(Long post, sorry.)
Here's a question about the larger layout of the plot that I finally am able to ask coherently.
Originally there were to be three dream levels that Ariadne was to create, each maze-like in their own way to confuse/slow down the projections and to allow the landscape to be smaller (contained, so the architect doesn't have to create the whole world). The plan was to get an idea into Fisher in level 1, get him to start to convince himself of its reality in level 2, and believe it in level 3 so that when he came out of it (to reality) it would feel like his own idea.
Some questions I have are: if Cobb decided on the fly to go with the Mr. Charles persona to convince Fisher that he was there to help, what was the original plan? Was there an alternative way to get Fisher to help in level 3? Despite making a accurate, steady alpine world, I don't think it would be very credible/realistic to drop Fisher into level 3 involuntarily (i.e, without first convincing him that level 3 will be a dream). If they don't get Fisher's voluntary help in level 2, it is not very realistic for Fisher to believe that it is reality to have to break into a mountain fortress to find his dying father and to open a safe.
Did I miss something? Was it the plan all along to get Fisher's help starting in level 2? Was the specific choice of using the Mr. Charles persona the only on-the-fly decision? Were there other planned methods of convincing Fisher to help?
My thought is that if things hadn't been going so poorly on level 1, due to the unforeseen presence of projection guards, level 2 (the hotel) would have been more realistic (no weather shifts, no gravity shifts) and they could have simply grabbed Fisher's projection of Browning, convinced Fisher to help them go into "level 1" of Browning's mind to get the secret from the safe in Fisher Sr.'s hospital room. This requires that they tell Fisher that they are invading Browning's mind, and I don't specifically remember this, but the dialog and explanations were fast and I may have missed it.
I think this is a decent initial interpretation, but Arthur questioned the idea of revealing to Fisher that he was in a dream. I can see his argument being taken three ways: A) Arthur is simply against telling a target that the current
level is a dream because it can get the target to question everything he is being told (even by Mr. Charles) in that
level, or B) Arthur is against using the Mr. Charles persona because having the target to do any voluntary dreaming (whether he thinks it is level 1 or level 2 doesn't matter) creates the same issue with questioning the veracity of what the target is being told, or (C) Arthur on general principles doesn't like the Mr. Charles persona or doesn't like getting the target to do voluntary dreaming with no further impact on the dream world (maybe this is a standard objection of Arthur's). If we go with (C), I see no problems. If we go with (B), then that means that they would never normally try to get voluntary participation within a dream and this would make an "unrealistic" scenario like the alpine level 3 untenable in any case so why would they have built it? I think from a straight forward reading of Arthur's objection, I conclude he meant (A), but I don't remember the dialog perfectly.
The remaining problem with this is if we go with (A) and level 2 was never intended to be presented to Fisher as a dream (and thus they never intended to use the Mr. Charles mental-security persona), how would you get Fisher to help them invade Browning's mind? Unless Fisher thinks the hotel is a dream, there is no reason for him to volunteer to invade Browning's mind. If they are simply in reality, then there is no current risk of dream invasion and thus no reason to create one by entering a dream state; Fisher would instead just have Browning arrested/detained by regular security until they discovered the contents of the safe (if any).
Who knows, maybe all along the original plan was to have a straightforward action-y level 3 where Fisher doesn't know he is dreaming, but believes that he is a spec warfare guy going in to rescue his father?
What do you guys think? Am I on track? What have I missed?
Also, where where they going climbing up the mountain before the avalanche? Were they going to parachute into the base from above?
Edited to add: I thought Fisher and Ariadne disappeared when they fell and kicked up a level, but I think Arthur's body stuck around at the beginning of the movie when he was shot in the head? If they bodies always disappeared it could be used to determine if Mal really died. Really died -> body; kicked up a level -> no body. Was there consistency with what happened with people kicking up a level?