The time I watched Inception, I was racking my brain trying to figure out if Cob was still stuck in a dream or not. I'll admit, it was even pretty fun trying to go through and remember the scenes in the movie to "solve" the ending like a puzzle. It made me reconsider what I just watched and what each scene meant, and how the meaning of the scenes and movies changed depending on the ending. And indeed, the movie changes entirely depending on whether it was all "real" or a dream, moving further into "complicated heist plot" territory or "symbolic abstraction" territory respectively.
After so many repeated viewings and searching for a definitive piece of evidence that the world was "real" or if the whole thing was a dream, or if Cob began in reality but ended up in a dream at the end, I began to see that there was no right answer. The ending is never explicitly spelled out. I thought Nolan was leaving clues for astute audience members to deduce the result and what the movie "meant", but instead, despite a number of hints that perhaps it was all a dream, there was no way to know for sure. Was Nolan just fucking with us?
No, not at all. We were fucking with ourselves, actually, for thinking that a movie needed to have a clearly spelled-out ending. With Inception, it's not that the ending was ambiguous, but that the ending was "the ending is ambiguous". The point of the ending is that you don't know, and again, this changes everything in the movie, but for the better. Instead of worrying about "dream or no dream", we have to focus on the characters; Whether their experiences and tribulations are "real" doesn't matter, because either way it matters to them.
This is why the ending to Perfect Blue left me so disappointed. The setup to the movie is that Mima, a young pop singer, decides to shift roles and become an actress, and then crazy shit starts happening. Her debut role is that of a murdered woman's younger sister on a crime drama. It's eventually revealed that the character has multiple personality disorder, and was attempting to take over her prettier sister's role as a model by killing her. At the same time, people associated with Mima begin dying as she's stalked by a security guard. With the pressure of the entertainment industry (including being cajoled into performing a rape scene) and the threat of a possibly dangerous stalker, Mima begins losing her mind and her sense of self, as she imagines the pop singer version of herself following her everywhere and constantly mocking her, and usually can't tell the difference between reality and her imagination.
As an audience member, you can't figure out what the fuck is going on, but it's all so engrossing that you don't care. At one point, I tried counting how many different possibilities of what was going on. Here's a few:
-Mima the actress is being stalked by a security guard who keeps killing people. The movie we see is reality.
-Mima the actress goes insane and her other personality, Mima the singer, keeps killing people. The movie we see is reality mixed with Mima's personal confusion.
-Almost the same: Mima the actress is mimicking Mima the TV character and keeps killing people. Again, the movie is reality mixed with Mima's confusion.
-Mima the actress is actually just a character in the crime show. The movie we see is a performance; none of it is real.
-The crime show itself is reality, and Mima the character is actually a real person imagining Mima the actress as she is arrested for killing her sister. The movie we see is a dream played out by a real person.
-The movie Perfect Blue is a performance put on for us, the audience, by actors playing characters who play actors in a TV show about people playing characters. The movie is total performance and only we are real.
Now, after hearing my thoughts on Inception and its ending, can you imagine why I was disappointed with the ending of Perfect Blue?
1) Well made? - This movie is gorgeous start-to-finish and visually stunning the entire way through.
2) Contributed? - This is the first of Satoshi Kon's movies, and began his theme of reality vs. dream vs. performance that would carry onto his next three films.
3) Good time? - I was so engaged throughout the entire movie that the definitive ending disappointed me extra hard.
4) Watch again? - Absolutely. Like Inception, one could watch this movie and search for "clues" even if they lead nowhere.
5) Worth it? - Easily.
6) Who should watch this? - People interested in psychological thrillers, for sure, but also people interested in visually engaging animation, fans of the slasher horror genre, and anybody who loves mindfuck movies.