I mentioned Spoilers, yes? Even though you can't really spoil for this movie, can you? It's not about the Big Reveal, because it's pretty evident where it's headed, even though it's not obvious how you're going to get there. I digress.
The big talking points about the movie:
1. It's all a dream. Mal and the gang are all representatives of people in Dom's life.
Evidence: It starts off without you knowing where it starts off. (Outstanding homage to Vertigo's opener, btw.) We have no idea how things work, how they know each other, what the technology really is, and everyone is Perfectly Suited for their tasks with just enough vagueness to get us to believe what we're being told. Just like dream logic. "I think, therefore I can."
Exhibit B: Clearly the ending is a dream because the kids are the same age and wearing the same outfits they did throughout the whole lifespan of the movie. And he's looking at the house, and it's exactly as he's been remembering it, but he told Mal that she wasn't perfect like the real Mal, he can't put all of the nuances in her, etc. There are no nuances to that ending, no extra layers of complexity making it unique. Ergo: dreaming still.
2. It's only a dream at the end, everything leading up to it (the training, the mission, etc.) were reality based.
Evidence: This one is tricky, and I think I'm going to be alone on this one, since everyone seems to be on board #1, but I think Nolan is a lot trickier than we're giving him credit for, and I'm in the Hitchcock school of film understanding, ergo: any good movie tells you everything you need to know in the title and/or the opening credits. The idea that #1 id the answer IS THE INCEPTION. That's the "virus" the audience is infected with, because this is a film director that doesn't talk down to his audience. He trusts that we're going to be on board the whole "it's a dream within a dream" concept.
Exhibit B: When you dream, even if you dream you're someone else, YOU ARE STILL YOU. Everything is about you, from your point of view, affecting you. This movie relies on others having their own missions, their own tasks, while Dom continues to have his thread of story. Master Chemist is having his level of work on Holodeck 1. Arthur is having his own thread [and really, THE MOST badass fight scene I've ever seen in a movie. Ever. I want to know the behind the scenes stuff re: hallway fight like you can't know. DAMN, that was awesome.] on Deck 2. On Deck 3, Tom Hardy is doing his thing, Dom and Ariadne are battling their own projections and we see everything happening simultaneously. Because all of these tangential story lines are happening, I do think they are shared dreams of the crew, which would mean that they really are sharing it, it's not the fevered dreams of our resident android, Dom, or what have you.
Exhibit C: Well, this isn't really proof for my theory but something that is bugging me: wouldn't you dream Saito better? Like, couldn't you conjure a medicine or treatment and tell him in his dream state that it will fix you? Because "pain is in the mind" so isn't a cure in the mind too? Eh, just something I thought about.
So yeah, I'm coming down on the side of it's what it is, barring the last shot of the top not spinning. (Although the sound cues have it slowing and wobbling. Because his world is wobbling, because it's not real. But just that last one.)
Then again, all of the evidence I've just given could support the other side (#1) but hey, I haven't had this much fun figuring a movie out in a LONG time, so that's worth the price of admission. OOOH, and has everyone seen the Youtube clip of the French song slowed down which makes the creepy DUUN DUUUUUUN. DUUN DUUUUUUN. music? I love that the cue music got louder and slower the deeper into the labyrinth they moved. GAH, what a great movie!
[ETA AGAIN, I KNOW SORRY.] NO. THERE IS ANOTHER. I give you a quick and dirty choice 3.
[ETA] one thing that the husband and I marveled at was in the very beginning when Leo catches the bullet casings after firing with the silencer. Now THAT is an assassin. Which also feeds into my point about being able to do things in dreams you can't do in RL, so why couldn't Saito be given Special Medicine?
Also: why is Mal sitting ACROSS the hotel in another hotel room's window ledge? So we're all agreed that's not the actual memory, but a dream/memory of what may or may not have happened?
And I'll be seeing this one again. And again. GORGEOUS MOVIE. [In other news that I will post about tomorrow, I have witnessed my first Gun Show up close and personal. We really need a plague of zombies to thin the herd. Thankfully I just bought a handy dandy flint and steel fire starter that even starts a fire IN THE RAIN. Take that, diseased hordes!!) Lol.