Overall, it was a great film, but as others have noted, missing a little something. I think that something was sheer, balls-to-the-wall, phantasmogoric weirdness. The three dream stages Ariadne designed have their excuse--they were structured by a waking and rational mind, if an artistic one, and structured for a purpose. So I was okay with their basic banality. But when they got to "Limbo," I was ready for some true insanity. Unfortunately, we got Cobb's Sim City. In what can only be described as cinematic ass-backwardsness, the most vivid, strange, and dreamlike images occur in the first act, when Ariadne is being given her first taste of shared dreaming and starts controlling the mental landscape of Cobb's psyche; every setting after that is much less interesting. For an example of this sort of thing done right, I direct you immediately to the chase through John Malkovich's subconscious.
Do you personally dream that way?
My dreams almost always occur in strikingly prosaic environments. They're usually recognizable places that I've been, frankly.
I often have the opposite
complaint about "dream" movies - that they contain a lot of overt surrealism that seems like it's trying too hard.
That's one of my concerns going into this movie. That scene in the trailers where the city folds up and half of it is in the sky? If that happened in one of my own dreams, I'd laugh at it and then probably immediately wake up.
Sure. I had a dream the other night where everything I knew was dissolving, like living sculptures collapsing into sand.
Another I had was a dying dream where my family and I were trying to evacuate the lethal footprint of a crashing satellite (space colony?), and didn't make it, and the last moments of the dream were pure darkness except for blue phosphorescences and the sensation that I was rebooting into another life.
Then there was that awesome one where I was in a running tank battle across endless Brooklyn Bridges.
Okay, that all probably says a lot more about me than dreams in general.
But besides that, take for example movement--in my dreams, and I suppose in others', it is not so constrained to geographic reality as in wakefulness. Scenes cut more like a film, without any need for me to actually transport myself from point A to point B. In Inception, aside from a bit of flashy trickery (like the Penrose staircase), there's no attempt to exploit this, even in the unstructured Limbo.
The closest they come is I suppose the air duct to the Arctic Fortress playset (which comes off more as a real air duct than the magic shortcut it ought, but it could be read either way) and, more bogusly, the "house" inside the highrise. Congratulations, Cobb, in your dream world you bought a penthouse.
I would have expected something more like a yard and a city view at the same time, grass hanging in the air, or something to that effect. Maybe I missed some details, but it looked exactly like a really big condo. It's like dreams made flesh!
I never saw a cityscape folding up like that, though, I admit. It was still pretty cool. However, a question, to all interested in answering: did accompanying such dream visuals with mechanical noises undermine the awesomeness of them? I say yes. I'd have thought them much more effective without any sound effects at all.
In terms of the "what's missing" quotient in the film, maybe it's that, on reflection, the movie really isn't about anything other than the plot, compared to some of Nolan's other films, which were also meditations on some fairly deep themes.
It's a film about film (about dreams and fantasies in general, but maybe film in particular).
You know, now that I think about it, it actually comes across a lot like a lost Sandman arc, albeit one where Morpheus never bothered to even make a cameo.