Unlocking the Narrative Secrets of ‘Inception Case Study

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Assignment Question

In writing your paper, make reference to relevant concepts from the Narrative lecture: What sort of Dramatic Structure does the film use? How does this structure deviate from Aristotle’s Rules for Dramatic Structure and why? (How do these deviations contribute to the film’s content?) What is the relationship between the film’s Plot and its Story? Why does the film reveal information in the way (and in the order) that it did? What is the film’s Range of Story Information — is it Objective or Subjective? Does it follow many characters or limit itself to one? Do we tend to know more or less than the main characters? What are the film’s literal or obvious subjects and how does it develop these into complex ideas (or “themes”)? Does the film’s title convey important meaning? Don’t just address these questions as a checklist — use them to develop a sense of the film’s overall approach to Narrative so that you can develop your own thoughtful argument about how the film is telling its story and WHY the film is doing so in this manner. Ultimately, the fundamental question to be answered in this assignment is simply “Why was the story told in the way it was told?” How do the choices the filmmakers made in constructing their narrative affect the film’s meaning? What sorts of general story-telling systems (or “rules”) does the film seem to follow — and does it ever break these? One of the citations needs to be the textbook Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction (Eleventh Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2016.



Narrative structure is a fundamental aspect of filmmaking that significantly influences how a story is conveyed to the audience. In this essay, we will explore the intricate narrative structure of Christopher Nolan’s 2010 masterpiece, “Inception,” and how it deviates from Aristotle’s traditional rules for dramatic structure. By analyzing the film’s dramatic structure, the relationship between its plot and story, the revelation of information, the range of story information, and its thematic elements, we aim to unravel why the film’s narrative was constructed in this unique manner.

Dramatic Structure and Deviation from Aristotle’s Rules

“Inception” employs a non-linear narrative structure that deviates from Aristotle’s classical dramatic structure, which typically consists of an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution (Bordwell & Thompson, 2016). Instead, “Inception” weaves multiple layers of reality and dreams into its storyline, creating a complex and immersive narrative. This deviation serves to engage the audience in deciphering the different levels of reality, adding depth to the storytelling.

The Relationship between Plot and Story

The film’s narrative structure blurs the lines between plot and story. The plot primarily follows Dom Cobb, a professional thief who enters people’s dreams to steal their secrets. However, the story delves deeper into Cobb’s personal struggles and the loss of his wife, Mal, exploring themes of guilt and redemption. This divergence between plot and story allows the film to offer a multi-dimensional narrative experience, immersing the audience in both action-packed heists and profound emotional journeys.

Revelation of Information and Narrative Order

“Inception” reveals information in a deliberately fragmented and non-chronological manner. This choice keeps the audience engaged as they piece together the intricate puzzle of the narrative. The film strategically withholds and releases information to create suspense and maintain the audience’s intrigue. This deviation from a linear narrative approach contributes to the film’s unique storytelling by challenging viewers to actively participate in deciphering the plot’s complexities.

Range of Story Information and Subjectivity

The film’s range of story information is primarily subjective, as it centers on Dom Cobb’s perspective and experiences. Although the film explores the dreams of other characters, the audience is intimately connected with Cobb, often knowing more than the other characters. This subjective viewpoint enhances the audience’s empathy for Cobb’s character and allows for a deeper exploration of his inner struggles.

Development of Literal Subjects into Complex Themes

While “Inception” incorporates literal subjects such as dreams, extraction, and inception, it transcends these concepts into complex themes. The film delves into the subconscious mind, exploring themes of reality versus illusion, the power of memory, and the consequences of guilt and obsession. These thematic elements elevate the narrative from a simple heist story to a profound exploration of the human psyche and the nature of reality.

The Significance of the Film’s Title

The film’s title, “Inception,” carries significant meaning within the narrative. Inception refers to the act of planting an idea into someone’s subconscious mind, a central plot element. Beyond its literal meaning, the title symbolizes the film’s exploration of the power of ideas and the manipulation of perception, reinforcing the thematic depth of the narrative.

The Choices of Narrative Structure

The narrative structure of “Inception” is a deliberate choice made by director Christopher Nolan to achieve specific storytelling goals. The film’s non-linear structure not only engages the audience intellectually but also serves as a metaphor for the dream world it explores. Dreams themselves are often nonlinear, fragmented experiences, and by mirroring this in the film’s structure, Nolan allows viewers to enter the dreamscapes more fully. This choice aligns with the film’s central theme of navigating the boundaries between dreams and reality.

Additionally, the film’s structure enables a certain level of ambiguity, encouraging audiences to interpret the narrative in their own way. This open-endedness is a hallmark of modern cinema, where filmmakers often trust the audience’s intelligence to piece together the story’s intricacies. In “Inception,” the audience is left to ponder the film’s final scene, adding to its enduring appeal and fostering discussions about its interpretation.

Breaking and Following Narrative Rules

While “Inception” deviates from Aristotle’s traditional dramatic structure, it still adheres to certain fundamental principles of storytelling. The film maintains clear character arcs, providing emotional depth to the characters and allowing the audience to connect with their motivations and struggles. Cobb’s journey, in particular, follows a classic hero’s arc, complete with a call to adventure, challenges, and personal growth.

Furthermore, “Inception” respects the principles of cause and effect, as events within the dream world have consequences in the waking world. This adherence to causality creates a sense of coherence within the narrative, ensuring that the audience can follow the story’s logic even as it unfolds in a non-linear fashion.

The Impact of Narrative Choices on Audience Engagement

The narrative choices made in “Inception” are not arbitrary; they are a deliberate and integral part of the film’s storytelling strategy (Bordwell & Thompson, 2016). Through its non-linear structure, subjective perspective, and strategic revelation of information, the film crafts a unique cinematic experience that challenges conventional storytelling norms. It encourages active audience engagement, emotional connection with the characters, and intellectual exploration of complex themes.

The non-linear narrative structure of “Inception” is particularly noteworthy in the context of classical dramatic structure, as outlined by Aristotle (Bordwell & Thompson, 2016). Aristotle’s principles typically revolve around the idea of a linear narrative structure with distinct phases such as exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. However, “Inception” deviates from this traditional structure by weaving multiple layers of reality and dreams into its storyline, creating a complex and immersive narrative that defies conventional expectations (Bordwell & Thompson, 2016).

Furthermore, the film’s subjective perspective, primarily centered on Dom Cobb’s experiences and emotions, aligns with contemporary trends in storytelling, where the audience is often drawn into the narrative through a strong connection with the central character (Bordwell & Thompson, 2016). We share in Cobb’s guilt, his longing for redemption, and his pursuit of the elusive idea of home, fostering an emotional resonance that draws us into the narrative on a deeply personal level (Bordwell & Thompson, 2016).

The deliberate revelation of information in a fragmented manner in “Inception” is another technique explored in the film, echoing modern storytelling preferences (Bordwell & Thompson, 2016). By strategically disclosing crucial details at precise moments, the film maintains tension and suspense, ensuring that viewers remain engrossed in the unfolding narrative (Bordwell & Thompson, 2016).

The Range of Story Information and Its Impact

“Inception” achieves a delicate balance between subjectivity and objectivity in its presentation of story information (Bordwell & Thompson, 2016). The film primarily offers a subjective viewpoint by immersing the audience in Dom Cobb’s experiences and emotions. As Bordwell and Thompson note, this approach aligns with the contemporary trend of engaging the audience through a strong connection with the central character (2016).

However, the film also provides glimpses into the dreams and inner thoughts of other characters, offering additional perspectives and enriching the narrative. This dual perspective enhances the depth of supporting characters, making them more than mere plot devices (Bordwell & Thompson, 2016). These characters become essential elements of the narrative, contributing to its thematic development and emotional resonance.

Moreover, the deliberate manipulation of knowledge in “Inception” serves to intensify the suspense and psychological tension within the film. As the audience knows more than many of the characters, especially when it comes to Cobb’s secrets and inner turmoil, we become active participants in the unfolding drama (Bordwell & Thompson, 2016).


“Inception” offers a masterclass in unconventional narrative structure, challenging Aristotle’s rules for dramatic storytelling. By deviating from traditional narrative norms, the film immerses the audience in a complex and emotionally resonant narrative. The filmmakers’ choices in constructing this unique narrative significantly affect the film’s meaning, transforming it into a thought-provoking exploration of the human mind and the nature of reality. “Inception” stands as a testament to the art of storytelling in modern cinema, pushing the boundaries of narrative structure while captivating audiences with its intricate web of dreams and reality.


Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. (2016). Film Art: An Introduction (Eleventh Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill.

FAQs: Exploring the Narrative Structure of “Inception”

1. What is the significance of the non-linear narrative structure in “Inception”?

The non-linear narrative structure of “Inception” deviates from traditional storytelling conventions by weaving multiple layers of reality and dreams into the storyline. It challenges viewers to engage intellectually with the narrative, making them active participants in deciphering the complexities of the plot.

2. How does “Inception” deviate from Aristotle’s rules for dramatic structure?

Aristotle’s classical dramatic structure follows a linear progression of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. “Inception” deviates from this tradition by presenting a complex, non-linear narrative that defies conventional expectations.

3. How does the film balance subjectivity and objectivity in its narrative presentation?

“Inception” primarily offers a subjective viewpoint by immersing the audience in Dom Cobb’s experiences and emotions. However, it also provides glimpses into the dreams and inner thoughts of other characters, adding depth to the narrative and enhancing our understanding of the supporting cast.

4. How does the film manipulate the revelation of information to maintain audience engagement?

“Inception” strategically reveals crucial details in a fragmented manner to sustain tension and suspense. This approach aligns with modern storytelling preferences, where audiences appreciate narratives that respect their intelligence and patience.

5. What thematic elements are explored through the narrative choices in “Inception”?

The film delves into themes such as the nature of reality, the power of dreams, the consequences of guilt, and the depths of the human psyche. These themes are elevated through the film’s innovative narrative structure and storytelling choices.

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