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'Inception' Is Basically An Allegory For Drug Use, And It's Surprisingly Obvious

Updated July 2, 2020 1.6k views11 items

Christopher Nolan's Inception is many things: a heist film, a puzzle waiting to be solved, and even a metaphor for addiction. Though the film debuted in 2010, fans continue to attach new ideas to the narrative and attempting to decipher what Inception is really about. The Inception dependency theory claims this movie - which is about diving into dreams within dreams - functions as a deeply coded film about how easy it is to get lost in a cycle of using drugs.

There's no arguing Inception's central character, Dom Cobb, has a dependency on his dreams. At the onset of the film, his dreams are the only place in which he can find solace, and he returns to his mind's "basement" repeatedly until his reliance begins affecting his work and the people around him. Inception can mean something different to everyone, but many believe it's clear Christopher Nolan was making a point about dependency on controlled substances with this acclaimed film.

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  • Dreams Represent Drugs

    The scene in which Ariadne gets her first taste of dream-building when meeting with Cobb is, by the logic of this theory, one of the film's most overt metaphors. In the sequence, Ariadne immediately begins twisting the dream to her particular whims, so much so that when she eventually runs away, Cobb says, "Reality won't be enough for her."

    The film presents plenty of other examples of habit-forming behavior: Cobb can barely function in and out of dreams; Professor Miles doesn't want his students interacting with Cobb; and underneath the chemist's office is a room full of dreamers who've dreamt for years - an image reminiscent of opium dens.

  • Cobb And Mal Don't Care About Anything Except Dreams

    Once Cobb and his wife Mal begin dreaming within dreams, they become so obsessed with the sensation they forget their real-life responsibilities. Not only do they throw away their lives, but they reject their children - Cobb even forgets the faces of his son and daughter.

    Eventually, Mal and Cobb become so obsessed with their imaginations, they completely lose their sense of reality, much like those with dependency issue - the more intense someone's habit, the more difficult it is for them to maintain a stable life.

  • The Dream Machines Resemble High-Tech Paraphernalia

    The physical process of dreaming in Inception mirrors extensive substance use. In order to dream, subjects must hook themselves up to a machine that injects a thick, white-colored chemical substance directly into their arms. This visual serves as the strongest and most overt tip-off that the film is discussing the negative ramifications of drug use. 

    By the time Cobb and his crew are ready to pull off their caper, they must inject a heavier dose of the chemicals to reach deeper dream levels. When Eames and the rest of the crew discover they had received a more robust dosage, they react like users on something stronger than they're used to having.

  • Dreaming, Similar To A High, Bends Time

    When Cobb and his crew are dreaming, time functions differently. For instance, one hour of real time is akin to six days in the second dream level and nearly two-and-a-half months in the third level. This stretched "dream time" is reminiscent of the way users experience time differently when under the influence. 

    Inception's dreams within dreams stretch out for years in a few instances; similarly, some people can spend their entire adult lives staying high in opium dens.