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In the ending of Inception, there is some doubt that Cobb is in real world. But if he is not in real world then at which level of the dream is he?

Starting at the presumed 'real world' as the first level of the story, I think the final scene it's the fifth level (limbo) because at fourth level they save Fischer, but I need clarification.

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The ending is open to interpretation, what evidence do you have to suggest otherwise? – TylerShads May 11 '12 at 23:55
Possibly answered over at SciFi: – Flimzy May 13 '12 at 4:59
If we assume that the whole thing is a dream and that cobb is simply dreaming up the whole movie's central inception plot, that the flight sequence is itself a dream, that would simply take away the essence of the whole movie. None of the events would matter, the time dilation wouldn't matter. Without the real world reference, there would be loss of purpose, inception wouldn't matter. The movie is more admirable because of all the rules that exist in the dreamworld which don't in the real world. The distinction makes the execution of the movie brilliant. – Tivep Feb 5 '15 at 8:34
Cobb accepts the job for only one reason- to be reunited with his children. At the end of the movie, it does not matter anymore if he was dreaming or not. Ohhh yes, finally he can embrace his children, hear their voices and call him daddy. For me, this movie was about hope. The dream level represents the difficulties and trials we're dealing with. I am not surprise, why people give so much attention to the clues and to the tiny details that might solve the hidden puzzle, because this was a very intriguing and a brilliant movie. – oldage Jul 14 '15 at 16:10
up vote 32 down vote accepted

None of the different means you can use to guess whether Cobb is in a dream or not at the end of the movie are completely reliable.

The spinning top has huge issues - the fact that it was Mal's totem, that it appears to act in a simplistic way that perhaps other people could dream, hence invalidating its usefulness - and of course the fact that we are never even shown what the top does at the end of the movie.

I am unconvinced by how completely watertight the wedding ring theory (referenced in @Eoin's answer), as it seems possible for Cobb to dream the wedding ring when he thinks he is in a dream and not otherwise. Yes it is an interesting theory, but whilst it is certainly a deliberate action from the writers/director - the meaning is not completely clear. Cobb clearly seems to treat the spinning top as his totem (flawed or not), as he uses it when flustered by his dream in Mombassa. So yes, it could be a clue, it could even be his true or second totem - but it is still not completely reliable in my opinion.

So is Cobb in a dream at the end? I don't think we can tell. Unlike the other answer, I like the ambiguity in the movie. If pushed to give an answer I would say that the fact that he is such an experienced shared dreamer, it seems likely that he would eventually work out if he is in a dream or not - so I guess he is likely to be in the real world, and the wedding ring therefore might be a true clue to that.

So to answer the original question, if this is not the real world, what level is this? Well if the top level of the story is not the real world, and is in fact another dream, then 'who knows' is the only real answer. The question has no real meaning as there are possibly untold levels of dreaming we have no knowledge of.

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I like the idea that the top level is actually another dream. It goes well with other ambiguous scifi movie/books like Existenz, and would mean Mal was right all along that dying pushes you up to the "true" reality. One problem is that they spend at least the length of the movie, which is weeks or months, at that level, but it may not be the top-level dream. – trysis Jun 3 '14 at 0:34

There is a wedding ring theory which leads to the conclusion that he is indeed back in the real world. A quick Google will turn up a number of explanations of that theory.

On the otherhand, Christopher Nolan refuses to answer the question, indeed here he seems to go so far as to insist there is no answer. Personally I think that's nonsense: either the wedding ring theory is true, or the person in charge of consistency screwed up in a way that happened to perfectly support the theory.

The other thing I believe, is that not having a clear answer to the question is not some wonderful way of getting people to question the nature of reality, rather it's just a cheap trick to avoid a clichéd ending, which is done in such an obvious way that it only leaves people annoyed.

I know that sounds harsh, I did truly enjoy the film, but I think the ambiguity at the end didn't improve the message of the film.

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Although the ending of inception was meant to be debatable and ultimately was left up to the audience, there are several factors indicating that Cobb is indeed dreaming in the end of the film. In fact if you read my whole theory you shall understand that Cobb is actually on the third dream level and you will understand why.

Reason 1. Cobb told Saito and Ariadne how his totem works therefore he can never truly tell if he is inside one of their dreams. In the end of the movie the totem DID fall down, but it was a dream. (This is because the totem was corrupted; the whole purpose of a totem is that it's functions are known only to you and no one else. When you are in someone else's dream and they know how your totem works they can use it against you, therefore making it impossible to tell if you are dreaming.)

Reason 2. When Cobb met his children at the end of the film after he spun the top he asked his son what he was building and his son replied "A house on a cliff." This is A HUGE factor because we all know that throughout the movie elements of the subconscious work their way through to the dream; ie, Mal who was a projection. The relevance of the "house on a cliff" is that Saito lived in a house on a cliff in Limbo. If you remember when Cobb washed up on shore to the beach in Limbo he looked up and saw a house on a cliff. The son saying this is not a coincidence because there is no way he would have known that Saito lived in a house on a cliff. Therefore Cobb is inside Saito's dream hence the elements of the subconscious working its way to the surface.

Reason 3. The reason the screen to suddenly cut to black and possibly the reason for the top to take so long to fall was due to the end of the third dream. The dream was collapsing and it in fact ended. This is because of the song Je ne regrette rien. It was played in the dreams to indicate when the dream was ending. When the song ended so did the dream. The song was 2 minutes and 28 seconds long. The movie Inception was EXACTLY 2 hours and 28 minutes to the exact second (check if you want). This means that the ending was a dream but it was the end of the dream.

Reason 4. Why did Saito and Cobb end up in the third dream level? Well everytime someone dies in a dream within a dream they awake up one dream level. When Cobb and Saito shot themselves they died in Limbo and awoke in the third dream level which is one level higher than Limbo. However why did they wake up on the plane? Simple. It is not the plane and they did not "WAKE UP". Going back, you must keep in mind that Cobb and Saito missed the series of kicks that would allow them to leave the dream. So with everyone gone and Cobb and Saito still in Limbo, only EMPTY DREAM SPACE REMAINS, waiting for the first mind to make contact with it. Then Saito killed himself followed by Cobb. Saito was first and so his subconscious populated and inhabited the third dream level. The reason he "wakes up on a plane" is because he believed himself to be on a plane and so his subconscious built the plane from his memory along with the projections of his team. When Cobb entered right after he was entering a dream that belonged to Saito and therefore because it looked like reality he couldn't tell if it was a dream or not. Also his totem is "broken" so there is no telling whether he is dreaming or not.

Reason 5. After Saito and Cobb leave the plane and enter the airport they never once talk to the other "members of their team". This 1 dimensional characteristic was commonly used before from the projections in the various dream levels.

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So good. Seriously good. – Walrus the Cat Sep 8 '15 at 20:34

I know that we can all agree that the ending is up in the air, but were he dreaming in the end, what dream level he is in, can be one of at least two possibilities.

1st level: Although we are introduced to the spinning totem early on in the film and further enlightened to its significance throughout, we only see it spin out once, in the hotel room before Cobb and Arthur catch the helicopter. The next time Cobb spins the top, in the restroom in Mombasa, it doesn't fall, Cobb accidentally knocks it off of the sink. So some think from his sleep in Yusef's basement on is all dream and the entire scheme never takes place.

Limbo: Four levels down, in limbo, Cobb confronts his projection of Mal. This limbo is the limbo of the shared dreamers' subconscious. It is filled with what Cobb and Mal had left behind. Cobb describes this to Ariadne that he and Mal washed up on the shores of their own subconscious. When he washes upon the shores at the end, he is washing up on the shores of his and Saido's subconscious. If he and Saido kill themselves and it doesn't wake them up, but keeps them in Limbo, it is Cobb returning to his own Limbo, the otherwise unconstructed dream space that he's filled with his and Mal's house and projections of his children as he remembers them. He also brings in this image of the plane and Saido is there as well, and he follows his own path still within this vast detailed mixed-reality of Cobb's subconscious.

There is no real conclusion, but those are two possible levels that the conclusion may leave him.

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Not agreed with the 1st level. Their is two possibilities limbo or real world which i can see. – Ankit Sharma Feb 6 '13 at 22:12
I didn't agree with it either, initially. It was a possibility proposed at the release of the film. I thought it was a stupid thought. But upon viewing the film with the theory in mind, however unlikely, it is ironclad possible. Check it out for yourself, I'm not saying it is npmy favorite theory, but it is actually possible. – Matt Feb 6 '13 at 22:18
spinning top is itself a big issue because its mel's totem but still +1 for sharing your logic. – Ankit Sharma Feb 6 '13 at 22:27
Ya, also, though, notice the way projections die in dreams and how Coball Eng. henchmen die during the chase acne. This could also be Nolan's non-violence, but it's a fun possibility. Thanks for your comment. – Matt Feb 6 '13 at 22:53

Could there be a possibility that Cobb's mentor, Mal's father, purposely trapped him within the maze as revenge for his part in Mal's suicide?

I can only offer my own personal observations on this theory, and if it's true then maybe the story isn't about one man incepting another, but about his own personal inception. In thematics, it might make sense: just as Mal was made to believe that her reality was an illusion, Cobb was made to believe that the illusion was his reality.

It could also be argued that he is still dreaming because of the thematic space, in which Christopher Nolan occupies Cobb in. His character is usually associated with large castles or buildings that overlook a lonely sea, but in the 'real world' he is mostly associated with vast, winding, decaying metropolises. So if the end of the film is reality, then how is his setting that of a rural, seaside home.

Answering directly, I believe that Cobb isn't in any specific level of dream, he's simply lost in the vast maze of his own consciousness. He's simply trapped within his own world, lost to reality after what he reaches what he thinks is his goal.

But it could also be argued that he was in the real world because of the children's ages. If you stick around for the credits, you can see that two sets of children were used to act out James and Phillipa. But it's simply a technicality, the film achieves a lot more deph if Cobb is stuck in the dream. If he had been 'incepted'.

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Inception either ended at Limbo, in Reality or Level 1, but I think the important thing to factor in is that, at the end, Cobb sees their faces and decides to hug his children which he never could while bringing them in from his subconscious as projections in other dreams. So I think it may be reality.

Another thing is that he does not wait for the top to stop or keep on spinning, meaning he doesn't care which shows that he has given up all intentions of going back in(dreaming) with someone else which indicates to me that he is in limbo or he is in reality.

Two points for reality so I'm assuming reality.

Also, if Nolan had decided to extend the movie further and someone say he himself uses "the device" then we would have found out for sure whether he was in limbo or in reality because in limbo you can't go deeper. So if he can use the device an dreams then he in reality, else...

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