I've delayed several days in writing about Inception, not because I don't have thoughts but because I have too many and sorting them out has been an adventure. My own dreams caused by seeing this movie have not assisted in clarity of thought either.
I should warn before I go further that this entry and all links contain major spoilers for the movie, so don't read this post if you haven't seen it yet. Really. Really, don't.
Now that I've made the disclaimer, this post is going to follow an exploration train based on conversations I've had at work, this article, and my inner workings.
I'm 98% on board with the whole "the entire movie is a dream" concept. The resisting 2% I couldn't rationalize until after having a dream wherein someone showed up unexpectedly and made me re-examine the entire construct of the dream. Which, when I woke, made me rethink the logic behind the dream theory for Inception.
See, where I find issue with this article, and others I've read, is they make it clear that the dream we're seeing is Cobb's -- and practically it can't be anyone else's, not completely anyway. However, if it is in fact Cobb's dream and, as many have argued, everyone else is just a projection created by his subconscious to fulfill a purpose (there are varying arguments as to what purpose the other characters serve in this scenario) then why are there so many scenes with Arthur where Cobb is not present? He is the only other character to get ample screen time to justify his existence as something other than a made-up person in Cobb's dream. That screen time belies the theory that everyone on the team is 'just' a construct of Cobb's subconscious... so here's my two theories, one of which I will quickly state is the less believable.
The first thought I had was that Arthur is in fact real and he and Cobb are having a convergent dream. It happens. However, in the construct of this film and what it set up for the audience, I think this is highly unlikely. Thus, on to theory 2: Arthur IS a projection of Cobb's subconscious, but unlike everyone else who is either entirely made up or represents a real person in his life, Arthur is a division of Cobb -- he's a part of him that his subconscious has split off and created a separate entity for. Why do I believe this? Well, first off, for the dream theory to fly there has to be some explanation for why there are entire scenes in the film that take place without Cobb, practically all of them with Arthur. You have snippets of Eames and Fischer and Saito running in the snow and getting into the bunker, which is workable enough if you hold that Cobb is aware of what they're doing and his brain is just filling in those gaps visually. The same holds true for the scene with Eames infiltrating Fischer's office -- it could simply be the filmic way of showing Eames explaining how he got in. The only other 'scene' lasting more than 30 or so seconds that does not have Cobb or Arthur present is Fischer's discovery in the vault, which knowing that Cobb is pushing Fischer to find this through half the movie is again just a visual way of expressing that Fischer did indeed find what Cobb pushed him toward. However, that leaves scenes at the beginning when Arthur 'wakes up' the first time after being shot by Mal, scenes between Arthur and Ariadne, as well as the entire zero-grav ballet-fu sequence and ensuing cable-wrapping-the-team-for-lift-travel segments that not only don't have Cobb (conscious) in them, but also have no bearing on his personal progress as the rest of the film does. If it's accepted that everyone besides Cobb is a figment of his subconscious that has no purpose other than to further his journey, which is becoming the big argument, then what is the point of those scenes? Hence, my thinking. Arthur, while still being fictional, exists in a Tyler Durden-like scenario for Cobb. He's much less selfish than Cobb. He's ignorant of some of the specifics surrounding Mal and yet has accepted the fact that she's physically gone while still plaguing Cobb. Cobb is dependent on Ariadne for solace and strength, but Arthur also forms a connection with her -- one that is much more fitting for someone who's trying to move on with life. I think Arthur is a part of Cobb that is actively trying to get him to move on, even though he's unaware of full depth of his issues with Mal. If Arthur is Cobb to an extent, not only is his presence validated overall, but so are his motivations, and the fact that he is the only character to have an existence out of Cobb's immediate surroundings. Except for the brief scenes mentioned above, none of the other characters ever exist outside of Cobb OR Arthur's presence. Plus, as much as the whole movie is about Cobb trying to detach himself permanently from Mal to be able to see his kids again, he needs the team to help him accomplish that and it's Arthur, not Cobb, who does the most work to keep everyone together. He's also the only one present with Cobb in the beginning, for quite a stretch, and the first one Cobb sees when he 'wakes up.' Now, I'm open to theories and thoughts on this movie. I know I need to see it again to check if my own conclusions make sense. So I'm interested to know -- what do you think is really going on in Inception?