18

In the very first sequence in Inception we see Cobb interact with Saito,

Saito says,

Are you here to kill me?

But , what I can't understand is why he would say this, due to the fact that this is a projection of when Saito is buried deep inside many layered dreams after they decided to work together to perform inception on Saito's main rival.

So why would Saito say this to Cobb when they were working together at the time this scene was to take place?

  • 2
    Don't have any objective references, but my take on it was that Saito, mentally exhausted and damaged from years of living in Limbo, expects Cobb to have gone through the same experience by that point, and to have nothing but hatred left for Saito. – Misha R Aug 4 '17 at 0:20
33

By this point Saito has been stuck in Limbo for long enough to have lived out an entire fantasy life in his palace. He no longer remembers his original life. Given the violence of his earlier dreams and fascination with the British revolutionary period, it's quite likely that his fantasies involved him being a warlord of some description.

When Cobb arrives he's presented as 'a man with a gun' who turned up very near to Saito's palace. He doesn't recognise him (it's been potentially hundreds of subjective years since he last saw him) so he asks him whether he's an assassin, noting that he's got a totem, something that he vaguely remembers belonging to a 'crazy man' he remembers from a dream long ago, someone who told him that people are living in dreams and need to kill themselves (and each other) in order to wake back up.

ELDERLY JAPANESE MAN I know what this is [takes the totem] I’ve seen one before. Many, many years ago … It belonged to a man I met in a half-remembered dream … A man possessed of some radical notions …

Over the course of the conversation it dawns on Saito that he is indeed in a dream (or at least that he's got little to lose) and that his former life is probably reality.

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    It's worth adding that limbo is confusing and has a tendency to drive a person a little crazy (the whole point of the Mal arc). The implication is that by the time Cobb shows up for him, there's a good chance Saito has lost all grasp on reality. Cobb is hoping that somehow he can convince Saito to remember their arrangement despite "decades" of dream living. – TheIronCheek Aug 3 '17 at 13:25
  • Saito's projections(?) in limbo probably have something to do with it, too. Projections "protect" the dreamer in some way, and in limbo they're guarding a fortress with him inside. Even with a lack of specifics, in a dream like that, you would get the sense that you're a target. – ArrowCase Aug 3 '17 at 17:03
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    "Are you here to kill me?" might also be the foreshadowing of "Have you come to wake me up?" (as you can go "up" dream levels by being killed, among other things) – hoffmale Aug 3 '17 at 19:38
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    I definitely agree with @hoffmale. Saito's words immediately following that line are, as he holds up Cobb's totem, "I know what this is." He definitely doesn't think Cobb is an assassin. – David Scarlett Aug 4 '17 at 0:02
  • @DavidScarlett - I've edited. Saito recognises the totem as the symbol of someone who believes that they're in a dream and need to kill themselves (and others) to wake up. He most certainly doesn't remember who/what it truly represents – Valorum Aug 4 '17 at 6:06
5

He has remembered that he is dreaming, and is asking Cobb if he has come to awaken him from that dream.

Look at what immediately follows that line; Saito takes Cobb's totem and states that he knows what it is, indicating that he is (now) aware that he is within a dream. Given that the film previously established that dying in a dream will, under normal circumstances, awaken the dreamer, he is most likely using the phrase "kill me" to mean "awaken me". (Being "killed" is how Ariadne and Fischer are explicitly shown to have exited from Limbo, at which point Cobb had refused to let Ariadne kill him until he had found Saito.)

Additionally, it didn't make it into this scene in the film, but the script had Saito pass the gun to Cobb prior to asking that question. Hardly an action he would have taken had he thought Cobb was an assassin.

The Elderly Man watches the Bearded Man WOLF down his food.
He SLIDES the handgun down the table towards him.

ELDERLY JAPANESE MAN (in English)
Are you here to kill me?

The Bearded Man glances up at him, then back to his food.
The Elderly Japanese Man picks up the cone between thumb and
forefinger.

ELDERLY JAPANESE MAN
I know what this is.

He SPINS it onto a table- it CIRCLES gracefully across the
polished ebony... a SPINNING TOP.

ELDERLY JAPANESE MAN
I’ve seen one before. Many, many years ago...

The Elderly Japanese Man STARES at the top mesmerized.

ELDERLY JAPANESE MAN
It belonged to a man I met in a half-remembered dream...

MOVE IN on the GRACEFULLY SPINNING TOP...

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