2010, Directed by Christopher Nolan
God damn is Christopher Nolan a hell of a director. He might be best known for his pretty good Batman films, but movies like this, which are full of imaginative ideas but grounded in humanity, are where he really hits hard, and this might be his best yet, finding near wall-to-wall perfection, from the script, to the cinematography, to the acting (what a cast!), to the music. Wow.
The thing with this one is, it's such a compelling concept, bursting at the seams with potential for exploration, and constantly coming up with new ideas of exciting stuff to do with the world of dreams. Dreams aren't really new ground for movies to cover, but Nolan somehow seems to make it fresh by giving the dreamscapes a banality, a just-barely-beyond-reality sheen, with only slight discrepancies and optical illusions creeping in at the edges, and even the really crazy visuals still grounded in that realism. It's far from the phantasmagoric freakshows of something like The Cell, and for the type of espionage-style tale being told, it works perfectly. But Nolan still manages to surprise and astonish, with setpieces like an extended zero-gravity fight scene or an avalanche chasing characters down a mountainside.
He also managed to offer up such tantalizing ambiguity in the storytelling that a cottage industry of theorists has already sprung up all over the internet; the plot itself is rather straightforward, but there's enough room for questioning that all sorts of possibilities for alternate takes reveal themselves with a bit of thought. Sure, the final shot offers a simple either/or explanation for the final resolution, but one could scour the entire film for clues as to the "real" story. Maybe Leonardo DiCaprio was the one whose mind was being invaded the whole time! Or maybe he was the recipient of the inception that fed his whole motivation, not his wife!
Coming up with alternate takes on the plot is a fun exercise, but however one chooses to interpret the film, the fact remains that it wouldn't be so striking without its emotional core. That's where the real heart of the film lies, the foundation that makes the rest of the film work, in the way that DiCaprio is wracked with guilt over the death of his wife, and especially the abandonment of his children. That repeated memory of his last glimpse of them is heartbreaking, with him forced to flee without ever seeing their faces; it's enough to make a parent break down sobbing. And the love for his wife, the refusal to let go of her even as her memory is destroying him emotionally, seems so real, so painful. The whole thing could be a metaphor for the pain and guilt of abandonment following a suicide, or even something less dramatic like a divorce. There's a real beating heart (if one wrapped in barbed wire) underlying all the structural and visual play of this movie, and that's what makes it all work, what haunts the mind after the conceptual pyrotechnics have faded. Yes, Christopher Nolan: one hell of a motherfucking filmmaker.