The context is from Inception:

Arthur: So, once we've made the plant, how do we get out? I'm hoping you have something more elegant in mind than shooting me in the head?

Cobb: A kick.

Ariadne: What's a kick?

Eames: This, Ariadne, would be a kick. [kicks Arthur's chair; Arthur flails but manages to right himself]

Cobb: It's that feeling of falling that jolts you awake. It snaps you out of the dream.

I've a bit confused by the phrase jolts you awake. The thing is I've found that jolt means to shock someone. That's it's not clear how can it be coupled together?

  • 1
    jolt sense 2, "to shock or surprise". It is pretty obvious.
    – user3169
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 20:40
  • Where did you get the (erroneous) impression that jolt (solely) means "to shock someone"?
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 23:54
  • @J.R. So there to jolt have the simialr meaning as, say, to shake. do there? Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 19:08
  • @J.R. Let me ask you do you use the phrase in the everyday life by your own? Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 19:22
  • In everyday life, I think most jolts are figurative reather than physical. I might be jolted by the news that my father just had a heart attack, for example. It's not necessarily a common word, but it's not exactly rare and unusual, either.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 22:46

2 Answers 2


"Jolt" can mean to shock with electricity, but it can also mean to startle (scare) someone, to do something suddenly. So in this context, it means to awaken suddenly (for example when waking suddenly from a dream).

Cobb is comparing it to the sense of alarm or fear that is felt when you suddenly find yourself falling. The sudden fear is the "jolt" that awakens you from your previous state. With Inception, the technique is used as a way to return to reality (Cobb: "Our dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake we realize things were strange." (source) )


a jolt means a kind of a push (not exactly in physical terms always)

(I don't think electricity has anything to do with it)

However it does mean to shock someone but not by means of electricity.

Example -

  1. (Macmillan) This announcement will be a jolt to investors.

  2. (Cambridge) His self-confidence took a sudden jolt with the news that he had not been selected. (Here he did get a shock but not an eletricial one)

Anyway let's try to clarify your doubt here -

  1. Suppose you are having a horrible dream. You dreamt that someone pushed you off of a terrace of 100 storey building and the moment you start to fall down, you are awaken with a jolt. Such kind of dreams always awake you with a jolt. Everyone some or the other times have had experienced these kind of dreams.

  2. If you are riding in a car taking a nap and the car happens to drive along a pothole on the road, then it will jolt you awake.

In your example of the movie 'Inception' the same criteria applies. Except that in the movie the character had to die to be awaken with a jolt.

More examples

  1. My car just broke down in the middle of the road with a jolt.
  2. (Cambridge) The train stopped unexpectedly and we were jolted forwards. (means we were severely pushed forward by the jolt)

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