Ma vie, ma joi, ça commence avec toi

If you haven’t seen Inception yet, this post is full of spoilers.  So go see the movie, already.

Okay, I’m sure this has been talked about lots and lots elsewhere, but it was a new realization for me, and since you might not have already read everything there is to be read about the movie, just possibly it will be new for you.

We watched the first half of Inception with Ike and Mabel last night (after warning Mabel that nobody understands everything that’s going on the first time through, so we wouldn’t be stopping the DVD to answer her questions) and today I went to YouTube to search the Édith Piaf song that’s used in the movie. (By the way, one of my brother’s friends always finds himself saying “Édith Pilaf,” even though he knows it’s Piaf, which is awesome.  Another thing about Édith Piaf is she makes me think of high school French class.)  So I listened to the lyrics of the song, and noticed something very cool about them. (Yes, I had already heard about this other very very cool thing.)

I’d thought the spelling of Cobb’s wife’s name as “Mal” was weird, since they pronounce it like “Moll,” which makes sense when she slinks around like a gangster’s jilted moll, but doesn’t make sense as the pronunciation for a French name spelled that way.  (I think it could work as the shortened form of a longer name, which I assumed it must be.)  And of course “Mal” pronounced the French way means “bad,” which seemed like a harsh name to give a beloved deceased wife.  But as soon as I heard the “Je Ne Regrette Rien” lyrics I saw why Christopher Nolan spelled it that way. Here’s a translation:

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien No, I Regret Nothing
Non! Rien de rien
Non! Je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait ni le mal
Tout ça m’est bien égal! 

Non! Rien de rien
Non! Je ne regrette rien
C’est payé, balayé, oublié
Je me fous du passé!

Avec mes souvenirs
J’ai allumé le feu
Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs
Je n’ai plus besoin d’eux!

Balayés les amours
Avec leurs trémolos
Balayés pour toujours
Je repars à zéro

Non! Rien de rien
Non! Je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait ni le mal
Tout ça m’est bien égal!

Non! Rien de rien
Non! Je ne regrette rien
Car ma vie, car mes joies
Aujourd’hui ça commence avec toi!

No! Absolutely nothing
No! I regret nothing
Neither the good done to me nor the bad
All this is much the same to me! 

No! Absolutely nothing
No! I regret nothing
It is paid, swept away, forgotten
I don’t give a damn about the past!

With my souvenirs
I lit a fire
My sorrows, my pleasures
I have no more need of them!

Swept away the love affairs
With their tremors
Swept away forever
I start from scratch

No! Absolutely nothing
No! I regret nothing
Neither the good done to me nor the bad
All this is much the same to me!

No! Absolutely nothing
No! I regret nothing
Because my life, because my joys
Today that begins with you!

(The translation’s from this site.  I do think the word “souvenir” should have been translated as “memories,” but I think it’s a pretty good translation.)

So, by the time he awakens at the end of the movie, Cobb regrets neither the good nor the bad; ni le bien ni le Mal.

And . . . since I’m here, I might as well go ahead and offer my take on the whole top-toppling issue.  I think it’s an artistic device to make the audience question the nature of reality.  Does this life have a purpose and reality worth sticking around for?  When we wake to death, will we find an even more “real” existence?”

I also think it was done so we’d notice the “inception” of an idea in Cobb’s mind, paralleling the idea planted in Fischer’s brain.  In Cobb’s case, the idea needing planting was that he must let go of the demons of his past and be present for his children.  On the earlier levels of the dream he confronts challenges to accepting this idea: guilt and unkept promises.  But on the deepest level, he’s given a positive emotional reason to go back:  he did keep his promise to Mal to grow old with her, and now must let go of his mind’s false version of her to embrace the real-but-departed Mal, and return to his children.

So I think the un-toppled totem is a clever and artistic spin (even if, along with everyone in the theater, I groaned when the camera panned away). But I do also think Cobb really returns to his kids at the end of the movie.  My sister Lili researched this and learned that they used older actors for the kids at the end of the movie, and they’re dressed a little differently from the children in the earlier shots, so that’s one evidence for my theory.  But I also think the movie’s just better and more powerful if the ending is “real”(that is, if any of us is awake or real).

Also, I think Cobb is named that because he started out corny, but now he’s just a used-up husk.  (Kidding.)

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22 Responses to Ma vie, ma joi, ça commence avec toi

  1. the MomB says:

    Oh that is SO COOL (about the name *Mal*)–very insightful of you.

    You know I feel the same way as you about all your conclusions about the movie and about the spinning top at the end. I think the camera cut-away also signifies that Cobb doesn’t need to see the top fall over, because he knows very well that he is “in reality”. If he weren’t, this would just be an exciting action/adventure/special-effects film with some philosophical speculation thrown in, rather than the soul-satisfying story that it is.

  2. Erin says:

    I saw the movie, but it’s been long enough that I can’t even remember what it was about. I have that character flaw – forgetting the main character’s name as soon as the movie ends.

    But I did want to say thank you for posting the French words to the song. I love ALL things french, as you know. Happy sigh.

  3. Jason says:

    In the material about the movie, I wonder how often the meaning of cob is indicated–as in cobweb.

    • zstitches says:

      Dean and I did just look it up and saw at least one site referencing the “spider” meaning of “cob.” Which is nice. Dom would mean lord or king, so he’s the lord of the dream-spinning spiders, but caught in a web himself.

  4. Lili says:

    I enjoyed the insights, and this entire post. Until you ruined it with the corny pun ;P

  5. Mrs. Organic says:

    Good thing there we have smart people like you. Now I’m going to have to settle in for a rewatch. Anything else I should be on the look-out for?

  6. Jason says:

    Z, I agree with your translation note, although I think souvenir made a perfect ‘match.’

  7. Jillybean says:

    I just assumed that not showing the top toppling was just leaving it wide open for a sequel.

    • zstitches says:

      Ha ha. That’s the most cynical and pragmatic interpretation I’ve heard yet.

      I don’t want a sequel unless it’s a whole new story. The movie’s so complete and perfect as-is.

    • zstitches says:

      Dean asks, “So is the sequel just going to be a 2-second film of a top falling over?”

      • Lili says:

        haha. I was going to say that that would enrage those who are determined that Cobb’s still in a dream–but then, I don’t know if even that would be enough to convince them (“because it’s his dream and he’s so out of touch with reality — he can make it topple in his dream if he wants it to… and anyway, it was Mal’s totem, so does it even work for him?” etc etc etc)

  8. Robert says:

    So — I’ve read Nolan’s official version of the meaning of his film, and you are partly/mostly correct that it’s a film about reality. Nolan does something slightly unsatisfactory, however, in that he goes further, saying reality is relative, BUT even that I CAN like, since, like Into The Woods, “you decide what’s right/you decide what’s good.” Still, I like that he intentionally left interpretation open to the audience (he also stated this), since the deeper message of reality was the soul of the film for him, and even if Cobb went deeper and didn’t wake up, I find transcendent meaning in this. So many layers, ha.

    If you want me to, I can dig up the links where he talks about his film.

  9. Robert says:

    Oh, and also, if you want my take, since I know you asked, I think Cobb did BOTH — he woke AND went deeper. Really. :p

    Also, you groaned at the pan away? I thought it was brilliant, and I think I actually gasped at the toppling. You sure some of those groans weren’t gasps? 😉

    • zstitches says:

      Positive. I think the not-toppling is brilliant and does make the film about the relative nature of reality–OR, as I prefer to think of it, about the necessity for faith even to exist and especially to act in positive ways. But, still, a lot of us groaned (really)because we had wanted a simple resolution and the camera cutting off meant we were all going to have to think harder. 🙂

    • zstitches says:

      P.S. I guess it was actually a two-step response: first a lot of us groaned, and then quite a few of us also laughed (because we thought it was funny that we had all groaned).

  10. Jason says:

    I maintain that the toppling top was a cheap gimmick born of the writers’ inability to find a suitable resolution to a flawed premise.

    • the MomB says:

      The toppling top as a device throughout the film, or the toppling top at the end?

      • Jason says:

        Now that I think about it, throughout. And here’s some of why.

        The spinning top (or whatever object from consensus reality) is supposed to be a talisman that lets you know whether you’re still dreaming. That’s supposed to resolve a paradox but the notion introduces more paradox than it resolves.

        OK, so it’s flawed. Go with it anyway, right? Then why not use the same device from level to level of dreaming?

        The reason I haven’t been more vocal in this discussion is because I didn’t enjoy the movie from its premises, and so in a way, I don’t belong in the discussion.

        By the way, I thought this was interesting:

  11. Jason says:

    May you never comprehend how lonely it is.

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