I don’t think I like Christopher Nolan anymore.
It’s a realization that has been slow coming over his past few films. I used to love the guy. The first time I saw The Dark Knight, I was enthralled by it. But upon reflection and further viewings my admiration of it greatly diminished. I still think its a good movie, but also one with a lot of problems. Yet, it is referred to as “a perfect film” by some of my friends and hailed as the film that “changed comic-book movies forever”. This success inevitably led to a sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, to complete Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I’m probably in the minority here, but TDKR is a mess of a film that I didn’t like from the start. Which brings us to this year’s Interstellar. Despite my disappointments with Nolan’s previous films, I was really looking forward to this movie. Nolan likes to discuss grand themes and has a truly cinematic sense of storytelling. It seems like his style would work perfect with space, especially since the film appeared to be about an inspiring tale of mankind’s never ending yearn to explore. This was great stuff!
And then I saw the movie…
Interstellar attempted to tackle some powerful themes and had a beautiful vision, but it was, in the end, a hollow film that failed to emotionally connect with the audience on a fundamental level. And, guys, this is my opinion and junk…its totally okay if you don’t agree. However, I did not get that grand vision of human space exploration that would inspire a generation to seek the stars I expected.
This got me thinking about Christopher Nolan and his work. I began to notice that all of Nolan’s recent films had the same few problems popping up. Problems that I think seriously detract from the quality of his recent movies:
Overuse of Expository Dialogue: The old adage of “show, don’t tell” is important here. In all cases we should strive to show the audience something rather than explain it to them through dialogue. Film is, after all, a visual medium. I’m not sure if Chris Nolan fully understands this lesson. Most Nolan films attempt to tackle grand themes; the nature of memories, love, sacrifice, how to fight evil in a post-9/11 world, income inequality. These are great things to discuss, but I’ve found that the way Nolan presents them to us are through very specific, expository dialogue. These themes are explained to us quite literally by the characters. We watch them discuss them in detail. The movie kind of flat out tells us what its about.
Lack of Emotional Thread: Another side effect of the large amount of exposition in Nolan’s films is the generally clunkyness of the dialogue. Real life human beings don’t talk the way people in Christopher Nolan films do. For example: “A hero. Not the hero we deserved but the hero we needed. Nothing less than a knight. Shining.” Reading this makes me cringe. Nobody talks like this! In this scene Commissioner Gordon is just casually talking to his son (who was almost just murdered, by the way). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been just hanging out with my family and described someone as “Shining.” Its gotta be at least 50. “Did you see how Sanchez played in last week’s Eagles game? Nothing less than a knight. Shining.”*
This type of dialogue leads to problems identifying with the characters, since they don’t behave like, you know, humans. This in turn doesn’t allow viewers to emotionally connect to any of the characters on screen. This lack of emotional connection works very well in some of Nolan’s earlier movies, but those like Interstellar which focus strongly on the bonds of love need that emotional weight to carry us through the film.
The Treatment of Women: I’m not going to get into a whole feminist debate here. At least not in this blog post. I’m just going to state that in general, women in Christopher Nolan films are treated as extraneous at best, and evil, manipulative harpies at worst. If you don’t think this is a problem, I’m not sure what to say to you.
These are all big problems. And if you asked me why I didn’t like The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, or Interstellar, my answer would probably have something to do with at least one of the three points discussed above. But what about the rest of Nolan’s films? Has he always been this way or is this a new development? Are these problems a result of his rise to become one of the most influential film makers of our generation? It’s been so long since I’ve seen some of the older Christopher Nolan films that I honestly couldn’t remember.
So I decided it was time to revisit the catalog of Christopher Nolan. I’m going to watch each movie that Nolan has written or directed, in chronological order, and analyze them. I’m going to see if the problems mentioned above (or any other problems, for that matter) were around since the beginning. And I’m going to find out, once and for all, why I don’t think I like this guy anymore. And why you’re all stupid for still liking him (Kidding…kind of)
Next week we’ll tackle Nolan’s first feature film, Following.
*I wrote this article a month ago before Sanchez decided to play terribly and screw us out of a playoff appearance. Not bitter at all…