With a back catalogue that contains some interesting movies, and an innate talent for creating an important and credible feel to his films, Christopher Nolan has in the past been responsible for some great cinema. However in recent years his output has been underwhelming to say the least, and yet even with a string of sub-par movies to his name; his fawning, brown-nosing minions known as “Nolanites” have elevated even his average and mediocre offerings to the level of genius. Nolan therefore, is a perfect example of hyping and overrating a celebrity even if their filmic talents have waned. It isn’t what you create these days or how good it is; it’s how many fans you have.
Nolan’s career began with a short film titled Doodlebug, and with its monochrome and bare look, it showed his adeptness at creating a strange, uninhabited, and somewhat depressing atmosphere.
Ignoring the so-so Following with its shaky black-and-white documentary look, Nolan finally made the jump to the pro’s with his next offering Memento which was pretty impressive for a low-budget independent film. Memento was a slow and sedate movie, and even though it looked like something made in film school, it was still entertaining thanks largely to the non-linear narrative. Even though the idea of losing short-term memory is nothing like watching a movie out-of-sequence; the premise of the story and style of the film still worked together.
Then came Insomnia, and probably because the budget permitted for the first time in his career, Christopher Nolan began to find some kind of affinity with the harshness of nature. Insomnia was the first of his films to depict the wilderness against the man-made, and this would become a visual theme throughout the rest of his career. Styling aside, Insomnia was a well crafted movie, and the topic of insomnia itself (hallucinating and drifting off) was translated to film quite proficiently.
Then came Christopher Nolan’s biggest achievement; bringing DC’s Batman to the big screen. Even though Tim Burton had brought us a pretty enjoyable film in the eighties, during the nineties Batman had become a bright and tacky joke. Batman Begins did a great job of making a comic book story seem believable, and thanks to Nolan’s love of non-linear storytelling, the film incorporated a sense of poetry when it came to the structure of the narrative. The source material which could be seen as classist (an upper-class moral and superior white male saves the day with the help of his father’s inheritance and a servant) was toned-down somewhat by Nolan, who made a point of showing politicians, policemen, and judges as corrupt as well as an unscrupulous board member. This played down the rich hero which could have been hard to swallow, and instead gave the audience a protagonist we could support through the coming sequels. With the great Tom Wilkinson playing the villain Falcone, the cast was pretty impressive, and this coupled with the plausible plot and solid directing made for a credible comic book movie. Although the plot itself may have featured flawed ideas about justice (after all, jail is worse than execution) the film itself was still well executed and hugely enjoyable.
Nolan’s next film The Prestige incorporated once again, an empty wilderness and great natural expanses juxtaposed against harsh grey concrete and brick man-made buildings. This mix of scientific, terrific, and the down-to-earth realistic became more of an obvious visual trend of Nolan, and ignoring Scarlett Johansson’s wavering British accent, the film was consistent and well constructed. The only disappointing element was the ending; taking into account the opening scene of scattered top-hats, the crushed budgie trick, the child asking about the budgie’s brother, constant talk of doubles, and the bad make-up on Christian Bale (reminiscent of the movie Sleuth) you could guess the ending before it was revealed. Not that great for a magic trick, but overall a pretty decent movie.
Then came The Dark Knight and it exhibited once again, Nolan’s expertise in making an entertaining and believable comic book adaptation. Even though Katie Holmes had somehow transformed into Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score still felt fresh, and the film remained thematically true to the first movie. That’s not to say it was perfect, there were some strange and out of place references to current events and politics. For instance the Pro-American Harvey Dent mocked a Chinese gun in the courtroom scene, exclaiming “If you wanna kill a public defender, I suggest you buy American”. The character of Batman also became slightly irritating, especially when Wayne bragged about his wealth (remember the line “One fundraiser with my pals, you won’t need another cent”?). At a time of an economic slump, we the public no longer looked at the rich in the same way; this was not a great time to offer us a wealthy protagonist.
The idea of Batman as the sole hero also began to feel morally superior especially in the context of vigilantism, when a civilian who was dressed like him asked; “What makes you any different from me?”, Batman replied condescendingly “I’m not wearing hockey pads”. The lead character began to feel a tad self-righteous and against the great Heath Ledger who gave arguably the best performance of his career as the Joker, the audience began to side with the “bad-guy” rather than the heroic lead. With Joker’s mysterious past, the fact that he stood for complete and unadulterated anarchy, a great amount of the audience agreed with his sentiments. When he described himself as an “agent of chaos”, whether intentional or not, many of us began to feel empathy for the villain which wasn’t a great thing for a Batman franchise.
Characters aside, The Dark Knight looked important and impressive thanks to the choice of shots and the use of the IMAX format. Some scenes were framed beautifully, and Nolan made perfect use of the immersive format especially on the exterior shots of Chicago. The only thing that felt unsatisfying was the fact that the IMAX footage didn’t last long enough before reverting to a widescreen shot. Maybe Nolan could have sustained the IMAX scene for long enough so that we could enjoy the spectacle (just take a look at the scene with the Lamborghini racing down the street constantly cutting to the hospital and tell me it didn’t become annoying). Someone should have suggested to Nolan to maybe choose 16:9 rather than 2.35:1 so the jumping between ratios would become less noticeable. For someone who is such a lover of the IMAX format, for him to continually make films which require constant aspect-ratio-switching, it makes the whole “IMAX Experience” and the higher ticket price pretty much pointless. But that being said, the film was pretty enjoyable and all-in-all The Dark Knight was an impressive action movie.
After Dark Knight however, suddenly everything began to go wrong; not in terms of popularity, not in terms of profitability, but in terms of creativity and artistry. In contemporary culture however, where the banal is accepted and the average is praised, Nolan’s worst work began to be heralded as his greatest achievement, almost as if his earlier and better films meant nothing.
Inception was Nolan’s next film, and centred around the idea of lucid dreaming. The main problem with Inception however, was that when tackling the concept of dreams, you have to abandon any realism; that is to say dreams despite feeling real at the time, have a strange unquantifiable element which let you know they aren’t real. With it’s $160,000,000 budget, Inception didn’t even slightly resemble a dream, and since this was the main crux of the piece, surely the look should have been completely different to say The Dark Knight, but unfortunately it wasn’t.
The fact that dreams rarely have an enjoyable conclusion, and the fact that dreams have no reasoning (i.e. you do not have to drive somewhere to get there and you can travel and arrive somewhere before you know how you got there) meant Inception was nothing like the subject it supposedly tackled. The fact that some very surreal and strange things take place in a dream, and the fact that they never have a distinguishable or convoluted plot, not to mention the peripheral scenery or setting can be backward, skewed, and even mathematically incorrect; Inception with its straight lines and neat look never attempted to copy these aesthetics. Inception was definitely not a brilliant realisation.
Watching films by directors such as David Cronenberg and David Lynch, you can see that they have inadvertently created scenes and even entire films which looked more dream-like than Christopher Nolan’s movie, and when it comes to actual dream sequences, Roman Polanski’s relatively easy idea of moving the location of the bed and looking behind the bedhead in Rosemary’s Baby, this looked more like a dream for a fraction of the price. Nolan’s trademark style which is so straight and exact, so angular and stark, never really pulled off the look and feel of an actual dream, and the bending of the world around you was surely better as a metaphor for lucid dreaming rather than an expensive literal translation. Coupled with the fact that Dark City and The Matrix had already gone some way to imagining these concepts of false-reality with better effect, Inception was a big-budget disappointment. And yet if you listened to his fans speak of this film, you’d think it was a work of art, but if Inception had been the product of Expressionism or Surrealist art, it’s depictions of dreams would look ridiculously normal in comparison.
It was after the release of Inception that you realised Christopher Nolan had gained a fanatical and weirdly devoted fandom. Despite Inception not being Nolan’s best work, these die-hard fans insisted in keeping Nolan’s celebrity status just short of Saint. Just take a look at the IMDb User Review of Inception:
“He is, undoubtedly, one of THE most brilliant and gifted Hollywood filmmakers in history. Filmmakers like him come but just once in a lifetime. He has the ability to seduce our eyes, ears and most importantly, mind, and then delivers what he intends to deliver in full blast”
This kind of flatterer giving a completely biased review of the movie and the director himself, shows how these Nolanites love to overrate everything Christopher makes. With the Message Board of Inception boasting a topic titled “It’s only for intelligent people”, it was quite clear that his fans were teetering on being cinematic Nazi’s. Either that or they were treading into the area of mental illness or psychological disorder; almost as if they were channelling one of Nolan’s movies.
After Inception came The Dark Knight Rises, a horridly depressing installment to his Dark Knight Trilogy. For some unknown reason the new-look Gotham (filmed in New York rather than Chicago) resembled a post-apocalyptic shithole. But location aside, the film had many other problems; the tone didn’t resemble the previous films, the plot was strangely dull, the wannabe twist was predictable, but worst of all, the new characters were caricatures, and for somebody who had rebooted Batman as something which was convincing and “real”, this was the greatest disappointment of all. The plot itself which glorified the police, seemed strangely at odds with the first movie, and the overall feel of the film was bleak to say the least. The Dark Knight Rises also included some of the worst fight sequences in film history, with peripheral characters waiting to get their punch in. As a sequel it was unsatisfying and as an action film it was almost laughable.
Once more, we were introduced to Nolan’s so-called “love” for the IMAX format, and yet once again Dark Knight Rises contained constant format hopping. Hearing Christopher Nolan in various interviews where he constantly tried to convince us to hark back to the good ol’ days of film (rather than digital) began to sound a bit like a bad workman blaming his tools. None of us liked multiplexes anyway, a real fan of cinema never took to them when the first few began to pop-up out of town and in the middle of nowhere almost two decades ago; that’s why we’d rather stream or buy a film and watch it at home. But to try and claw back at film projectors when almost every cinema in the world is now digital; is a bit too late. Maybe figure out how to make better films with the digital format; maybe work on technology which can match the resolution of the IMAX negative, maybe work on filters and colour correction which can achieve the same aesthetic. Maybe he should have used his industry connections back in the day when it could have changed things, either way it’s too late to get real film back into cinema, and by creating movies which aren’t completely filmed in the IMAX format, it’s hardly the way to attain converts. But I digress. Back to Christopher Nolan’s filmography.
Nolan then co-wrote Man Of Steel which was very disappointing, but since he had nothing to with the film’s direction, it is best left out of this critique. His next offering was Interstellar, a stark-looking film purporting to be about space travel but in actual fact was a $165,000,000 pro-Humanist piece of propaganda which bashed spiritualism and free-thinking unless these ideas were first qualified by science. Whereas Stanely Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (which itself was somewhat overrated) hinted at the possibility of alien intervention during the evolution of our species, Interstellar focussed solely on humans in an empty and ultimately conquerable universe. In that respect, Interstellar was an insular, closed-minded homage to 2001, and in my opinion, spat in the face of Arthur C. Clarke and even Stanley Kubrick who is credited as Nolan’s biggest influence. The finished product had numerous things wrong with it (aside from its references) including pace, lines, effects, and even plot. Overall Interstellar was one of Christopher Nolan’s worst creations.
Anybody with a sane mind can clearly see Nolan’s last two or three films have been his worst, but thanks to the ever supportive Nolanites (and this includes mainstream critics) they have managed to create an untouchable persona around Christopher Nolan as if he is some kind of infallible deity. Just take a look at the IMDb rating for his films thanks largely to his flunky’s (correct at the time I wrote this):
|Film||A Biased IMDb Rating||An Unbiased Rating|
|Dark Knight Rises||8.6/10||4.0/10|
It’s plain to see that a huge proportion of Christopher Nolan’s fan base are boot-licking liars. Only in a Nolanesque dream world with no short-term memory is Interstellar one of the best films of his career, and The Dark Knight Rises is in no way better than Batman Begins or Memento. It’s this kind of corruption that has kept his films overrated as if his entire filmography is somehow flawless. There are some great movies from other directors that are ranked in the 7-8 out of 10 range and yet even the worst of Nolan’s films attain a 9.0/10 with his entire filmography having an 8.7/10 average!
To anybody who isn’t a sheep or a crazed Christopher Nolan über-fan, it’s pretty obvious that Nolan peaked somewhere in the late noughties, and unless he makes something that isn’t long, drawn-out, and wannabe-intelligent; his filmography is heading one way in a two-dimensional space. Judging from the above ratings (the truthful and realistic ones), almost 60% of Nolan’s films are good; but that’s far from being exceptional. These days the Syncopy logo has become more interesting than the film that follows it, and incidentally nothing bearing the Syncopy branding is emotively worthy of an audience member fainting.
A writer-director is only as good as their own creations, and since they are responsible for both duties, they are either the main reason a film is a work of genius or a disappointing mess. Similar to M. Night Shyamalan, Nolan hasn’t been able to keep up the quality of his own scripts and storylines, and without offering anything new in terms of direction; he falls short of being “one of the greats”. If the majority of your work is to somehow portray psychological, spiritual, and even theoretical ideas, at some point you’re going to run out of steam. Maybe he should have made the Howard Hughes biopic with Jim Carrey after all, either that or a film with a smaller budget; that way he wouldn’t be such an annoying unvarying one-trick pony that he is slowly becoming.
To be fair, it’s more his crazed sycophantic fans that make you hate the celebrity construct of Christopher Nolan, rather than Nolan himself. I mean Nolan makes his film, talks highly of it (which is to be expected) and then buggers-off to make another one; that’s hardly annoying. But his parasitic fans then scuttle around in the aftermath of his creations and proceed to overrate everything he makes without any discrimination. These Nolanites act like a non-linear narrative is somehow Nolan’s invention. They ignore the fact that Quentin Tarantino and Tom Tykwer did the same thing in the nineties and Nolan’s own constant reference and influence; Stanley Kubrick did it in the fifties. His fans also ignore that Terry Gilliam, Alex Proyas, and The Wachowski’s have already tackled some of his concepts before Nolan even got around to them. But oh no, Christopher “King Of Film” Nolan is the be-all and end-all of credible and intelligent mainstream cinema. But let us forget these odious Nolanites; I guess every celebrity has obsessive fans. Let’s get back to the man himself.
Educated at the Haileybury and Imperial Service College which was founded by The East India Company, the College’s alumni include Prime Ministers, numerous Victoria Cross holders, and umpteen Generals and Major Generals of the Armed Forces. Nolan then went to the University College London which itself is home to various Politicians, Chief Justices, and err… Coldplay. Save to say that Christopher Nolan is the very definition of upper-class privilege and Entertainment Industry elitism. Being the nephew of British TV actors and apparently drinking Earl Grey Tea on-set, his films which sometimes concern the idea of classism and the distribution of wealth, can become annoyingly condescending given his upbringing. Not to mention that as a body of work, all his films are centred around the same demographic, and whether hero or villain (and sometimes ambiguous) the lead is always the same; a white heterosexual middle-to-upper-class male.
Even The Prestige on some levels played on the classist ideas of the common versus the elegant. The competing magicians essentially performed the same trick but the commoner resorted to a cheap and simple tactic, and the rich used an expensive and ludicrously elaborate method in order to create the same effect. I guess in the mid-noughties, this was foretelling of Nolan himself, who has spent ever larger amounts of money on his films but hasn’t achieved anything better than the low-budget Memento. I guess selling old tricks in a new and more expensive way is now Nolan’s trademark.
Christopher Nolan, thanks to his fans, has now become an arrogant, bumptious, smarmy-looking, almost uppity writer-director who is beginning to believe his own hype. I’d have to admit that he has made some pretty good movies, especially early on in his career, but he is no movie messiah. He is not irrefutable and he is far from perfect. These obsequious Nolanites need to get a grip, they need to get a hold of reality, because in this world and in this dimension where we have no abstraction of time; Nolan is simply an above average director and an average writer. He isn’t a genius and he damn well isn’t a fucking god. Maybe wait for him to make another Memento before you begin to worship the ground he walks on.
The Dark Shite Rises.