Screenplay Genre: Action / Crime / Thriller
Movie Time: 148 minutes
Synopsis: A skilled extractor, Cobb, is employed by a very powerful man, to help break up his competitor’s company, by performing a job considered to be impossible – Inception. In order for this to be accomplished, the extractor must assemble a team that will travel down several dream layers to implant a simple idea into the company heir’s mind – to break up his father’s empire. In return, Cobb has a chance to regain his old life.
World of the Story: With the invention of shared dreaming, extractors are hired to steal secrets from targeted subjects, accomplished by navigating their minds through their dreams.
Introduce the Protagonist:
Cobb (The Extractor) – Employed by companies to extract the secrets of their targeted subjects. In his personal life, Cobb is on the run and in search of a way to return home to his kids, after being accused of killing his wife.
Introduce Supporting Characters:
Arthur (The Point Man) – Cobb’s right hand man. His focus is on the execution of the job, specifically in the planning and researching of the subject / job, before they even enter the dream world.
Saito (The Tourist) – The subject of Cobb’s last mission. Although he was their last target, Saito employs Cobb and Arthur to perform inception on a rival competitor.
Introduce the Antagonist:
Mal (The Shade) – Deceased wife of Cobb. She is kept alive within Cobb’s memories/dreams, which allows her to enter into Cobb’s extraction jobs, and sabotage the jobs.
Fischer (The Mark) – The target subject of Cobb’s newest job. He will come to inherit his father’s company.
Status Quo: Cobb and Arthur are in the middle of an extraction job on their target subject, Saito.
Status Quo Obstacle: They must get into the safe where Saito’s secrets are being kept.
Dramatic Premise: Cobb and Arthur fail at extracting Saito’s secrets. They decide to lay low for a while after botching the extraction job, as their latest employer, Cobol Engineering, will be hunting for them.
* Inciting Incident (Plot Point #1): Before they can take a chopper out of the city, Saito offers Cobb a proposal. Saito assures Cobb that he will be able to return to the United States and see his children if Cobb carries out an “inception”: making Saito’s main competitor’s son decide to break up his father’s empire.
Introduce Supporting Characters:
Miles (The Mentor) – Mal’s father. He taught Cobb how to navigate people’s minds. He introduces Cobb to Ariadne.
Ariadne (The Architect) – Recruited to design the dream mazes. She will be in charge of designing a maze for each dream state level and teach them to the dreamers.
Protagonist’s Objective: Cobb needs to find an architect as good as he was.
Predicament: Cobb can no longer design the dreams because of his projections of Mal.
Predicament Solution: Cobb goes to Paris to meet Mal’s father, Miles, who introduces him to Ariadne, and even better architect than Cobb.
* The Lock-In (Plot Point #2): After Cobb takes Ariadne into her first shared dream experience – where Mal stabs her – Ariadne quits. But Cobb knows she’ll be back: reality will no longer be enough for her.
Introduce Sub-Plot: Ariadne realizes that Cobb has some serious problems (Mal) buried in him, her reasoning for quitting.
Establish ACT II Main Tension: Now that Cobb has taken the deal and found his architect, he needs to recruit more members into his team to perform inception. Once the team has been assembled, they will need to figure out their game plan before heading into the dream world, and the successfully executing their plan once in the targeted subjects mind.
First Obstacle: While recruiting more members to his team, Cobb is hunted down by Cobol Engineering. There is a price on his head, dead or alive.
Obstacle Solution: Saito comes to Cobb’s aid, protecting his investments.
Introduce Supporting Characters:
Eames (The Forger) – He has the ability to physically impersonate anyone when inside their dream by studying their traits, mannerisms, and characteristics.
Yusuf (The Chemist) – Creates drugs used to sedate the sleepers and share their dreams. He needs to make a very powerful compound that will sustain the dream world, as they will travel down several layers, where it will become very unstable.
Second Obstacle: Finding the opportunity to perform the inception job.
Obstacle Solution: Fischer’s father has passed. He will take a flight from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, giving the team the 10 hours they need to get the job done.
Sub-Plot Revival: Ariadne sneaks into Cobb’s personal dream and discovers he has built a prison of memories to contain Mal.
Sub-Plot Obstacle: Once back in reality, Ariadne advises Cobb that the team needs someone (her) who understands his struggle.
Failure/Ramifications: If no one knows of Cobb’s issues with Mal, it could haunt the team.
* First Culmination (Plot Point #3) / Sub-Plot Solution: Cobb tells Saito to “get us another seat on the plane.” Ariadne will join the team in the dream world.
Obstacle: Upon entering the dream world, Cobb and his team are ambushed by Fischer’s projection.
Reveal: Arthur’s research was not thorough; clearly Fischer has had an extractor teach his subconscious to defend itself, militarizing his subconscious. The mission has become more complicated.
Higher Obstacle: Saito has been shot during the ambush. He is in agony, bleeding, and dying. However, they cannot kill him in the dream, as it will not wake him up. Instead he will fall into limbo for an undetermined amount of time.
Obstacle Solution: The only way out is to continue with the job. Downwards is the only way forwards.
Sub-Plot Revival: Cobb reveals to Ariadne that he and Mal were working together, exploring dreams within a dream, eventually falling into limbo. Limbo became Mal’s reality. When they woke up in the real world, Mal was possessed with the idea that they were still dreaming, and that they needed to kill themselves to wake up, leading to her suicide.
Predicament: Cobb’s guilt defines and powers Mal. He needs to learn to forgive himself and confront her for the safety of the team, but he can’t.
Obstacle: Heading into the second dream level, Fischer’s security is all over them.
Obstacle Solution: They run with Mr. Charles, a gambit character Cobb created that reveals to Fischer that they are in a dream, convincing Fischer that Mr. Charles is their to protect him. This allows Fischer to work with the team and to break into his own subconscious.
Higher Obstacle: In the third dream level, a shootout in the snowy fields surrounding a fortress occurs. This fortress contains the Fischer’s safe, but they have very little time to work with.
Obstacle Solution: Cobb and Eames are able to take down many of the projections. Ariadne reveals there is a shortcut to getting inside the fortress, allowing Fischer and Saito to get into the fortress faster.
* Main Culmination (Plot Point #4)/Sub-Plot Obstacle: Mal appears as a projection of Cobb’s subconscious and shoots Fischer. Cobb shoots Mal, but it’s too late. Cobb says it’s all over – they’ve failed, because with Fischer dead, there is no way to implant the idea there, and then improvise a kick to get out.
Third Act Tension: Hope is not lost. In order to accomplish the job, they must travel down to limbo to save Fischer, and eventually Saito.
Obstacle: Cobb and Ariadne must travel down to limbo to find and rescue Fischer so he can discover what is in the safe.
Obstacle Solution: Mal has Fischer. Cobb agrees to stay with Mal in exchange for / to save Fischer.
* Third Act Twist (Plot Point #5): Cobb explains to Ariadne the truth behind Mal’s death. When they were stuck in limbo, Mal believed it was reality. To convince her otherwise, Cobb performed inception on her -- he broke into her safe, left her top spinning, and planted the idea in her mind that this world (limbo) was not real. Finally convinced, she laid on the train tracks with Cobb, and when they died, the woke up back in their house, but the idea Cobb planted stayed in her mind and came to possess her.
Sub-Plot Resolution: After explaining Mal’s death, Cobb realizes he feels guilt for the truth of performing inception on her. He comes to terms that Mal no longer exists; that she is a shade of his real life.
Raise the Stakes: Saito’s condition worsens. He dies, also falling into limbo.
Obligatory Scene: Fischer is revived and comes to the bedside of his father. He opens the safe to find the alternate will and a pinwheel from his childhood. This provides the catharsis that the job called for.
The Last Obstacle: Finding Saito.
Obstacle Solution: Cobb stays in limbo in search for Saito, to bring him back to reality, so they can be young together once again.
New Status Quo: Cobb’s job is complete. Saito has lived up to his end of the deal. Cobb’s dream of returning to his kids has become a reality.