But Cobb stole the top and locked it away! That was the whole point.
It's the opposite of that. After decades in limbo Mal laid the top down and locked it away herself. She actively chose for their dream world to be "reality". Cobb eventually realized Mal had lost her grip. He went into her subconscious where he was able to find her totem and start it spinning again. That was the inception.
While watching the movie, I didn't quite understand this point.
So - they have gone into dream state and are living for 50 years. I take it that they entered via various levels since in order to live 50 years, it wouldn't be possible in first-level dreaming. Are we shown their different levels? (I know you might think this is a silly question but I am going to ask anyway).
Then, evidently in the level where they are alone doing world-building or whatever, they decide to stay on for 50 years. Why is it that this level doesn't have people besides them? Shouldn't their "projections" populate this level? Why is it that they were able to keep their people-as-projections out of this level?
From what I understood, Mal starts treating this world as reality and locks the totem away. How does Cobb remember that this is a dream? He doesn't seem to have an individual totem of his own? Are we to take it that he doesn't somehow succumb to the dream-world's charms?
So anyway Cobb decides to do something. What is it? It involves him going into that house-replica and open the safe and do what to the top? And why does it work?
(After thinking a little, all he does is set the top spinning. Since this is a dream, it will continue spinning and so whenever Mal next chooses to open the locker, she will see it still spinning and realize that this level is a dream. Is that correct? But she will also realize that somebody else has tampered with the totem - how would she know that this is the same top as her totem? Couldn't a projection (either of herself or Cobb's) go in and swap the totem out?)
Ok - so anyway, the idea that they are in a dream - she gets it. But (in a different sequence in the movie) they are shown to be old. So how do they die (since the kick thing doesn't apply to this particular set of dreams) in that world-building level? We are (elsewhere in the movie) shown a shot of the train but both are young at that point so it shouldn't be the same world-building level of dream but a higher level, right? So did they just die of old age in the world-building level or something else happened there? For that matter, what happens, if you die of old age in the dream? Do you automatically move back to the higher level?
Why does the totem "change" hands and come to Cobb? Is it because she no longer trusts the totem? And since she can't trust the totem, there really is no way for her to know if she's still in one of their dream levels or in reality? (Did I get that part right?) But here's a question - would one person's totem work for another person in the dream world? Evidently the totem is created in the real world but how is it transported with you into the dream? Ans: It's a projection of the person's subconscious knowledge of the totem. But *if* Mal died (or went up a level), how would her totem remain?
Who's the architect of the 50-year dream that Mal and Cobb are in and who's the dreamer?
Only Ellen Page and Cobb enter the 4th level - but whose fourth level do they enter? The third-level Mal's? Page's? Cillian's or Cobb's? (I thought that they entered third-level Mal - who is just a projection of Cobb's, so in effect they are entering Cobb's as architect and dreamer as the 4th level with Page joining in for the ride. So - how come Cobb finds himself at the same world-building level as Mal? Would all his attempts at 4th levels lead to the same place? I would think not - Dreams differ from time to time? How would he be able to "visit" the same dream-level at a later "period" from the previous time he had been there? I'd think what really happened is that he "recreates" the world-building level including projecting Mal as he remembers it.
Meanwhile on the third level, Saito dies and enters Limbo.
So, how is Cobb able to go from his 4th level to Saito's Limbo? Saito is already dead in the third level, you shouldn't be able to enter his dream (he's dead - you can only enter a living person's dream?).
But somehow (How? Cobb enters Saito's limbo? or Cobb enters his own Limbo level and in his Limbo meets Saito - is that the true Saito or a projection of his? ) they get together. Saito recalls vaguley and now has to decide whether he wants to be young again and "be rescued" and reaches for the gun. The idea being that if you die in Limbo, you will go back to your previous level?
Here the movie cuts away from the decision. Did they tell us how one can "escape" from Limbo?
Also re the (in)famous top-twirling end - we see the top stumble and right itself a few times. Do we see it slowing? I couldn't make it out as slowing... How can it "right" itself like that? I still think he's in a dream (kids don't age, he seems to be weirded out in the plane when he "wakes" up, how come Michael Caine is meeting him when he should be in Paris (but he could have gone back to the US) and the top itself that seems to take a long time in deciding) but that's dissatisfying from a movie standpoint - (The protagonist dies without satisfying any story arc). Also, he leaves his top and goes out to meet his kids but later on, he would come back and turn the top again and figure out anyways whether he's back or still in a dream.