We see Cobb being stabbed by Mal in 4th level of dream (which is presumably limbo); does that give him a shock to rise up to the third, then to the second, and ultimately to the first level (where he dies due to drowning)?

Or does he die due to that stab? If yes, then what happens to a person who dies in limbo?

PS: I just remembered that a death in limbo would wake up a person all the way to the reality.

Now a stab wouldn't really have acted as a kick. Cobb would have needed a synchronised kick due to the strong sedative. So we can rule out the stab being a kick. Which implies that the stab killed Dom and then he should be back to reality, without getting a chance to find Saito and rescue him.

So what is the part I am missing?

  • Related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/7299/…
    – BCdotWEB
    Apr 23, 2018 at 7:56
  • 2
    Yes, the two questions are a bit related; but aren't the same. The question in the link focuses on escape from limbo, my question is about death of Cobb. They aren't even similar. Apr 23, 2018 at 12:13
  • PS: I just remembered that a death in limbo would wake up a person all the way to the reality. Citation? I don't remember that being explicitly stated in the movie.
    – Steve-O
    Apr 23, 2018 at 13:17
  • 1
    It is implied in the movie. Didn't Mal and Dom commit suicide to come out of limbo (and they woke up in reality, not just one level up)? Apr 23, 2018 at 13:32

2 Answers 2


The fourth level of the dream isn't actually limbo

To reach limbo deliberately, you have to kill yourself in a dream world while being heavily sedated, or you would have to enter too many dreams within dreams, as that is how Cobb and Mal reached limbo due to instability caused by too many nested dreams.

Cobb and Ariadne did neither of the above. They simply went deeper, and somehow reached that world from his old memories. When Cobb was stabbed by Mal in the fourth level, that is where Cobb died, and that is when Cobb reached limbo. And he dies again in limbo when shot by Saito, and then wakes up in reality directly.

They wake up from limbo directly, just as Mal and Cobb once woke up directly from limbo.


Cobb dies in the fourth level once, and dies in limbo too.

  • But it's a very popular opinion all over the internet that the fourth level WAS limbo. I don't remember this particular thing being said in the movie, but still a very large number of people believe it. They must have got a reason to do so. Apr 25, 2018 at 1:04
  • Okay, I have got that cleared. The fourth level (where Fischer is alive after being shot by Mal) IS limbo. Cause Cobb says (after Fischer gets shot), "His mind's already trapped down there." And 'there' couldn't mean anything else than limbo. Moreover it is clear from the structure of level 4 that it's limbo, the world created by Mal and Cobb. Apr 25, 2018 at 3:30
  • The fourth level was a dream that looked like limbo. May 24, 2022 at 6:38

After wasting much time in finding the answer to this question, I think I've got one. It isn't very convincing, but then no other answer really is.

Let's begin from the point where Mal stabs Cobb:

As soon as Mal stabs Cobb, she is shot at by Ariadne. Then Ariadne pushes Fischer off the building, and tries to shoot Cobb too. Cobb stops her and tells her to leave him behind. So Ariadne jumps off the building; and ultimately wakes up in level 1 due to all the synchronised kicks. So Cobb is still in limbo with a stab in his chest.

Do note that he just can't continue his search for Saito with that fatal stab (because if he did so, he would die before finding Saito and return back to the reality WITHOUT Saito).

So the only way Cobb could have continued his search for Saito was by arriving in limbo again. And that could happen if he was killed in some other level of dream.

Now, you all must have seen how Cobb was left behind to drown in that van, and just after that scene, we see Cobb waking up on the beach. So my explanation is that the death of Cobb in Level 1 (even if he was already there in limbo with a stab in his chest), made him reach the limbo again. And that's how he was able to rescue Saito.

So Cobb died in Level 1, and then of course in limbo.


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