Through Ariadne’s developing relationship with Cobb, we see a physical representation of how one can not live the present well if they are always haunted by the past. After Ariadne is established as the team’s architect and Cobb’s coworker, Nolan uses Ariadne to help us as an audience gain more understanding of Cobb’s past life. This is seen in the dream elevator where flashbacks are used to reveal Mal to Ariadne and the audience. In the first level, we with Ariadne see Mal and Cobb talking and caressing each other. The music is slow and quiet, but when Mal turns her head to see Ariadne, a sudden dissonant screech is heard. In the last level, Nolan effectively uses silence, lowkey lighting and mise en scene of a room messy with broken furniture to create tension before speaking to Mal.
We then see a close up of Ariadne’s face conveying nervous emotions. As Mal circles around Ariadne, music with high pitched string instruments coupled with a low angle point of view shot on Mal gives Mal a sense that she is powerful and unpredictable as to what she will do next. Through dialogue, we learn that Mal is bitter about being “half of a whole” which illustrates what Cobb is feeling deep inside of him.
Cobb then comes in and rushes back into the elevator before we see Mal psychopathically shriek they were supposed to “be together” and shake the bars. Nolans purpose of Ariadne learning more about Cobb and developing a more understanding relationship is to demonstrate how hard it is for many to express and move on past their guilt. Cobb has the opportunity to physically be in his memories with Mal but this only made moving on with his real life harder because he believes keeping her alive in his dreams compensates his guilt for being responsible for her death in real life. Mal acted like a virus in his mind as exemplified with her strong will to keep Cobb beside her. Her cold interactions with Ariadne symbolise the difficulty for anyone to help Cobb move on with his life regardless of the good relationships he has with real people. This represents the struggle many people today have when moving on past guilt and how hard it is for people to express their guilt to However we learn as the film goes on that it is when you share your issues to others that you can reconcile.