Inception (2010) Screenplay Analysis

Inception (2010), written by Christopher Nolan, is without a doubt one of the best movies from the 2010 era. Its unique plot is difficult to follow on first viewing on the big screen, and perhaps even trickier when reading the screenplay. Let’s analyze the latter.

Script Formatting Notes

  • Draft Read: Undated
  • Type: Shooting
  • Page Count: 147
  • Reading Speed: Slow
  • Setting(s): Japan, Airplane, Various Dream Worlds, Los Angeles
  • Plot Structure: Nonlinear, Spanning multiple weeks
  • Genre(s): Sci-fi, Action
  • Theme(s): Reality, Consciousness, Greed, Love, Mind Control, Guilt, Morality
  • Protagonist Change: Significant

Overall Thoughts

If concept is king, then Inception is Alexander the Great. The idea is actually somewhat simple: Use people’s dreams to influence their decisions. In other words, mind control. To add conflict, Cobb, the protagonist, must face his dead wife, stuck in a limbo world and desperate to get him to join her. It’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the general idea.

Back to the concept. It’s unique and it’s obvious to see the film’s influence on future films that have multiple worlds, such as Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). The script doesn’t come across as overly polished or have characters that are multi-faceted, but it keeps moving forward by using it’s unique worlds to increase the stakes.

Script Strengths

I’ve already shared the concept, but that’s quite obviously the best aspect of the script.

There are some fantastic scenes during Act 1’s world-building. For example on Pages 30-32, Cobb and Ariadne sit in a Parisian Cafe, only for Ariadne to realize that their meeting is in fact taking place in a dream world. Her reaction to this unexpected and shocking realization comes across as genuine and is a perfect example of great screenwriting.

Likewise, the climax builds through four worlds (and brings them all together) and is bound to have anyone on the edge of their seat.

Script Neutrals

It’s hard to pick out any neutrals in Inception. Either you love the screenplay (or the film) and are willing to look over any weaknesses or you hate it (or don’t understand it), in which case the entire thing is a weakness.

One neutral worth mentioning is that the bad guys, who vary from security guards to passing pedestrians, or simply businessmen, are never really described, essentially like the agents from The Matrix (1999). This may have been a personal choice, or the villains may simply have been made more complex in the final movie (I can’t remember); but there was an opportunity to make more unique supporting villains, instead of just having everyone being a gun-wielding private security officer.

Script Weaknesses

There’s a lot of exposition in Act 1. For example, this back-and-forth on Page 26 is designed to have high conflict, but the dialogue (exposition) feels forced, and somewhat flat:


You think what you’re doing now is helping your case?


Lawyers don’t pay for themselves. This is what I have. This is what you taught me.


I never taught you to be a thief.


No, you taught me how to navigate other people’s minds. But after what happened with Mal there wasn’t a whole lot of legitimate ways for me to use that skill.

There are also some inertly bad lines. For example, when Cobb walks in on Eames at a casino, Cobb’s opening remark is (Page 40):


Rub them (the casino chips) against each other all you like, they’re not going to breed.

It’s also worth noting that the devotion to exploring the various worlds leads to a limited exploration of emotional themes, thereby making the script’s emotional impact somewhat shallow (See the Emotional Impact section below).


The plot isn’t complex. In fact, Mal makes a joke about the invisible corporations pulling Cobb’s strings in Act 3. But obviously, the power is in the various dream worlds, which are such unique elements that overshadow most conventional script qualities (plot, dialogue, etc.).


Cobb is a great protagonist due to his significant depth, a dream expert that is guilt-ridden from the past and wants to save his children, he carries the biggest burden. The supporting cast doesn’t feel all that developed. Arthur is perhaps the most problematic, essentially the assistant to Cobb, he has a lot of lines, but is by and large underutilized.

Dialogue & Pacing

The dialogue, all in all, was forgettable. There were a few powerful lines (example below), but there was little wit, banter or world play that came across as memorable.

On Page 54, when inspecting a dream facility (a place where people go to dream), the attendant, an elderly bald man, chimes in:


Do you still dream, Mr. Cobb?

Cobb STARES at the sleepers. Uneasy.


They come here every day to sleep?



Cobb turns to the Elderly Bald Man, who looks fondly at his dreamers.


They come to be woken up…

This is a classic screenwriting tactic done masterfully: Have the weakest character in the script unexpectedly chime up with the most important line causing a profound realization for the protagonist.

The script is interesting as it spends a significant amount of time building the world, common in Sci-fi films, and then essentially begins the Third Act on page 72, only 49% of the way through the script, when they enter the first class cabin on the plane. And to keep raising the stakes, Saito, the financier, tells Cobb that if they are successful he will take care of Cobb’s immigration problems.

With a relatively long Act 3, Nolan does a strong job of leading the characters down many long twists and turns (following a meandering storyline?) using action, thereby keeping the script’s progress flowing and avoiding dull moments.

Emotional Impact

The most impactful part of the script is the relationship between Cobb and his wife (or his projection of his wife). The decision he has to make is essentially choosing his kids or his wife. That’s of course a big decision, but I never really felt this was an emotionally intense screenplay. It reads more like a thriller, and while the intense moments remind me of North by Northwest (1959) on steroids, I don’t feel the same emotional depth as a much more direct film like Fruitvale Station (2013). That might have something to do with the fact that much of the plot isn’t based in reality and therefore can be twisted (ex. Fischer comes back from death). Also worth noting are the subplots, such as the relationship between Fischer and his father, lack any real sort of complexity.

Best Part of The Script

Ultimately, the entire Third Act, starting with the airplane flight, is exceptional and worth reading. Start on Page 72.