Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 9 | Words: 2427
Reading Time: 11 Minutes

A motif is an element that keeps on recurring in a story. It happens again and again not for the sake of happening but to bring out a certain theme or symbolic representation. In a movie, motifs can be created through language use, structural aspects or even imagery. Moreover, use of motifs brings out different conceptual inclinations especially in a movie or film. Use of motifs is well seen in the 2010 movie, Inception. The movie can be classified as a scientific fiction and action whose genre is also well manifested through motifs. In this movie, Christopher Nolan uses various motifs such as dreams, reality and self interest to bring out the wider theme of how the real world can influence the subconscious state.

This essay seeks to show how the above motifs are independently or simultaneously used to develop the wider fictitious theme. To effectively do so, the essay begins by summarizing the main subject of the movie followed by the genre of the movie. It will be demonstrated that other than the normal effect of dreams on reality, the latter is imposed on the former to either steal or implant ideas from other people’s subconscious. The essay will show how the movie presents an intersection of genres such as noir, heist and science fiction. Thereafter, the essay focuses on how exactly the movie makes use of the three motifs to develop the wider theme.

Summary of the Movie

Inception is based on a fictional way of stealing ideas from other people’s subconscious when they were asleep and dreaming. The thief, Dominick Cobb, has partnered with Arthur so as to infiltrate the minds of their competitors in business. They do so by using military-developed equipment that would only work with totems that are controlled by the owners in the dreams. Moreover, as the movie progresses, the concept changed from stealing of ideas to implantation of ideas. Through this latter approach, the protagonists would strive to fix ideas into, for instance, the son of their competitor, so that through him, the father’s company could be destroyed for their own benefit. In the movie, Cobb and Arthur’s plans were revealed to Saito by Lukas Haas. Having made this revelation, Saito plans to deal with his competitor, Maurice Fischer, by planting an idea into his son’s subconscious. By so doing, the son would lead to the downfall of the company. Saito hires Cobb to do the job promises to protect Cobb as well as clear his charges since he, Saito, was an influential businessman. Cobb sets up a team consisting of Arthur, Eames and Ariadne. The latter’s role was to design the dream landscapes while the former was to forge identities. The team was also made up of a chemist called Yusuf, who ha training in Chemistry and would help the team to perform sedative functions of dreams.

The better part of the movie focuses on an opportunity given to the earlier thief of ideas to redeem his life by implant false ideas on Robert Fischer. In one of the flights, Cobb and team abducts Fischer into the dream world with an aim of making him get ideas on how to change some aspects of the business ownership. As a result, Eames takes the body of Fischer’s godfather, Peter Browning, so that Fischer would easily believe the change of will. Although the initial stages were successful, at some point, Yusuf initiated “˜kicks’ sooner than planned. Since the kicks were a way of “˜bringing back to reality’ the abducted subconscious, things began to go wrong. As a result, the team began to experience problems. Some of them, such as Cobb and Saito, found themselves where one could stay for very long time because there were no kicks. Immediately, they remembered their plan and killed themselves in order to rise in real world. They come back to real life through an airplane and landed in the U.S. Although Cobb sought to test reality using the “˜spinning top’, he was not able to see the results since he was greeting his family. The movie ends abruptly without confirming the reality.

Genre of the Movie

The movie exhibits several genres such as scientific fiction, a noir and heist film. The movie also exhibits a lot of action. In order to demystify the intersection between these genres, several examples are drawn. The movie could be referred to as a noir mainly because of the main antagonist, Cobb’s late wife, Mal Cobb. This is because she perpetually continues to be Cobb’s main challenger of his extraction or stealing abilities. Although they had been married, it appears that Cobb had not fully known his wife, as least from the mental perspective. The film qualifies to be a noir because Cobb was neurotic or fearful of the extent of his late wife’s obstruction, especially in the dreamscapes. Further, this sub-genre has been made possible by the malevolent and frequent appearance of Mal in Cobb’s dreams. The Director of the movie refers to Mal’s appearance as “˜the essence of the female fatale’ (Botz-Bonstein 98). The movie also qualifies to be a science fiction because of the use of scientific techniques and equipment to fathom the abstract world.

The idea of thinking about the possibility of influencing dreams or stealing ideas in dreams is absolutely fictitious. As has already been mentioned, the movie could also belong to a heist film. This is because the exposition stage through rising action involves a leader explaining what needs to be done by the rest. This continues up to the stage where van begins to fall off from the bridge. In other words, the film qualifies to be a heist because there is more exposition emphasis on exposition than characterization. The roles of each character are clearly defined from the beginning because they have quite different skills which none could do for the other. Therefore, a lot of explanation is required. Moreover, characters could help each other in doing their roles. For instance, Ariadne is seen creating a maze, explaining it to others and helping Cobb navigate his own subconscious. The aspects of science fiction, heist and noir are cemented together by quite elaborate action on the part of the characters.

Use of Motifs to Develop the Theme

Inception is presented in layers. This could be viewed in two respects. The first one is the fact that each of the motifs could be referred to as a layer. In the second view, each motif could have several layers. For instance, the main dream or collection of dreams in the movie is structured in layers. In the dream, there are at least three layers of the dream. In order to effectively understand the role of motifs, there is an imperative need to understand the main theme of the movie which the movie presents. In addition to this, it will be demonstrated that the theme could only come out clearly under the genre of fiction.


Several motifs keep on recurring in a bid to develop the theme. In Inception, dreams play a very important role in developing the subject matter. In fact, they are the main nucleus on which action revolves. Throughout the entire movie, dreams keep on recurring as part of smaller units which make the whole. According to Johnson (46), this is well exemplified by the team’s engagement in subconscious exploration and deceit of Fischer into changing the will for the benefit of Saito as well as the team to some extent. Although there are many instances of dreams and dream manipulation, the most significant one is that which Robert Fischer is abducted on their way from Sydney to the U.S. The intent of the abduction of his subconscious was to make him to accept the alleged or feigned change of will by his godfather. This was to be done by taking him several layers down the subconscious lane and feigning the identity of Peter Browning so that Fischer would believe the message. Dreaming also recurs at the second layer in which Yusuf drives the team with Fischer. They were sedated into Arthur’s dream, a hotel where Fischer was to be convinced that his kidnapping was planned by his godfather. The dream recurs again at the third layer in which Fischer and others are sedated into Eame’s dream. Here, Fischer is convinced that he is in Browning’s subconscious. However, Yusuf drives off the bridge too quickly which led to Arthur initiating a counter kick through the elevator while Eame’s team terminated their activities prematurely.

Perhaps the deepest layer of the dream is the Limbo situation. Although the concept of Limbo does not recur much, it could be considered as part of a motif if it is presented as an intense level of a dream. In this level, the movie presents characters as requiring assistance or kicks in order to come out of it. From the action, Limbo is presented as a dream that happens in an abstract space without content. Since there is no content on physical space, one could be trapped indefinitely. Perhaps this is one of the connections between dreams and the other motif; reality. In other words, it appears that dreams are only a representation of reality. And this reality is represented by physical space and content.

The concept of a dream recurring in the movie is mainly represented in the reverse way. Instead of dreams influencing the reality, it is reality that influences dreams. However, this reality is not natural but artificial. In other words, dreams keep on recurring in the movie because they are created. Ideas on what should be achieved are designed, created and “˜put into’ the subconscious of the targets. Below, it will be demonstrated that the sub-theme of self-interest was the main driver of creation of dreams. However, it should be remembered that this was a transformation in approach. By this is meant that initially, Cobb used to steal ideas from people’s subconscious. However, after losing everything that he had, he was given the last chance in which he was to work for Saito. The main objective that he was to achieve was to put an idea in Robert Fischer so that the business ownership would benefit Saito. Moreover, dreams occupy the better part of the movie partly because of the genre choice as well as the subject matter. Although there are other psychological domains such as imagination, reasoning and memorization, dreams have a deeper entry into the subconscious world. In this regard, fiction was seen as the best genre to present these abstract concepts. Ultimately, it contributed to the development of the theme that entails the interaction of the real and unknown worlds.


The other theme that keeps on recurring throughout the movie is interaction with the reality. In his movie, Nolan sought to explore the possibility of two people sharing the same dream space. His theory is that if people can share the same dream space, one is able to know the contents of the other’s subconscious mind. Through this abstraction, the director brings out a reality issue; that people would perhaps abuse this component of knowledge. For instance, they would “˜steal’ ideas from other people’s minds. This was the mission of Cobb at the beginning of the movie. However, when the motif recurred, the approach had been changed. Instead of “˜stealing’ of ideas, the film director explored the possibility of creating a dream world, what could be referred to as “˜dreamscape’, for the target person, then introducing the required manipulator, who is usually feigned, to deceive the target. Although Nolan’s though may have been very abstract, perhaps he tried to propose the possibility of discovery of a technology that could enable sharing of dreamscapes. The reality is that at the moment, such technology does not exist. As earlier proposed, existence of such technology would lead to massive abuse by people as seen in the mission of Cobb.

Towards the end of the film, Cobb was advised that he should be “˜his own man’. The reality was that he was spending a lot of time working for other people but not improving his condition. In this process, he lost his wife into limbo. Perhaps the movie is passing across the lesson that the best way to live is by facing the challenges of this life as opposed to escaping the problems through suicide, the way his wife did. Moreover, recurrence of this motif is well understood by comparing and contrasting the exposition with the end. The reality was that there was a problem at the beginning. At the end, the protagonist remains unchanged in his belief but hurt in terms of losing the wife.

Self Interest

Lastly, self interest is a key shaper of the movie’s direction and rising action. This sub-theme recurs severally throughout the movie. For instance, Saito engages Cobb and team in a contract to carry out an operation that would lead to his personal success in business. Perhaps this would not have been well pronounced if Cobb did not have his personal interests. One of the major motivations was the fact that Saito would use his influence to waive Cobb’s legal issues facing him. As a result, he organized a team of scientists who would design and execute the master plan thus rolling out the entire action. Self interest is also evident in the Limbo from where it becomes apparent that Cobb’s wife committed suicide in order that she may enter the real world. It was merely self interest to separate herself from the rest in order to personally live a real world. The same aspect also characterized her husband who led her to believe so.

In the pursuit of the dream sharing, each individual seeks to kill himself in order to return to the real world. This means that although the scientists worked as a team, they were also concerned about their own real lives. They did not want to remain in the limbo because they would be held up indefinitely. Lastly, it appeared that Cobb’s actual interest was his family but not the testing of reality from the subconscious. This recurs at the end of the film when the aircraft lands in Los Angeles. Instead of knowing the results of his spinning up, Cobb rushes to greet his children first.


This essay was geared towards demystifying the use of motifs in Inception. They were considered to be elements that recur throughout the movie in order to develop the wider theme. These motifs were dreams, reality and self interest. In the final analysis, Nolan uses these motifs in a structured and symbolic way to develop the theme of the interaction of the subconscious and the reality.

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