Who is she?
Who is Mal?
At moments, she seems so full of tenderness, so full of love. A “lovely” person, as Arthur described her.
But most of the time, she is a spiteful, hateful, violent woman. Always finding good opportunities to stab, shoot, attack.
Still other times she seems just plain mad. Out of her mind. Ready to jump off of buildings, ready to kill herself because she is sure her world isn’t real.
Who is Mal?
The truth is that there is more than one Mal, as becomes apparent the more we make our way through Inception. There is the real Mal. The “lovely” Mal. The one who “grew old” with Cobb, sharing a beautiful life, a lovely world with her husband. Fully devoted, fully in love and always ready to go deeper in her affections.
Then there is Mal #2. Evil, crazy, malicious Mal. The violent one. This Mal, unfortunately, is the one we are exposed to for most of the movie. This is the Mal that Cobb is struggling with, physically, literally, metaphorically, and dreamily.
We all have a Mal #2 within us. A voice, a voice that seems so familiar, and we are so sure is so sweet, that is trying to take us down. It’s often called the inner Critic (You know those nasty movie critics? Just like that). The Chassidic masters called it the “Evil Inclination”. We Pop Chassids, we’ll all it the Voice. A voice, often from our past, a voice that once, like Mal, used to be sweet, used to be “lovely”, used to be music to our ears. But now, that voice has twisted into an ugly thing. A thing devoted to tearing us down, like a movie critic does, only concerned with its own well-being, only concerned with its selfish, violent intentions.
In Cobb’s case, this voice took the form of Mal. In Fisher’s case, it took the form of his recently deceased father. In our case, though, the voice is a shapeshifter, much like the forger Eames, using every chance it gets to take advantage of our weaknesses.
By Any Means Necessary
As we talked about yesterday, we all have a mission, a mission that G-d sent us into this limbo dream world to accomplish. And the Critic, the Evil Inclination, the Voice, its goal is singular in its intent: stop us from achieving that goal. And it will use any means necessary to achieve that goal.
And that is why the Voice so often takes the form of ones we have loved, and often ones we have loved that have caused us some sort of pain. The Voice knows just how to reach us. It knows how to break through whatever defenses we’ve built and get right to the center of our insecurities, our guilt, our weaknesses. How do you think Mal somehow always appears right in front of the vault Cobb is trying to reach? How do you think that she somehow arrives just when Cobb is almost at achieving his objective?
Well, that’s just how guilt works isn’t it?
How are we meant to deal with our own inner Mals? What does G-d expect us to do with this abomination? Because let’s be honest, if this voice is such a fact of life, G-d must have purposefully put it here in this world for a reason. That’s how he works.
Are we meant to shove our Mal in a prison, keep her locked away, throw away the key and try to pretend that she doesn’t exist?
Cobb tried that. Cobb tried to deny his inner Mal. He kept denying the truth. The truth that, as our sweet Ariadne said, “that any minute you might bring a freight train through the wall, the truth that Mal is bursting through your subconscious.”
The truth is that, the more we try to ignore our inner Voice, the more we deny it exists, or make excuses for it, or try to reason with it, the more it begins to invade our minds.
Mal #2 is ruthless in the way she takes advantage of any opening that Cobb gives her. When they are down in limbo, she tries to convince him that limbo is all there is (remember the Ultimate Lie?). Then, when that doesn’t work, she tells him to just accept he’ll never make it to the Top Level, so he might as well just stick with her (another dirty lie used by the Voice). Then, when it seems really clear that Cobb has probably bested her, she start to cry, pretend like she’s the sweetest lady on earth.
But she’s not. Mal #2 is not Mal #1. She is not lovely, she is not sweet. She is a liar and a fake. “Just a shade”.
When we acknowledge that, as Cobb did when he attacked her after she shot Fisher, we are on the road towards freedom.
And, as Cobb does in Limbo World, when we refuse to let its power work on us, we become masters of our own fates. We are stronger, more powerful than we ever would have been before our encounter with our voices. And we can begin to truly forgive our Mal #1’s for whatever pain they may have caused us in our past, accidentally or purposefully, through their own issues with their voices. And finally, we can forgive ourselves, as Cobb did, for the wrongs we have done, realizing that our true selves are not our Critics, our Evil Inclinations or our Voices.
No, we are not those things. We are true. We are perfect. We are beautiful.