Performance of the week: Marion Cotillard in Inception (2010)


Marion Cotillard plays Mal, the deceased wife of an “extractor” in Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Inception is a masterpiece. Yup, I may be over-enthuastic but I’ve said it. Although this is my third time watching this film, I never fail to be amazed by how Christopher Nolan has managed to create such an incredible movie. Mind you, I’m not even a fan of his. In the past, I was more impressed by the movie’s general concept about dream exploration and the action sequences, but this time round I was actually even more impressed by the immaculate details and thought that has been put into making this film. I mean, the whole “Mr Charles” plan? Damn! The idea of making Fischer’s subconscious turn against him through the forger? Wow! And the creation of that “falling sensation” through a process known as a “kick”? Genius. In my opinion, not only was Nolan robbed of that directing Oscar (wasn’t even nominated), the movie itself easily should have won best picture. Leonardo Dicarprio was way better than Colin Firth too, I feel. Actually, the movie’s lost to The King’s Speech back then made me lose interest in the Oscars, which was worsened by the extremely weak set of nominees in 2011. Well, at least last year’s nominees made me interested again.

Like I said, it’s really the tiny details that makes Inception such a brilliant film. And one of them is Marion Cotillard’s performance as Mal. Marion Cotillard is a really great actress. Her performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose was one of the greatest of that decade, and she was easily the best thing in Nine. Yes, I know her shaky accent bothers people but I couldn’t care less (I’m going to be perfectly honest and say that I’ve never really bothered about the whole accents and mannerisms thing, unless it’s on a Keanu Reeves in Dracula level). And yes, I thought she was good in The Dark Knight Rises (shaky death scene aside). Over here, Cotillard has the extremely difficult role of playing a character who doesn’t exist anymore; she’s merely a manifestation of Cobb’s guilt, a memory so strong that even Cobb has no control over.

In my opinion, what Cotillard achieved here is incredible; she made Mal seem so…unreal. Yes, it could be because I am aware that she’s not real, but there’s something about her that just makes her seem so unlikely. It’s largely in the coldness in her eyes and the way she walks, almost as if she’s slithering. She manages to make Mal seem so mysterious and frightening simultaneously that you know this woman simply cannot be real. I remember when I first watched the film in the theatre, there was this collective gasp during the third level sequence when Mal floated down from the ceiling and shot Fischer. It just goes to show how Cotillard has managed to make Mal such a dangerous and powerful presence in our minds and subconscious as well. Surrealistic would be the best word to describe it.

Besides this, I feel like Cotillard’s performance tells us a lot about what Mal was like in real life. You could feel that this is a distorted version of her, and like what Arthur said, she was probably “lovely” in real life. It’s clear that she was a very intelligent woman who got too carried away and lost in her own mind. It’s also obvious that she loved her husband a lot, despite how she’s constantly screwing up his plans in the dream world. Cotillard plays the suicide scene to chilling perfection, showing how the woman has clearly lost her mind.

It’s a limited role, but that’s what makes it so fantastic and mysterious at the same time. For most actors, turning a character into a living person is hard enough, but what Cotillard has to do here is to turn the character into a memory of a living person, which in my opinion is a lot harder. A performance that in my opinion is a lot better than the best supporting actress winner that year (I feel like either Jacki Weaver or Amy Adams should have won from that set of nominees).


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