If you have never seen the movie Inception, stop reading this right now and go facebook instead. =) I'm giving away the the entire movie in my breakdown.
Special K and I watched Inception for the second time last night. The first time I watched it, I walked away believing that Cobb (Leonardo DeCaprio) was never in reality, he was in dream-state the entire movie. The corporate espionage jobs - Saito (Ken Watanabe) and Fischer (Cillian Murphy) were decoys. The *real* job was getting Cobb to discover he was still dreaming and to get him to return to reality. I will refer to this scenario as THEORY A.
The second time I watched it, I believe he really was in reality. His wife Mal had really committed suicide, he could not return to his children in the US as a result of her suicide and Saito was a real businessman that could get him readmittance into the US if he "incepted" or aka, "planted the idea" in Fischer. I will refer to this scenario as THEORY B.
If Theory A is correct, this is how it would have had to happen: Cobb and Mal "commit suicide" on the railroad track in their deep subconscious dream-state which "kicks" them to another dream level (not reality). Mal knows they are still dreaming but Cobb believes they are living in reality. Mal can't stand it, knows she must return to reality where their children are and plummets off a building to her death which if they were still in dream-state would give her the "kick" needed to return to reality. Cobb remains in the dream believing it's reality.
There are two flaws with this theory:
1. At the time of her nose dive off the building, Mal would have returned to reality. She would have woken to a sleeping Cobb next her (still stuck in the dream). Wouldn't it have made sense for her to give the sleeping body of Cobb a "kick" that would instantly return him to reality? Why go through the ruse of espionage with Saito and all the rest of the gang?
2. At the end of the movie you see Cobb and Saito in deep subconscious dream-state, the same deep subconscious dream-state that Cobb and Mal found themselves to be in. Cobb and Saito kill each other and instantly return to the airplane (which I believe is reality). They did NOT travel though each dream that brought them to the deep subconscious dream-state. They "kicked" instantly into reality. How did Cobb and Mal end up in another dream after their deep subconscious dream-state death?
You might say that each of Cobb and Saito's dream levels were over, the van in the rain falling off the bridge, the no-gravity hotel room and the snow compound. And that Cobb and Mal's dream levels were still intact so they were merely "kicked" to the next level up of dreams. And frankly I can't argue that. But I still think it would make more sense for the reality-living Mal to give her dream-state hubby Cobb a kick.
You could also bring up the whole time issue in dreams vs. reality. Five minutes of REM is like one hour in a dream. Cobb and Mal spent 50 years in their deep subconscious dream-state but maybe laid down for a 10-hour nap in reality. The time it would take Mal to give Cobb the kick could have been years to Cobb. But once again, why deploy Saito and Fischer and the other blokes?
Doesn't it make easier sense for Theory B? And oh so tragic? I believe the filmmaker wanted you to have a sense of dreams even in the perceived reality. I think it's one of the ways that makes the film ingenious. You can speculate the ending with the children in their same clothes, doing the same activity and the wobbling or not wobbling top.
For me, I'd like to believe that Cobb was the best at mind thievery, he said so himself, but it came at a price, the tragic death of his wife. And through his baggage of guilt and shame he had to pull off the ultimate mind job: inception. The one job that bring him redemption in every sense of the word. It's brilliant!
End of story.