Why couldn't Cobb just spin the totem for Mal to convince her she's in reality?
At one point we see (In Cobb's memories) Mal playing with the top. It can be assumed that she spun the top of her own volition. It's just that the idea that her world wasn't real had so taken over her thoughts that she wouldn't even believe what she had always known to be truth before. That is how resilient and parasitic an idea is.
In addition, totems can only be used to prove that one is not in someone else's dream. If Mal's totem stopped spinning this could only prove to Mal that she's not in someone else's dream but she could very well be in her own dream.
Interesting point: Cobb planted the (spinning) totem in Mal's safe, and in so doing he implanted the idea in Mal that her world was not real. Presumably, Mal must have opened the safe at some future point, and saw it still spinning by itself (the totem had to leave the safe again for Cobb to use it as his own). This is a little paradoxical. Mal must have believed in the totem if, on opening the safe, she was to be persuaded that her world was unreal. But once persuaded, she apparently no longer believed in the totem - it's toppling didn't convince her of the reality of reality. But if she didn't believe in the totem any more, why is she still persuaded by the unreality argument? The totem had planted the idea in the first place! Paradox! SO confusing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11
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