Warning: Spoilers! For the film, obviously. Nothing huge but it's so very worth it to see the film first.
Rating: R for the second part
Summary: She creates, he reacts.
Note: Not strictly chronological
of motion and thermodynamics
a tale in two parts
"What? Is that supposed to be symbolic?" His voice is dry as desert air but it doesn't make her wilt like it used to do. Extremes do that, foster evolution.
"Well ... we call them totems, right? How the hell could it be anything but symbolic?" But she claps an automatic hand over the little figure, hiding the secrets of its sway.
He taught her that before even Cobb or Mal could and since then she's learned about limbo and fallout and fours.
When she came back that first time they expected her. And why not? She was young, the money was good, the risk was low.
So she came back and there was Cobb, arms crossed, the (real) reason shining dully in his eyes. How could she walk away? He wasn't just offering a world that was bigger on the inside, he was asking her to build it.
And what are money and youth and risk in the face of a challenge not even God had been able to turn down?
Like all of them, Ariadne never expected it to get in this far. She blames it on the name her mother gave her. How could a job designing impossible mazes be anything but fate?
It's as good an excuse as any.
It's instinct, she thinks, the way she trusts Arthur first. He's dispassionate about the dreams, maybe a little afraid of them. She feels half a goddess the first time she goes in with him. Twisting lives and minds still twinges her conscience but building worlds already feels like her birthright.
You probably figured this out already: it's not.
Most things are easier inside dreams but once you've been there, some things are never easy again.
She pushes the boundaries too far (parking garages that revolve like carousels, skyscrapers that bend in the breeze). She builds too high (she never quite makes it but as her topless tower climbs the air she wonders if anyone's ever designed a star).
But Arthur's there every time, forcing her to round a corner, to go to ground. It doesn't help that his subconscious is ruthless and efficient.
(Actually, that's almost certainly the thing that helps most.)
The difference between them is this: she creates, he reacts.
She was enchanted from the start with the idea of the totem. Simple. Elegant. Intimate. An object heavy enough in her hand to anchor her to reality. It's old magic meeting new science. Like a maze built on mathematics. Like modern Ariadne versus the corporate minotaur. (And let's be honest, it doesn't take her that long to get over the ethics of this job. It's never mattered much that the minotaur's half her brother.)
She hunches over the first one as she makes it, full to bursting of the excitement and the awkward embarrassment of new religion. Once she was a Catholic and it was First Communions and rosary beads. (She's not as lapsed as she thinks.)
"Totem?" Says Arthur, suddenly behind her. Later, when she's more honest with herself (when she's seen it, later, on someone else), she'll realize he wasn't really asking. It couldn't be clearer, not with her lingering after hours, bent double, trying to fold up a bit of her soul with willpower and nimble fingers.
She unfolds, glancing back over her shoulder to see him standing casually, thumbs tucked into his pockets. And maybe it's because he doesn't move a muscle or turn a palm that she proffers the pawn in a careless hand.
He doesn't lock her eyes in a warning gaze until after (after he's held the pawn and felt the balance, noted how it's weighted to favor once side, how it swings and rolls before tipping.)
The (pride) bottom falls out of her shy smile. She's folded up her soul and handed it to him. For the first time, she's probably not being melodramatic about the thing.
"Do you want me to tell you you're better than this?" Arthur sets the pawn on the tabletop and flicks it hard, forcing it (she knows) to fall the wrong way. There's no disdain in his voice or in the rigid lines of his back as he walks away. Even that is something to be earned.
She makes sure she's alone when she slices a deep groove into the head of the piece which was once a pawn. She spends an hour learning just how the bishop falls.