‘Inception explained’ theories have spread for three weeks now. Having Inception explained is still daunting, mainly because Inception can’t be explained without decoding the end. The final image continues to make audiences debate what happened, and what reality was in the film. But no matter what side of one falls on, just answering that question isn’t the end of it. To have Inception explained at the end, they can’t answer what it was unless they figure out what Mal was.
Warning: Massive spoilers below.
The key to the whole movie is Marion Cotillard’s Mal, the disturbed wife of lead dream extractor/inceptor Dom Cobb. She is painted as a projection, trying to trick Cobb into thinking his world isn’t real, like the real Mal did before killing herself.
Having Inception explained depends on whether Mal is right. If Cobb’s totem topples after the final cut to black, then reality was reality the whole time. Yet if that totem kept spinning, then Mal was right all along and Cobb was still dreaming. If one believes that, they need to re-imagine who or what Mal was the whole time.
If it is all just a dream, Mal could still just be a projection of Cobb’s mind, trying to keep punishing him for his past. But in order to survive his guilt-ridden dream world, Cobb has to fend off her memory once and for all. As such, the other characters are his projections that help him do it, in particular architect Ariadne.
But what if Mal isn’t a projection? If Inception is explained as a dream, then when Mal ‘killed herself’ she would have woken in the true reality – proving her right in a different way. She could have gone back under to get Cobb out, but since he was so lost in his dream reality, nothing could wake him.
It could be that Inception is explained as Mal performing inception on Cobb, just as he did on her. She may have been trying to implant the idea that his world wasn’t real, so he could finally wake up. But when Cobb finally let her go, he lost his only chance of returning to reality, for a happier but fake life.
That would be a decidedly tragic ending, and make Mal more of a tragic hero. It may also make Ariadne the part of Cobb’s brain trying to keep him under, by encouraging him to defeat Mal and move on from her. After all, if Cobb woke up, there would be no need for a dream architect anymore.
However, having Inception explained that way may not match with Mal trying to make Cobb stay in limbo at the end. She certainly doesn’t sound like she wants to return to the real world, or wants Cobb to go anywhere. But maybe it’s part of her inception technique, as he has to first want to be with her before anything can happen. Yet when Mal tries to stab Cobb after he calls her a shade, it might be her last desperate attempt to wake him, before Ariande protects Cobb’s dream world by shooting her.
But a more plausible Inception explanation might be that when Mal woke up in reality, she went right back to dreaming and returned to limbo that way. Yet since she couldn’t live there without Cobb, she tried to make him come back with her, while concealing the full truth from him. This would make her more evil and crazy, in that she knew the truth and didn’t care, and preferred to keep Cobb dreaming with her.
Still, for all anyone knows, Mal might have become more unbalanced after returning to reality. She might have still believed her world wasn’t real and killed herself for good, making the Mal in Cobb’s dream world a projection after all.
All the ‘Inception explained’ theories are vast and different, and all probably have different accounts of what Mal was doing. Yet if someone is convinced it was all a dream, they can’t back it up without a good theory of what she was, and what her real intentions were.
Getting Inception explained is not possible without getting Mal explained. Yet depending on the theory, she can be real or projected, heroic or evil, truthful or crazy, and everything in between – just like the film.
Entertainment Weekly- “Marion Cotillard in Inception: Is she the good wife? Or the bad? Does she even have a personality?”