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In Christopher Nolan's Inception, the core concept revolves around the team's mission to implant a specific idea into Robert Fischer's mind, ultimately influencing him to dismantle his father's empire. A pivotal moment in the film occurs when Saito echoes a phrase originally uttered by Mal, Cobb's deceased wife, during her suicide. That phrase is "Do you want to become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?".

This coincidence led me to speculate that perhaps Cobb himself was subjected to inception, which influenced his decision to assemble the team for Fischer's case. Additionally, it's widely recognized that Cobb previously performed an inception on Mal, leading to tragic consequences.

Considering the layered narrative and the intricate nature of dreams within the film, my query is: How many instances of inception actually happened throughout Inception?

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    I don't think that "old man waiting to die" line is ever said by Mal. Chronologically it was first said by Saito when he tries to get Cobb to take on the job. Mal and Cobb shared a line about waiting for a train to take you far away, but I would not say these distinct lines echo each other. Nov 26, 2023 at 15:36
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    Cobb was hired because he's one of few people who are both capable of performing an inception, and capable of being persuaded to actually do it. If Saito already had someone capable of incepting Cobb in his employ, there wouldn't have been much need to hire Cobb at all. Seems like hiring an accountant to hire another accountant, rather than simply having the first one do your taxes. Nov 27, 2023 at 20:29
  • "it's widely recognized that Cobb previously performed an inception on Mal" - You are mistaken. This is a complete secret, one known only to Cobb.
    – Valorum
    Jan 30 at 1:14

2 Answers 2

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Just the two - Cobb's inception of Mal and the team's inception job on Fischer.

Cobb's drive to take the job required nothing more than the very conscious persuasion that, should they be successful, he would be reunited with his children.

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Three 'inceptions' occur in the film.

1. Cobb incepts Fischer into accepting that he needs to break his father's company apart.

His son pushes 5,2,8,4,9,1 into the keypad. Opens it. Inside the safe is the WILL. And beside it is a HOMEMADE PINWHEEL, clearly made by a child. By Fischer. He takes it out, MARVELING at it. He turns to his father, but his father is dead.

Inception: Screenplay

2. Cobb incepts Mal into believing that she's in a dream and needs to wake up.

COBB: I broke into the deepest recess of her mind, to give her the simplest little idea.

INSERT CUT: Cobb throws open the safe doors. Sitting on the shelf of the safe is a spinning top. On its side.

COBB: A truth that she had once known, but had chosen to forget...

INSERT CUT: Cobb picks up the totem. He SPINS it in the safe.
IT SPINS AND SPINS WITHOUT END. Cobb CLOSES THE DOOR of the safe...

COBB: That her world was not real.

3. Mal incepts herself into forgetting that she's in a dream.

COBB: She accepted it. At some point...

INSERT CUT:
INT. MAL'S CHILDHOOD HOME - DAY

Mal opens a DOLL'S HOUSE. Inside is a SAFE. She opens it- it is empty. She pulls out her SPINNING TOP.

COBB (V.O.): ...she'd decided to forget that our world wasn't real.

Mal places the top inside the safe. LOCKS IT AWAY...


Eames also talks about an inception attempt that went sideways, but we don't get much more info than that.

EAMES: ... If you're going to perform inception, you need imagination.

COBB: You've done it before?

EAMES: Yes and no. We tried it. Got the idea in place, but it didn't take.

COBB: You didn't plant it deep enough?

EAMES: It's not just about depth. You need the simplest version of the idea- the one that will grow naturally in the subject's mind. Subtle art.

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