Inception - discussion guide
Author: Sophie Lister Keywords:
Dreams, reality, inspiration, death, grief, regret, guilt, redemption
Film title: Inception
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cinema Release Date: 16 July 2010 (USA and UK)
Certificate: PG-13 (USA); 12A (UK) Contains moderate violence
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a very unusual sort of criminal. Along with his sharp-suited sidekick Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), he breaks into other people's dreams and 'extracts' their secrets. After what seems to be a failed job, he is approached by businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe), who has a startling proposition. Instead of stealing information, he wants Cobb to plant information in the mark's mind - an untested and near-unfeasible process called inception.
Assembling a new team, including talented architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) and wisecracking forger Eames (Tom Hardy), Cobb sets about doing the impossible. The mark is unsuspecting young business heir Fischer (Cillian Murphy). The method is a bafflingly complex subconscious heist. And, with the shade of the mysterious Mal (Marion Cotillard) lurking in the wings, the stakes are far higher than Cobb's letting on.
Writer and director Christopher Nolan has been fascinated by dreams from a young age. Intrigued by what the implications might be if it were possible to share dreams and have access to another's subconscious mind, he originally envisaged Inception as a horror film, before settling on a heist structure. However, since conventional heist films are heavy on plot twists and light on emotional content, he had to rewrite the script several times before he was satisfied that the film would appeal to the heart as well as the mind.
Though he originally pitched Inception to Warner Brothers in 2001, it took the huge commercial success of the Batman films for the studio to trust him with the budget that Nolan felt he needed. Inception was filmed at locations across the world, from Tokyo to Tangiers, and premiered in London on July 13th 2010. Though some critics have expressed reservations about the film's derivative elements and overly cerebral feel, the majority have been hugely impressed.
Justin Chang of Variety magazine wrote, 'If movies are shared dreams, then Christopher Nolan is surely one of Hollywood's most inventive dreamers, given the evidence of his commandingly clever Inception.'
Questions for Discussion
What was your initial reaction to the film? Do you feel that you were able to follow all the twists and turns of the plot? How would you outline the story to someone who hasn't seen it?
Christopher Nolan, the director and screenwriter behind Inception, also made Memento, Insomnia and the two recent Batman films. If you're familiar with these films, can you see any similarities to Inception? What themes and what kind of protagonists seem to interest Nolan?
What did you make of the film's final shot? Why do you think that the director chose to end it this way? What questions or frustrations were you left with?
To what extent do you think Inception is a reflection on the process and purpose of filmmaking? How important is it for you to be completely absorbed in a film's reality when you're watching? Do you think that the recent trend for commentaries and 'making of' documentaries ruins the illusion?
Ariadne is a figure from Greek mythology who helped lead Theseus through the maze. What other character names might be significant and why?
'Je ne regrette rien.'
How does this song, which features prominently, reflect the key themes of the film? How does the team use Fischer's regrets to their advantage? What are Cobb's regrets, and how does he deal with them throughout the film?
Cobb's guilt, and the way that it manifests in his subconscious, puts him and the team in danger. But it also helps to ground him in reality. How can guilt be damaging in our lives? In what circumstances might it be right and healthy?
Every team member carries a 'totem' which allows them to distinguish reality from dreams. How can we know that the world around us is real, and what do we mean by 'real'?
Do you have 'totems' (people, ideas, experiences, memories) which help to reinforce what you believe about reality? How do you know that you can trust them?
'Take a leap of faith.' (Mal)
What does it mean to have 'faith' in a particular version of reality? Under what circumstances do you find yourself calling your beliefs about reality into question?
'We had our time together.' (Cobb)
What lessons does Cobb learn about love and grief? What might Inception be saying about death and the possibility of an afterlife? Do you agree with the film's perspective?
'We built our own world.' (Cobb)
In 'Limbo', Cobb and Mal spend a lifetime constructing their own perfect dream-world. How might this reflect the way that many of us live our lives? Why do we so often prefer to impose our own meaning on the world, rather than receive meaning from outside ourselves?
Why do you think it was important to Cobb that they held onto what was real and woke up? Are there areas of your life where reality might need to intrude? How can we know whether or not God is the ultimate reality?
 Justin Chang, Inception, Variety Magazine accessed 20/7/10
Related articles/study guides:
Author: Sophie Lister
© Copyright: Sophie Lister
Unless stated otherwise, Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT) copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.