Inception Beat Sheet

Inception Screenplay Cobb

Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Running time: 141 minutes
Year: 2010

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Full Beat Sheet

ACT I

Inception Screenplay Opening Images

2 – OPENING: COBB wakes up on the beach, waves crashing on him. Images of children building sand castles cut off by a Japanese Security Guard standing over Cobb with a machine gun.

3 – An ELDERLY JAPANESE MAN (Saito), feeds Cobb inside an elegant dining room. Seated opposite each other, he holds Cobb’s gun and a spinning top. He asks Cobb if he’s there to kill him.

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Inception Script Cobb

5 – Years earlier. In the same dining room, Cobb attempts to gain the trust of SAITO. Cobb will train Saito’s subconscious to defend itself from the most skilled extractor — i.e., thoughts are vulnerable to theft. Cobb is unable to close the deal.

7 – In the dream world, Cobb confronts MAL, says he can’t trust her anymore.

Inception Screenplay Inciting Incident (internal)

9 – INCITING INCIDENT (internal): Cobb attempts to access Saito’s safe, but Mal sabotages his effort.

12 – In the real world, Cobb’s men give him “the kick” and pull him back into the real world.

13 – The real world is not the real world. Cobb, Arthur, Saito, and NASH (the architect) are on a train.

Inception Screenplay Inciting Incident

14 – INCITING INCIDENT (external): Saito figures out their real world is a dream — the carpet gives it away (Nash, the architect, failed to do his job). A dream within a dream.

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16 – Cobb and crew wake up on a bullet train in Japan. Unable to gain Saito’s secret, they must go their separate ways. They’re now on the run from their employer, Cobol Engineering.

Inception Screenplay SMF

18 – BIG-BEAT (internal): Cobb receives a call from his children. They are upset he’s been gone. Cobb’s son asks where their mother is. Emotional, Cobb says she is gone.

19 – Cobb and Arthur attempt to leave Japan, but Saito intercepts. Nash sold them out.

20 – Saito questions Cobb and Arthur about inception.

SAITO

If you can steal an idea from someone’s mind, why can’t you plant one there instead?

Inception Screenplay Strong Movement Forward

22 – BIG-BEAT (external): Saito offers Cobb a job that will allow him entry to the United States: he wants Cobb break up a competitor’s empire through its new heir. Cobb has no choice but to accept – Saito will give him the info he was hired to steal.

COBB

If I were to do it. If I could do it... how do I know you can deliver?

SAITO

You don’t. But I can. So do you want to take a leap of faith, or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?

22 – MAL’S INCEPTION SETUP: Cobb informs Arthur he’s done an inception before, but won’t reveal who the subject was.

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Inception Screenplay Professor Miles

23-25 – Seeking a new architect, Cobb meets his mentor, PROFESSOR MILES. Miles suggests Cobb do the job himself.

COBB

They won’t actually come on the job, they’ll just design the levels and teach them to the dreamers.

MILES

Design them yourself.

COBB

Mal won’t let me.

Miles looks at Cobb. Appalled.

MILES

Come back to reality, Dom. Please.

COBB

You want to know what’s real, Stephen? Your grandchildren waiting for their dad to come back. This job-this last job-is how I get there.

Inception Screenplay End of Act One Turn

25 – END OF ACT ONE TURN: Professor Miles introduces Cobb to Ariadne for the architect job. Ariadne passes Cobb’s test and designs a maze he can’t solve.

26 – DECISION: Cobb hires Ariadne.

ACT II

27-28 – Cobb explains the job to Ariadne: she must create the world of the dreams they enter. Cobb alerts her they are in a simulation at that moment. The city explodes around them with a spectacle that defies physics.

29 – A massive blasts hits Ariadne and she wakes up from Cobb’s simulation.

INT. WORKSHOP – DAY

Ariadne JOLTS awake.

COBB (O.S.)

Because it’s never just a dream.

Ariadne turns to Cobb’s voice. They are both sitting in the lawn chairs. Arthur watches over them.

COBB

And a face full of glass hurts like hell, doesn’t it? While we’re in it, it’s real.

29 – Ariadne’s instructed to start her own simulation.

Inception Screenplay Ariadne

31 – Ariadne plays with the physics of her simulation and turns the city upside-down on itself.

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Inception Screenplay Eames Africa

37 – Cobb flies to Africa and recruits EAMES, a forger, to change appearances inside the dreams. Eames has attempted to perform inception, but failed. Eames recommends Yusuf as their chemist.

Inception Screenplay First Trial

38 – BIG-BEAT: During the Eames meeting, Cobb discovers Cobol Engineering, his former employer, is tailing him. A chase ensues…

40 – Saito rescues Cobb from Cobol mercenaries.

Inception Screenplay Yusuf

42 – In Africa, Eames introduces Cobb and Saito to YUSUF, a sedative chemist. Cobb wants to go three levels deep within the dreams — Yusuf doesn’t believe it possible.

44 – Yusuf takes them to the back room of his pharmacy. The room is dark with rows of cots, full of people sleeping. With Yusuf’s compound, they can dream for three to four hours, up to forty in their dream world.

EAMES

They come here everyday to sleep?

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

ELDERLY BALD MAN

They come to be woken up... the dream has become their reality...

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45 – Saito gives details of the mission: Robert Fischer, heir to the Fischer/Marrow Energy Conglomerate.

46 – Cobb must put an idea into Robert Fischer’s mind to prevent his company from total energy dominance. Saito’s company is their last competitor and he can no longer compete.

Inception Screenplay Fischer Photograph

47 – MAURICE FISCHER lies on his deathbed, lashing out upon the entry of PETER BROWNING. ROBERT FISCHER rushes to his father and picks up an old photograph, the frame of its glass shattered on the ground.

BROWNING

Must be a cherished memory of his-

FISCHER

I put it by his bed. He hasn’t even noticed.

48 – Plan hatched: Eames will impersonate Browning and suggest concepts to Robert that will complete the job for Saito.

50 – NO DETAILS SETUP: Ariadne attempts to discuss the details of her maze layout with Cobb. He refuses to help because he can’t control Mal and her ability to sabotage the mission. Cobb states his intent on going home.

ARIADNE

Why can’t you go home, Cobb?

Cobb looks at her, deciding what to say.

COBB

They think I killed her.

51 – The team discusses the mission. They will put an idea — I will split up my father’s empire –deep in Robert Fischer’s subconscious.

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56 – Ariadne slips into one of Cobb’s test dreams and discovers he’s been meeting with Mal.

60 – Ariadne sneaks away from Cobb and goes to the bottom of his memories. She finds Mal in a wrecked hotel room (the same room where they would spend their anniversaries).

Inception Screenplay Psycho Mal

61 – Cobb saves Ariadne seconds before Mal attacks.

INT. WORKSHOP – NIGHT

Ariadne watches Cobb sleeping. His eyes gradually flicker open. He sees her watching him.

ARIADNE

You think you can just build a prison of memories to lock her in? You think that going to contain her?

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Inception Screenplay End of Act II Turn

61 – END OF ACT TWO TURN: Before Cobb can answer, they are interrupted by Saito and Arthur with the news of Maurice Fischer’s death.

61 – DECISION: Intercept Robert when he flies his father’s body to Los Angeles.

ACT III

62 – Before they board the plane, Cobb reminds Saito of the stakes…

INT. DEPARTURE GATE SYDNEY – DAY

Saito stands looking out the window at a 747. Cobb arrives beside him. They watch a COFFIN being loaded.

COBB

If I get on this plane and you haven’t take care of things... when we land I go to jail for the rest of my life.

SAITO

Complete the job en route, I make one phone call from the plane... you will have no trouble clearing immigration.

64 – On the plane, Cobb sneaks the sedative into Robert’s drink. Everyone goes under…

66 – The team car-jacks a taxi, kidnapping Robert after they flag him for a ride.

Inception Screenplay Train

66 – A freight train barrels through the city streets, clipping the Cobb and Ariadne’s car.

68 – After the gun fight, they discover Saito’s been shot in the chest.

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Inception Screenplay Midpoint

69 – MIDPOINT: At the hideout, Eames attempts to shoot Saito to end his pain, but Cobb stops him. They are trapped in Fischer’s mind, battling his subconscious’ private army. If they die, they will be lost forever in limbo due to the strength of their sedatives.

71 – Cobb informs the group of a way out — the kick.

COBB

We have a way out. The kick. We just have to push on, do the job as fast as possible and get out using the kick.

EAMES

Forget it. We go any deeper, we just raise the stakes. I’m sitting it out on this level.

COBB

You’ll never make it, Eames. Fischer’s security is surrounding this place as we speak. The ten hour of the flight is a week at this level-you’ll never make it without getting killed. Downwards is the only way forwards. We have to carry on.

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Inception Screenplay Mal Spinning Top

77 – Cobb confesses to Ariadne about being in limbo with Mal for what could have been 50 years. When they came back, Mal believed the real world wasn’t real and that killing herself was the only solution for reality.

COBB

To wake from that. From decades lived. To be old souls thrown back into youth. It was hard. At first Mal seemed okay. But I started to realize something was wrong. Finally she admitted it. This idea she was possessed by. This simple little idea that changed everything...

ARIADNE

What was it?

COBB

That our world was not real. No matter what I did, no matter what I said, she was convinced that we were still in a dream. That we needed to wake up again...

Inception Screenplay Mal's Suicide

81 – Cobb details Mal’s suicide. Mal wrecked the hotel room, sent a letter to their attorney saying she feared for her life and that Cobb threatened to kill her. She claims she did it to free Cobb of the guilt of killing himself (because of their children).

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Inception Screenplay Act III Turn

84 – END OF ACT THREE TURN: The projections close in on the hideout.

85 – The group escape the warehouse.

Inception Screenplay Act III Decision

86 – DECISION: In the van, the team (minus Yusuf, driving the van) goes to the second level.

ACT IV

89 – In the first level, Fischer’s subconscious attacks the moving van holding the team in the second level.

89 – In the hotel (second level dream), they use the “Mr. Charles” setup. Cobb tells Robert that it’s all a dream in order to turn Robert against his own subconscious.

Inception Screenplay Assumption of Power

91 – BIG-BEAT: Cobb tells Robert to accept the fact that they are in a dream and that Cobb is there to protect them. Cobb gains Robert’s trust and follows him out of the hotel bar.

97 – Cobb uses Robert’s projection of Peter to trick Robert into helping the team battle his own subconscious in the third level.

ARIADNE

Wait, Cobb-I’m lost. Whose subconscious are we going into?

COBB

Fischer’s. I told him it was Browning’s so he’d come with us as part of our team.

ARTHUR

(impressed)

He’s going to help us break into his own subconscious.

COBB

That’s the idea. He’ll think that his security is Browning’s and fight them to learn the truth about his father.

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Inception Screenplay Snow Covered Mountains

98 – Cobb and Ariadne arrive on the third level — snow-covered mountains with a massive fortified medical facility in the distance.

Inception Screenplay Arthur

99 – Arthur fights projections in the second level, while Yusuf fights in the first level.

100 – The van rolls, causing gravity to shift on the second level. Arthur narrowly survives his fight.

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Inception Screenplay Yusuf Drives Van Off Bridge

106 – Yusuf drives the van off the bridge and the kick begins in the first level.

111 – Arthur devises a plan, moving the explosives and tying all the third level team together.

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Inception Screenplay End of Act IV Turn

113 – END OF ACT FOUR TURN: Mal shoots Robert. A moment too late, Cobb shoots Mal.

114 – All is lost for Cobb and the team. There isn’t enough time to pull off the job. Ariadne speaks up…

ARIADNE

Down there they’ll be enough time. We’ll find him-soon as you hear Arthur’s music start, you use the defibrillator to revive him-we give him his own early kick from below. Get him there-

(points to doors)

Then, as the music ends you blow the hospital and we all ride the kick back up through the layers.

114 – DECISION: Cobb and Ariadne will go down another level to save Robert from Mal and get the information.

ARIADNE

Can I trust you to do what’s needed? Mal’s down there?

COBB

And I can find her. She’ll have Fischer.

ARIADNE

How do you know?

COBB

She wants me to come after him. She wants me back down there with her.

ACT V

Inception Screenplay Act V

116 – Cobb and Ariadne enter the fourth level — the world that Mal and Cobb created.

121 – Cobb and Ariadne find Mal in the fourth level — at the recreation of their old home in a high-rise apartment building.

COBB

There’s something you have to understand about me. About inception. You see, an idea is like a virus...

Cobb leads her out of the lift...

INT. PENTHOUSE (LIMBO) – CONTINUOUS

Cobb and Ariadne step off the lift and into the incongruous interior of a craftsman house. They cautiously move down the corridor towards the back of the house...

COBB

Resilient...

(turns to Ariadne)

Highly contagious, and an idea can grow. The smallest seed of an idea can grow to define or destroy your world...

Cobb is staring into the kitchen. Mal is sitting at the table, back to them, staring out at the porch- the TOWERS of Limbo stretching off behind it.

MAL

The smallest idea, such as... “Your world is not real.”

Cobb hands Ariadne his gun and moves towards Mal.

MAL

A simple little thought that changes everything...

121 – Mal attempts to talk Cobb into believing the fourth level reality.

123 – BIG-BEAT: Cobb admits his guilt to Mal: that the idea that made her kill herself came from him.

MAL

How could you know it was a lie?

COBB

Because it was my lie.

MAL

(realizing)

Because you planted the idea in my mind.

COBB

Because I performed inception on my own wife, then reaped the bitter rewards...

ARIADNE

Why?

COBB

We’d become lost in here. Living in a world of infinite possibilities. A world where we were gods. I realized we needed to escape, but she’d locked away her knowledge of the unreality of this world...

Inception Screenplay Mal Train

124-125 – Cobb details how he planted the idea…

INSERT CUT: Cobb looks around Mal’s childhood bedroom. Comes to the doll’s house...

COBB

I broke into the deepest recess of her mind, to give her the simplest little idea.

INSERT CUT: Cobb throws open the safe doors. Sitting on the shelf of the safe is a spinning top. On its side.

COBB

A truth that she had once known, but had chosen to forget...

INSERT CUT: Cobb picks up the totem. He SPINS it in the safe. IT SPINS AND SPINS WITHOUT END. Cobb CLOSES THE DOOR of the safe...

COBB

That her world was not real.

INSERT CUT: COBB AND MAL ARRIVE AT TRAIN TRACKS CUTTING THROUGH WASTELAND.

COBB (V.O.)

That death was a necessary escape.

They lie on the tracks looking into each other’s eyes. Mal is crying. Cobb takes her hand, reassuring. He starts to speak-

COBB

You’re waiting for a train. A train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can’t know for sure. Yet it doesn’t matter...

Mal looks at him across the railroad tracks. Replies-

MAL

Because you’ll be together.

The train comes, OBLITERATING the lovers.

126 – When Mal came back to reality, she still did not believe her world was real.

Back in the present- Cobb looks into Mal’s eyes. She is crying.

COBB

I never thought that the idea I’d planted would grow in her mind like a cancer. That even after we woke...

INSERT CUT: Cobb looks around the HOTEL SUITE, confused. He moves to the CURTAINS... Mal is on the ledge opposite.

COBB

You’d continue to believe that your world was not real...

Crying, Mal nods-

MAL

That death was the only escape?

INSERT CUT: Mal PLUNGES to her death.

MAL

You killed me.

Cobb looks at Mal. Whispers-

COBB

I was trying to save you-I’m sorry.

Mal comes in close to Cobb. Looks him over.

MAL

You infected my mind. You betrayed me. But you can make amends. You can still keep your promise. We can still be together... right here. In our world. The world we built together.

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127 – Saito dies in the third level. He’s now trapped in Limbo.

Inception Screenplay Climax (internal)

128 – CLIMAX (internal): Mal makes a deal with Cobb — she will give up Robert if he stays with her in the fourth level, but Cobb finally admits that she isn’t real. Ariadne gives Robert Fischer his kick to the third level.

129 – Angry, Mal stabs Cobb. Defending Cobb, Ariadne shoots Mal.

COBB

I can’t stay here because she’s not real.

Mal looks at Cobb, furious.

MAL

Not real? I’m the only thing you do believe in anymore. Here-doesn’t this feel real, Dom?

She STABS him in the chest- Cobb WHEEZES- GASPING, looking at Mal-

COBB

I wish you were. But I couldn’t make you real. I’m not capable of imagining you in all your complexity and... perfection. As you really were. You’re the best I can do. And you’re not real.

Mal pulls the knife and moves to STRIKE again-

ARIADNE

No!

A SHOT rings out, Mal GRABS her shoulder- Cobb turns to Ariadne, who is pointing Cobb’s gun.

Inception Screenplay Robert & Maurice Fischer

131 – Robert enters the vault and discovers his dying father, Maurice. His father tells him that was never disappointed in him. Before the father dies, he points to the safe and Robert opens to find the will and the pinwheel from his childhood picture.

Robert believes his father wanted him to be his own man.

137 – Cobb washes up on the beach and is pulled into Saito’s fortress. He sits across from Saito (now an old man) at the table and Saito recognizes Cobb. Cobb grabs his gun (symbolically pulling both men back to reality, so they can be young men together).

COBB

I came back for you...I came to remind you of what you once knew...

Cobb gestures at the table. Saito follows his gaze down to the polished surface of the table...

COBB

That this world is not real.

CUT TO:

The top IS STILL SPINNING PERFECTLY, AS IF IT WILL NEVER TOPPLE. Saito looks at the top. Then back to Cobb.

SAITO

You came to convince me to honor our arrangement?

COBB

Yes. And to take a leap of faith.

As Saito-san listens to Cobb, he looks at the GUN on the table between them...

COBB?

Come back and we’ll be young men together again.

The elderly Saito looks at Cobb. Nods.

138 – The entire team wakes up on the plane. Everyone is okay.

139 – Saito honors his agreement. Cobb is allowed entry into the United States.

Inception Screenplay Climax

141 – CLIMAX (external): Cobb is brought to his old home and immediately spins the top. He walks away from it the moment he sees his children. He embraces his children and the top begins to wobble.

INT. KITCHEN, COBB AND MAL’S HOUSE – DAY

Cobb enters with Miles. Drops his bags. Moves to the table, looking out at the overgrown garden. He reaches into his pocket, takes out his pewter spinning top, lowers it to the table and SPINS IT- a CHILD’S SHOUT makes him look up-

Through the window, James and Philippa have run into view, playing, THEIR FACES TURNED AWAY... Cobb STARES at the back of his children’s heads... Miles moves to the window and KNOCKS on the glass-

James and Philippa TURN- see their Dad. He steps to the window, watching their BRIGHT FACES SHINING as they run towards him...

Behind him, on the table, the spinning top is STILL SPINNING. And we-

FADE OUT.

Inception Screenplay The End

141 – THE END.

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Comments

  1. Mac says

    I really have to congratulate you guys on doing such a superb job of breaking down one of the most intricately designed films of all time. The clarity and precision with which you’ve laid out the beats of Nolans’ masterpiece is as breathtaking as the film! This is my new favorite site and blog; a beginner screenwriter’s dream! Bravo!

  2. James St. says

    Thanks for this great job. In fact, you’ve really opened my eyes to a new world of script writting. This is outstanding of many sites I’ve ever visited. My dream is to be a world renown script writer. I believe to be mentored and this is my greatest request from you.

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words, James. The best advice I can give is to read scripts and analyze films. As you watch a movie you’re breaking down, simply write down what happens on screen. Then break it down into sequences, followed by act breaks, beats, setups/payoffs, etc.

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