|Behind the Scenes|
The shade of Mal is seen armed with a Sig Sauer P232 which she uses to wound Arthur; in the vault, with a Beretta 92FS with which she kills Robert Fischer; and in Limbo, with a kitchen knife.
Mal is portrayed by actress Marion Cotillard.
Little is known about Mal before her death. She is believed to have been a French citizen and moved from France to the USA to be with Cobb, with whom she had two children. It is likely that Mal was introduced to Cobb via her father, who was Cobb's professor at university. Most of Cobb's memories of Mal and their children imply that their family life was very happy and that she and Cobb loved each other deeply. In his own memory of her, Arthur tells Ariadne that Mal had been "lovely."
It is unknown when Mal became involved with dream sharing, though she had apparently developed the concept of having a totem to help dreamers maintain their sense of reality. Her Totem was a spinning top which now belongs to her husband. While experimenting in dream sharing with Dom, they became trapped in Limbo. Faced with limitless possibilities on how to build their own world and becoming obsessed by the power of Limbo, Mal gradually began to believe that Limbo was her reality. In order to convince her to return to the real world, Dom planted the idea in her mind that her reality was, in fact, a dream. Unfortunately, this inception - the idea that her reality is a dream - affected her permanently, even after waking.
Though Dom sensed that something about Mal had changed, he did not realize the extent of the implanted idea until their anniversary, when she invited him to a hotel where they frequently celebrated. To Dom's horror, he found a ruined hotel room and Mal sitting on the ledge of the building across from the room he was in. Mal revealed that she was convinced that she was still dreaming and had created a situation where if he chose not to join her, he would be incriminated in her death and he would lose custody of their children. Despite his pleas, she consequently committed suicide by jumping off a building in order to "wake up". Because it appeared that he was directly responsible for her death, Dom was forced to leave his children and flee the country.
Throughout the film, Mal appears only in Dom's memories or as a projection reflecting Dom's deep guilt over her death. Despite his best efforts to suppress the projection of Mal, she appears at inopportune times and frequently sabotages Dom's plans.
In her appearance during the Saito extraction job, she alerts Saito to Cobb and Arthur's attempt to extract from Saito and subsequently shoots Arthur to disable Cobb. Arthur's comments when he notices Mal in the dream reveal that the projection has appeared during Cobb's previous jobs and she has similarly disrupted their plans in the past.
When Cobb introduces Ariadne to lucid dreaming, her unrestrained manipulation of the dream agitates Cobb's subconscious sufficiently enough to cause the shade to resurface and immediately stab Ariadne to protect Cobb. Ariadne later learns the extent of Cobb's control his projection of Mal, which he has attempted to contain in his subconscious in a reconstruction of his last memory of his wife. Recognizing that Cobb's guilt is a threat to the success of the Fischer inception job, Ariadne insists on accompanying the rest of the team members so that the job does not fail.
During the Fischer job, the stress of the job takes a toll of Cobb's ability to control his subconscious. His projection of Mal makes her appearance during the third level of the dream, where she shoots the job's mark, Robert Fischer, before he is able to reach the strong room that will reflect whether or not the team has succeeded with inception. Though Cobb manages to shoot Mal to subdue her, he and Ariadne must enter Limbo to save Fischer and Saito in hopes of completing the job.
In Limbo, Cobb is forced to confront the shade of Mal, who has captured Fischer. Openly expressing the extent of his guilt that he was responsible for causing his Mal's death, he rejects the shade of his wife. The projection angrily attempts to stab him, but is shot by Ariadne before she leaves Limbo. Remaining behind to find Saito, Cobb comforts the projection as she recalls a promise that Dom had made to Mal to grow old with her before he goes to find Saito in Limbo.
“Marion brought an exceptionally haunting quality to her performance." Christopher Nolan continues to say, "What she was able to do with just her eyes and her emotional openness is quite beautiful. And she and Leo together portray an incredibly moving couple. Underneath all of the action, I think ‘Inception’ is very much founded on a love story, and these two actors found the truth of that in a most remarkable way.”
Pete Hammond, in his review, called Cotillard's acting "terrific".
- "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. As long as we're together."
- She was also known as The Shade in some promotional material.
- The song used to announce an upcoming 'kick' pays homage to her performance as Edith Piaf in 'La Vie en Rose'
- "Mal" can mean ill, wrongful or bad in French, Spanish and Portuguese. When interpreting "Mal" to mean ill, it could be said that Mal has become a sickness of Dom's mind. Similarly, using the context bad, this could refer to the fact that she often sabotages Dom in the dream world.