This post has spoilers if you haven’t seen Inception.
Unlike the other theories I’ve posted so far, this one has little to no supporting evidence. Therefore, please consider this for entertainment purposes only at the moment. I’ve recently updated the post with a bunch of questions.
In Mombasa, Cobb and Eames have a bit of dialog that I missed in my first viewing:
Cobb: Inception… Now before you bother telling me it’s impossible..
Eames: No it’s perfectly possible. It’s just bloody difficult
Cobb: It’s just that.. Arthur keeps telling me it can’t be done
Eames: Pfft Arthur. You’re still working with that stick in the mud?
Cobb: He’s good at what he does right?
Eames: Oh, he’s the best, but he has no imagination
Cobb: Not like you
Eames: Listen, if you’re going to perform inception, you need imagination
Cobb: Let me ask you something.. have you done it before?
Eames: We tried it. We got the idea in place but it didnt take.
Cobb: You didn’t plant it deep enough?
Eames: No it’s not just about depth you know. You need the simplest version of the idea in order for it to grow naturally in the subjects mind. It’s a very subtle art.
If you remember, I have a long con theory that Cobb is actually being Incepted at the same time as the Fischer job.
Part of that theory involves the idea that someone is impersonating the Mal projection at the beginning, to make Cobb think he can’t trust his own subconscious.
What I failed to do was realize that in the world Nolan created, impersonation is a very specific skill.
After seeing it a second time, I thought of the almost flirtatious way Mal dealt with Arthur in the “Audition” dream. It reminded me of something, and I realized it’s very reminiscent of the way Eames talks to Arthur.
Then I remembered how Cobb wasn’t just going to break into the safe and take a document, he was going put a fake document in as well.
It never made it into the safe, though.
This is all crazy, I reiterate, but the next time I see it I’m going to test the feasibility that the “Audition” might also have been an attempt by Eames/Mal and Saito to perform an Inception on Cobb.
Some notes, which may change as I get new information:
Mal says something to Saito as the dream is collapsing, something along the lines of “He’s almost there.” The next time I see it, I’ll pay more attention.
Saito wakes up last from the dreams on the train.
I think that if this theory is correct, this is the one and only time Eames impersonates Mal. After that, we’re seeing a projection that’s been “trained” just like Fischer’s projection of Browning was trained.
There are some questions, though:
1) What’s the method of Inception?
Cobb’s Inception of Mal was symbolic in nature. Her safe contained her totem at rest, he spun it. The “idea” in this case was incredibly simple to communicate because it was already packed into the totem. Totem at rest = This is not your dream. Therefore: Spinning Totem = You are dreaming.
Fischer’s Inception seems much more difficult. Whereas Cobb broke into Mal’s safe and manipulated its contents, the team in this case got Fischer to populate his safe on his own. At least, that’s what I got out of it. You don’t see Eames go in and mess around in there, after all. Fischer enters alone.
So, what about in this case? If the audition was an Inception attempt, my suggestion is that Inception would have happened if Cobb had placed his duplicate folder into the safe.
2) Who is Saito?
Is Saito really the rich head of an energy company? If we’re actually viewing reality in the “reality” scenes, chances are good that he is who he says he is. If the world where he buys an airline is false, then he could be anyone.
Is Saito an extractor? There seems to be an indication that he has skills, so the “tourist” thing might be an act.
Does Saito know Cobb? Several people have suggested that Saito is Mal from a reality level that we never see, or that Saito and Cobb have met before. If this is the case, then it would give him more motivation to try to help. However, then that means kiss “reality” goodbye, and I’m not sure I’m ready to do that yet.
3) Whose dream was the “audition” level?
We’re shown that the “love nest” level was dreamt by the architect, Nash. So, who dreamt the “audition” level below that?
Interestingly, “Mal” doesn’t seem to know. She assumes it’s Arthur.
It would seem that since Cobb is the last person to wake up that it’s his dream. If that’s the case, though, why wouldn’t Mal know that?
On that note, however, we see that Saito is the last person asleep on the train.
4) The motive: Why?
Obviously, I don’t have all the answers figured out, and this is the big one.
We know that Cobol was the one who sent Cobb to try and steal Saito’s secrets. Saito already has told Cobb that the, “Hey, see if you can extract something from Saito,” was an “audition” Saito arranged for Cobb. So, whether or not Saito is actively directing Cobol, he is able to manipulate them into serving his purposes. We know that Eames is currently living in “Cobol’s backyard.”
It’s possible that their motive wasn’t as altruistic as the, “Let’s get Cobb to stop feeling guilty about his wife,” plan for the “long con” that happens with Fischer.
What if the idea they attempt to plant is, “I will do this job?”
Saito hires Eames to help him get Cobb on board with the Fischer job.
Problems with this possibility include: If they could perform Inception on one of the top extractors in the business, why would they need to hire Cobb?
Possible answer to this problem: The audition wasn’t actually for Cobb, it was for Eames. He tried and failed.
Eames and Saito are working for someone else who has an emotional investment in Cobb. (Miles if you favor reality, Mal if you think she’s still alive.) The Inception is the same one they try during the Fischer job: come back to reality. Let go of your grief and learn to sleep without using the PASIV device. This is attempt one. When it fails they try attempt two with Fishcer.
Problems with this possibility include: Why would Eames and Saito care? If we’re in reality, who has enough money to pay Saito to do this job?
Eames and Saito like and care about Cobb. They are either working with or independently from Arthur to get Cobb to let go of his grief.
Problems with this possibility include: There’s never any indication that Eames and Saito are these kinds of people.
5) Where is Eames?
Let’s say that it is Eames impersonating Mal. By the rules we’ve set up, he’d also have to be physically present and hooked into the PASIV device both on the train and in the “love nest” level.
I think for me this is the biggest issue.