This year, Inception inserted the word “totem” into our vernacular. Here’s the dialogue that defined the totem in the film:
Arthur: So, a totem. It’s a small object, potentially heavy, something you can have on you all the time…
Ariadne: What, like a coin?
Arthur: No, it has to be more unique than that, like – this is a loaded die.
[Ariadne reaches out to take the die]
Arthur: Nah, I can’t let you touch it, that would defeat the purpose. See only I know the balance and weight of this particular loaded die. That way when you look at your totem, you know beyond a doubt you’re not in someone else’s dream.
What are some other movie characters’ totems?
Butch Coolidge’s Watch, Pulp Fiction
It was so important to him that he put his life in peril going back to retrieve it. In fact, he would’ve likely died had he not had the good fortune of catching Vincent Vega mid-defecation (how many times has that phrase been used in the history of mankind?).
Harvey Dent’s coin, The Dark Knight
Perhaps it’s a little obvious, and it even has Christopher Nolan in common. But there’s little denying how important that coin was to Harvey Dent. The degradation of that coin partially incited an epic meltdown. So forgive me, Arthur, if I include it.
Nuke LaLoosh’s garter belt
It helped him breathe through his eyelids, and he never would’ve made it to The Show without them. I’m almost positive that none of his teammates touched it. And, like the totems in Inception, it appeared in a dream. I’m going to be kind here and not include a picture of Tim Robbins in a protective cup, baseball hat, garter belt, and a smile.
Captain Queeg’s Balls, The Caine Mutiny
Ahem… silver balls, that is to say. Shuffling the silver balls as the tension rises is brilliant.
Trapper John McIntyre’s Olive Jar, M*A*S*H
This one is particularly important in that it says a great deal about the character. Namely, “Trapper John McIntyre will not be deprived of a good martini, regardless of where he is”. It’s large but you can’t deny that he takes it with him everywhere he goes, up to and including Korea.
The plant carried by Wall-E and EVE in Wall-E
It’s not exactly tiny but it’s small enough to be carried by both EVE and Wall-E throughout the film. Beyond a doubt, it defines who they are. Without it, neither of the characters would have any real meaning in the context of the film.