Kyle Johnson: “Inception and Philosophy” | Talks at Google

>>Male Presenter: Kyle Johnson is here to
talk about “Inception and Philosophy.” He’s the editor of the book, among–. He’s also
the frequent contributor to other volumes of the Blackwell Philosophy and Popular Culture
series, including Heroes in Philosophy. And he’s here to talk today about Inception and
why–. What’s the premise of the–?>>Kyle Johnson: It should’ve won Best Picture.>>Male Presenter: Why Inception should’ve
won Best Picture. It’s a very cogently argued philosophical argument, which I think you
will all enjoy. And without further ado, let’s welcome Kyle to Google. [applause]>>Kyle Johnson: Thank you very much, Tyler.
So, just to make sure, who’s seen Inception? Good. All right. ‘Cause if you haven’t seen
it, you almost can’t spoil Inception because it’s unclear what’s going on in Inception,
right? So, there’s no ending to spoil necessarily. But what I do wanna argue today is that Inception
should have won Best Picture. And I should warn you that there’s gonna be a lot of stuff
flying at you here. The words on the slides are really for my benefit. The pictures are
for your benefit, so don’t feel like you need to read everything. The Power Point is designed such that you
can just go through the Power Point by yourself and understand it. So, don’t be overwhelmed
by some text-heavy slides as it were. But I’m going to argue that Inception should’ve
won Best Picture. Now, I really don’t actually care that much about whether or not it won
Best Picture. Like, I wasn’t crying the night the Oscars
were on, whenever it didn’t win. But the reason I think it didn’t win is because the Academy
didn’t understand it. I think it went right over their heads. [laughter] And so what I’m really attempting to do here
is I’m attempting to explain, by telling you why it should’ve won, I’m going to explain
the movie. I’m gonna help you understand the movie about what it was about, about even
what happened in it. Like, what actually is going on in the plot. And I’m gonna show you how philosophy can
help you understand the movie. And I think maybe you can even really truly understand
the movie without it. And so, that’s a lot of what the book tries to do is help you use
philosophy to understand Inception. And then, once you understand it, we go off and we explore
other philosophical issues that are raised by the movie. So, some things that they may have missed.
One thing that the Academy probably missed about Inception was that the movie itself
is an analogy–it’s an allegory–for movie-making. That the dream team, each element of the dream
team has an analogous element to those who make a movie. So, Cobb, who orchestrates everything, he’s
the director. Ariadne, who designs the dreams, she’s the screen-writer. Saito, who bankrolls
the whole thing, who buys the whole airline instead of just buying out first class, he’s
the production company. He’s the bankroll. Arthur, who organizes everything. He’s the
producer. Eames, who puts on characters–literally portrays the sexy blonde–or Browning, the
Godfather, he’s the actor. Yusuf, who has the technical savvy to chemically concoct
the chemical they use to put themselves under to make the whole thing possible, he’s special
effects. Fischer, the mark, he’s the audience. And we even see things like this, where we
see Eames as Browning. You see Eames in the mirror there. He’s actually sitting at an
old-time vanity mirror like an actor would. And so, we have this direct analogy with movie-making
itself where Inception is actually an analogy for movie-making itself. Here’s something
else that they probably missed. [music plays] I believe it was Hans Zimmer who did the music
for Inception, has admitted in interviews that it’s not just the intro. Every piece
of music all the way throughout the film is based on different parts of that Edith Piaf
track, either sped up or slowed down to different tempos. And he just took those elements, took it,
sped it up, slowed it down, and then composed the music for the film based on that. That
is cool. That is really cool and it’s something that most people missed about the film. And
in fact, Inception itself is an inception. You may think that Inception is impossible. In fact, they even talk about that in the
movie that it’s impossible to get into someone’s mind an implant an idea in there and make
them think that it was their own idea. But that’s just what movies do. That’s all movies
do is–. It’s not all they do, but that’s one big thing that they do is they incept
ideas into us. Inception probably incepted into you the idea
that reality may not be actually real, but instead is a dream. Inception happens all
the time. And that’s what the whole point of advertising is. Inception. And so, but
these are not even–. This is just, this is tawdry stuff. This is just little tiny things that you may
have missed. This is not even the big stuff. Kinda cool, but not the big stuff. Here’s
the big stuff. Or at least, starting with the big stuff. Just, just getting started.
On the surface, the movie is a great action film with some cool special effects and a
clever cliffhanger. At the end and he spins the top to see if
he’s really in reality and they fade to the–. They go to the top. Is it gonna fall? And
they cut out. You don’t know. That’s kinda cool, right? Unraveling the movie would seem
to simply require discovering the answer to the question, “Did the top fall?” And if you knew whether the top fell or not,
then you’d know whether Cobb was home and the movie can be nicely wrapped up. The first
step to understanding Inception is realizing that the answer to that question, “Did the
top fall?” doesn’t matter at all. Even if we knew whether or not the top fell, we would
still not understand the movie. Even if the top falls, Cobb could still be
dreaming. And in fact, I think he probably is. Now, I’m gonna give you an argument for
why. So first, we have to start out asking ourselves how do totems work. ‘Cause Cobb’s
top was not the only totem in the movie. Arthur’s got a totem. It’s the die. Ariadne’s
got a totem. It’s the bishop. There’s some others as well. You’re never supposed to let
anyone else see how your totem works. You don’t even want anyone else to touch your
totem. Because if they do, they might feel how it’s weighted in the real world and then
your totem will not be able to tell you whether or not you’re in one of their dreams. So for example, Arthur’s totem is the loaded
die. If Ariadne touched his totem, she might get inkling about how it’s weighted in the
real world. And she would know that whenever he rolls it in the real world, it always comes
up a five. So, he can’t let her touch that because if she touches that, then if he’s
in one of her dreams and he rolls his die in her dream–. Well, she knows it’s supposed to come up a
five and so she would dream it would come up a five. So, you can’t let anyone know how
your totem behaves in the real world. If she does touch it, then it will not be able to
tell Arthur whether or not he is in her dream. This is why he doesn’t let her touch it. This
is also why Ariadne refuses to let Cobb touch her totem, the bishop. If he gets an inkling
as to how it works and how it’s weighted in the real world and how it falls, then it won’t
be able to tell her whether or not he’s in one of his dreams. So since, but here’s the thing. Most importantly,
what this means is that totems can only tell you that you’re not in someone else’s dream.
Arthur even specifically says that in the film. It can only tell you if you’re in someone
else’s dream. It can’t tell you whether or not you’re in your own dream. So, even if the top falls in the end, Cobb
could still be dreaming because he could still be in his own dream because he knows how his
totem works. So even if it falls, he could still be in his own dream. But it gets worse.
Cobb reveals too much. When Ariadne calls totems an “elegant solution
for keeping track of reality,”–this is right after he’d asked to see hers and she said,
“No, you can’t see it.” And he says, “Good job. You shouldn’t let anyone know how your
totem works.” Right after that, she says, “It’s an elegant solution for keeping track
of reality.” And asked if it was his idea. And he says,
“No, it was Mal’s actually. This one was hers. She would spin it in the dream and it would
never topple, just spin and spin.” He just did what he told her never to do–tell people
how your totem works. He just told her how it works. So now, the totem is no good for telling him
whether or not he’s in one of her dreams because now she knows how it works. And since she
designed all the dreams of the inception, it can’t tell him whether or not he’s out
of the inception or not because tops would fall. She knows how it works in all the dreams in
the inception. And worse yet, the top was originally Mal’s. That was her totem. It’s
not his. She knows how it works. So, it can’t tell him whether or not he’s in her dream,
either. So, even if the top falls at the end, he could still be in his own dream. He could still be in Ariadne’s dream. He could
still be in Mal’s dream. Now, he thinks Mal is dead of course, so he doesn’t have to worry
about that. But the problem, of course, is she might have been right. And if she was,
she’s still alive. We’ll talk more about that in a little bit. But it gets even worse. Those three people
that it could be, that he’s still dreaming in, he’s in their dream. But it gets worse.
Think about how the other totems work. Arthur only knows what number his die falls on in
the real world. Only Ariadne knows how her bishop is weighted in the real world. There’s another totem. Eames’ totem, the poker
chip. It’s not exactly stated in the film, but you can tell because he’s always playing
with it. That’s his totem. And it’s not quite clear how it works, but if you think about
it you can figure it out. There’s one line in the film where Cobb talks about the misspelling
on his chip. And, if you went to ComiCon this year, one
of my contributors, Lance, showed me this picture. This is from ComiCon this year. They
had Eames’ totem on display. And if you look, it says “Mombasa District Casino, one hundred
Shillings.” It’s a Mombasa Casino casino chip. But it’s misspelled. There’s an extra “S”
in Mombasa. And this is how his totem works. If he looks at his poker chip and he sees
that extra “S” he knows he’s in the real world ’cause he put it there. But if he looks at
his poker chip and it’s spelled correctly, it doesn’t have that extra “S.” Then he knows he’s in someone else’s dream.
But with each one of these totems, notice that their behavior in the real world is unique.
It’s loaded. It’s weighted. It has an extra “S.” In the dream, it behaves ordinarily.
Roll the die and it rolls random. But Cobb’s totem is backwards. How does it behave in the real world? Like
all tops behave in the real world. It falls down. Its behavior in the dream is unique.
All the other totems, how they behave in the real world is unique, and in the dream is
ordinary. His is ordinary in the real world, unique in a dream. It’s backwards. And since not only do Mal
and Cobb, obviously and Ariadne know that his top would fall in the real world, we know
his top would fall in the real world. That’s what tops do. Everybody knows that. If Cobb
was in one of your dreams and he spun his top, what would you dream that it would do? Well, I’d dream that it would fall ’cause
that’s how I think they behave in the real world. Cobb, even if the top falls at the
end, he could still be in anyone’s dream. The top falling at the end tells us nothing.
It is a red herring. It is there to distract you to think you’ve got it figured out. Oh, if I only knew if the top fell I’d have
it all figured out. No, you wouldn’t. [laughter] And this is not a mistake. This is not an
oversight. This is intentional. Cobb himself is shown as an unreliable source of information
in the film. “You notice how much time Cobb spends doing the things he never says to do,”
is actually a line from Arthur in the movie. We see that. We actually see two versions
of some of the events of the film that he recounts. Like, whenever he is, when he and
Mal are laying on the train track in Limbo, the first time we see it, they’re young. And
then later, when we see it again, they’re old. Well, which is it? Cobb tells us himself that
he tries to alter his memories. What is he saying? Is any of it accurate at all? Is that
really how totems work? We don’t know. That’s the beauty of it. That ending was much more
clever than you thought. Much more clever than you thought. What’s clever is the magic trick that no one
pulls on us. No one has misdirected you, trying to make you pay attention to the wrong thing–the
top–to try to find out whether Cobb is still dreaming. So, what you’re doing at the end
of the film is like, “Oh, I wonder if he’s still dreaming.” And so, you’re looking down here at the top.
Will it fall? Will it fall? Will it fall? While you’re looking, what’s actually going–the
clue–is up here on the upper-right. You need to be watching and listening to those children
whenever they first meet Cobb after he’s back home. You need to be listening. That’s where the
clue is, but you didn’t hear it ’cause you were looking at this. Cobb has misdirected
you. Now, to tell you. The children say something here that’s very illuminating. But to understand
why it’s illuminating, I need to give you a little background. And the background is this. We see in the
movie that the subconscious works its way through dreams. The most obvious example is
the train in Limbo. The train from Limbo barreling down in Yusuf’s kidnap dream in the middle
of that city street. The subconscious element, part of Cobb’s subconscious is working its
way through a dream. This is not the only example. Two really good
examples. That random string of number that Fischer arbitrarily gives as a combination
to his father’s safe. Right? They’re in the kidnap dream. He’s like, “Now tell me the
first five, the first six numbers that come right to your head right now.” And he says, “Uhh, I don’t know. Five, two,
eight, four, nine, one.” “You’ll have to do better than that.” And they haul him off.
Well, that five, two, eight, four, nine, one starts showing up in the dream after that
again and again and again. It’s the combination of both safes in Eames’ snow fortress dream. It’s the fake telephone number that Eames
gives as the sexy blonde and it’s also in Arthur’s hotel dream. In addition, Mal and
Cobb’s anniversary suite number, where she jumps from the window is three, five, oh,
two. That number is also on the train that barrels down through the middle of the street
and the taxi they hail in that dream is two, zero, five, three. It’s that same number backwards. So, there’s
a napkin. Five, two, eight, four, nine, one. That’s the phone number that the sexy blonde
gives Fischer. There’s the hotel room numbers in Arthur’s hotel room dream. Five, two, eight,
and four, nine, one. And then if you were to look at Fischer put in the combination
for the safe, you see there five, two, eight, four, nine, one for the safe that is in the
snow fortress. It’s hard to see here ’cause the picture isn’t
very good, but you’d see three, five, oh, two here on the door. Especially if you have
it in Blu-Ray, you can see the three. five, oh, two there. You can see the three, five,
oh, two on the train there, as it barrels down through the middle of the city street. And then, the two, zero, five, three on the
taxi that they hailed in that same dream. Subconscious elements worked their way through.
Well, another subconscious element has worked its way through. Both at the beginning and
ending of the film, we see that Saito dreams of a mansion on an ocean–a house, as it is
described in the script, “a house on a cliff.” When Cobb returns to his children at the end
of the film and asks them what they have been doing, they say, “They are building a house
on a cliff.” Turn the captions on and you’ll see it right there in black and white. It
looks like a subconscious element of Saito–Saito’s subconscious–is working its way through into
the dream that is at the end of the film. It’s working its way through. Peeking out
that subconscious. Now, why think that Cobb is in Saito’s dream specifically? Not his
own dream or someone else’s dream? Well, here’s the thing. Think about where, if you exit
Limbo. If you commit suicide in Limbo, where do you go? Well, we only actually have two examples in
the film of where you go when you exit Limbo. And that’s Ariadne and Fischer. At the end
of the film, they go down there to find Fischer. She kicks him off the building. He falls and
he wakes up. And a little bit later, she throws herself off. She falls. She wakes up. But where did they
go? Back to the real world? No. They go one layer up. They go to the snow fortress dream–Eames’
snow fortress dream. They go one layer up and then Fischer finishes the inception there.
And when Ariadne gets back, they ride the kicks back up the layers. But you only go one layer up when you exit
Limbo, not back to the real world–not all the way back to the front. One layer up. That’s
it. So, at the end of the film–you can barely see the picture there–but at the end of the
film, whenever Saito, when Cobb finds Saito in Limbo and he’s got his gun, if he were
to shoot himself in the head, where would he go? Or wouldn’t he go where everyone else goes
when they exit Limbo, one layer up. And that would be to Eames’ snow fortress dream. But
everyone’s already left that dream layer. So, he would find it empty, ready for the
taking. He would fill it with his own expectations, his own assumptions, his own subconscious,
and that would be to find himself on the plane after the inception was complete. Once Cobb shoots himself after that, he would
pop up to that same level, find Saito’s airplane dream and would go back to his kids in that
airplane dream. And notice that they could be there for ten years–the way dreams work–before
they finally realize that they were still dreaming. So it’s entirely possible, based on a consistent
interpretation of the film, that Cobb was still dreaming. Even if the top fell he would
still be dreaming. He’d be in Saito’s dream as a dream that he created once he got Eames’
snow fortress dream layer that was empty once he woke up from Limbo only going one layer
up. So, Inception is more complicated than you
think. What’s clever about the ending is not the fact that it’s a clever cliffhanger. It’s
clever because it tricked you into thinking it was a clever cliffhanger when it wasn’t
a cliffhanger at all. You should’ve already suspected that he was still dreaming and realize
that the top was a red herring. That’s what’s clever about it. Nolan misdirected
it. At first, you were confused. Then, you thought you had it figured out. But then,
you start to think about it and everything you thought you figured out, you’re not confused
about, you actually misunderstood. That’s what’s beautiful about it. It lends itself to multiple interpretations.
Are we convinced that it was better than The King’s Speech yet? [laughter] Come on. But we’ve only scratched the surface.
If we think about Saito and where you go when you exit Limbo, if when you exit Limbo you
just go one layer up, like Ariadne and Fischer did. Then where did Mal and Cobb go when they exited
Limbo, when they put their head on the train tracks and they exited Limbo? Would they have
done what everybody else does? Go one layer up? Well, what would be on that layer? Would
that be the real world? Well, Cobb actually tells Ariadne, whenever
he’s recounting the events that preceded their meeting, that they entered Limbo after experimenting
with–. Let me get the quote exactly right here. “After exploring the concept of a dream
within a dream.” They were doing multi-level dreaming and he pushed them too far. He went too deep and they landed in Limbo.
But that means that they entered Limbo after going through a multi-level dream. So, when
they woke up from Limbo, where would they have gone? Would they have just gone one layer
up of that multi-level dream? We see them awake on this apartment floor hooked up to
a passive device, but is that the real world or wouldn’t that just be the lowest level
of the multi-level dream they used to get into Limbo in the first place? The real world in which the whole plot of
the movie takes place could actually be a dream. Maybe the whole movie is a dream from
beginning to end. Forget about the end. The whole movie looks like it may be a dream.
And in fact, Nolan leaves us many clues that suggest exactly this. So, if you look at the Mombasa chase scene
that’s supposed to happen in the real world, it has very many dream-like elements. The
overhead shots establish that Mombasa is like a maze. The agents that are after him literally
pop in and out of nowhere inexplicably. And the walls of buildings literally close
in around him just like they do in dreams. So, we see that it Mombasa is like a maze.
We see Cobol agents that come out of nowhere. It’s a blurry pic, but if you look at when
he’s in the cafe and he gets called out and he starts to run, literally from out of nowhere,
there’s an agent that comes and tackles him from the right. There’s no way. He was just there. Literally
appearing out of nowhere [whispering] just like they do in dreams. And the walls close
in around him. They look like they’re fine here and as I try to go through it squeezes
and squeezes and the walls literally are closing in around me. Just like they do in dreams. Eames–clue number two–Eames is a dream forger,
but looks like he forges in reality. Eames as a dream forger, appearing as others in
dreams and magically lifting Fischer’s wallet in Arthur’s hotel room dream as the sexy blonde.
If you look closely, whenever he’s lifting his wallet in the hotel room dream, he doesn’t
actually touch him. He doesn’t actually get anywhere close to
him. He just has the wallet. It just appears. Which is fine. He’s dreaming. He can do that.
He’s a dream forger. He can just forge the wallet. Yet in the real world, Eames forges
casino chips and he lifts Fischer’s passport in the airplane in exactly the same way. So, Eames picks pockets in the real world
just like he does in a dream without even touching him. Watch the scene and you’ll see
he can’t even come close. It’s like, Eames is there. They’re sort of close. And the poof,
he has the passport inexplicably. Eames bets his last two chips in the real world and the
script calls them his last two chips. And he’s broke. He even says, “You’ve gotta
buy if we’re gonna bring over beer. You gotta buy.” And then he goes to the cashier and
just magically poof, here’s chips. Cashes them in. He’s literally dream-forging right
there in the real world. The script even describes it. He mysteriously produces two stacks of chips
that he then cashes in. Clue number three. Mal’s suicide. You can’t see it here. Consider
where Mal sits during her suicide attempt. What supposedly happened was she trashed their
hotel suite and then climbed out on the ledge. But if she did that, she would be on the same
side of the building as their room. He would be able to look out the window and look and
she would be out there on their side of the building. That’s not where she’s at. She’s
in the window of another hotel room across the way. And it is another hotel room. If you look
behind her, you’ll see the same things that are behind Cobb. It’s another hotel. I mean,
the window of another hotel room. That doesn’t make any sense. How did she get over there?
And in fact, Cobb doesn’t even realize it doesn’t make sense. He’s asking her, “Please come back in. Come
back in.” As she can just walk across that gap? It doesn’t make any sense. That’s exactly
the kind of thing that you watch and you don’t really think about it, but then you think
about it a little bit later and that doesn’t make much sense. Just like in a dream. Weird things happen
in dreams and they seem perfectly normal, but then when you wake up you go, “Yeah, that
didn’t make much sense. How did I not know that I wasn’t dreaming? How did I not know
that I was dreaming?” How do you not know that he wasn’t dreaming right there? He’s gotta be. His father-in-law, Miles, even
tells him to “come back to reality,” at one point. And this is my favorite clue. The song
the dreamers use to herald the end of a movie is that Edith Piaf song that we listened to
before. It means “No, I regret nothing” in English. When the song is done, the dream is over.
That’s what heralds the end of the dreams. The song is done, dream is over. The running
time of the original recording of that song that they use in the film is two minutes and
28 seconds. Inception is, to the second, two hours and 28 minutes long. Exactly. Watch your Blu-Ray player. Watch
it click down. Exactly two hours and 28 minutes long. Could it be, just like with shared dreaming,
when the movie is done and the song is done, the dream is over? The entire movie, I think,
is a dream. Now, the thing is, you can’t–. There’s always two sides to every coin. No
clue is gonna settle this one way or the other. And there are clues that suggest that the
real world is indeed real. This is a good Nolan–. Anybody know where this is from?
It’s a Batman reference ’cause no one does Batman Two. But there’s two sides to every coin.
Let’s look at a couple of clues that the real world may actually be real. So for example,
if you look at Cobb’s kids, whenever he’s flashing back they’re younger. And at the
end, they’re actually wearing slightly different clothes and they’re older. And they’re actually played by different actors
and actresses. Two different actors there. So, some may suggest that they really did
age and he’s back in the real world. Others have suggested that Cobb’s totem is not really
the top. It’s his wedding ring and that whenever he’s in the real world he doesn’t wear the
wedding ring, except the flashbacks. And then when he’s dreaming, he’s still wearing
the wedding ring. And this includes the end of the movie. If you look at the end of the
movie, whenever he’s checking in with the ISA agent, he’s not wearing his wedding ring.
That’s gonna indicate that the end of the movie is also real. But the truth is, pointing to the movie and
clues in the movie is never going to settle anything. The movie is ambiguous and Nolan,
himself, has admitted that he intentionally made it ambiguous. It’s supposed to be open
to interpretation. Nothing will definitively prove anything one way or the other. The dream clues could merely indicate that
Cobb is losing his grip on reality. But now the dream clues could merely reflect Cobb’s
assumption that he’s not dreaming when he really is. The answer to the question of whether
or not the entire movie is a dream is what philosophers would call “under-determined.” There’s not enough evidence there to settle
the issue. But this is where philosophy can come to the rescue. Philosophers and scientists
know how to deal with under-determination. For example, any scientific data can be accounted
for by many possible hypotheses. But we’re not just stuck. We have ways of
delineating and deciding which ones we should prefer. Scientists prefer the most adequate
hypothesis, the one that’s most fruitful and simple and wide-scoping and conservative. [Kyle Johnson coughs] Excuse me. This is what we did whenever we
were debating about the heliocentric versus the geocentric view of the universe, or the
solar system at least. Is the sun the center or the Earth the center? Well, the Earth being
the center required all these weird retrogrades and planets were revolving around points and
blah, blah, blah. And it’s really complicated. Or this was simple.
They all go around the sun. Very simple. And so, we ended up selecting that, after we killed
a few people. Apart from that– [laughter] we ended up selecting this even before we
could experimentally identify that it was definitely the right one as opposed to this
because it was simpler, because it was more adequate. And so, philosophers–. We really
can’t do that with an interpretation of Inception. And philosophers have more guns in our arsenal.
Philosophers, when presented with ambiguity, like ambiguous statements–that kind of stuff–we
employ the principle of charity. When it’s unclear what someone means, you choose the
most charitable interpretation–the one that entails the speaker is not an idiot, or not
misinformed. So, which interpretation of Inception is more
charitable? Which one makes it a better movie? I think it’s the all-dream interpretation
that makes it better. And the reason why is because if it’s not all a dream, there’s some
significant criticisms that can be leveled against the movie. For one, all of the characters, except for
Cobb, are completely one-dimensional. Arthur, Ariadne, Fischer, Saito. They don’t even have
last names, much less a past. They’re all just there for Cobb. They just do what Cobb
wants them to do. Even Ariadne, who shows just a little sliver of free will when she
initially rejects the idea of being an architect–“I’m outta here. I can’t share my subconscious
with someone like you.”–and she walks out. Cobb just says, “Oh, she’ll be back.” And
then what does she do? The next thing? She comes back. They’re completely one-dimensional.
They’re only there for Cobb. That’s not good writing and Nolan doesn’t usually do one-dimensional
characters. Even, somebody gives me Batman’s, his butler.>>MALE #1: Alfred.>>Kyle Johnson: Alfred. Right. Even Alfred’s
got a past and he’s a complicated character in Batman. That’s not Nolan’s style. The editing
in the real world is sloppy. There’s quick jumps from here to there and you’re not quite
sure how you got from here to there and why are they doing this now? There’s all these really weird jumps in the
real world in regards to just mere editing. And that chase scene in Mombasa and he’s got
all the agents on him and then Saito shows up out of nowhere. What are you doing in Mombasa?
“I had to protect my investment.” Really? That’s a little cheesy. That’s not exactly
the best way out of that situation. But if it’s all a dream, the characters are one-dimensional
because they’re just projections of Cobb’s subconscious. They each represent a different
aspect of Cobb. And if you watch the movie with that in mind, you’ll see that each one
of them plays a different role in his subconscious. One’s the planner. One’s more daring. One’s
the moral conscious. You can even divide it in id, ego, and superego. You see all of these
elements. The sloppy editing? Well, we see that same sloppy editing when we know that
Cobb is dreaming. You jump from place to place to place in a dream not realizing how you
got there because that’s what you do in dreams. He’s doing the same thing in the real world,
jumping from place to place to place. And yeah, that Saito line is a little bit cheesy–I
have to protect my investment. But as a subtle clue that Cobb is actually dreaming, that
is brilliant. A much more charitable interpretation. Now, you might think that it’s not too charitable
’cause if the whole movie is a dream, well then why would you care? Why would I want
to watch a movie about a dream? Nothing’s really happing so I don’t really care. Well,
that’s the thing. It’s a movie. It’s fiction. Yeah, it doesn’t really happen ’cause it’s
a dream. It doesn’t happen anyway. It’s a movie. [laughter] Why would you care more about a movie about
a dream than about a fictional movie about events that didn’t happen anyway? They all
didn’t happen. This is the paradox of fiction that Tyler was talking about a little while
ago. Why do we care about events that we don’t
know are happening? Well, I’m not exactly sure how to solve that paradox, but I know
that the paradox arises whether or not the movie is about a dream or not. And so, it
doesn’t make it a worse movie. In fact, it makes it pretty cool ’cause it
could be a metaphorical story about how a disturbed mind handles its own dementia. I
mean, there’s all kinds of cool interpretations that can go with it I think that are really,
really interesting. Now, you might wonder if we could solve all this if we just asked
Nolan himself. [laughter] Is the whole movie a dream or not? And Nolan’s
even said that he does have a view. Like, I approached him with a certain interpretation
in mind and I know what I think is real and what’s not. But does that matter? Does Nolan get to dictate
how his film must be interpreted? Or, if he makes it ambiguous, is it open to us? If he
wanted it to be interpreted a certain way, he had to put in something there to make it
be interpreted that way. And if he intentionally makes it ambiguous, then my interpretation
is just as valid as his. Is that the way art works? Or does authorial
intention matter? That’s what the first chapter of my book is about. It raises this issue
about whether or not the entire movie is a dream and then talks about whether or not
the authorial intention view is correct. Inception should have won Best Picture. Either the Academy didn’t understand it or
they didn’t interpret it charitably. If they had done either, they would have realized
that it was much better than a film about a stuttering English monarch. Clearly a better
film. But even though it didn’t win Best Picture, Inception still wins Plato’s Academy Award–it
looks like Rodin’s Thinker–because of its philosophical depth, because of the plethora
of philosophical questions that it raises and, of course, I tackle in my book, “Inception
and Philosophy: Because It’s Never Just a Dream,” published by Wiley Blackwell. So, some of the other–not all of them–but
some of the other topics that we cover in the book. If we can’t tell whether or not
Cobb is dreaming, can we tell whether we’re dreaming… right now? Could this be a dream?
Can you be certain? The answer is no, you can’t. This is a classic, philosophical, skeptical
problem. And once we realize we can’t tell for sure whether the real world is real, how
do we deal with that angst? How do we deal with the kind of tension, the kind of mental
anguish that causes us? Coleman’s got a chapter about that. Perhaps we should just have faith that the
world is real. Maybe that’s a way out of it. But when is faith rational? Is faith ever
rational? Faith is belief without evidence. A lot of times, that’s not rational. Like,
I could believe without evidence that there’s an elephant behind me, but that’s not rational. When is faith, if ever, rational? Cobb doesn’t
think it’s always rational. Mal asked him to take a leap of faith right out that window
and he refused. So, when is it rational to take a leap of faith, if ever? That’s what
my chapter is about. Can you be held morally responsible for what you do in your dreams? You might think they don’t have real-world
impact, but what if you thought it was real? Don’t sometimes your intentions matter if
you thought it was real and you had that chance to cheat on your significant other in your
dream and you did it? Aren’t you a bit morally culpable? Wouldn’t they be upset if they found out that’s
what you did in your dream? That’s another good chapter. Are real paradoxes, like the
pin rose steps, possible? That’s Tyler’s chapter. Is Inception really possible? Isn’t that,
for example, what advertisements do? And if it is possible, what are the kind of
ethics that go along with that? And does that threaten free will? We don’t think that Fischer
gets moral responsibility. He doesn’t freely choose to break up his father’s company. But
if inception happens all the time in the real world, are we morally responsible for what
we do? Do I really freely choose to eat that McDonald’s
hamburger when I’m bombarded with advertisements all the time that make me want a McDonald’s
hamburger? What is time? What exactly is time and can it really slow down in a dream, or
speed up in a dream? Would you really want to live in Limbo, a
utopia, a perfect world? Or would you eventually get bored with that? Are utopias even possible?
Those are all issues that I talk about–that I and my authors, of course–, my contributors
talk about in the book. So, that’s my presentation and I thank you so much. I’m ready for questions. I’d love to hear
what you think. [applause]>>FEMALE #1: I’m just curious. You mentioned
Freudian psychology or it sounded more Freudian, but I have a writing teacher who really got
enthralled with it. He actually has a really good blog. His name is Scott Myers and he was talking
about it from a Jungian perspective with the dream interpretation and it seems to lend
itself a lot to that. I’m just wondering if you get into that in your book at all.>>Kyle Johnson: No. I’m sorry. I don’t. I’m
not familiar with it at all. I wish I would’ve known about it so I could, but I don’t.>>FEMALE #1: Well, you might, since you’re
so into this, you might look into some Jungian stuff. I can give you a list of books or whatever.>>Kyle Johnson: Great.>>FEMALE #1: Yeah, cool. OK.>>Kyle Johnson: Cool. Thanks.>>FEMALE #2: That’s OK. I don’t need a mic.>>Male Presenter: You do for the recording.>>FEMALE #2: OK. I was wondering if you had
a link to the Power Point presentation at all.>>Kyle Johnson: I’m sure we can do that. I
could–. I’ll tell you what. When I get home, I will post it on my website, so just google
David Kyle Johnson. My webpage for King’s College will pop up and you can download it
there. Cliff, can we make it available somehow through–?>>Cliff: Yeah.>>FEMALE #2: OK. Awesome.>>Kyle Johnson: Yeah, I’m hoping that I almost
bombarded you a bit. And really, almost everything I covered in there is in here. So.>>FEMALE #3: So, how many times did you have
to watch the movie to get all this?>>Kyle Johnson: Yeah. That’s a good question.
So, quite a few times. I also took to just watching specific parts as I was editing the
book and seeing what I needed to see. A number of other things were also, like–. Here’s
I think a really fun, cool part of the book. If you add up all the times that all my contributors
and I watched the movie, it’s gotta be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. And one
of the ways I took advantage of that was I created a Google Doc–Google Docs are so cool–and
I gave a link to every one of my contributors. And I started a little appendix of cool things
that you might have missed about the film. And I let all my contributors just dump stuff
on there. And after they were done, I went through and edited. And so, the end of the book is an appendix
that is the result of like, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of watchings of the movie that
have all these cool, little things that you may have missed upon the first watching of
the film. So, off the top of my head, a cool one is the fact that Dom–one second–Dom,
Robert, Eames, Arthur, Mal, Saito, put them in the right order, they spell dreams. Those kind of cool things. The stuff about
Inception being analogy. There’s all kinds of stuff. We even have a catalog of exactly
what those two kids were wearing before and after, at the end of the movie and see exactly
how different their outfits were. It’s very, very detailed. That’s in the appendix. Go
ahead.>>MALE #2: So, about the kids. You didn’t
mention this specifically, but I suspect you probably did turn it up that you never see
the kid’s faces until the end.>>Kyle Johnson: Right. Until the end.>>MALE #2: So, I don’t know what the significance
of that might be.>>Kyle Johnson: Yeah. I mean, that could be
a clue that he’s really awake. It could be just a clue that he thinks he’s really gotten
back home. And so, he can finally see his kid’s faces at the end. I mean, it could be
a clue either way.>>MALE #2: Cool. So, the other deeper question
that I had is I read that clue about the wedding ring months ago. I don’t know if you read
“The Last Psychiatrist.”>>Kyle Johnson: I don’t think so.>>MALE #2: It’s a great blog. It’s worth checking
out. But he did a thing in there where he mentioned it. And so, I was talking this over
with a bunch of friends and one of them had to watch the movie again. And his claim, the
way he interpreted that, was that Cobb actually destroyed his totem in the real world. Because he knew it so well, he didn’t need
to actually have it present. He only knew that it behaved the way he didn’t expect it
in the dream, then he was in someone else’s dream. And there’s no reason to actually have
it. And the whole thing about having Mal’s totem was just in remembrance of her and wasn’t
actually his totem.>>Kyle Johnson: Interesting. So, he doesn’t
have a totem at all. So, his wedding ring’s not even his totem, or his wedding ring is
his totem? He destroys it in the real world.>>MALE #2: His wedding ring was–. He doesn’t
need it because he knows how it behaves and he doesn’t want anyone else to discover it,
is one way of interpreting that.>>Kyle Johnson: Right.>>MALE #2: And I don’t know if that’s actually–.
I don’t know if that affects anything said actually.>>Kyle Johnson: I mean, it still doesn’t
cause–. It still doesn’t solve the problem because he could still be in his own dream.>>MALE #2: Yeah. But it’s an interesting thing
though about that.>>Kyle Johnson: Yeah. Absolutely.>>MALE #3: Did you circle back with Christopher
Nolan to validate any of your observations?>>Kyle Johnson: No, I haven’t. I wish I could.
I’d love to sit down and talk with Christopher Nolan. I wasn’t able to do that. We did scope
through his interviews and that kind of stuff to see what he said. So like, one thing I know then–but this raises
the issue of whether or not Arthur can determine the meaning of his movie or not–one thing
I know is, one other kind of dream clue is the fact that the company that’s after Cobb
is Cobol. C-O-B-O-L. Cobol, Cobb, Cobol. He’s after himself? That really looks–. And
Nolan himself said, “Yeah, that’s just a coincidence. We had to change the name of that company
multiple times for legal reasons.” It looks like that’s just a coincidence, not really
a clue. Right? But again, maybe it could still serve as a clue if the author doesn’t get
to determine the absolute meaning of his film. But I wish–. If you’ve got some contacts,
let me know and I’d love to sit down and talk with him. [laughter]>>Male Presenter: Last question.>>MALE #4: So, do you think the fact that
Mal’s and Edith Piaf was both played by Marion Cotillard was also a clue?>>Kyle Johnson: I don’t think it was a clue.
No one actually talked about that as well. And he basically said something like, I don’t
read too much in this. It’s kind of a cool thing. But don’t read too much into it. It’s
not–. But that is–. The actress who plays Mal also plays Edith Piaf in the movie about
her life. It’s the same actress. She’s pretty cool.>>Male Presenter: Very cool. We’ll have some
time afterwards for more specific Inception and Dragon Tattoo questions. Thank you very
much for speaking at Google.>>Kyle Johnson: Thanks. [Applause]

100 thoughts on “Kyle Johnson: “Inception and Philosophy” | Talks at Google

  1. This guy is insufferable to watch for the first five minutes. It sounds like a guy who watched inception and immediately went onto the trivia section of IMDB. He's directly accusing the audience of "not getting it" when it's not our job to "get it" necessarily.
    If you did spot the music was a slowed down version of the other song, great, if not, you can still enjoy the movie. Nothing in this video offers any original insight into inception and it just one guys reading of it.
    You dont have to understand every layer to enjoy the movie. I'm sure Kyle didn't on his first watch.

  2. I never realized that the totem could only tell that you are not in someones dream, and could not tell if its in their own dream, and also the fact that Cobb could be in Ariadne's dream or Mal's. Glad i found this video!

  3. Dissecting a movie does not make a person smart or intuitive. It is the venue of bored minds. Only nerds would spend the time to watch the movie dozens of time so they could supposedly catch every nuance, and then try a forge a cogent monologue without sounding like they are on drugs, specifically Cocaine or Speed.

    Does this give anyone an idea as to what google is trying to portray itself to be.

  4. But if it was a dream when Cobb and Mal are sitting on the ledges and she jumps, wouldn't that be like a kick for her to enter the next dream level. So shouldn't she be able to set up a kick for Cobb to get to the next dream level.

  5. The wider, and most important, issue that he misses is the significance of this movie for the audience's real lives.
    When the credits roll and the audience awakens from the dream of this film – any film – how can they know that they haven't awoken and walked out of the theatre, into another dream?
    That is the inception of Inception.

    Socrates: "…what evidence we could offer if we were asked whether in the present instance, at this moment, we are asleep and dreaming all our thoughts, or awake and talking to each other in real life." – Theaetetus (158b-c)

  6. Can you go down another dream layer without somebody else supporting the dream above yours? That is something I'm questioning because how do Cobb and mai keep going deeper if they leave no conscience behind to hold the dream layer above there own. basically, there must be others in their dream.

  7. May be you understood lot more about "inception" than me and most of us but you didn't understood a thing about "The kings speech".
    "A stuttering English monarch" also had A LOT of philosophical- existential crisis (And I do LOVE inception over Kings speech, but wont say its less deserving anyway)

  8. Descartes believed humanities totem is the existence of Self – 'I think therefore I am'
    If the Self exists then we are experiencing true reality, if not then we are dreaming or are a figment of someone else's dream.
    The great insight of Buddha is the realisation that the Self is an illusion. This insight, he describes, can be realised by everyone, and he provides the tools to achieve it – such as mindfulness,the 8 fold path etc.
    Many of us have experienced no-self through practices such as meditation, LCD :), prayer to name a few. Therefore, our totem is telling us we are indeed inside a dream.

  9. CinemaSins brought be here and Xzibit would have a fucking field day with this theory. Jesus christ. Its a dream that has a dream thats inside a dream which has a dream inside a dream and dreams a dream dream dream dream dream.

  10. There's a reason why Cobb looks like Nolan. This film is very similar to the film Schenectady New York with Phillip Seymour Hoffman where the play director gets lost in a play about himself. Also inception carries the theme as Nolans other film the Prestige and the magick trick that is played on the audience.

  11. While Cobb and Saito are stuck in limbo ! Rest of the Team members including Fischer have already woken up! We know that the Dreams are unstable without the Dreamer for that particular Dream Level!. This is clearly shown in the initial stages of the movie where Cobb and Arthur are trying to extract Saito's plans! Cobb hardly bothered to explore any Dream Terrain/Map of any level completely vowing to Mal's Unpredictable behavior! And Saito is an Amateur!. So Cobb or Saito were not the Dreamers for any level. So if they were to escape from Limbo, they could not have returned to the Iceworld or the Hotel or the City, Since they could have been destroyed already! It has to be the Plane where they actually entered the dream! So Kyle Johnson's theory of Cobb and Saito waking up from Limbo and entering the Ice world is incorrect as the Dreamer for the Iceworld has already woken up! This just makes me think how each of the concept perfectly fits!

  12. Some interesting ideas but completely wrong on clue #3 (23:47). Mal framed her husband in her death to force him to commit suicide with her. They were NEVER in the same room. Mal invited Cobb to meet her in that hotel room. When he arrived, he found that Mal have trashed the place to frame him in her death. If she were to remain in the room, Cobb would prevented her from jumping.

  13. Why does the female Venus symbol appear before the "@ Google" at 0:01 ? Are topics related to women more important than topics related to men? Sexist much? Feminism is bitterly stupid.

  14. Why is Dantes Divine Comedy never mentioned? I was waiting for it since there are so many parallels and we're talking about philosophy??

  15. LMAO when he says he could have faith that there's an elephant behind him, the lady in the red sweater looks behind him as she passes bye.

  16. And then you woke up. Philo-sophy means lover of wisdom (cause nobody is wise but GOD) and has nothing to do with intelligence. Its more like trying to define GOD's things with human perception…… and receptors…. (takes years and years of meditation to activate them and get i slight taste)
    Though that movie is a replica of Pato Cave like Matrix… but here are 4 caves the one inside the other.
    Pythagoras will kick your ass when you die for raping that word

  17. Inception 2 please. where mal is actually right they they are stuck in a dream, leo dies of old age only to wake up next to mal – whole new series of events happen. BOOM

  18. Is there anything that suggests the two scenes we see old Saito in the film (beginning of the movie and before Cobb wakes up in aeroplane) is two different points in time?


  20. I'll tell you one thing this guy knows nothing about: Decaf coffee.

  21. Incpetion is a film with so many tiny details. The attention to detail is brilliant.
    I watched this movie more than 10 times and everytime I did, I noticed some new details which I haven't noticed before.

  22. OMG!…I lost count of how many times he says Right!. Weak reinforcement about an okay movie that is not nearly as exciting as he seems to think it is…WRONG!

  23. This should be added to the Blu-Ray box along with the movie! Amazing analysis – I thought I'd figured it out (I'd assumed Cobb was still dreaming at the end in the airport/with his kids), but turns out I barely scraped the surface!

  24. At the beginning, I thought this would just be some crazy, really nonsensical and obsessive theory about a movie. 13 minutes in, I gotta admit that this is actually pretty fascinating.

  25. Memory is the key to our existence,just like inception he planted an idea into his memories while in his dream state because the dream state is the reality where our collective memories are,think about it our entire existence and universe was created by being observed without observation there is nothing but wave patterns until obeservation comes in then something starts to get created but to be observed there has to be some kind of memory there,nothing comes from nothing there has to be something,like water they say holds memory everything that repeats itself has to have some kind of memory to repeat

  26. After watching this film I sat there for about 2 minutes questioning if my life right now is reality 😂 or is it just my perception of reality that I'm most comfortable with and I don't know any better due to how long I've been under and how normal it feels 😂😂😂

  27. If Cobb and Mal are in Limbo and they kill themselves and go one level up then Mal kills herself she will go one level up again but doesn't reach reality yet. I believe that throughout the film Cobb is one level higher than Limbo but believes so much that he is in the real world that he allows himself to go back through the layers of the dreams. She mentions going home to their real children and makes the argument that she is their mother she can tell the difference. I think that eventually Cobb will wake up to find Mal alive and well and their kids haven't aged at all since the day before and that he was more lost than her. I think that The father in law and the kids are real, Mal and Cobb are real as are Arthur and Eames are real, perhaps evan Lukas Haas' character in the beginning maybe real too. Throughout the film we only ever see projections of them. Other people such as Fischer, Browning, Saito, Ariadne and Jusef are probably not real at all but are genuine projections of Cobb's subconcious as technically he should already be dreaming and meeting new people in a dream must be only possibly through his own imagination or loosely based on people he at least saw once in his life.

    When he eventually wakes up he will find Arthur, Eames, His kids, his in laws have no idea about all this content as they never experience it. The movie never mentions Dom Cobb's parents so perhaps this idea of reconciliation between Fischer jr and snr maybe a metaphor for his own relationship with his own father, mother / family.

    Just speculation but who knows?

  28. ‘Inception’, like ‘The Matrix’, is telling us that we are trapped in a fabricated reality, built out of ideas and ideologies that bear no necessary resemblance to objective reality, which shall remain forever out of our reach.

  29. saito was the one that started the dream from the start.. thats why he pops out of nowhere and his subconsious are those agents always chasing cob around.. he even popped in the helicopter and took cobs first landscaper and noone knows what happened to him after that.. i think when yusuf took them to the basement with all those dreamers thats where cob starts dreaming again i think.. because when he wakes up and goes to the bathroom and spin his totem he didnt even get the chance because saito interupted him

  30. He had one big flaw in the presentation 21:20 : He thought the first scene in mombasa was actually the real world, when in fact it was a dream already.

  31. 21:55 when i was catch the movie and they began to run in mobosa one guy grab cobb after he jumps out of a window and says to him "you aint dreaming now aren't you" i dont remember if those were his exact words but why would a random guy mention dreams in the "real world"… Im really starting to think that it was all a dream like the wise biggie smalls once said lmao.

  32. Can someone answer a simple question. Why wouldn’t the totem fall at the end, because it already has fallen once before in that “level” earlier in the movie? We never see
    Mal look at a spinning totem in the safe, we just assume she did, inception worked and she continued that thought into the next level (known to be reality) if they were multi level dreaming and died in limbo wouldn’t they go up one level not all because there’s no synchronized kicks? Ergo maybe she did die to the real world, and by the end of it all Cobb is still a level under with a totem that doesn’t mean anything to him because it’s mal’s to begin with. Idfk. Whether the whole thing is a dream all I think I’m sure of is the totem falls but regardless doesn’t tell us he’s in reality or still under by the end.

  33. I feel like this guy is just picking up sins in the movie (as Cinemasins would say as mistakes) as intentional clues and connections made by Nolan. I do think some of them is intentional, but I doubt all of it was planned out. I just think that anything is arguable because its a dream, and its not reality.
    One example is Eames picking pockets reminds me of Matt Damon in Ocean's Eleven being able to seemingly pick pocket anything without being noticed.
    Even though it's fascinating and interesting ideas this guy is telling us, we have to understand there are things called movie logic. Things that is not possible in reality just seems like it makes sense in a movie because thats not what the general audience focus on.
    He kinda said it himself; movies itself are dreams, created by people to make a new world of reality.

    And thats what makes movies (or art in general) awesome. It allows passionate audiences to interpret and analyze things that the creators didn't originally intentionally include.

  34. When Cobb spun his wife's totem and locked it in her safe, he planted the idea in his wife that they weren't in reality. When he spun her totem in the end, could it be that he was planting the same idea in the audience?

  35. Saw another analysis (shorter) which pointed out that the only times Dom wears his wedding ring is when he is in the dream. He doesn't wear it in reality and he doesn't wear it in the ending either and you can see the faces of his children and they are older than when we last saw them. it is called a mcguffin, coined by hitchcock, which becomes a centerpiece of the film but is not important. (which is what the filmmaker says at the end). The Maltese Falcon is a 'mcuffin.' hitchcock films use them all the time.

    I'm still waiting for him to weave philosophy in this and he hasn't just like he didn't in a great course of his i listened to. Ariandene? is a figure in greek myth who gives her lover a string to find his way out of the maze. She performs that in this role by challenging him to go deeper and look what is driving him about Mal and ultimately resolve the conflict.

  36. I believe Christopher Nolan was inspired by an animated movie in 2001 called 'Waking Life', a movie that explore the complexity of lucid dreaming. He took that and turned it into a clever action movie. Just as he essentially remade Tim Burton's Batman into 'The Dark Knight'. It's the same movie!!

  37. What a load of crap… Miserable to see such a thing. Is this something to discuss about intellectually? This is what we have come to…?!

  38. this guy is so set on his view its a dream he assumes and misses loads of details that would balance and counter the debate. He exaggerates, manipulates and analyses to such a degree his argument is more or less invalid.

  39. The three dreams which were dreamed by yusuf, arthur and eames respectively must have collapsed when everybody rode the kicks up the level. So now maybe one level up for cobb and saito must be the airplane.

  40. What if Mal represents an evil lover that is trying to suck Cobb down to the level that she is at, in a Limbo a long way down from reality. Cobb begs his Grandfather for an intervention so that he can get back to his children, without Mal. At this point he is still believing Mal's lies in his head. His Grandfather introduces him to Ariadne, who is the voice of reason throughout the film, trying to bring him back to reality. He can't get back on his own but influences him so that he finally decides to leave alone the memories he had with his wife so that he could move on. Is this not a lot like real life and moving on from a relationship that has broken down. Cobb described inception as an idea that is so difficult to get rid of. What if Mal had performed this inception on Cobb, and had planted the idea of them being together forever in his mind. In real life do bad lovers not attempt to do the same thing and do we not sometimes feel like it difficult to let go? This is what I got from the movie

  41. I understand this was made in 2011, but I'm pretty sure Nolan said that Cobb made it. But it's a convincing and entertaining argument

  42. that makes sense, our totem in dreams to distinguish between dream and reality are our hands and the mirrors

  43. Ladies and gentlemen…this is chewbacca, now what does that have to do with this video, nothing it does not make sense, here I am talking about chewbacca in a video about the movie Inception, It DOES NOT MAKE SENSE, If chewbaca lives on the planet endor you must come back and realize that this DOES NOT MAKE SENSE…….Thank you

  44. i think where his theory breaks down is that if cobs is dreaming one level above limbo then everyone are just projections thus making it impossible to explore any other subconsciousness because the projections are a product of cobbs subconscious which means they don't have a subconscious to explore thus debunking kyles johnsons theory.

  45. I was watching an interesting take on one person's view of the Inception movie regarding totems. Dom's totem is not the top (That was Mal's) and its not his wedding ring since he can project that if he choose's to. Dom's totem is MAL. The totem only works in the dream, and he usually spun it after seeing Mal. Thus, Mal is his totem, If he sees her, then he is dreaming. If not, then he is awake.
    Another take could be, that Mal is actually using inception on Dom, To get him to come to reality. After she jumps from the building, she follows the kicks up, Whereas Dom thinks she has died and that his reality was real, when in fact her's was.

  46. Got thoroughly bored by 19 minutes. I couldn't give a shit less about determining whether he was in a dream or not at the end based on obscure hints and clues. And if this is the reason that Inception should have won best picture, it is no reason at all. I believe it should have won, but because of the meaning of the movie on the whole, which this crazy nut never touches on

  47. lol at that first lady trying to sell her friend's blog to this guy.. like he gives a crap about someone else's work about this movie lol

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