Monday, August 02, 2010

What's in a name? Mal in Inception

Mal, Mal, Mal...I want to connect you to someone amazing. As I continue this series on characters in Inception, I was desperately searching for Christopher Nolan's inspiration for your name. Perhaps a psychologist named Mal who committed a famous suicide, or a train designer who was bi-polar, some fantastic (but challenging) architech or something else equally clear and connected.

One of the biggest challenges of Marion Cottilard's character is that while the credit's list her name as "Mal" the whole time it sounds like DiCaprio is referring to her as "Mol."

To make matters worse, some places (like wikipedia) list her name as "Mallorie" although no where do I have any recollections of her having this name in the film, nor can I find any solid reason for us to assume this is her name.

General Name Meaning

Mal is a pretty common Latin root that means bad, as a result French, Italian, Spanish speakers will quickly be able to identify that this name means bad.

And don't discount that a parent would name a child "bad" or a form of that, because...well, people still name there kids Mallorie or Mallory, and could easily call there child Mal for short. Not to mention the name Mallory means "unfortunate" or "unlucky."

Marion Cottilard's inception character can easily be viewed through these windows of either bad or unfortunate.

Clearly, when Mal invades the subconscious of her husband Dom Cobb she's always "evil" by ruining his plans, attempting to shoot him, shut down his mission, and foil his plans.

Mal (if she's Mallorie) can also be looked at through the lends of being "unfortunate" as she appears to have been a very pleasant person before her death, and before the inception was performed on her, causing her to loose a grip on reality.

This is the easy explanation, and perhaps this is the best explanation.

Some places I have read that the name Mallory/Mallorie can mean "beautiful" in French. I've tried to confirm this and have found nothing. In fact, here's a block of text translated with many words for physical attractiveness translated into French...nothing looks at all to be like Mal or Mallory.

belle attrayant beau beauté belle jolie mignonne adorable Devine ravissante belle angélique admarable séduisante appel charme magnifique sublime ravissante superbe merveilleux alléchantes alléchants beau teasing à couper le souffle incroyable magnifique agréable


I don't see anything that looks at all like 'Mal' or 'Mallorie.'

Mallory can also mean "mail" as in the iron mail worn by knights. Perhaps there is something here, as Cobb perhaps may be using Mal to protect him from something else, or protect him from others invading his own mind (if you follow the complicated theory that Cobb is actually the one being incepted during this film).

If her name is Mallorie

If her name is Mallorie, then there are tons of popular choices to chose for her relations or namesake in fiction, history, and modern science-fiction and fantasy.

If forced to chose a historical person I would chose Sir Thomas Mallory who put together one of the most popular collection of King Arthur writings that became much of the source material for later tellings. The Mallory version contains the stories of Lancelot, Guinevere, and many of the other knights we associate with this stories.

Why I would connect Sir Thomas Mallory, who's 1485 publication of Le Morte d'Arthur changed the telling of these stories is because Mallory took this story, a few centuries after it's initial creation and weaved and connected many popular stories into a consise tale with new riddles, characters, and myth then had existed before.

Sir Thomas Mallory is a genius creator of ideas, who's creation (like Mal's architecture) took time, was a massive construction, and past his death had a very powerful pull on later creators.

(Pictured right is one of many classic images from nineteenth century printing of Mallory's work, the art is done by Aubrey Beardsley).

Of course you may find this an ironic conclusion for me to make based on the fact I discount King Arthur as the inspiration behind Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character 'Arthur.' And honestly, I generally discount my own theory here as well based off the inclusion of the full name of Mallorie.

Other Possible References for Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fan

There are a few recent "Mal" characters who have shown up in science fiction/fantasy works that Christopher Nolan could have been playful hinting at. I don't know that this is the case, but I'll consider it.

One possibility is Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) from the Firefly franchise. He goes by "Mal" in the franchise, and does act out of personal lost.

Another possibility is the Mallory from the show Sliders. In the final seasons of this sci-fi show there is one character who exist in two alternate realities. There is Quinn Malory as well as the fraternal alternate who typically just goes by the name "Mallory" and there is a great effort to combine these two alternate world characters into one person.

My Conclusion

Frankly, it seems to me that Mal's character connected to some grander historical or fictional character while not only challenging, simply may not exist.

Instead I think it is important to ask the question "Is she evil?" because her name clearly presents that suggestion.

Personally, I like the idea that she was "Mallorie" [unfortunate] but upon her death, her role in her husband's subconscious has become "Mal" [evil].

6 comments:

Adam said...

Her name made me think of a grand mal seizure

Danny King said...

I've taken a few years of Spanish, and DiCaprio's "Mol" pronunciation is actually correct because the "a" sound is different in Spanish. It's not necessarily his fault if audiences are confused as to what Cotillard's name is.

Anonymous said...

I thought the whole time he was saying "Moll", short for Molly, although I didn't understand why an obviously French woman would be named Molly.

Anonymous said...

I know this is late, but I just re-watched Inception so I'm all fired up. Here's my 2 cents on Mal's name. Cobb is in a fantasy world, and Mal is coming into his (or someone's) dream trying to tell him the truth, so that makes her the 'bad guy'. He fears/suspects she's right, which is why she keeps showing up & threatening his missions. Threat= bad= mal

Anonymous said...

My name is Mallory. People always tell me that I have a beautiful name. I actually think it's funny that it means unlucky because I am a lucky person. It's an awesome name, thank you very much.

Mallory said...

But if her name is Mallory/Mallorie, they're pronouncing the nickname completely wrong. Mallory isn't pronounced Mollory... My name is Mallory and of all the mispronunciations of the name, I've never heard Moll. I don't understand why, if her name is Mallory, everyone would be wildly mispronouncing her name. I get that mal means bad in Spanish, but I still don't understand why the creators would butcher the pronunciation of a beautiful French name.

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