Freud’s Theories Applied in Inception

1 January 2017

In every great piece of art there is usually an inspiration of some sort that gave the artist influence on their production. In contemporary society, we often see modern artists use influences from past theories, ideas, designs, etc. Inception, the 2010 sci-fi action film, is a movie about illegal spying by entering the minds of certain individuals by sharing dreams. Dom Cobb and his partner, Arthur, use this tactic to extract or plant desired information from or into their unconscious. Mr.

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Saito, an exceedingly wealthy business owner, asks Cobb and Arthur to perform “Inception” (imbedding an idea inside a person’s mind without them recognizing) on his only remaining business competitor, Maurice Fischer. Saito wants Cobb to implant the idea of breaking up his father’s empire into Fischer’s mind, so that Saito will have complete domination in his business domain. Christopher Nolan, director of Inception, uses Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis to help originate this movie.

Although at times the concepts are a little farfetched, Freud’s theories of defense mechanisms as well as his concept of dreams are both applied in this film. The term psychoanalysis is used to discuss to the numerous parts of Freud’s work and studies. Freud believed the mind is divided into two main parts, the conscious and unconscious mind. “The Unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict.

According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences” (Cherry, 1). This part of the mind is primarily what the movie Inception deals with throughout the entire film. It is Cobb and Arthur’s job to instill this idea of breaking up his father’s empire into Fischer’s unconscious, so that he takes that thought and brings it to his conscious.

By going into his dreams, Cobb as well as the rest of his team, can access Fischer’s true thoughts, feelings, fears, desires, etc. The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind”(Freud). Freud believed that there were two functions of the dream; wish fulfillment and to protect the dreamer’s sleep from disruptions in the sleep environment. Regarding wish fulfillment, “the dream images represent the unconscious wishes or thoughts disguised through symbolization and other distorting mechanisms” (Doyle, 1). When observing Inception, it is obvious that it deals greatly with this theory. Dreams not only represent wishes, but they demonstrate one’s inner anxieties and fears as well.

When Cobb dreams, he usually sees his wife, mal, who causes him severe fretfulness and other reoccurring problems. She has a tendency to come into the dreams at the very worst times, causing him to lose sight on his overall goal of entering the dream. However, Mal is just a projection of his own unconscious, as she committed suicide years before. Cobb feels extremely guilty for her suicide because he feels as though it is his fault she lost track of what was reality. In addition to Mal, Cobb also perceives projections of his children.

It is obvious that Cobb feels remorseful for his actions of leaving his children behind. Not only is he filled with guilt, but he wishes greatly that he could be with his family once again. Through these symbolizations, we can see Cobb’s inner thoughts of his true conscious. In consequence, this represents Freud’s theory of wish fulfillment. Because of this guilt, Cobb’s unconscious is bringing difficulties, complexities, and unease into his conscious sanity. The second function of the dream, according to Freud, is to protect the dreamer’s sleep from disruptions in the sleep environment.

It is obvious to see this attribute operating in the movie Inception. While Cobb and his team go into the mind of another individual during a dream, they often do it on comfortable chairs, beds, or recliners. It is one team member’s job to make sure that the dreamers are not woken up by anything, or in contradiction, they wake the dreamer up if the dream is not going as planned. The team member awakens them by measures of a “kick,” or a means of falling. When you dream and you get a feeling that you are falling, it often wakes you up in a jolt.

Inception shows various scenes where the team member staying back is trying extremely hard to protect the dreamer’s from awakening in their unconscious state. Freud strategized that the personality was composed of three elements; the id, ego, and superego. The id is the component of personality that is present from birth, and is exclusively unconscious. “According to Freud, the id is the source of all psychic energy, making it the primary component of personality” (Cherry,1). On the other hand, the ego is the element of the personality that is responsible with reality.

According to Freud, the ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world” (Cherry, 1). It functions in both the conscious and unconscious mind. Lastly, the superego is what “holds all of our internalized moral standards and ideals. ” One of the main components of the ego that Inception deals primarily with is Freud’s theory of defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are a method established by the ego to guard against anxiety. “Defense mechanisms are thought to safeguard the mind against feelings and thoughts that are too difficult for the conscious mind to cope with.

In some instances, defense mechanisms are thought to keep inappropriate or unwanted thoughts and impulses from entering the conscious mind” (Cherry, 1). This is obvious when comparing it to Inception. When Cobb and his team hacked into the minds of their certain target, that particular target always has an army of some sort that attacks Cobb’s team. Because Cobb is trying to put unwanted information into Fischer’s mind, Fischer’s army attacks Cobb’s team in consequence to this. Throughout the whole movie we see a constant battle with Fischer’s army of his unconscious and Cobb’s team of extractors.

This reflects Freud’s defense mechanism perfectly. Unwanted information put into the unconscious leads to anxiety, which is why you need a method to protect against it. Throughout art, whether it is a film, painting, photograph, musical tune, sculpting, or literature, there is usually some sort of influence provoking the artist that generated that specific piece. Often times in contemporary art, we see artists use past thoughts, theories, ideas, or other pieces of art to inspire their work. Inception shows this perfectly, as it takes Sigmund Freud’s ideas and shapes it into its own to make for a quite unique film.

Defense mechanisms as well as the function of the overall dream, according to the unconscious, are primarily seen in this movie. Reflection of someone else’s thoughts into one’s own artistic ability is often seen, and Inception is a perfect example of doing so.

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Freud's Theories Applied in Inception. (2017, Jan 04). Retrieved February 23, 2019, from
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