As much as I hate to turn readers away, I can't stress enough that if you haven't seen the film, you really shouldn't read this unless for some reason you never have any intention of watching it. I think the less you know the better you'll be able to experience this movie.
I think the biggest problem I had with the film is that the emotional aspect of it all falls a bit flat. Here's this woman who keeps showing up to sabotage things. She's dead and we're supposed to feel bad about that, but she was also a huge bitch and ruined his life toward the end. He's feeling guilty about causing her death. This wasn't shocking nor did it hold any emotional weight for me. Nolan, you already did this with Memento, you can't rely on this again and expect me to still care. When Cobb makes his big reveal to Ariadne, all I could say was "Well, yeah. I totally already figured that out. Thanks. Can we move on now?" For a writer/director who has caused huge emotional responses in me previously, in Memento, The Prestige, and even The Dark Knight, this was extremely disappointing. The place he did get an emotional response out of me was that ending. The emotion was anger.
Leaving the ending of a story open to interpretation always feel like a cheat to me. The one exception I can think of is Ghost World, where she gets on the bus and we don't know where it will lead. As a metaphor for a teenager entering adulthood, it makes perfect sense to me. Enid has had trouble deciding who she was and what she wanted to be for the entire film, so the fact that she chooses to hop on a bus to no where is absolutely in character for her. We don't know where she's going to end up because to know that we'd pretty much have to follow her for her whole life and the movie would never end.
For Inception, it was obvious fairly early on that all of this could have been further layers of a dream for Cobb. The seed was planted to make you think that Mal was right, that maybe she did die and get back to the real world. I even thought that this elaborate plot was all a way to force him to finally wake up. Perhaps I had Shutter Island too much on my mind. But we spend an awful lot of time being told that no, Mal wasn't right and she was really dead. So to leave it open and ambiguous at that end just feels like Nolan flipping the bird at us.
Having avoided any and all reviews and thoughts on the film before watching it, I scoured the internet today, and I see that the stress seems to be that since Cobb has chosen to leave the spinning top behind and is no longer concerned about whether he's in reality or the dream world - it shouldn't matter to us either. I can understand that message, but I still feel like I'm being let down to not get a definitive answer.
In the story I'm writing, I'm building a mystery. If I can behave myself, the answer to that mystery will not revealed for quite some time. I say "behave myself" because I'm not very good at keeping secrets and when writing I find that means I always want to hurry up and get to the big reveal. But my characters don't know the answer and I think it's important that the readers are also left a bit in the dark along with them. When the time is right and I finally do explain it all.. rest assured I will explain it ALL. Even if not in the story, I'd probably be happy to tell any readers who needed further explanation. I've got it written out in notes that I plan to expand even further, because I'm of the opinion that if you don't know the foundation you're standing on, your story can collapse under the weight of it. And I think when you tell a story you owe it to your readers/viewers to eventually give them that foundation. Doing any less makes it look like you can't make up your own mind about it, and if you can't make up your mind and you created the thing, that's not good.
In Nolan's case, it seems that he does in fact know, he's just refusing to say. So I can't accuse him of not knowing what he's doing, but I can certainly let him know he annoyed me.
Having said all that, it's time to focus on the positive. This is a beautifully built film and an awesome concept. The effects, both physical and CGI, blend so seamlessly that I can't tell you which is which in some cases. Its pacing is also pretty excellent. It would have been easy for a two and a half hour movie to feel as long as it is, but while I did make occasional glances at the timer to see how far along I was, I was certainly never bored. The action and thrill of the movie is pretty top notch.
Most of the cast is excellent. I particularly liked Joseph Gorden-Levitt and Tom Hardy. I really wanted to like Ellen Page in this, but her character's constant pleading for Cobb to resolve his issues bugged me. Why did she care so much and so soon? Running with the whole "this is all a dream of Cobb's" idea, I had this thought in my head that she was actually a grown up Phillipa (what an awful thing to name your daughter, by the way) trying to get her dad to come back home. That's about the only way her urgency made sense. If she was that concerned that his distractions would make the job too dangerous, she didn't have to be a part of it. I also think that the reason I wasn't so impressed with that love story may in fact be Leonardo DiCaprio's fault. He didn't strike me as a man struck with guilt at all.
Like Nolan's other (non-Batman) films, people say this one gets better with repeated viewings. I think the more time passes, the less I'll feel betrayed by that ending and the more I'll enjoy the movie.