Since Inception is on, I have been thinking about this question a lot.

Cobb's totem used to be his wife's. Doesn't that invalidate its purpose. The other question...is his projection of her really her trying to wake him up?

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    It's not exactly a duplicate, but that issue is addressed in this answer. – Flimzy Dec 3 '12 at 2:07
  • You would think, since he makes it known to his partners what his totem is and whose it was before, that one of them would bring it up if it was not valid. – NominSim Dec 3 '12 at 3:36
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    I like that answer. I was so focused on whether he's dreaming or not that I didn't think about the fact that he doesn't care. – Michael Brown Dec 3 '12 at 6:12
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    exect duplicate of movies.stackexchange.com/questions/3302/… – Steve Harrington Dec 3 '12 at 7:16
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    @AnkitSharma It's fine to have duplicates on different SE sites. – user1027 Dec 3 '12 at 17:07

Yes, his totem is invalid.

The script makes it pretty clear that the point of a totem is that the feel, the balance and the weight of the object (e.g. things which couldn't objectively be deduced by sight alone) are what tells the dreamer that they're still in a dream-state. Saito reinforces this by instantly identifying the carpeting in his apartment as being fake by feel alone despite that it looks right.

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Cobb then does a complete heel-toe on that by outright claiming that his totem works differently, that it spins down in the real world but not in the dream-state. Whether this is a clever example of Arthur's warning to Ariadne ("as you must’ve noticed by now how much time Cobb spends doing things he says never to do") or simply a plot-hole is up for discussion. Personally I err on the side of bad writing.

*COBB She'll need a totem.


ARTHUR Some kind of personal icon. A small object that you can always have with you, and that no one else knows,

ARTHUR So. A totem. You need something small, potentially heavy...

ARIADNE Like a coin?

ARTHUR Too common. You need something that has a weight or movement that only you know.

ARIADNE What’s yours?

Arthur holds out a DIE.

ARTHUR A loaded die.

Ariadne reaches for it- Arthur snatches sit away-

ARTHUR I can’t let you handle it. That’s the point. No one else can know the weight or balance of it.


ARTHUR So when you examine your totem you know, beyond a doubt, that you’re not in someone else’s dream

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