Study Guide

Inception

Inception Introduction


Release Year: 2010

Genre: Action, Mystery, Sci-Fi

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Christopher Nolan

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page


Quick, before it's too late: find the closest small object and memorize its weight and feel. 

How else will you know if you're dreaming?

In Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, a dude named Cobb invades people's dreams through a sci-fi dream sharing device and extracts valuable information. Soon enough, Cobb (who's s estranged from his kids) is asked by a businessman named Saito to take on his biggest job yet: instead of stealing information, he's going to implant it. 

Incept it, if you will.

Sounds confusing? It is. Inception is so massively complicated that people have taken to creating infographics just to figure out what exactly is going down in Nolan's dreamverse.

By the time of the movie's 2010 release, Christopher Nolan had earned a large budget—$160 million and an additional $100 million spent on advertising—and the movie definitely returned the investment, grossing over $800 million worldwide. It also won four Oscars for cinematography, visual effects, sound editing, and sound mixing.

Yeah, never before had audiences cared so much about sound mixing.

Of course, what everyone remembers is that ending. 

No spoilers here, but let's just say that the borders between dreams and reality are pretty blurry by the time the credits roll.

What is Inception About and Why Should I Care?

We're going to break it down for you, Inception-style.

Layer #1: Cultural Knowledge

Kick: Everyone Else

When a movie spawns its own suffix, you know it's important. Although not quite as popular now as it was in the years following the release of Inception, the suffix –ception is added to the end of words when multiple layers are at play. Yes, we know, the term "inception" in the movie has nothing to do with layers, but that doesn't stop people from using it that way.

Layer #2: Versions of Reality

Kick: Knowing If You're Awake

Sure, this movie has all the flashiness of a big Hollywood blockbuster (because it's a big Hollywood blockbuster) but don't dismiss this movie's credence as a work of art simply because it appeals to the masses.

Inception can change the way you think of reality by positing that dreams can be just as real as "real life." Whoa, dude. If you don't know that an experience isn't "real," then it's really no different from "real" experiences.

Again: whoa, dude.

Layer #3: Emotional Journey

Kick: Don't Be An Old Man, Waiting To Die Alone

Inception goes even deeper than an intellectual, fancy-pants discussion of reality. It delves deep into our emotional core—make sure you have popcorn and Kleenex. We witness two characters go along the difficult path toward healing and reconciliation.

Sure, the crazy dream stuff is what people will remember (because it's awesome) but when you step back and look at the movie as a whole you'll realize how important the character-driven center of its story is.

Yes. This movie will make you understand what a "fishception" is (a fish within a fish within a fish), will blow your mind (and make you walk around wondering "Is this even real?") and probably also melt your heart (we bet you'll call your sweetie, or at least your mom, after watching this).

Trivia

Marion Cotillard played the role of Edith Piaf in the 2007 biopic La Vie en Rose. The ever important song No, Je Ne Regrette Rien (sung by Edith Piaf) was almost cut from Inception by Nolan to avoid the unintentional casting coincidence, but Hans Zimmer convinced him to keep it. (Source)

Ariadne's final maze solution is circular, just like the classic depiction of Minos' Labyrinth (check out our "Names" in the Characterization Section for more info). (Source)

If you listen closely to James in the last scene, he tells his father that they are "building a house on a cliff." While Nolan says not to read too much into the improvisation of child actors, it's hard not to wonder at the significance of this line in relation to Limbo and the architecture motif as a whole. What do you think? (Source)

The Nolans' production company, Syncopy, has a very similar, maze-like logo to Inception. In fact, Syncopy comes from "syncope" which can mean "a brief loss of consciousness." This is apt not only for Inception but for many of Nolan's movies. (Source)

Inception Resources

Websites

Scroll-ception
Ever find yourself sinking in a sea of Inception explanations that only make the plot more confusing? Do we have the site for you. Head on over to the most helpful visualization of Inception's plot and give your brain a rest.

Sound-ception
Does your life ever feel a little too dull? This easy-to-use site can enhance whatever you're experiencing with some new intense noise making technology. Go ahead; give it a click.

Book or TV Adaptations

Comic-ception
Before you watch Inception for the twenty-third time because you just can't get enough, check out this comic "The Cobol Job." It's a prequel to the movie and the first of more to come. Here's a trailer, but you can read the comic for free online.

Articles and Interviews

Dream-ception
Was Inception too simple for you? Too easy to understand? Here's something that will really rack your brain. An article on the movie that incorporates an architectural anthropological perspective as it investigates the meaning behind dream sharing and the construction of spaces within the movie and the movie as a whole. Phew!

Video

Mom-ception
This is just funny.

Spoof-ception
Ever wonder how the Fischer dream sequence would have gone down if everyone dreamed a little more…normally? Look no further than the HISHE for Inception.

Backstage-ception
There are a lot of good behind the scenes videos of Inception but this is one of our favorites. Maybe you heard us mention the spinning hallway earlier; well here it is in all its glory. Go have a look. We hope you had a light lunch.

Level-ception
Here's another wonderful infographic to help you sort out all that dream level craziness. It also includes all the kicks so that you know how everything fits together.

Fischer-ception
Here's just a cool representation of the Fischer job taking place inside a profile of Fischer's head. It's pretty neat.