Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #63

The actor:Marion Cotillard
The character:Mal
The film:Inception
The line:“You’re waiting for a train. A train that will take you far away.

What Cobb and Mal have in Inception is never going to be confused with the great romances in movie history, but there is a deep allure in it that’s stuck with me since the first time I saw the movie. Maybe it ain’t Cold War, but for Hollywood filmmaking it’s about as close as we’re likely to get.

Since 2010, Mal has come to represent the most cliched dude impulse in Christopher Nolan’s toolkit, which is to drop a woman into the movie for the pleasure of misery in watching her die. I don’t disagree with that interpretation, generally speaking. Within the world of the movie (where she doesn’t even have the most obviously Harry Potter-style symbolic name of the bunch), Mal is antagonistic more than the young Fischer. She is the self-defeating potential of the attempt to incept Fischer more than Fischer’s defenses are a threat to Cobb and his crew. Outside of the movie, from the safe vantage point of a viewer’s waking mind, Mal is an idealist’s perfect partner. The Mal in Cobb’s mind is a romantic, seductive because of the totality of her demands. Love me so much, she says, that you’ll die with me. Plenty of spouses seek out the assistance of mediums to contact their beloveds from beyond the grave. Not many of them heed the call to join them in the ground.

Speaking of Harry Potter, here’s another story where death is just about taking a train to the next stop. Harry meets Dumbledore at King’s Cross, the way station between life and death. In Inception, the train is a mixture of metaphor and murder weapon, initially dreamed up as a way to return Mal and Cobb to their real life and their real children and their real home. For most of the movie, those words are the songs of sirens tempting an Odysseus who refuses to be tied to the mast of his ship. I love the way that Cotillard speaks this line, the wistfulness in the words, like the sweetest memory she can have is to have her skull crushed by a speeding locomotive. It’s not just her skull that’s meant to be turned to dust by her train; it’s Cobb’s too, and so “You’re waiting for a train” is the translation for “I love you, come home to me.” The Mal who says these words is Cobb’s great threat and simultaneously his deepest want. She is just him, after all, just what’s inside his mind. “I love you, I want to go home to you.”

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