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- » Why did Mal seem surprised when she learned that Cobb performed an inception on her?
- » What happened at the beginning of the film?
- » What are the different dream levels for the final mission?
- » How did Cobb go into the limbo to find Saito?
» Explaining Inception: an FAQ Guide
What's the deal with Mal "locking something away, something deep inside"? Why would hiding the totem cause her to get lost; and why would Cobb finding and making it spin make any difference?
Mal locked away her totem, aka her way of making sure she's not in a
dream. Symbolically, she locked away her ability to verify reality.
She accepted limbo as her new reality.
When Cobb found the safe, found her totem, and set it to spin, it must
do so eternally because that's the nature of Mal's totem in dreamspace.
Symbolically he planted the idea that the world is not real, since her
totem is always spinning. Should Mal open the safe, it will be clear to her that the totem must be spinning for eternity, and she will remember what this means. Unfortunately, doing so incepted the idea
that no world is 'real'.
Unfortunately, it should also be clear to her that someone else must have set the totem spinning, so the "idea" cannot be her own - someone else has given it to her. This seems like another paradox: the inception cannot succeed if she does not think it came from herself, but she will also, by her own lights, have to believe that her world is not real - that's what the totem tells her. So she both has to believe the idea, and she can't accept it as her own. The story we are told about successful inceptions seems false.
A further paradox: how can the idea that a world isn't real, produced by the totem when she still accepts its verdicts as true, be sustained when she no longer accepts the totem's verdicts as true? She no longer accepts the totem's verdicts when Cobb tries to use the totem in reality to convince her that reality is really real. She no longer believes it is an accurate indicator. But if her distrust of the world around her is fundamentally based on the evidence of the totem, then her rejection of the totem undermines the source of that very distrust. She must be really mad!
But in another vein, it's the difference between a visual proof that another person tries to give you, when "deep inside" you just don't feel like their answer is correct regardless of what proof is offered. Like with Morpheus describing a discontent with the world that is like a "splinter in the mind," no matter what "proof" Dom tries to give Mal, even proof she would have accepted in the past, the idea that her "world is not real" is a permanent top spinning inside her mind, and it is so firmly rooted that it comes to dominate everything about her.
When Cobb found the safe, found her totem, and set it to spin, it must do so eternally because that's the nature of Mal's totem in dreamspace. Symbolically he planted the idea that the world is not real, since her totem is always spinning. Unfortunately, doing so incepted the idea that no world is 'real'.