What exactly am I looking at, here? That question surely occurs to every viewer of the hard-to-classify "Exit Through the Gift Shop" (Oscilloscope); it's just a matter of when it arises, and how you decide to answer it, and whether the answer matters a bit to your enjoyment of what is ostensibly a documentary but is likely something much stranger.
Do you start wondering when the filmmaker gets suspiciously privileged access to the world of street artists, who work in constant fear of police capture and therefore should be more leery of cameras?
Or when the movie's most elusive subject, the anonymous stencil-graffiti vandal known as Banksy, turns the tables and starts making his own film about the man documenting his work? Or when that man, the hipster hedonist Thierry Guetta, transforms into "Mr. Brainwash" and tests the art-world's faddishness by mounting his own Pop-inspired art extravaganza?
I know Mr. Brainwash exists because I've crossed paths with him accidentally. I was waiting for a friend in a trendy hotel lobby one day when he swaggered in to drop off some artwork. But how much of "Exit" was staged just for the film, how much collusion there was between Banksy and Guetta, and just how Mr. Brainwash is really viewed by the street artists who inspired him, I really can't tell. All I know is that the movie's stylish, provocative look at its scofflaw subjects is — even if you're inclined to disapprove of their pranks and property crimes — deeply entertaining and hard to ignore.
Other new and upcoming releases deal with shifting identities for themselves and their subjects — the Blu-ray reissue of Sally Potter's "Orlando" (Sony) stars a character who morphs mysteriously from male to female; the art film "Double Take" (Kino) blends documentary footage with liberty-taking inventions about the career of Alfred Hitchcock, weaving him slyly into Cold War history. But the year's most extravagant brainteaser has to be "Inception."
Christopher Nolan's film (just released by Warner Bros.) not only offers characters who fool their victims into mistaking dreams for reality, it also might be doing the same thing to the audience. I won't be spoiling anything for those who haven't seen it by reporting that even very attentive viewers have had a hard time agreeing on whether the entire story is supposed to be a dream or not.
I think we're meant to believe it, and can point to what I view as rock-solid evidence within the film, but I've heard compelling arguments for the other side, including one describing "Inception" as Nolan's answer to Fellini's "81/2." That theory makes star Leonardo DiCaprio a stand-in for the director, crafting fantasies for other people while enduring personal tragedies through self-delusion.
Truth is, the evidence put forth for that reading is just as good as what I've collected for my own interpretation. Now that the movie is on disc, I know I'm not the only one who will be looking for more clues — and enjoying seeing it again, even if I decide "Inception" is a riddle not meant to be answered.