Of the 1,001 interpretations of Christopher Nolan’s great film, I throw my hat into the ring.

What films is it like?
Memento: A fellow (cop?) chooses to build a lie to find peace about his wife. A story of loss, memory, grief, construction of person. Directed by Nolan.

Shutter Island: A fellow (cop?) chooses to build a lie to find peace about his wife. A story of memory, grief, construction of person. Starring DiCaprio.

Its “cousins”: Dark City, The Cell, The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, Vanilla Sky, What Dreams May Come…others?

I think that the film was crafted in a way so that there could be multiple untanglings that ‘work’ but what is the film about really?
It is at its heart a love story, a lover’s journey to free their lover completely.
To love someone who meant so much to you and then accept their loss to save yourself is a tragic irony of loss and grief. Love comingles individuals, drawing them together in an intimate partnership. This connection can be life affirming and lifesaving and yet powerfully dangerous when one is lost.

This is the heart of the film and its only real “action”. The ‘caper’ plot is in fact a doubling of the main theme and is actually a ploy to achieve the resolution. I’ll explain further below.

So is the whole movie about how a couple comes to terms with death, change, loss? Yes, and I do say couple rather than just ‘Cobb’ (DiCaprio).

This is what I think ‘happened’:
Cobb and Mal join in a dream state and double back and forth in each other’s dreams, creating an exponential and recursive reality/personality. Whether or not anyone else has ever dream-shared is speculative. What we do know is that they’ve become nearly symbiotic and have spent decades perhaps hundreds of experienced time together in their reality.

Mal believes this reality to be the true one and Cobb remains aware that they have entered a deeply shared dream.
He finds and manipulates her totem, the spinning top. This I feel is quite remarkable for unlocking my interpretation: he has manipulated the one solid point of her reality. The rules are all out the window. We as viewers cannot trust whatever the Top Totem does or anything that Cobb says for he then has the Top Totem for the rest of the film. We know that Mal’s Totem has been taken and lies.

Cobb convinces Mal to lay on the train tracks with him. It is integral that she is runover by the train first.
She then enters into a place that the movie would call “limbo”. Due to the connection between she and Cobb, the whole entirety of the film occurs in the space of the time that it took the train to crush her and crush Cobb.
The idea is that two fused ‘souls/minds’ become detached and Cobb must process the loss of his wife before he can exit limbo to get to the ‘heaven’ of his home with his children.

After ‘Lost’ should it be surprising that a story about exiting limbo could be so exciting, meaningful, and compelling?

Some will say that there is a ‘reality’ part of this film and check out this infographic that gives a more standard depiction of the film:

There is no reality in this film and here’s why

The caper plot is all a telling of Cobb and Mal and their process of loss and Cobb’s process of grief.
Fischer is a facet of Cobb, a metaphor for his own journey.
Cobb must release the idea of guilt, shame, and ‘find his own self’ coming to a place of peace after his wife’s death.
Fischer must release the idea of guilt, shame, find his own self coming to a place of peace after his father’s death.
Cobb must find that he can have a family without his wife, carry on in his own way, that he is capable.
Fischer ditto only in regards to his family business.

What is the ‘totem’ that Fischer finds at the end? A pinwheel.
What is Mal/Cobb’s totem? A top. The ‘spinning toy’ double is not a mistake.

But why all the trouble for Cobb/Mal to send Cobb on this wild mission? Because it will help him process in a way that will feel natural, that will feel like he’s come to the idea himself.
We’re given all the clues we need in the film. We just need to look beyond the covers, the tricks, to see what the magician is doing. After Nolan did “The Prestige” we should expect some magician’s tricks. Think of “Memento” too.

In the ‘reality’, the children’s voices are different over the phone and confused through the photos, images, memories.

Also, in the so-called reality world note how Cobb is being chased by gun-toting folks (projections) and is racing through a maze like city that has seemingly shrinking alleys. Ariadne as a name and character also is a giveaway–she most likely is another type of shadow of Mal.

I think that when Mal stabs Cobb and Ariadne shoots Mal, it is the final release of the couple. Their combined dreamlife is finally extinguished and Mal is able to rest in peace and Cobb begins his journey to ‘heaven’.

The heaven tropes are the airplane ascension, St. Peter/Customs officer, heavenly host/welcoming crowds, the idealized memories of a homelife with children.

So why “Inception”?
Inception, the creation of a truly unique and novel idea is difficult and rare. In the context of a close love relationship, there is again that symbiotic type mind that can occur with finishing each other’s sentences and seeming to have remote perception of the other.
Given that there is no reality in the film and the Caper Plot seems to be a message to Cobb to go through his own journey and with Ariadne/Mal his ally, we have to wonder how much of the film is the Mal portion of the fused mind.
Love: losing yourself, finding yourself, giving all, keeping self….

So there’s my take on it. Rebuttals and rebuffs welcome.