Inception, Christopher Nolan's "existential heist film," pulled in more than $60 million at the box office this past weekend, easily taking the top spot over The Sorcerer's Apprenticeand several holdovers from previous weeks. It also received high praise from most critics, including Cinematical's own Todd Gilchrist. I, however, fall into the other side of the critical spectrum. Like film geeks, movie-obsessed bloggers some movie critics, and casual fans, Inception topped the list of my most-anticipated films of the summer, based on Nolan's decade-long track record of combining style, substance, and more recently, spectacle (from Batman Begins through The Dark Knight two years ago). For me, though, Nolan managed to deliver on style and spectacle, but failed to deliver on substance.
I define substance as (1) narrative or story structure, (2) subtext or themes, and (3) interpretative complexity. For the purposes of this article, I want to set aside (2) and (3) and focus on (1), narrative or story structure. First, however, a few words about interpretative complexity which Nolan intentionally created through contradictory or ambiguous clues, leaving the ending, the final shot, intentionally open for interpretation, for a variety of meetings, some, but not all mutually exclusive. Since our own Peter Hall has already skillfully examined six different interpretations, I won't revisit them here (read his article for thoughtful exploration of that specific issue).
[Note: Spoiler warning is in full effect.]