Here's What Exactly Christopher Nolan Means When He Says Time
Christopher Nolan, filmmaker and director of films like The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, is back with an unusual film--Tenet--set for July 2020 release. The British-American director keeps ambition and his experimental nature on a high priority and with an actor of colour as the leading man, Nolan seems all set to break depiction boundaries as well.
What makes a Nolan film, one must wonder... Is it the ambiance his film is set in, the moods he plays with, the intense action and background score he uses to heighten tension, the non-linear narrative structure, complex art form and/or what else. Well, all of the above and more. In fact, one of the most fascinating and alluring aspects of his directorial have certainly been how Nolan approaches the concept of time (w.r.t. editing and structure also).
Nolan is celebrating his 49th birthday today, although it is hard to decipher, considering his films such as Following, Memento, The Prestige, Dunkirk among others, what constitutes time in the back of his mind. For Nolan to be inverting and manipulating time and use it as a plot element certainly requires a closer study.
His films seem chronological, till the time we suddenly feel dislocated, realizing that all of our assumptions about the world are a matter of perception. For instance, Memento has two parallel tracks-- one runs forward and the other runs backward, and that’s something we in the audience discover on our own. Filmmaker, hero and viewer trying to create meaning together.
A screengrab from Memento (2000)
During one of his interviews, Nolan, while addressing a question about blending reality and fantasy in Interstellar, explained setting the rules of audience engagement when approaching such stories. He also emphasised on relying on the intelligence of the viewer when he said, "I wanted a character to travel faster than the speed of light, and he (physics consultant on Interstellar) spent about two weeks just beating me down and explaining to me it's absolutely not possible. And I finally had to sort of concede."
Another closely associated and distinguishing element of a Nolan films is memory. In Inception, protagonist Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is trying to implant memories into someone else’s subconscious, and the nature of memory drives the plot. The film is inter cut to DiCaprio's past, which plagues his actions and corrupts his behaviour.
A screengrab from Inception (2010)
But memories can be faulty too, especially in Nolan’s world. That means that sometimes our perception of time is faulty, too. Thus, he compels viewers to reexamine the “facts” by using time as a tool. In Interstellar, Michael Caine's character even says, "I am not afraid of death. I am afraid of time."
A screengrab from Interstellar (2014)
In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne is trying to save Gotham city, something which is threatened by time itself, represented through the ticking nuclear bomb. But a closer look will reveal that in a course of three films, Batman is also ageing and realises that he cannot continue being Batman forever. Thus Nolan creates Batman as a symbol, which will never be defeated by time.
About Batman Begins he said, "It was about taking this beloved character and re-contextualizing, setting this extraordinary character in a seemingly ordinary world."
There was a finite sense to Christian Bale's ability as the Batman in Nolan's versions, as opposed to superhero films like Man of Steel or Batman vs Superman, which makes us more empathetic towards the protagonist.
A screengrab from The Dark Knight (2012)
Nolan has reworked, twisted and played tricks with time. With some of the few most impactful films of the generation to his credit, Nolan is always a director worth paying attention to.
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