Inception and how to tell a great story

I was just thinking about a funny quote from my favorite movie Inception, and it occured to me that in addition to the joke there is probably a piece of very good and very well considered writing advice in it.

It’s easy to miss when you watch it once or twice, but once someone points it out, it’s really obvious that the whole movie is not about heists or dreams, but really just about storytelling. (Don’t tell the audience what they are supposed to think and learn, make them come to the conclusion themselves. Don’t take too many liberties with the rules of the world, or the audience gets reminded that its all made up and then reject the fiction. Really, the whole movie is like that.)

The quote is:

Ariadne: And why don’t you approve?
Arthur: Because it involves telling the mark that he’s dreaming. Which involves attracting a lot of attention to us.
Ariadne: Didn’t Cobb say never to do that?
Arthur: So now you’ve noticed how much time Cobb spends doing things he says never to do.

All the characters in the movie stand for the different members of a film making team (with the man they trying to trick representing for the audience), and the character Cobb represents Nolan himself as the director and scriptwriter. And through the first half of the movie Cobb/Nolan explains how you tell a good story well and also points out what things are dangerous as they risk losing the audience.

And I think the line “So now you’ve noticed how much time Cobb spends doing things he says never to do.” is not just a joke. Because in the end, breaking lots of the rules works out very well for them.

Perhaps it’s even the most important line in the whole movie. Know the rules, understand the rules, but trust your instinct when you think it might be a good idea to break them.

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