At one point, Cobb asks Mal, “If this is a dream, then why can’t I stop this?” Presumably, he is referring to the fight they are having over whether they are dreaming or awake. Mal answers with, “Because you don’t know you are asleep.” Later, after Mal jumps to her death in an effort to wake up, Cobb desperately tries to dream other dreams—better dreams—in which his wife is still alive. When Ariadne hooks herself up to the PASIV device Cobb uses to dream on his own at night, she sees a series of dreamed locations connected by a cage elevator. Cobb explains the significance of the locations when he says, “These are moments I regret. Moments I turned into dreams so I could change them.” He seems to think that if he can get the Mal-projection to realize that she is not really Mal, she will go away or at least stop throwing monkey-wrenches into his dream-extractions. The problem for Cobb is that it just doesn’t seem to be working.
Why, then, does he keep dreaming of her? Dreamers have the ability to think their projections out of a dream, as Yusuf (Dileep Rao) does in a scene cut from the shooting script. In a worst case scenario, Cobb could shoot her and she would die, at least for that dream. It seems that Cobb’s conception of a better dream is one in which Mal exists, regardless of how awful she acts.
Chris Fletcher on Inception and Jean Baudrillard. [via The Quarterly Conversation]