Inception – BLUE’S BEATS #14
Blue’s Beats is a blog series where we break down various feature screenplays by identifying and discussing their important beats.
Today we will take a look at the 2010 science fiction film, Inception, written and directed by Christopher Nolan. The film received several nominations at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, including Best Motion Picture and Best Original Screenplay.
To read the screenplay, click here.
Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief on the run who desires nothing more than to return home to his children. He is given an opportunity at redemption, but first must complete one last job. Using technology that allows him to construct and share dreams with others, Cobb assembles a team to enter the mind of a corporate heir in order to plant within his mind the seed of an idea, a process known as Inception.
Much of the exposition in the first 20 pages is dispersed between several key scenes and locations. Cobb and his associate, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), are hired by a mysterious corporation to steal trade information from the mind of a Japanese businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe), utilizing dream-sharing technology. The mental heist begins to fall apart with the introduction of Cobb’s estranged wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard). Scenes jump between the heist, a grungy apartment, and a bullet train compartment, as we are introduced to the concept of a “dream within a dream,” a central tenant of Inception’s plot.
Once Saito realizes that they are inside his dream, the heist devolves into chaos and is ultimately a failure. Having failed to ascertain the information, Cobb and Arthur barely manage to escape and must go on the lam, hiding from the shadowy corporation that hired them.
Before Cobb and Arthur are able to part ways and go into hiding, Saito corners the pair, proposing to them a job that they cannot refuse. He requires them to plant an idea into the mind of a corporate heir, an idea that will dissolve his father’s company, paving the way to Saito’s success. The process is called Inception, and Arthur does not believe it to be possible. Cobb is skeptical and refuses the offer, until Saito sweetens the deal, offering Cobb a new identity and a way to once again see his children (page 23). For Cobb, the reward outweighs the risk, and he begins to assemble his team for one final job.
PLOT POINT ONE
Having recruited a young, intelligible architect, Ariadne (Ellen Page), and a skilled impersonator, Eames (Tom Hardy), Cobb begins to devise a plan. Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the corporate heir, and his father have a tenuous relationship at best. The plan hinges on exploiting Fischer’s past grievances with his father.
There are two storylines running parallel throughout the film. The primary plot focuses on the team infiltrating Fischer’s mind and planting the idea. The second is Cobb coming to terms with the death of his wife, Mal, who manifests as a destructive force of his subconscious.
With the death of Fischer’s father, the plan for Inception is set in motion (page 71). Ariadne infiltrates Cobb’s dreams and realizes his inner struggle (page 66), putting him on a path to reconcile his memory of Mal.
The team enters Fischer’s subconscious, but soon is attacked by a military-like force, manifestations of Fischer’s mind. He has been trained to deter any form of dream-sharing infiltration (pages 76-78). The team must now improvise in order to achieve their goal.
PLOT POINT TWO
Cobb confesses to Ariadne the extent of Mal’s influence over his subconscious. Cobb and Mal had delved too far into their dreams, creating new worlds, causing Mal to lose sight of reality. Falsely believing that she was in a dream, Mal threw herself from a window and died. Charged with her murder, Cobb was forced to flee the United States, leaving his children behind. Ariadne convinces Cobb that he must let go of his guilt and confront Mal (page 93).
Later, in the second level dream, Cobb convinces Fischer that his mind is under attack and only Cobb can protect him (pages 99-106). With Fischer convinced that Cobb is the head of his security, the team enters a third level, a dream fortress created by Fischer’s subconscious to house his innermost secrets.
CRISIS & CLIMAX
At the fortress, and yet to achieve their goal, the team is pursued by manifestations of Fischer’s subconscious, led by Mal, intent on defeating Cobb. Mal takes Fischer hostage and escapes one level deeper. Ariadne convinces Cobb to follow them and confront Mal once and for all.
In the fourth level, a dream reality created together by Cobb and Mal, the couple exchange their final words. Ariadne escapes with Fischer back to the third level where Fischer confronts the memory of his father and makes a startling realization. His father loved him all along and sought to spare him the fate of taking over the company. This revelation allows the idea to dissolve the company take hold, and Inception is achieved (page 141). Meanwhile, Cobb is left holding the dying manifestation of his wife in his arms, trapped in the fourth level (page 142).
The team members are each yanked out of the successive dream states, except for Cobb and Saito who both remain trapped in the dream. Cobb finds Saito, now an old man, and convinces him that they are dreaming, allowing them to return to reality, waking mere moments after the others.
Saito upholds his end of the bargain and Cobb returns to his children. But, is it reality, or yet another dream?