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Mal Cobb

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You're waiting for a train. A train that will take you far away. You know where you hope the train will take you, but you can't know for sure. But it doesn't matter. How can it not matter where the train will take you?
~ Mal's riddle, the answer to which only she and Cobb knows.

Mallorie "Mal" Cobb (neé Miles) is Dominic Cobb's deceased wife in the 2010 science fictional film Inception. Despite having died some time prior to the events of the story, her memory still haunts Dom, allowing his projection of her to serve as the main antagonist in the film.

She was portayed by Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard, who also portrayed Miranda Tate/Talia al Ghul, Lady Macbeth and Scarlet Overkill.

Biography

Prior to the Film

Mal was born to college professor Stephen Miles and his wife Marie; though it's not known when she grew interested in studying dreams, her father's own work on the subject likely proved an early influence on what was to become a lifelong infatuation. Eventually, she fell in love with one of her father's students, Dominic Cobb, and quickly began a relationship with him. The two bonded over their exploration of the dream world, inspiring one another to descend deeper into the realm of the unconscious with every journey.

This shared passion eventually drove the two of them into marriage, Mal eventually giving birth to two children: James and Phillipa Cobb. However, Dom and Mal's studies didn't end despite their new status as parents, and eventually the two found themselves descending into the deepest layer of the dreamworld, a world of infinite subconsciousness known only as Limbo. Though they quickly found themselves trapped, Mal and Dom were quite happy there: using their skills in dream architecture to sculpt Limbo into a perfect world, they stayed there for fifty years of dream time (only a few hours in reality), even willing themselves to age so that they could grow old together.

Despite their mutual contentment, Dom eventually decided that they would have to return to reality for the sake of their children. However, Mal refused to leave: after five decades spent within the dream, she had grown too enamored with Limbo and the infinite possibilities it offered, too obsessed with her perfect world to ever give it up. Unwilling to leave his wife behind, Dom used a rudimentary form of Inception to plant an idea in Mal's subconscious, convincing her that the world around her was not real and that she had to wake up. With this done, the two of them lay down in front of a train and allowed it to run them over, awakening in the real world at the moment of the suicide in the dream world.

Unfortunately, the Inception proved more resilient than expected: Mal continued to believe that the two of them were dreaming, even claiming that James and Phillipa were just projections of their subconscious; the idea Dom had planted in her mind soon grew to define Mal's personality, snowballing into a terrifying obsession with the unreality of the world and the need to awaken from it.

Death

Eventually, Mal's Inception-induced obsession reached terminal proportions; with death in the dream world being the only consistent means of escaping to the real world, she decided that she and Dom would have to die in order to awaken from what she believed was a extremely realistic fantasy. So, she invited her husband to a hotel for their anniversary, only to position herself on a ledge directly opposite their room; with a fatal drop below, she insisted that the two of them should jump to their deaths, believing that it would be enough to wake them up. Dom tried one last time to convince her that they are living in the real world, only for Mal to reveal that she prepared for the incident by filing a letter with their attorney effectively framing Dom for her murder - believing that this would be the perfect way of encouraging her husband to join her in awakening from the dream.

Then, as Dom looked on in horror, Mal stepped off the ledge and fell to her death. Later investigation revealed that Mal had also prepared for her death by having herself declared sane by three psychologists, ensuring that Dom was immediately labelled a murderer for his wife's suicide: with no way of proving his innocence, Dom was forced to leave the United States and take up a career with Cobol Engineering as a dream infiltrator.

Worse still, Dom's immense guilt over Mal's death allows a projection of her to remain in his mind as a ghostly parody of her living self: over the course of the film, she not only continues to encourage her husband to return to "reality," but continuously sabotages Dom's attempts at returning home, a reflection of Dom's self-loathing.

Inception

Mal appears relatively early in the film, intruding upon Dom's attempts to retrieve information from Saito's mind not only by sabotaging his attempts to sneak through the dream-palace, but also by alerting Saito to her husband's real intentions. After helping capture Arthur - and shooting him in the leg in an attempt to get him to talk - Dom is able to kill Arthur's dream-self, awakening him in the next layer up and destabilizing the dream palace long enough for Dom to escape; unperturbed by the chaos, Mal vanishes back into his subconscious.

When Saito unexpectedly hires Dom and Arthur to plant an idea in Robert Fischer's mind, Dom quickly realizes that Mal will continue her attempts to sabotage his work, and thus he cannot be allowed to design any of the areas the mission will incorporate. So, with the blessing of his father-in-law, Dom recruits a replacement architect from among Stephen's current crop of students, a girl by the name of Ariadne. Mal soon reappears over the course of the new architect's training, leading a lynch mob of projections in stabbing Ariadne to death.

Once Ariadne has gotten over the shock and gotten into the swing of designing the team's levels, she eventually notices Dom's recreational use of the PASIV dreaming device outside of group planning sessions: investigating, she discovers that Dom is continuously visiting Mal, attempting to keep her confined to a prison of memories. When Ariadne attempts to intrude on the memory of Dom and Mal's last meeting, the imaginary Mal immediately despises her, seeing her as a rival for her husband's affections and even trying to attack her, forcing Dom to end the dreaming session ahead of schedule. Though Dom believes that he can keep the projection detained for the time being, Ariadne decides to attend the mission just in case something goes wrong.

The stress of the mission - combined with the unexpected militarization of Fischer's projections and Saito being doomed to Limbo by a mortal wound - takes a toll on Dom's ability to maintain the prison, and in the third scenario, Mal breaks into the dream: though the mission depends on Robert Fischer surviving long enough to reach the vault at the heart of the dream-fortress, Dom finds himself unable to shoot Mal from his sniper's post, leaving the mark wide open to attack. He eventually manages to collect himself and temporarily kill Mal's projection, but by then she has already fatally shot Fischer, leaving their mark trapped in Limbo. With no choice left, Dom and Ariadne are forced to follow Fischer into Limbo in a desperate attempt to rescue him.

After roaming the dilapidated ruins of the perfect world Dom and Mal created, the two of them eventually make their way to a skyscraper at the heart of the dream city and ascend to a recreation of Dom's house - positioned at the top of the skyscraper. Mal now lives alone here with the faceless projections of her children, keeping Fischer unconscious nearby. Once again, she encourages Dom to stay with her in Limbo, claiming that it is the real world and Dom's reality of corporate espionage and paranoia is just a fantasy; he declines the offer - finally exorcising himself of his guilt by revealing that he was directly responsible for Mal's death.

Though heartbroken by the depths of her husband's betrayal, Mal insists that he can still make amends by staying with her. However, Dom reveals a simple fact that ensures he can never be with her: she's just Dom's desperate attempt to recreate his wife, a caricatured shade of a real person; despite his best efforts, Mal's projection can never capture the full range of the real Mal's complexity. Enraged, Mal tries to stab him to death, only to be fatally shot by Ariadne. Then, while Ariadne ushers Fischer back into the third level of the dream, Dom remains behind to bid farewell to the dying projection.

Trivia

  • Mal is technically two villains: her real self and the shade recreation of her, both of them demonstrating different extents of villainy - one merely committing suicide and forcing her husband to join her, the other actively haunting Dom's footsteps and endangering the lives of his fellow teammates.

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