Inception – The ‘Miles incepted Cobb’ Theory

Three days ago I saw a movie called Inception. Meriam and I left theater about 36 hours ago (9:30 pm on Saturday until 9:30 am on Monday). I have been obsessed ever since I left the movie. Of the 36 hours since I left I bet I have spent 20 of them on the IMDB message boards arguing my theory of the movie, which I present in this post. Parts of this post were originally written on Saturday night as soon as I got home.

One of the wonderful ideas in the movie is that it is possible to ‘incept’ an idea into someone else’s mind, and that once an idea is planted, if it is worthy, it will infect other people’s minds. It will expand and broaden. I wondered on Saturday night if I could infuse my idea of the movie into the internet consciousness – into the discussion about the movie and if it was a good enough idea it could infect it’s way into other people’s minds.

Over the past two days I’ve made hundreds of posts to the IMDB discussion boards about my ideas. Primarily in two posts: Miles Incepted Cobb and Miles is forging Saito. When I first started posting there was no mention of any of the ideas that I proposed in any of the discussions that I saw prior to my post. Since I’ve posted my ideas I am starting to see some references to ideas similar to mine. I’m not claiming that I was the first person to have mentioned any of these ideas. I am saying that these ideas were mine, that I posted them on Saturday August 7th around 9:30 pm and that I checked the message board for Inception prior to making my posting and found no reference to any of these ideas there. I also searched around the internet pretty extensively prior to my post and found nothing (although I did not do this as thoroughly as I checked the message board).

Now for the theory:

I think this was a stupendous movie. I think that the three level dream hierarchy architected by Ariadne and implemented by Cobb to incept the idea that Fischer should break up his father’s empire is excellent and very interesting – but I don’t think it has much to do with what the movie is about.

I think that three level dream hierarchy is part of a larger dream hierarchy architected by Miles and implemented by Ariadne to incept the idea into Cobb’s mind that he should forgive himself his guilt for the death of his wife.

I also think that Miles is forging Saito all the way down through the three level dream hierarchy and that when Saito (Miles’ forgery) dies it is by design so that Cobb agrees to go one more level deep. Ariadne suggests this to Cobb when he says that the mission (incepting Fischer) is a failure. Ariadne says that Cobb should go down one more level which he does.

What Cobb (and the audience) finds at that lower level is his own inner most sanctum – his house – with Mal in it. Ariadne and Fischer are there as well but when they jump off the building Cobb goes down one more level still until he arrives on the beach. When he is taken to the house where the old man Saito sits at his table is the moment in the movie where the idea that Cobb should forgive himself is incepted into his mind – by Miles forging Saito.

In an earlier dream level Saito says to Cobb “we should return to being young men,” and in this lowest level dream level Cobb regurgitates that exact sentence back to him. Remember – the thought that is incepted must be a positive thought. When Cobb regurgitates that line we are being shown that the inception has worked. Cobb has internalized that thought. Saito’s (Miles as a forger’s) hand reaches for the gun on the table and everyone wakes up in the airplane. Mission accomplished. The mission being to incept into Cobb’s mind that he should forgive himself for his wife’s death and ‘go back to being a young man.”

What this theory explains that other theories ignore:

1. Why would Cobb agree to hire a complete novice to help him architect the most important mission of his life?

2. Why does Saito keep appearing magically – in the helicopter, in the streets of Mombassa? Why is Saito, the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world, there at all?

3. Why is Ariadne so amazing skilled as an architect?

4. Why is the topmost level of the movie identical to the second to the bottom most level?

5. Why is the city that Cobb and Mal built crumbling?

6. Why does the train barrel through the city in the first level of the Fischer dream hierarchy?

7. Why is the entire Kobol, Fischer, Saito corporation thing so shadowy and ridiculously powerful? How can Saito – a non-US business man make a single phone call and make it possible for Cobb to get through customs? How can Saito buy an entire airline in such a very short time?

8. Why would Fischer’s nurses leave the door open so Cobb and his cohorts could learn about the relationship between Fischer and his father in such intimate detail?

9. Why is the second to last scene – just before everyone ‘wakes’ up – only show Cobb and Saito. If the movie was only about the Fischer inception why wouldn’t the second to the last scene show Fischer being successfully incepted?

10. If Miles is such an important person in the movie (he architected the dream) then why does he only have a few lines and very few appearances?

Refutation of ideas that go against my theory:

1. The children, in the final scene, are older, wearing different clothes. Cobb’s wedding ring is present in a lot of the movie but not the final scene. These things indicate that the final scene is ‘reality.’

2. If the whole movie is just a dream the entire thing is stupid (the Trivial argument).

3. Can’t think of any more.

Over the next few days I will handle each of the above questions in their own blog posts. Stay tuned.

The original post from Saturday night:

I’ve read a lot of reviews of the movie on the internet but I really feel that they are all missing the point. Yes – it was a genius movie about a ‘thought robber for hire’ who would go into people minds and steal ideas. Yes – it is a genius movie about a daring plan to go into a dream-inside-a-dream-inside-a-dream to plant an idea someone’s head that he should disband his own father’s mega-corporate-empire. Yes – it keeps you jumping trying to keep track of which level they are in – the ideas about time how time expands within each level, or about how gravity is effected from the levels above are all genius. Even if these were the only things about this movie it would have been a great movie.

But what makes this a fantastic movie is what happens on the level above the movie itself.

This movie is about Cobb. This movie has nothing whatsoever to do with the Fischer dynasty. This movie is about Cobb’s subconscious.

The real Inceptor is Miles. Cobb’s father. He is the builder of the world. It is a five level deep dream. Remember – at the end of the movie the top still spins. The house in which Cobb finally sees his children’s faces is the same wooden house at the very bottom most level (paradox). This is just like the paradoxical steps. The builder (Miles) used the same paradoxical stairs.

Why would Miles do this? He was the first person to discover the technology. He was actually ultimately responsible for his own daughter’s madness. He was responsible for Cobb’s madness. He found Ariadne and built a world so that he could implant the idea in Cobb’s mind that he could forget his wife.

This explains why the lowest level dream is in Cobb’s mind. In Cobb’s house. The defenses that attacked in the very first level came from Cobb’s mind. The train and the shooters. They wounded Saito. When Cobb is sitting at the table with Saito that is the inner most sanctum of his own mind. Saito says “let us both go back to being young men” which is the idea that was implanted in Cobb’s mind. This is so clear to me now that I’m writing about it. This is what makes this movie so wonderful. The implantation of the idea is into Cobb’s mind.

The entire time I was wondering why Cobb would have accepted Adriane as his Architect but it makes sense if she’s actually a Forger – if she’s just pretending to be an Architect and in reality she is the guide. The one that helps Saito and Cobb reach the very bottom level. Adriane is the Mr. Cooper (is that the right name)? She breaks through his defenses which are manifested in

Symbolism in the Hands of a Master

Symbolism in the Hands of a Master
A Critical Analysis of
Earnest Hemmingway’s Short Story
Hills Like White Elephants
( read the story )

by Thomas Jay Rush

The story Hills Like White Elephants is an amazing piece of writing.  Starting with a short descriptive paragraph and ending with a five sentence concluding paragraph, the bulk of the story is told through dialog between the two main characters, a pair of lovers vacationing in Spain.  The action takes place at a train station in a small river valley between Barcelona and Madrid.

The story is carried by the words of the two main characters; a man (called the American) and a women (called the girl).  They are talking and having drinks while waiting for a train.  Their conversation, when not about what they’re drinking, is about the girl’s pregnancy.

It is possible to understand this story through the dialog alone, however I think the piece shines when one considers the underlying symbolism.  The symbolism carries the story in a much more forceful way than the actual word-by-word sentences.

The two protagonists, and I think there are two – they form a couple and we care about them equally – are ‘discussing’ her pregnancy.  The man supports the idea of having an abortion saying things like ‘It’s really an awfully simple operation’ and calling the operation a way to ‘let the air in’.  The women is conflicted.  When the man first mentions the operation she looks to the ground.  She is agitated in their conversation.  The story never actually says how the issue is resolved, but I believe that through a careful study of the symbols employed the reader may come to understand exactly what happened.  I explain my interpretation of the author’s use of symbolism in the remainder of this essay.

There are many symbols employed in this story; among them are the hills, a perceived white elephant, the river valley, a beaded curtain, the train, a smile, some baggage and, finally, the train station.  Each of these symbols serves to expose aspects of the story not directly stated.

I believe the hills represent the pregnancy of the young woman.     Consider the shape of a hill; it reflects the shape of a pregnant woman’s stomach.  Note also that the author chose not to call them mountains which might be more accurate given the locale.

In popular culture a white elephant frequently represents an unwanted gift,  something difficult to get rid of.  A white elephant is something one would not wish to have.  It is important, I think, that the girl is the first one to mention the elephant.
I find it interesting that these first two symbols, the hills and the white elephant, are made so obvious by being used in the title of the piece.  I wondered as I read the story why the author chose to do this.  I take a stab at explaining this below.

The river valley represents a separation or chasm between the two characters.  One side of the valley is described as being dry and barren.  The other side of the valley has grain fields and a tree lined river, the River Ebro, one of the largest rivers in Spain.  Near the end of the story the couple sits at a table, looking out onto the scenery.  The woman, initially not in support of the idea of an abortion, looks out on the dry side of the valley.  The man, who supports the idea, looks out onto the more pleasant side of the valley.  I believe the valley represents the two possible outcomes of their conversation; the two sides of the issue.

The river is an interesting, if minor, symbol.  In antiquity the River Ebro served as a boundary between the northern, Roman occupied, areas of Spain and the southern, Carthaginian occupied areas.  It would be interesting to analyze what these two societies thought about the issue of unwanted, out of wedlock childbirth.

The idea of a border or boundary is reinforced by the fourth symbol used in the story, the beaded curtain, however I think it may more literally represent the actual act of abortion.  At one point the women reaches out and puts her hands on the hanging strings of beads – this just a few seconds after she first considers the possibility of going forward with the abortion.  She holds the string of beads in her hand as if she is considering them; and by implication as if she’s considering the idea of going forward with the abortion.  More deeply, the abortion itself may be interpreted as a boundary (as can the baby if they where to decide to go forward with the birth), dividing the couple’s life into a before and an after.

I find another symbol in the train.  I believe it symbolizes the baby.  The waitress, at one point, says ‘The train comes in five minutes’.  When the train comes, the couple must get on, there will be no going back.  Their lives will be changed forever.

After the waitress says the comment about the train the girl ‘smiled brightly…to thank her’.  I think this smile represents a resignation.  The girl has come to conclude that she cannot get on the train – or, put another way, she will get on the train but to a destination different than the one she may have hoped for.

Throughout the conversation the girl has been looking to the American to make the decision for her.  She says things like ‘And you really want to?’ or ‘If I do it you’ll be happy….’.  She’s trying to elicit the decision from him.  She wants him to tell her what to do, but he never does.  I think she does this to try to alleviate her own guilt.  I think she‘s known, since before the beginning of the story, that she must go through with the abortion – she is the one that first mentions the white elephant after all.   I think her smile, at this point in the story, is a smile of resignation, the point where she resigns herself to moving forward.
The final two symbols I find, the baggage and the train station, confirm my conclusions. 

Near the end of the story the couple sits staring at each other across a table.  The man notices their baggage, over the girl’s shoulder, sitting next to the wall.  Immediately after the girl’s smile of resignation he gets up from the table and moves their baggage to the other side of the station.  Like the river valley or the table, the train station, a place of departure, a place where people make irrevocable decisions about the future of their lives,  represents the decision that the couple must make.  The baggage represents the actual decision.  When the man moves the baggage the author is saying that the woman’s decision has been made.  The American moves the baggage to his side of the station.
There are many other minor symbols.  The table, where they sit across from each other, again, represents the pending decision.  The felt pads, used to protect the table from water damage, may represent the small talk about the drinks, which shields them from having to talk about the real issue.  The fact that they are outside of the bar may represent the fact that they are foreigners.  These minor symbols add depth to the story and support general themes.

As the story concludes a longer descriptive paragraph appears where the author reinforces the ideas I’ve identified.  In this paragraph the author says the man picks up the bags (the decision) and moves them to the other side of the station (the side that he had been sitting on – the side from which one can see a more beautiful view).  The author says the man looks down the tracks and cannot see the train coming (that is, he cannot see the baby coming).  The man goes into the bar where he looks at the people who are ‘reasonably waiting for the train’.  Why did the author use the word ‘reasonably’?  The word ‘reasonably’ in this sentence makes no sense, unless perhaps the author is saying that he thinks its reasonable to wait to have a baby – that an abortion is not an unreasonable thing for them to do.  Finally the man comes back to the table where he finds the girl and she smiles (another sign of resignation) and says ‘There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.’

Obviously Hemmingway is a master, but I wondered why he used the two early symbols – the hills and the white elephant – so prominently and so obviously; going so far as to use them for the title.  I think the reason for this has everything to do with his mastery.

I can imagine that Hemmingway built this story, from the bottom up, starting with the symbols.  I imagine him saying to himself ‘I am going to write a story that consists entirely of dialog  – no description – but the dialog will not carry the story.  The story will be carried by the symbols I interpose.’

So he set out to write his story; given a situation – a couple trying to come to terms with an unwanted pregnancy – and a long list of symbols; the train, the station, the valley, a smile; given these tools I imagine him building his story out from there.
I think Hemmingway used the two symbols (the hills and the white elephant) in the title and made them so obvious as a further display of his mastery.  It’s as if he had such a wealth of symbolism that he could afford to waste some.  He made these two symbols so obvious to divert our attention from the deeper symbols in the story. 

A first level analysis may conclude that the story is about an unwanted pregnancy, however a deeper analysis concludes that its about a couple making a decision.  About how hard decisions are.  About how two people, if they’re in love, can come together and, through effort, continue their journey together, even if they are sometimes stuck in dry, unpleasant places.