Q & A: "Audition sequence"
Q2.1) Was the “audition sequence” related to the “old Saito sequence”?
Answer: No. Both were distinct from each other because a younger Saito appeared in the former, and not in the latter. (This might be tricky to differentiate on first viewing because the location and color scheme in both sequences looked similar.)
Q2.2) Was the “audition sequence” a dream?
Answer: Yes. The characters were dreaming and were two layers deep. The deepest was the “villa level”, followed by the “riot level”, and then the “train level (reality)”.
Q2.3) Who were plugged into the “dream machine” in this sequence?
Answer: At the “train level”, Saito, Cobb, Arthur, and Nash were plugged in. At the “riot level”, Nash was hosting the dream, and only Saito, Cobb, and Arthur were plugged in. That was why at the “villa level”, Nash did not appear.
Q2.4) Whose dream was it at the “riot level” and “villa level”?
Answer: At the “riot level”, Nash was the host and dreamer. Two reasons: One, Saito commented on the strangeness of the material of the carpet he was lying on. At that point, it hit him that he was in a dream (so it was definitely not Saito’s dream). Later, as the riot mob broke into the room, Nash claimed that they were all in his dream. Two, Nash stayed behind in the “riot level” to monitor the dreamers.
At the “villa level”, it was harder to tell who the dreamer was. So I shall explore each possibility. It could only be either Cobb’s or Saito’s dream, and not Arthur’s. Why? Remember that Arthur was shot by Cobb in the head and the former woke up at the “riot level”. Thus, Arthur was the first to return to the “riot level”, and the deeper “villa level” dream did not disappear along with him.
Now, based on what Cobb said to Ariadne in the Paris’ training sequence later on, we learnt that the dreamer was usually not the subject. Instead, the subject was brought into the dream (which was structurally created by the Architect, and generally populated by the subconscious of an assigned dreamer), in hope that the subject would (further) fill it with his subconscious which would allow the dreamer to extract the subject’s secrets from.
Saito would be the dreamer if Cobb was the subject. This is possible because Cobb was “the subject” of Saito’s audition. However, was extraction or inception done to Cobb by Saito? No. In fact, it was the other way round. Cobb attempted to perform extraction from Saito to steal his secrets; this meant that Saito was the subject, and consequently, Cobb would be the dreamer. Furthermore, the villa was structurally created by Nash, and it was highly unlikely that he was working hand-in-hand with Saito.
Thus, it would make more sense to conclude that Cobb was the dreamer for the “villa level”.
Q2.5) Why did Mal betray Cobb?
Answer: In the later parts of the film, it was explained that Cobb had been projecting Mal (his dead wife) in his subconscious, and that this had become a liability to everyone working with him. This problem became worse as the film progressed.
Q2.6) Why didn’t Mal kill Arthur but shoot him in the foot instead?
Answer: If Arthur was shot dead, his subconscious would just return to the “riot level”. Mal shot him in the foot so that Arthur could feel excruciating pain (“pain” theory). In fact, Cobb later shot Arthur in the head to ease his suffering.
Q2.7) Why did Cobb shoot Arthur?
Answer: As explained by the “pain” theory.
Q2.8) What was the significance of the whole “audition sequence”?
Answer: The audition was planned by Saito because he wanted to evaluate Cobb and his team to see whether they were skilled enough in their work before he proposed the idea of inception to Cobb (which we saw later in the “Post-audition sequence with Saito in helicopter”). Of course, Cobb and his team did not know that they were in an audition. What they knew was that they were tasked to steal secrets from Saito, and that their employer (Cobalt Engineering) would not accept failure as an answer.
Q2.9) What was in the safe?
Answer: Saito’s secrets. This was implied when Cobb mentioned secrets to Saito, the latter shifted his gaze very slightly towards the safe.
Q2.10) Why did Saito express shock when he opened the envelope in his safe and realized that the documents were blank?
Answer: Saito knew Cobb had stolen his “secrets” and replaced them with blank documents, but Saito had to act surprised so that Cobb would continue to believe he was doing an extraction mission and not participating in an audition.
Q2.11) Did Cobb know that he had been duped by Saito?
Answer: Yes. Before the “villa level” collapsed, we saw Cobb reading the document stolen from Saito’s safe very intently as if trying to absorb the information. That was the moment he realized that those were not Saito’s full secrets; my guess was that Saito had put in bit-part (or irrelevant) information. Furthermore, when they woke up at the “riot level”, Cobb threatened to shoot Saito in an attempt to force him to spill all of his secrets. This was the clearest indication that Cobb knew that Saito had duped him.
Q2.12) Did Cobb eventually manage to get all of Saito’s secrets?
Answer: No. Saito knew only too well that if Cobb shot him at the “riot level”, he would go back to reality. Thus, Cobb’s threat to shoot him was more welcomed than not. Furthermore, the riot mob was getting closer by the minute and we saw them enter the room, leaving Cobb with no time to extract secrets from a stubborn Saito. Lastly, the scene at Mombasa later on where Cobb was chased by a few agents from Cobalt Engineering showed that he was wanted dead by his employers for failing his extraction mission.