I almost don't want to write any more about Inception. I feel like if I do keep talking/writing about it, then Nolan wins whether I like the movie or not.
But, of course, Nolan HAS ALREADY WON and his film is going to be talked about regardless of whether or not I participate.
My previous post was half tongue-in-cheek, written more to amuse myself and hopefully you, too (I loved your response), than as a totally serious dissection of Inception or as a serious defense of Jonah Hex or Kick-Ass as better films than Inception. That said, I actually found it extremely helpful to compare Inception to other films in order to highlight what specifically failed for me in the film.
My "soulless staircases" comment referred to the visual embodiment of the emotional disconnect and lack of human understanding that your post seemed to also acknowledge as a central failing of the film. Robin Hood, for all of its failings, does have both a stronger visual style, tied to its themes, and a whole lot more heart. I'm not a big fan of Scott, but I do think that he is a generally more competent craftsman than Nolan and less likely to get hung up on what is merely clever at the expense of the soul of the story.
There is one primary idea that I want to explore before giving up on Inception. No critic that I've read seems to have commented on the fact that the action of extraction is essentially psychic rape. Inception is pyschic rape which impregnates. This is made all the worse because the rapist works while the victim is sleeping and works hard to keep the victim unaware of this mind penetration.
This is the real moral failing of Inception. Never once is the morality of extraction/inception questioned (and I'm not even talking about clunky exposition, I'm talking about the story structure and where our sympathies are directed.)
The possibility of success is doubted. Its illegality is made clear. But the act of invading someone else's mind without consent is never examined as an evil. (leaving aside Mal jumping out the window for the moment.). Our action team is made out to be a group of heroes. We want them to succeed. As you point out, Brandon, Nolan wants us to worry about their safety once Cobb's deception comes to light. Interestingly, I don't think that scene does call into question Cobb's evil inclinations, his willingness to rape Cillian Murphy. All of the other characters are there, too, and are willing to do the job for cash and the exhiliration of dreaming. They're upset that there are more risks, exposing their own selfishness, not necessarily condeming Cobb's.
I don't think Nolan ever steps back to ask what Inception means for Murphy's character. In fact, if anything, I think Murphy is portrayed as the rapist's girl of girls; the girl who says no who really means yes. Like that mythic girl, Murphy likes this manhandling and it's good for him.
Back to Mal and her window jump. Throughout the film, this woman is a controlling killjoy who pops up to disrupt our hero. This woman is so messed up that her husband HAD TO use inception on her. And then the bitch had the nerve to follow through on the idea that she's given, not once, but twice. By the time we see her "real" death, we're happy to see her go. By the time we see her (Dom's subconscious version of her) second death, we're relieved that she's out of the way.
I've got to stop writing so much while at work and get things done. More later.