Are the main characters people we should be rooting for, or are they really Villain Protagonists? In a way it all hinges on whether Saito is sincere in feeling that Robert Fisher achieving total global energy dominance would be bad for the world, or if he's just using that as an excuse for wanting to weaken his competition in the market.
Are the main characters themselves Villain Protagonists simply out for a payday, or, in Dom's case, a chance to reclaim a normal life?
Was Ariadne "wrong" in "invading" Cob's memories, or was she trying to protect herself and the gang by informing herself of the dangers of Dom's mind and helping him confront his memories and move on? It's more complicated than mere secret-keeping.
Award Snub: Was nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay at the Golden Globes, but no nominations for acting (leading or supporting). It lost each of those to The Social Network (even Best Original Score). At the Oscars, Nolan wasn't nominated for Best Director (yet still managed to nab Best Picture and Best Screenplay nods) while Lee Smith wasn't nominated for Best Editing. It did, however, win best sound editing, best sound mixing, best cinematography and best visual effects. The only other film to win as much was The King's Speech.
Awesome Music: Hans Zimmer's entire score is magnificent. Highlights include "Dream Is Collapsing," "Dream Within A Dream" and "Time."
Zack Hemsey's "Mind Heist", the trailer music is epically awesome.
On the other hand, maybe the fact that there isn't some big twist is itself the twist.
"Common Knowledge": "Inception" or "[object]-ception" has now become the term for whenever one object is placed inside an identical object (or indeed any form of recursion), referencing the "dream within a dream" technique. "Inception" actually refers to planting an idea in the person's subconscious. The "dream within a dream" plan is just a method of performing the inception, and it's also used in the Bond Cold Open for an extraction job (which is the opposite of an inception job). Although this is an excellent example of how films have an effect on cultural terminology and vernacular.
Robert Fischer's father is dying of a long-term illness and passes away before the Inception begins. Just under seven months after the film was released, the actor (Pete Postlethwaite) lost his second battle with cancer. Especially given the persistent rumor that suggests Postlethwaite knew this and told Cillian Murphy right before shooting. Those tears Murphy is crying for Postlethwaite are apparently very real.
The two female leads were up against each other for the Academy Award for "Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture" in the same year: Ellen Page for Juno and Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose. Cotillard won, but Page got her revenge. In Inception, her character shoots Marion's.
Arthur is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who played Tommy on 3rd Rock from the Sun. The most memorable episodes of that show are the 3D episodes, which center on dreams. Tommy's own dream included him chasing a book down a hallway, that was not following the laws of physics. Also, he was a young man again, as he was actually the oldest of the aliens on his home planet.
After Ellen Page came out of the closet, you have to wonder if her and Arthur's attempt to distract the dream characters with a kiss only failed because she couldn't sell it.
A story where people go inside a target's subconscious to mess with a valuable symbolic thing in there in order to mind control him into doing something they need him to do? Sounds like it would make a great JRPG.
Eames and "darling" Arthur, especially on Eames's part. Especially when they're headed into the third level and Eames is getting all concerned about Arthur going up against security. It's amplified by the staging, since Arthur is kneeling by Eames's side and holding his hand (To hook him up to the PASIV, but still). Even better in the French dub, where Arthur's answer ("I will lead them on a merry chase") is translated using the adverb gaiement ("gaily"). Yes, it carries the same connotation as in English, nope, it's not commonly used much anymore for that exact reason.
Solid example: while Eames is making his way through the hotel in the second dream, disguised as a gorgeous blonde woman, he stops Saito in the elevator and starts stroking his face. Saito looks pleasantly surprised at first, then catches their reflection in the mirrors, sees through the disguise, and realizes it's not a woman at all. Yeah... he wasn't so pleased then.
There's also a teensy bit of this between Cobb and Fischer during the bathroom scene.
Cobb and Saito. Cobb stays in a rapidly crumbling limbo to find Saito and rescue him from thinking limbo is reality in a direct parallel to what happened between Cobb and Mal. Complete with the similar repeated phrases "grow old together" (Cobb and Mal) and "be young men together" (Cobb and Saito).
And for the girls, Mal walking close to Ariadne and asking her if she knows what it's like to be a lover (which undoubtedly becomes even stronger in light of Ellen Page coming out in as a lesbian in real life). It Makes Sense in Context.
Launcher of a Thousand Ships: Arthur, if the kink meme page and fanfiction.net are to be believed. The usual suspects are (in descending order) Eames (Darlingshipping), Ariadne, Eames and Ariadne, and Cobb. Mal, Saito, and occasionally Robert Fischer too, though that's less common.
Magnificent Bastard: Saito. In the prequel comic, it's revealed that The Cobol Job was an attempt to get information from Saito's corporation, in an effort to keep Fischer's energy monopoly together. It appears that in actuality, this was all Saito's plan to lure Cobol's best and brightest to him, so he could audition them and steal them from under Cobol's noses, and use them to break up the very monopoly Cobol was trying to preserve.
Eames's use of pet names; In the film, he calls Arthur "Darling" once, with definite irony. But in many fanfics, he not only calls him "Darling" left, right and centre, but also "Love", "Pet" and sometimes "Sweetheart". And he often uses the same pet names for Ariadne (although she gets "Darling" less often because apparently that one belongs to Arthur) and occasionally other characters get pet names too. Sometimes it's almost like he's Spike without the bleached blond hair and vampirism. Unless it's a Vampire!AU fanfic, of course.
Forget Scrooge; try 1984's Dreamscape, complete with internal fear- and guilt-born dream-constructs posing a threat to intruders and dream-alteration technology being applied for both therapeutic and criminal purposes.
In the movie, the extractors have to be careful not to alert the projections to their presence or they will be physically assaulted, which Ariadne learns the hard way.
Outside of the movie, it's a similar problem that people had with The Matrix. What if, at this very second, you are asleep and there are people poking around in your brain searching for secrets? Or maybe you're stuck several layers down in your own dreams, and have forgotten. Maybe your entire "life" has taken place over a few minutes. Eek.
The scene where Ariadne is in Cobb's dream, right after she presses the button leading to the proverbial Basement of Cobb's memories. The scene is presented in such a terrifying fashion; the elevator door opens and Ariadne steps into a fancy hotel room...that's been trashed. The background music is gone, and there's absolute silence. Then Ariadne steps on a glass. Then we see Mal. And she's looking at you. The net result of the entire scene can be summed up as Cobb has a grade-S Yandere in his subconscious and she wants out.
Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Mal, or at least Cobb's projection of her, can wind up being this to anyone who becomes frustrated with her tendency to cause him to make What an Idiot!-level decisions. There is the angle that she lost the ability to distinguish between dreams and reality, but she chose to forget it in the first place, and ends up killing Fischer to force Cobb to stay with her in Limbo, which are the real deal breakers.
The biggest example is Dom demanding Ariadne tell him about the bypass in the snow base. He says there's no time, and demands that she tell him, but he doesn't even relay it to the team; he tells her to tell them. All he's doing is adding a step while she tells him, thus wasting time, and more importantly making sure that Mal knows the bypass as well.
Cobb refusing to shoot the evil projection of Mal before she shoots Fischer, dragging him down into limbo, despite having known for years that she is just a projection, making his "How do you know that?" to Ariadne pointing this out to him making him look even more stupid.
Cobb actually expecting Mal's evil projection to stay in the chair he tied his rope to in the opening to keep it weighed down even though he should know not to trust her by that point.
Fischer Jr. The poor guy doesn't know a damn thing and gets dragged into this dreamy mess just because a Japanese businessman wants him to split his company. He longs for the respect and affection of his dad whose last words were that he was a disappointment, and then Cobb's team hijacks his mind, injects a completely engineered and probably false solution to his daddy issues and makes him believe what Saito wants him to believe. Plus, what with the seed of doubt the team planted in him for their own ends, he will most likely come to distrust his godfather from now on — the only family he has left, and who in the real world has shown nothing but genuine care for him.
Cobb as well. Living with the guilt and belief that he caused his wife's death, being on the run for being falsely accused of murdering her (though not too far from the truth), probably never getting to see his kids again, and always being tormented by visions of Mal in long-held dreams really makes you want to hug the poor guy.
Mal (the living one) as well. She killed herself fully convinced that this would cause her to wake up in the real world, so she could be with her real children again, unaware that this was the real world. Maybe, and those were her children. And it all happened because her husband underestimated the power of the suggestion he implanted in her mind. Her dream-self, however, is a...
Jerkass Woobie: Yes, she ruined Cobb's life by framing him for her suicide, but this was only because she had spent so much time in the dream world that she was unable to distinguish what was a dream and what was reality. This would lead to her killing herself, convinced that she could wake up into what she perceived as reality. In the end, all she wanted was to go someplace where she could be happy forever. Of course, it turns out that her delusion and paranoia is a direct result of Cobb implanting the idea of it in her mind.
Saito. Amoral or underhanded as he might be, he is sent to the Limbo and passes there what from his perspective could be easily thirty or forty years. Now imagine that much time in a place you can't leave and you know it is not the true reality, away from your life, your friends and loved ones, waiting for a rescue that may never come, and not knowing if your plan to save the world from an energy monopoly was ever successful. When Cobb finds him, he has been reduced to a hopeless, decaying old man who barely remembers his own life.