Yesterday we finally saw the philosophical action blockbuster Inception. We even spent the time to go all the way to Hollywood to see it in the Cinerama Dome. The reason we did that was because a friend had seen it there… two days prior… and had mentioned how immersing the sound was in that environment.
That our friend was so willing to see the film a second time, not merely to go along with the outing but from genuine interest does suggest something that those who haven't seen the movie can glean about where I'll be going with this (with any luck—we'll see how my brain complies). In short, I will note, right up front, that it struck me as being designed to be seen more than once.
I must admit that I'd specifically avoided reviews or discussions because I wanted to have as genuine a reaction as possible to seeing it. Given that the movie opened two weekends ago, I'm sure a lot of what there is to possibly be said about it has already been said about it—likely by people who have seen it more than once. I hadn't read articles about it to speak to what writer/director Christopher Nolan intended (to the extent he would reveal that in interviews).
Here I'll offer a spoiler alert even though I'm not going to talk about much specific.
The film does have an ambiguous ending that leaves it up to the interpretation of the viewer to decide for him-/herself about the philosophical question posed in the narrative, and there is a certain complexity to the plot that those who seek to try to figure out what that tending is "supposed to be" may hope to find more clues that they may have missed during the first viewing—which would be easy to do given the visually interesting style of the film. That spectacle is certainly captivating on its own, without regard to the plot, and could be worthy of a repeat viewing for that aspect alone.
When the film ended, another friend (who also had not seen it before) asked me to give it a rank on a scale of 1 to 10, and I blurted out "8" in response to that question before we'd even gotten up from our seats. Now, the next day, when I think about it, I might still give it that.
I would not go up to a 9 or 10; I might knock it down to a 7.
I should be clear: I enjoyed the film. I do think it was well done, and attempted something different than the typical fare, and that is to be applauded no matter what. However, even amongst other Nolan movies, I've liked other ones better (Memento, The Dark Knight) and think stand up better. But I absolutely consider it to be entertaining and worthy of its #1 slot at the box office.
That sounds vaguely tepid in its praise and I have to attribute that tone somewhat to the fact that I figured out the ultimate ending when there was still at least 45 minutes left to go. I do think that it was the ending the entire story led up to, and as such it was satisfying; had there been some jarring left turn of sorts at the end (a la Shyamalan) it would have been actively disappointing. The writing struck me as clearly striving to have that ambiguity on purpose. It was creating a situation where it's essentially saying, "Here's how it is… or is it?" My unwavering impression was that ultimately it wasn't supposed to be about whether it was or it wasn't, but to… well, I won't say manipulate the viewer but I wouldn't say that term is entirely inapplicable. Not that every movie doesn't manipulate (or attempt to) the viewer but this was designed to be the way it was.
The ending is supposed to be what the individual viewer wants it to be. I'd argue that the ending one chooses says more about the viewer than it does about the movie itself. (And, yes, I fully concede that the last sentence reveals more about me than it does about whatever Nolan intended.)
I don't feel any compulsion to see it a second time (at least in the theater) because, well, I felt like I got out of it what I needed to get from it the first time.
In short, I didn't need it to be about one possible ending or another; it was about the possibility as an end unto itself. But again, that's just me.