she might have put an idea of proposal to his mind.


    Cobb is totally obsessed with her, and for sure it can be guilt, but is this guilt that strong so Mal appears everywhere he goes? In one scene Cobb says that positive emotion works better than negative. Why does he know that? Because he has a positive idea of love and growing old together implanted into his mind. Mal, that we see in the movie, is just a projection of his wife born by the idea of his love. The projection follows Cobb because she wants him to join her in limbo, and this is because this is the only place Cobb can reunite with his love.

    68 votes
  • 6
    90 VOTES

    Cobb Is Just Dreaming After Falling Asleep On A Plane

    From Redditor u/TwirlipoftheMists:

    The whole film is a weird dream Cobb has when he falls asleep on a plane. It’s only reality for a few minutes after he wakes up on the plane at the end.

    There are no dream sharing machines, and he isn’t a dream thief. He’s just on a flight with some random strangers. When he falls asleep he imagines he and the other first class passengers are a team of dream thieves, but in reality he’s never met any of them before. (It’s like The Wizard of Oz: you were there, and you!) The spinning top is just something he carries around which took on significance in his dream.

    So he has this wacky dream, then wakes up feeling disoriented. None of them speak to each other because they’re complete strangers. One of them makes a call, but it’s totally unrelated to Cobb’s dream. He gets off the plane, meets Michael Caine and goes home.

    90 votes