I think this would have been spectacular as a novel (except we wouldn't have been able to see the excellent performances of the excellent actors) or as a mini series on television.
But, regardless of the untapped potential literally crying out to come into being, this was amazing, and very multi-genred to me. There was science fiction, action, suspense, a little romance, and, most importantly of all, meta --
An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules
That is brilliant - that is beautiful - that is...words....no, there are no words.
However, despite the intellectual brilliance of it, I do believe that, especially from a writer's perspective, the film failed on an emotional level for several reasons which I detail below. Oddly enough, the weaknesses of the film don't turn me off from it - instead, it heightens my enjoyment of it (similar to the way Rowling's dismal mistakes in HP only fuels my love for the books instead of squelching it dead). I still don't understand why certain faults in certain stories only increase their appeal to me...perhaps one day I will understand.
Regardless -- further up, further in!
The Plot's Implicated Themes
One of the reasons I think Inception is a brilliant film despite its faults is that it is very complicated. It's not really a summer popcorn flick - it's like a really amazing pie that's not really pie at all.
Most of the ideas revolved around the meta aspect of the film: ideas and where they come from and how they change people. It almost makes me wish that the story hadn't been about thieving and corporate empires but revolved instead around artists of the future.
Anyway, the idea of Cobb stealing ideas is like plagiarism on steroids because I imagine that once an idea has been stolen from someone that poor unfortunate soul probably won't even remember having had the idea in the first place. However, this theme is left woefully under-explored in the film, which is alright, I suppose, since it's about inception not extraction (still, the writer bit of me twitched a lot at the implications of such an ability). Of course, inception is even more horrifying than extraction. The film attempts to explore the underlying themes of inception, its consequences, what it actually means, but the very notion is so -- multidimensional, it is impossible to fully explore it in the detail I crave, and I'm afraid that what the film does attempt to explore is undermined by both the ending and the characters.
While the movie is about where ideas come from, I think it failed a little about demonstrating how ideas can change people (ironically, also because of the characters). I believe Cobb's wife was intended to demonstrate this - but considering that the audience knows nothing of her before her changed state, it lacks emotional punch. I also find the depiction of her changed nature rather simplistic -- as I said before, everybody dies eventually -- how did the inception of an idea that wasn't really hers change her as a unique individual? Unfortunately, we simply receive a woman who's rather obsessed about growing old with Cobb - which is sweet, but it is a story I've seen before. In other words, it's a tame, rather dull idea in the midst of a wildly imaginative plot. It's like someone intermittently forgot to color in the storyboards in what otherwise was a brilliantly stunning graphic novel.
I found the characters to have so much unfulfilled potential, especially -- well, especially all of the ones who weren't Cobb. My favorite moments in the film were when the characters interacted with each other instead of with Cobb because then you could actually see glimpses of their personality when they weren't being a prop to propel either Cobb or the plot along. (Confession: I did not believe that Joseph Gordon-Levitt had enough screen time. Carrying on.)
Besides the fact that the supporting characters mainly...well, supported instead of grew (which is, admittedly, a fine line to draw, especially in films), I disliked the Fischer plot -- there was this cathartic moment between himself and his father, and I found myself simply not caring. Cillian Murphy is a brilliant actor, yet I found his character to be a bit clumsy with little nuance. His father issues were something I've seen before and it wasn't remotely individualized. Because Fischer was such an important character to the film, I think he would have been far better suited to explore the way ideas can change people instead of the dead wife...which is why this needed to be a series at the very least. ;)
I don't like trick endings, especially when there are a whole lot of other issues that weren't fully explored enough. From a one time viewing, I think there are, in general, two ways to interpret the ending:
1. Cobb never woke up from the shoals of subconsciousness.
2. The whole movie was a dream.
If number 1, I honestly don't care. I found him to be the least interesting of all the other characters and would have preferred an ending that at least alluded to the myriad of issues and themes evoked throughout the film.
I need to re-watch it before concluding against number 2. I thought the top stopped spinning at least once (and I believe some of the previews confirm this), but perhaps he simply dropped it. Also, I'm more inclined to go with number 1 because, throughout the film, it is stressed that dreams don't have a beginning, dreamers simply pop up in medias res. The film itself reveals how Cobb landed on the shoals (the beginning of the dream, in other words), but the viewer is never shown how Cobb (or even Saito) supposedly "wakes up" after conversing with Saito-As-An-Old-Man. He's simply there - in the plane, in the middle of things.
But either way - dreams aren't real - and if Cobb didn't wake up - so what? If the story was about Cobb and his wife, then they should have kept it about Cobb and his wife without dragging Fischer into it. If the entire movie was a dream, well, it should be the biggest No-No in Literature ever (until someone comes along and breaks the rule in a work of stunning magnificence).
The film itself was absolutely gorgeous cinematically speaking. The citing crushing in on itself, the scene with the mirrors, the free-fall scenes at the hotel -- stunning. Absolutely stunning.
So, the story had its faults. In some ways, it was deeply unsatisfying. But ultimately - it was so intellectually compelling I can't help but adore it. And determine to watch it again as soon as time allows.