Rounded Rectangle: FACT BEHIND FICTION
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A section from

‘A Jedi shall not know hatred, nor fear… nor love.’ from Star Wars Episode II













The technology of shared dreams had surfaced a few years ago. The basics of the tech delivered on the name - allowing people to ‘share their dreams’ with one or more people. After being connected by wires to the main sleeper, the guests enter the world as imagined and populated by him or her. Physics and the principles thereof are absent, and bystanders and people that are not part of the shared dream are creations of the sub-conscious. This sub-conscious keeps the guests in check by becoming hostile if their actions stress the main sleeper.


Dom Cobb was a pioneer of this technology and used it for recreational purposes. He and his wife Mal - approaching their middle age, would use it as a means of escape from the drudgery of real life. The escapist effect was profound to the extent that even an active and otherwise full-life would seem banal after experiencing shared dreams, and the effect was not unlike a narcotic - the dose of which only needed to become stronger to provide an equal high.


Confounding the technology of shared dreams was the concept of layered dreams within dreams, in which time slows down manifold with each layer. And an injury in a dream causes real pain but death only makes you wake up, or ascend a layer of the dream.


Dom Cobb and his wife are very much in love and can’t wait to grow old together; shared dreams allow them to get lost alone and experience a lifetime without losing more than a few hours in reality. But an innocent comment by Cobb tears down their bliss and throws his wife spiraling down the road of mental breakdown. In the real world her behaviour becomes aggressive and she becomes distant from their children almost to the point of disowning them. She ultimately comes to believe that she and Cobb have not woken up to reality, and therefore need to die to reclaim their lives. Her reasoning with Cobb almost estranges them until one day when she cannot take it anymore and throws herself off their balcony. In order to convince Cobb to do the same so that they can wake up to reality and reclaim their lives and children she leaves incriminating evidence blaming Cobb for her death.


Cobb obviously doesn't follow Mal; his children are at the forefront of his mind but Mal’s evidence forces him to flee the country as a fugitive.


As a hunted man Cobb plays the mercenary by using the shared dreams technology to extract information for corporate clients. High paying espionage jobs are big and regular business for him, and the industry around shared dreams grows bigger. Privacy concerns as we know them today become petty matters when confronted with the invasion of our sub-conscious to the extent that suppressed memories, thoughts and ideas can be made accessible to others. And the proliferation of the technology as a means of escape is rapidly increasing with the advent of escape lounges for social dream-sharing, chemists for concoctions allowing deeper sleep and therefore layered dreams, and the like.




The movie starts of with Cobb and his partner Arthur sharing the dream of their target. Saito is a uber-rich Japanese energy businessman whose competitors - The Cobol Corporation have hired Cobb to obtain information from Saito’s mind. Within a dream information is metaphorically stored in a safe and Cobb can access this only if he knows the combination to this safe. This part of the film was similar to the first Mission Impossible film. Deceit, surrealism and human-intelligence are the agent’s main weapons.


Saito and other powerful people like him take precautions against invasions via shared dreams. Security experts (another vocation developed around the industry) teach people like Saito who have secrets, to develop a hostile sub-conscious with the slightest increase in their stress levels, causing the espionage agent to back down, get injured or die and wake up to reality. In Saito’s case he realizes that he is dreaming and prevents Cobb from extracting any information. In fact, Cobb’s ploy of planting a dream within a dream fails when Saito realizes that he has simply woken up into another dream. Cobb fails his mission and once again has to go on the run, this time from the Cobol Corporation.


But Saito catches up with Cobb and Arthur, and makes them an offer because he is impressed with their skill. Saito’s job involves the more complicated and dangerous job of inception - inserting an idea into the sub-conscious of the target, rather than the usual extraction of information. Arthur is immediately reluctant on hearing this and writes it off as undoable. But Cobb agrees after a moment’s hesitation. After all, Saito promises to arrange for all charges to be dropped against Cobb enabling him to return to his children. Cobb is tasked with planting an idea into the scion of Saito’s main competitor that will direct him to break down his father’s empire, leaving Saito to make a killing.


Cobb gets on the job and begins to recruit the rest of his team. Eames is an ice-cold street-smart forger, who can shape-shift to assume any role in a dream. Eames is located in Mombasa and after eluding the Cobol Corporation’s henchmen, is recruited. Ariadne is another matter; she is an architect and student of Cobb’s father. In the world of shared dreams she is like a child in a toy-store; it is her first experience and with her brilliant acumen with spaces she immediately takes to the task of creating mazes, closed loops, and other requirements that will keep the target’s movements limited.


Her first experience however ends badly, after Cobb’s wife - Mal makes an appearance from his sub-conscious and threatens Ariadne. The sheer opportunity and shock all in one dream drives Ariadne away, but only for a few hours after which, like anyone else who ever experiences it, can’t let go.


With Saito introducing himself as the final member, as being present when the idea is inserted is the only way to prove that the task is done, the team are ready and await the death of Maurice Fischer who promptly obliges. The team intercept Robert (the scion) on his flight to the funeral.


Like Saito, Robert too has had training in neutralizing invasions into his dreams. The team are intercepted by some hard-hitting bodyguards and an unreal freight train; Saito gets shot but they manage to kidnap Robert. The team introduce Robert’s godfather - Browning in order to get Robert to confront his true feelings for his inheritance but realize that father and son had strained relations. A little misdirection is used to convince Robert that they are trying to extract information from him rather than plant an idea. The plot thickens when they decide to go a layer deeper into another dream.


The second layer of the dream opens in a luxury hotel lobby where Cobb brilliantly neutralizes all Robert’s defences by pretending to be the defence himself. He confronts Robert and makes him realize that he is in a dream, then as Robert’s sub-conscious is getting hostile because of the stress, Cobb projects them as the intruders to Robert. This makes Robert turn against him own defence mechanism. Cobb also convinces Robert that the kidnapping was orchestrated by his godfather Browning, and was the one responsible for invading his sub-conscious. In order to get to the root cause of Browning’s intentions Cobb impresses on Robert that Browning’s sub-conscious needs to be invaded in turn.


The third layer takes place in a military fortress located in an ice-capped mountainous region designed by Ariadne. Robert, accompanying Saito and Eames infiltrate the fortress and are about to reach the location where they can plant the emotion that will convince Robert to split his father’s conglomerate when the ubiquitous and uncontrollable Mal appears and mortally injures Robert. Realising that the only way to complete the mission is to jolt Robert back to reality, Cobb, Ariadne and Robert are taken to the fourth level of dreams which was the place that Cobb and his wife shared their fateful dream.


That world is filled with memories and hopes, all promising the couple of a happily-ever-after life; but in this dream Cobb confesses that the idea that the dream world was not real was ‘incepted’ into his wife, and it remained with her even in reality, eventually forcing her to take her own life. When Mal confronts them here Cobb agrees to stay with her in the dream world if she locates Robert for them. Ariadne jolts Robert back into the third level of sleep and returns herself after shooting Cobb’s perpetually haunting projection of his wife, but Cobb himself stays back to save Saito who is in peril of remaining perpetually asleep.


Back in the third level of dreams Robert is made to confront his father at his deathbed who professes disappointment that his son isn't his own man. Tucked away in the father’s bedside safe is a memento reinforcing the father’s elusive love and fondness for his son. This slight emotion, and hint of his father’s wish gets Robert to consider starting from scratch. The team has completed the mission, but until Cobb locates Saito and saves him from the limbo state there is no point in his returning to American soil.


The hunt for Saito is implied. After being washed up on a deserted shore (much in the style of Jason Bourne) with a gun and totem, Cobb is taken by bodyguards to an ageing Saito. Cobb talks Saito into believing that he has lived his life in a dream, that it had taken Cobb all those years to locate Saito, and that the time has come to return to reality.


The two return up the layers of dreams and wake up with the rest of the team and Robert who is seriously contemplating some bold moves in his career. With the mission accomplished, the influential Saito makes a single call and Cobb’s subsequent entry into America remains uneventful. Cobb is reunited with his children but the story’s conclusion is open to interpretation courtesy of an intelligent plot and subtle science fiction.




Architects play with space and physics by creating impossible or closed loop mazes to keep users surprised; or by extending the barriers of physics to explore the boundaries of human imagination. Their work comes to play in the special effects of the film, or in a particularly disturbing dream you might have had.


Chemists concoct potions that put the subject into a particular depth of sleep, enabling them to layer dreams within dreams, effectively living lives during the span of a nap. Commercially, the chemist exploits the time-constrained individual, but more so the desperate escapist who needs a stronger 'fix' with each subsequent nap.


Forgers are the role-players who represent identity-theft. They become someone else in the dream, either by instruction of the user or to the users detriment. Their manifestations are subject to the dangers of running into the actual person in the users subconscious.


Free Agents use this technology to enter the sub-conscious of their target. They work like spies by entering the mark's shared dreams and extracting profitable information and secrets. This information is usually written down and tucked away, metaphorically in a secure place, usually a safe.


Security Experts are employed by those most prone to attacks by free agents. These powerful men and women with secrets are trained to create a sub-conscious defence mechanism for that very contingent. A hostile sub-conscious would kick in with any sign of stress.


Escape Lounges go hand in hand with the business of chemists. Here is where the rank-and-file in the know come to remove themselves from daily drudgery, and share dreams to the extent of human imagination.


Recreational Users were the first adopters of the shared dream technology which, like the internet, was a creation that the developers themselves couldn't fully comprehend, let alone control. Some early adopters paid dearly for this lack of control.


Corporate Users paid well. Knowledge, for them was power and money, and this commercial application of the technology furthered the underground economy, that was nascent, into a bonafide (but illegal) vocation. Privacy concerns that manifested with the development of the internet became petty - the shared dream technology provided access to those in the know to greater insights into a person's mind than the person himself.


Totems are what free agents, mercenaries and those experienced with the technology carry into dreams to distinguish between reality and imagination. The properties of totems differ in dreams. Totems are personal items that are best kept untouched except by the owner.




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Cobb meeting the sinister Saito from an initial scene.

Cobb and his wife Mal

The target - Robert Fischer, scion.

Fischer’s hostile sub-conscious.

Eames - the shape-shifting forger.

The stuff of dreams

Cobb’s tortured projection of his wife Mal.

The reliable point-man Arthur.

The architect.

Mind-bending physics.

The chemist.

Escape lounges.

The end?