In Incepton, the totem is supposed to be a device which helps the totem owner to figure out whether he is a dream or in reality. This is because the totem has some special feature which is known only to the totem owner.

I think what was implied was that if the special feature was present, then the owner is in reality, else he is in a dream.

However, I think it would only be able to tell him if he is in someone else's dream dream or not. If he special feature is missing - then he is surely not in someone else's dream. However, if the special feature is present, then I think 2 choices remain

  1. He is in reality or
  2. He is in his own dream. Because he knows the special feature, he will know it in his dream also and the totem will exist with the feature in his own dream.

So can a totem owner tell if he is in reality or in his own dream? Or is it implied that a dreamer always knows he is in a dream - I didn't get that impression from the movie.

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    4. Cobb's totem isn't the top. The top was Mal's totem. – Flimzy May 8 '13 at 8:05
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    You should post these as separate questions. They aren't related to each other. – Izkata May 8 '13 at 10:06
  • @Flimzy - But all through the movie, that's what Cobb uses to check if he is in a dream or not. Even in the last scene. There is no separate totem shown for Cobb. – user93353 May 8 '13 at 11:58
  • @lzkata - Will do. – user93353 May 8 '13 at 11:58
  • @user93353: No it's not. All throughout the movie, that's what Cobb used to remember his wife. You were fooled--intentionally. – Flimzy May 8 '13 at 18:28

The existence of the totem is not what proves whether or not they're in a dream or reality - it's the accuracy of it.

Arthur tells Ariadne what his totem is, but doesn't let her touch it. But, how is it weighted? Which side does it lean? How heavy is it? As the architect, Ariadne could insert a loaded die into one of the designs, but she could never get all of the exact details just right. If any of the details are wrong, Arthur would know that he is in someone else's dream.

From the script


She'll need a totem.




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



So. A totem. You need something small, potentially heavy... INT. BATHROOM, WORKSHOP - CONTINUOUS

COBB takes out his PEWTER SPINNING TOP, SPINS it on the marble counter... INT. WORKSHOP - CONTINUOUS

ARIADNE looks at ARTHUR, puzzled.


Like a coin?


Too common. You need something that has a weight or movement that only you know. INT. BATHROOM, WORKSHOP - CONTINUOUS

COBB STUDIES the spin of the top as it decays, becoming more and more ECCENTRIC... INT. WORKSHOP - CONTINUOUS


What’s yours?

ARTHUR holds out a DIE.


A loaded die.

ARIADNE reaches for it-

ARTHUR snatches sit away-


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




So when you examine your totem... INT. BATHROOM, WORKSHOP - CONTINUOUS

COBB’s spinning top WOBBLES OVER.


You know, beyond a doubt, that you’re not in someone else’s dream.

So just the existence of the totem at the end proves nothing. The devil is in the details - and we're never told whether or not all the details match.

Following this...

  • The existence of your totem in a "reality" does not prove anything - unless no one knows of the existence of the totem at all. (example: if Ariadne does not know of the existence of Arthur's loaded die, it's a VERY slim chance that she would randomly put one into a dream design.)
  • The accuracy of your totem proves that you are not in someone else's dream.
  • Your totem cannot be used to prove whether or not you are in your own dream.
  • I know it's not the existence of the totem - but it's the feature. But as the script you pasted says, all it will tell you is that is that you are not in someone else's dream. Assuming you have eliminated the possibility of being in someone else's dream, how will you know whether you are in your own dream or in reality? – user93353 May 8 '13 at 14:28
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    It doesn't. I know that that's how a lot of viewers understood it, but it's not backed up by anything in the script. The totem's existence proves nothing (assuming its existence hasn't been kept completely secret). The accuracy proves that you're not in someone else's dream. Nothing proves that you're not in your own dream. – phantom42 May 8 '13 at 14:37

To prove that you are in your own dream you could use both your totem and the totem of another in conjunction. If yours acts in such a way as to denote either existence within your own dream or reality, and the other person examines theirs and finds that they are in the dream of another, hey presto; your own dream. For two people to, in the same existence, have reality-affirming results, it can be assumed (assuming that dream realities cannot merge) that the users are experiencing reality.

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    How could you trust the other "person" to tell you the truth? This doesn't help you. – Bradd Szonye Jun 20 '13 at 21:07

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