Well this film has baffled me, and I think it will baffle most. It is a remarkable departure for director Forster, and arguably the most visually stunning film of the year. There is a new cinematic language being expressed in the film, and not as a gimmick. Sure there is conscious art being attempted, but it is in the transitions, in the editing, in the pacing that this film attempts something that hasn't been done. It is surrealism but not the easily digestable (oh it's just dream logic). The film breathes life into Decartes' whole theory of existence.
Two times in the film characters admit to not knowing what's real anymore. Henry tells Sam he doesn't know what's real anymore. Late in the film Sam, who's sanity seems rapidly deteriorating asks Henry what's real. He replies "You're real". This line is key to understanding the film I believe. It is the whole idea of "I think therefore I am" that carries the reality of Henry. A question I sometimes asked myself of whether or not we're all the result of someone else's dream. This theme becomes a major theme of the picture.
Yet there is more to the picture. There is still the issue of mental health, and not just that, the particular health of the main characters. There are questions that won't be answered, and possibly not explained even on a repeat viewing, but that's alright. How often do things make sense in a dream? They do while you're dreaming, but when you wake up, that's another story. I know that the whole "it's a dream" interpretation can be a cheat for explaining any of the logic, but it is a valid explanation. Then we need to ask ourselves, what in the dream does this mean.
There are glimpses of reality I believe. It is similar to waking up but not quite, just simply a flash. We see Henry in his car with Athena, who in the film is nothing more than a waitress who served him coffee and pie. The same glimpses show Henry's dead parents. The fact that Henry knows what is going to happen before it happens is the dreamlike deja vu of "I've been here before". It's going to happen, because he wants it to happen, he's seen it happen. Henry is controlling this world, it is his dream, not Sam's despite Sam being the focal point of the film.
I honestly hope more people see this film, and can throw their two cents in. I do not believe this is a clear cut easily explained picture. Ryan Gossling is all over the place as Henry, sometimes mumbling incoherently and occasionally offereing powerful glimpses of his mindset. Ewan McGregor is good, competent might be the word, he is the focus, but he doesn't necessarily carry the film. Naomi Watts is always great, but her screen time is unfortunately relatively short here. I've seen more than one review list Bob Hoskins who plays Henry's father and a different blind psychiatrist as the best actor in the picture. There is some truth in this, for Hoskins makes his few scenes extremely memorable. I'll hold off on giving an official rating, because I believe his needs more reflection.