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The following quote is from the movie Inception:

— Right there you have various political motivations and anti-monopolistic sentiments and so forth. But all of that stuff, it's, um... It's really at the mercy of your subject's prejudice, you see? What you have to do is start at the absolute basic.

— Which is what?

I have emphasized the sentence I'm trying to understand. So, as far as I know at the mercy of something means completely under control there. But what about prejudice? I've found various meanings there. How can we bound them sensibly in that context?

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If we simplify the dialogue, it might be a little easier to understand.

That stuff is at the mercy of your subject's prejudice.

The things that were described are almost entirely controlled by the prejudice of the person whose dream you are in regardless of what you try to create.

If you try to create too complex a motivation when you architect a dream, it is not likely to come out exactly the way you expect, because it will be changed in the subject's mind based upon their preconceived opinions. So, it is best to keep things simple.

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  • Hm... You mean an idea is being planted shouldn't be at the mercy of subject's prejudice, but should be one based. Right? Oct 14, 2014 at 19:27
  • If the idea being planted is complex and involves a lot of different emotions, it is at the mercy of the subject's prejudice. If the idea is simpler, the subject's prejudice has less effect. "Political motivations" can involve many prejudices - maybe someone is biased against immigrants, or thinks that corporations are evil. Being hungry or afraid for your life are simpler ideas and less likely to be changed by prejudice. You might be in fear for your life because you are being chased by an evil CEO in your dream, but you are still afraid and will react in expected ways.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 14, 2014 at 19:40
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At the mercy of someone's prejudices = subject to the whims of someone's biases and preconceptions

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