I'll warn you right up front that what I'm about to write will undoubtedly contain all kinds of spoilers. I'll also warn you that the stuff I'm going to write probably won't click for you unless you see the movie first anyway.
Inception is a product of the late-capitalist Hollywood film industry in its every frame. Yet somehow instead of having been focus-grouped and studio-noted into a meaningless "product", its every detail meticulously drives it forward in the production of meaning.
At its core it is attempting its own titular project.
Implanting the seeds of revolutionary and /or world-changing ideas in viewers has long been a goal of filmmakers from DW Griffith's "Intolerance" to Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" to Getino and Solanas' "Hour of the Furnaces" to everything Godard has made right through to "The Matrix". "Inception" makes this idea both its premise and its project.
The "dreams within dreams in the service of corporate espionage" story – for all its apparent complexity – is really a fairly simple framework upon which Nolan hangs some much deeper, though in a way no less simple, themes. Ideas about the importance of living in the real present, connecting with other humans, and choosing one's own path instead of slavishly (not to mention self- and other- destructively) adhering to the (real or imagined) expectations of others.
The fact that Saito is paying Cobb's crew to break up his corporate competitor's empire could have resulted in Saito being characterized as a coldly mercenary capitalist "anti-villain". But it just isn't so, and if it were then it would have wrecked the film. The truth here is that while there are antagonists in the film who proliferate like so many Matrix Agents Smith, there really is no villain.
It's an FX-driven summer blockbuster that doesn't have a villain.
The audacity of that alone is stunning to me.
The closest thing "Inception" has to a villain, in fact, is nothing but a phantom.
And that leads to an important question that can be extrapolated from "Inception": what if personified "villains" are just figments of our imagination at best, or at worst are worn out and even culturally damaging narrative tropes that trick us en masse into thinking that "if we could just eliminate all the 'bad' people, then the world would be heaven on earth?" In spite of its star-powered Hollywood industrial product blockbuster summer appeal, "Inception" has at its heart the vigorously indie idea that we are all masters of our own destiny: architects of our own dreams, if you will. We are only beholden to the thoughts, dreams, and accomplishments of others to the extent that we allow ourselves to be.
And that notion of "the accomplishments of others" then leads us right into the labyrinthine maze of global empire that capitalism has built all around us The dream world that global capitalism has created with its tendencies toward monopolistic business practices and rapacious conquest by hyper-urbanism is woven beautifully into every frame of the film. These images even border on a perverse kind of sublimity. Lazy floating helicopter shots of sprawling global metropolises are now beautiful to us. This is what we have come to.
It will crumble under the weight of its own fundamental instability (un-"sustainability"). And we who are its inhabitants who have become mere projections of some collective subconscious will increasingly come forth from our slumbering alienation to defend the core being of that collective subconscious.
In the end we will stand amidst whatever is left with our families, our friends, and our memories to treasure.