In Inception, Dom gives Ariadne two minutes to make a maze that takes one minute to solve. Why was the maze with concentric circles "more like it". What was Dom looking for exactly? Why were the other ones inferior?

3 Answers 3


What he was looking for was stated fairly precisely. I've added a few words here:

You have (a maximum of) two minutes to draw a maze that takes me (a minimum of) one minute to solve

The first two mazes are too easy, with a path that goes from one end of the maze to the other. He solves them very quickly. The concentric circle maze was much harder, requires more searching through the entire space to find the path through to the next layer. She even uses the notebook cover to create it, so she is not mentally constrained by the grid lines.

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He doesn't care what the maze looks like, merely that she is creative enough to create a puzzle too hard to solve quickly.

He needed someone that could create a dream environment complex enough that the projections find it too hard to easily navigate to find (and kill) the architect.

I do appreciate the fact that the circular maze looks unsolvable. I can't explain that other than this is a small mistake in the movie. I personally don't think there is more to this than the first two mazes were too easy.

  • What made the first maze "too easy"? The layout of the first maze and the circles were similar. They both forced the solver to go through a specific path. I'm beginning to think that although the mazes were similar, the circles require less 'building' material?
    – green frog
    Jan 8, 2020 at 1:37
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    You see him solve the first maze in seconds - and him pause and struggle with the second. less "building" material doesn't really make much sense in terms of dreams. We see Ariadne manipulate a huge chunk of Paris scenery for fun on only her second time in the dream.
    – iandotkelly
    Jan 8, 2020 at 1:44
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    Well, I'm just going to have to disagree with you on this point - I think the concentric circle maze appears much more complex than the linear one she tries first. I personally think he's merely looking for a maze that will slow him down for a minute.
    – iandotkelly
    Jan 8, 2020 at 2:04
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    It wasn't hugely important for me to add the (minimum/maximum of) - but those are the implied terms of the specification. He didn't care if she took less than two minutes as long as it takes him at least one minute to solve.
    – iandotkelly
    Jan 8, 2020 at 2:19
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    Two downvotes and yet no alternative answer. I do appreciate that the maze does look problematic but I can't explain that other than sloppiness from the director. I watched Inception last night partially to see this scene again, and he does run through the first two very quickly then pauses on the circular one and says "that's more like it"
    – iandotkelly
    Jan 10, 2020 at 15:50

Ariadne's winning maze is circular - structurally similar to the Penrose staircase as well as the drawing Cobb presents of consciousness (the mind that creates and perceives its existence simultaneously). The pinwheel and spinning top are also circular.

The "good" mazes in Inception are all depicted this way because circularity is associated with paradox and Inception argues that while subconscious communication is not possible on the rational level (which can always trace the "genesis of the idea") it can be accomplished subliminally if the rational mind is distracted with paradoxical forms while the real message is handed to the viewer/listener using simple, positive, creative and symbolic forms. Thus also Eames (the forger) replacing Nash (the mathematician), etc. etc.


This review might be interesting if you want to dig deeper in these ideas - the interpretation is of Inception as a maze for the audience whose circular and paradoxical structure is a deliberate if playful attempt to confuse and distract the audience while the director pulls off his own meta-heist.


Judging by the image posted by @iandotkelly there is one more thing that makes the desired maze stand out.

It is a maze within a maze within a maze. It is constructed of several layers of mazing, very similar to the dreams that the team has to navigate through later on.

So by designing the last maze, Ariadne has used the same concept that they are planning to use later on in their dreams.

And if the maze is really unsolvable - at least for Dom - that might be a further hint of him not being able to escape the last layer of the maze he is actually in throughout the entire movie.

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