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In the movie Inception, we know it's not posible to know what was Cobb's totem (by this question). However, we know that he planted in Mal's mind the idea that the Limbo was not real, and that's why they commited suicide and returned to "real life".

How did he remember that Limbo wasn't real? Shouldn't he have suffered the same effects that distored Mal's mind? Is this ever explained in the movie?

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    I don't remember this very well, but I think they both knew it was a dream, and Mal eventually decided to lock away her token, and started believing it was real. Cobb just didn't forget it
    – BlueMoon93
    Jan 15, 2020 at 22:47

2 Answers 2

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(Bluemoon has this spot on)

When Mal and Cobb both 'washed up on the shore' of their own unconscious, they were both aware that they were in limbo, which allowed them to 'act like Gods' and build their own world.

As the years went on, Mal decided to reject the unreality of their situation by locking her totem away in the deepest and most secret place possible (the house that she had grown up in). This led to Mal forgetting that they were in limbo, while Cobb remained aware of where they were, leading to his rejection of this artificial world and his inception of Mal, ultimately leading to her rejection of not only the world they had created, but reality as a whole even after they woke back up.

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Mal and Cobb are dream specialists, not casual victims. Those who've spent time using the PASIV machine are capable of controlling their dreams, recognising that they're in a dream and recalling their dreams after they've awoken.

Saito, for example, regularly goes to a 'Dreamcade' (presumably an arcade for dreamers). This makes the crew wary that he has sufficient familiarity with shared dreaming to recognise when he's trapped in a dream state and take lucid control of the dream itself.

ARTHUR: The big deal is now we know Satio’s familiar with the dream-share. If he’s been playing games inside it, he’s probably got command over the dream.

COBB: We’ll use it to our advantage then.

Inception: The Big Under

I think we can reasonably assume that Mal and Cobb both recognised that they were still dreaming when they suddenly had godlike powers to create entire cities with a mere thought.

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