The following quote from Inception movie I'm trying to understand:

Eames: They come here every day to sleep?

Elderly Bald Man: [towards Cobb] No. They come to be woken up. The dream has become their reality. Who are you to say otherwise, son?

I emphasized a sentence I'd like to understand. What one means there?

2 Answers 2


The question Who are you to VERB (or Who {am I/are we/is X} to VERB) is a challenge to produce credentials which demonstrate that you have the right or the authority to VERB.

In practice it usuallly amounts to a denial that you have such right or authority and a demand that you desist from VERBing. In the present case, instance, the Elderly Bald Man expects the notion that dreams can serve as reality to be mocked, and he says this to prevent any such mockery.

  • 1
    I like the way you put it (as a denial). In this specific case, I believe that "Who are you to say otherwise, son?" is a rhetoric question used to invite (and a little challenge) Eames to give it a real thought. If Eames tries to understand, he will be able to see that "their dream has become their reality" is true. Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 19:10

Who are you to say otherwise, son?

is like saying:

Who are you to disagree with me, son?

  • That's it expresses negative emotion, does it? I've been re-viewing that particular a lot of times and judging by the intonation there is no negatives in his voice... I guess. Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 19:02
  • 1
    @Dmitry - This phrase can be used so that the "negative emotion" is very subtle and hard to detect. Unless the tone of voice is more hostile, it can indeed come across as what we might call a "polite challenge."
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 9:11

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