Arthur's Agony: How Inception's Arthur Could Have Resolved His Momentous Dilemma

By Eric Wolff | August 9, 2010 2:39 am

inceptionarthur2This post necessarily has spoilers, so most of the text is below the jump. But those who have seen Inception will recall the character Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, had to solve a moderately interesting physics problem to resolve a part of the plot. His solution struck me as…exotic. Some alternative proposals after the jump.

To recap, in order to get Cobb, Ariadne, et. al. out of dream-within-a-dream level 3 and up to dream-within-a-dream level 2, Arthur had to give them their “kick”: The sudden sensation of falling. Yusuf’s special soporific concoction didn’t effect the inner ear, so sleepers would wake up from a feeling of sudden acceleration like falling. We later learn that the “kick” can be the sense of falling itself, or the sudden stop at the end of falling, generally known as “crashing”.

The original plan in the film was to blow up the floor of the hotel in room in which the characters slept, causing them to fall and thus wake up. But when the van in dream level 1 went off the bridge, by the rules of the film, the dreamers became weightless. How to make them fall?

Arthur’s solution was to tie together all the bodies with a cord, push them into the elevator, attach the explosives to the side of the shaft above the elevator (or possibly on the elevator roof, I forget exactly), and set off the explosion, propelling the sleepers downward and waking them up. That worked, but seemed like a lot of labor.

How about:

* Pushing the tied together bodies out the door into the hallway. Tie one end of a length of line (or wire) to the people and tie the other end to the door handle or something else solid. Push the bodies away as hard as possible. They should accelerate until they wake up, or when they reach the end of the line, they’ll stop with a sudden jerk.

* Taking the tied together sleepers, spinning them around fast. If that didn’t work, Arthur could  grab a door jamb with one hand and  the spinning block of bodies with the other hand, bringing the spinning to a sudden stop. (Credit for this idea to my wife and ad hoc inner ear expert Miriam Goldstein)

* Using a fire extinguisher, or multiple extinguishers. Most hotels have fire extinguishers in the hallways. Water extinguishers use a CO2 canister at 2000 PSI to propel the water, so the initial burst might provide some momentum, and CO2 fire extinguishers are often stored under far higher pressure. One may not be enough to get those bodies moving, but several in succession might do the job.

* Using the explosives, but skipping the elevator part. Push the bodies into the hallway and tie them together as described above, and then set off the explosive maybe from one end of the hall. The shock wave would propel everyone at high speed. Maybe Arthur wouldn’t even need to tie the group together.

Clearly, Arthur had options. Anyone else have ideas?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics
MORE ABOUT: Inception

Comments (11)

  1. sikander

    First two wouldn’t work because Arthur also needs the kick to “wake up” and go up one level. Third might work.. but not worth the risk I suppose. He has a very limited time window. Fourth one would work but not as cool as the movie version :)

  2. ideas ? only when i’m not coked out and even then, ideas is not with me.

  3. Dan

    Allow them to free float, but kick them into one another. When they crash into each other, they should both wake up. Since 4 people were under, he would have needed only to do it twice.

  4. See, the problem I had with this is that being weightless feels exactly like falling. “Kicking” the sleepers on the top-most level should’ve provided a kick for all lower levels.

  5. @sikander I was thinking Arthur could wake himself by spinning on his own.

    @Dan Brilliant!

    @ Tree Lobsters Have you been weightless? I’m not sure what it feels like, so hard for me to say, but people who have been sky diving often describe it as *not* feeling like falling — like weightlessness. You make a valid point on the top level issue, but to my mind the problem is the time dilation – the falling van is falling so slowly for lower level sleepers that they don’t feel the falling at all, thus, the weightlessness. And I think they said something about the problem of kicking out of order, but I’ve forgotten what it was.

  6. Archwright

    The big problem is that they all had to get the kick at the same time (according to Cobb’s Hypothesis). Tying them all together ensured that whatever stimulus Arthur gave was felt simultaneously.

    Launching them down a hallway would work, except that building in NYC are generally taller than they are wide, and may not really allow for good timing (trivial). The big issue is one of drift. By putting all the people in the elevator, he knew that they would not bounce off anything too soon and wake them up in the middle of a critical action.

    My complaint is that the solution is just too clever for the character Arthur. But, I’m willing to consider that character growth.

  7. @sikander: Arthur can’t use the kick within his own dream; it has to come from a higher level. So he’s okay because he’ll get the kick at the crash, but he has to bring the other ones up a level by creating a kick for them.

    I think.

  8. Kendal Bond

    A kick is *two* jolts, not one. It isn’t the falling or change in acceleration initially that causes the sleeper to wake – it’s clearly the impact at the end of the fall, much like many people have when they dream. (I believe this is called a myoclonic jerk.) That was made clear from the beginning scenes. Subjects did not wake when *falling* but when they would have *landed*. It’s why Cobb wakes *when he hits the water* – not before – and why Saito was so impressed that he was still dreaming while on the shag carpet, and why he didn’t wake until the train stopped (presumably – clearly he does wake!) and the start of the elevator fall didn’t wake anyone (it should have because they should have flown up into the ceiling!)
    It’s also why many of the options given above are perfectly legit IF they have BOTH an initial AND a final jolt.

  9. Eros

    the important thing to remember is that this isn’t there first job. some other solutions seem plausible, but arthur might have used an elevator as a kick before. and explosives seems to be the kick of choice (in the 3rd level they blow up the fortress) also, the elevator ensured that all would get the kick at the same time, the other solutions have him giving the kick to everyone and then assuming he does it to himself. but it has to be synced perfectly. and that comment that the solution was too smart for arthur, he’s the best at what he does. it’s his job to think quickly and efficiently. i thought the solution was as perfect as everything else in the movie

  10. marce

    I think the solution he found was the only one possible for he needed a big shake way stronger that most of the ones mention above and he the characters needed to be kicked at the same time … but if he could have” waken them up” one by one ..

    He should have projected a syringe and forcefully pour warm water into the ears of the other characters and his own as in the vestibular testing. this gives the patient the sensation of falling …
    the other option is that he could have , again, projected a couple of magnets of about 3000 Gauss that place on each era causes the sensation of falling (this is use on patients to restore the equilibrium ), …

  11. Don’t make me destroy you

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