Screenwriting Workshop with Award Winning Screenwriter Message Board › INCEPTION Part 5: The Hypnotic Structure of Inception
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Just as the real hypnotic script discussed in Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of this series uses a three step structure to hypnotically bring about a change, the structure of the film Inception also takes three steps down, and then three “kicks” back up, to plant the post hypnotic suggestion of breaking up his father’s company in Robert Fischer’s mind.
The film begins in conscious reality, or at least what seems like conscious reality. Robert Fischer is in a plane, and Cobb builds trust with him by returning his “lost” passport, before inducing trance by drugging Robert and entering his dream.
First Step Down: A Secret Safe
Robert finds himself in what he thinks is Los Angeles, where he is taken hostage by Cobb’s crew. Eames impersonates family friend Peter Browning, and convinces Robert that he has been tortured for the combination to Robert’s father’s secret safe– a combination only Robert knows. In the safe is his father’s last gift for Robert, a secret will that splits up the company. Robert’s doubt of his father is so intense that even in a dream he can’t believe Browning’s story. Even on his death bed, Robert’s father only had one word to share with him: “Disappointed”. Ultimately, the numbers need to be extracted at random from Robert’s subconscious before Robert can be put back to sleep for the next step down…
Second Step Down: Browning’s Secret
At the Los Angeles hotel, Robert meets Cobb, who tells him that he is dreaming, and that he is there to protect him. Once again using Eames’ skills of impersonation, they trick Robert into suspecting Browning, who admits that he staged the kidnapping in an effort to prevent Robert from accepting his father’s challenge to break up the company. This experience begins to cast down upon the story Robert has been telling himself about Browning, and about his father, and to shift his trust from one to the other. Desperate to understand, Robert enters what he believes to be Browning’s dream. As Robert is put back to sleep in the hotel room, he finds himself…
Third Step Down: The Father’s Secret
Robert attempts to infiltrate the snow fortress which he believes holds the secrets of Browning’s mind. After Mal’s untimely appearance and a brief misadventure in Limbo, he is rescued by Cobb and Ariadne and returned to the inner chamber of the fortress. Inside, he discovers himself alone with his father, at the sick bed where his father once expressed his devastating feelings about Robert in one painful word: “Disappointed”.
“…because I wasn’t you…” Robert tells his father sadly, sharing the story he’s been telling himself about his father’s words.
“No, his father corrects him… disappointed that you tried.”
And at that moment, everything changes for Robert… and he is ready to open the safe.
The Post Hypnotic Suggestion
From the moment Robert’s story changes, so too does every element of the way his subconscious mind perceives his world. And that’s why, when he opens the safe, what he finds is not just the will, but a symbol of his father’s love: the old pin-wheel from the photo Robert has always carried with him– his last memory of a loving relationship with his father.
And with that pin-wheel comes the healing Robert so desperately needs.
Whether the story is true or not.
Three Steps Back Up In Inception
As you saw in last week’s hypnotic script, in classical hypnosis, at this point a hypnotist would return the client to each level of the dream, allowing to see how the new story they have accepted will forever change those images, and building toward an even more powerful moment of healing, which anchors the larger change the person is seeking.
To some degree, Christopher Nolan does this as well, for example, by allowing the snow fortress (and with it, the secret that was once kept from Robert) to collapse. But for the most part, Nolan reduces the three steps back up process to a series of three “kicks”: Fischer and the team falling with the collapsing snow fortress, Arthur blowing up the weightless elevator in the hotel, and Yusuf crashing the van into the water.
But even though Robert the character doesn’t go through each of the three steps back up– as an audience, we experience the whole journey, witnessing each step down from a new perspective as we race back up toward consciousness…
From a character perspective, this makes a lot of sense. Because ultimately, Robert may not be the only one dreaming…
Just as Inception is built through a “dream within a dream” structure, it may also contain an inception within an inception.
Just as Robert is being incepted to break up his father’s company, so too is Cobb being incepted to “take a leap of faith”. He’s the one we truly care about– in whose transformation we are most deeply invested– and through whose dream architecture we actually experience the story of Inception.
Stay tuned for the next article, in which I’ll be breaking down Cobb’s journey as it relates to hypnosis and Inception: “Is Leonardo DiCaprio Dreaming?”