Inception Beat Sheet
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Running time: 141 minutes
Download the Inception Screenplay (PDF)
Full Beat Sheet
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you can steal an idea from someone’s mind, why can’t you plant one there instead?
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.
If I were to do it. If I could do it... how do I know you can deliver?
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.
23-25 – Seeking a new architect, Cobb meets his mentor, PROFESSOR MILES. Miles suggests Cobb do the job himself.
They won’t actually come on the job, they’ll just design the levels and teach them to the dreamers.
Design them yourself.
Mal won’t let me.
Miles looks at Cobb. Appalled.
Come back to reality, Dom. Please.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
31 – Ariadne plays with the physics of her simulation and turns the city upside-down on itself.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
Must be a cherished memory of his-
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.
Why can’t you go home, Cobb?
Cobb looks at her, deciding what to say.
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.
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).
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.
You think you can just build a prison of memories to lock her in? You think that going to contain her?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Forget it. We go any deeper, we just raise the stakes. I’m sitting it out on this level.
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.
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.
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...
What was it?
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...
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).
84 – END OF ACT THREE TURN: The projections close in on the hideout.
85 – The group escape the warehouse.
86 – DECISION: In the van, the team (minus Yusuf, driving the van) goes to the second level.
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.
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.
Wait, Cobb-I’m lost. Whose subconscious are we going into?
Fischer’s. I told him it was Browning’s so he’d come with us as part of our team.
He’s going to help us break into his own subconscious.
That’s the idea. He’ll think that his security is Browning’s and fight them to learn the truth about his father.
98 – Cobb and Ariadne arrive on the third level — snow-covered mountains with a massive fortified medical facility in the distance.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Can I trust you to do what’s needed? Mal’s down there?
And I can find her. She’ll have Fischer.
How do you know?
She wants me to come after him. She wants me back down there with her.
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.
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...
(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.
The smallest idea, such as... “Your world is not real.”
Cobb hands Ariadne his gun and moves towards 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.
How could you know it was a lie?
Because it was my lie.
Because you planted the idea in my mind.
Because I performed inception on my own wife, then reaped the bitter rewards...
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...
124-125 – Cobb details how he planted the idea…
INSERT CUT: Cobb looks around Mal’s childhood bedroom. Comes to the doll’s house...
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.
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...
That her world was not real.
INSERT CUT: COBB AND MAL ARRIVE AT TRAIN TRACKS CUTTING THROUGH WASTELAND.
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-
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-
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.
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.
You’d continue to believe that your world was not real...
Crying, Mal nods-
That death was the only escape?
INSERT CUT: Mal PLUNGES to her death.
You killed me.
Cobb looks at Mal. Whispers-
I was trying to save you-I’m sorry.
Mal comes in close to Cobb. Looks him over.
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.
127 – Saito dies in the third level. He’s now trapped in Limbo.
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.
I can’t stay here because she’s not real.
Mal looks at Cobb, furious.
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-
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-
A SHOT rings out, Mal GRABS her shoulder- Cobb turns to Ariadne, who is pointing Cobb’s gun.
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).
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...
That this world is not real.
The top IS STILL SPINNING PERFECTLY, AS IF IT WILL NEVER TOPPLE. Saito looks at the top. Then back to Cobb.
You came to convince me to honor our arrangement?
Yes. And to take a leap of faith.
As Saito-san listens to Cobb, he looks at the GUN on the table between them...
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.
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-
141 – THE END.
Learn more about Inception
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Awesome! Thank you so much for the kind words, Mac. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you ever have any questions!
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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.