' ' Cinema Romantico: Notes on Nolan

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Notes on Nolan

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues apace in America thanks to our unique cocktail of idiocy, ignorance and indifference, one-time 2020 tentpole movies have been pushing their release dates with considerable alacrity to 2021: “A Quiet Place Part II”, “Top Gun: Maverick” and, of course, this blog’s strangely anticipated “Jungle Cruise.” “The French Dispatch”, meanwhile, has been put on release hiatus indefinitely. One movie, however, that remains steadfast in its determination to see the dark of theaters in The Year of the Pandemic, come hell or COVID hotspot, is Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” It has changed release dates three times and even then, only marginally, a week or two here or there, currently slated for early September a week after being released overseas. Whether Nolan is like a college football conference commissioner defiantly plowing ahead because of his subservience to our one, true American Lord and Savior, the Almighty Economy, or because he thinks “Tenet” can be the event that Brings Us All Together (to possibly become infected), who can say? Either way, even though going to a movie is the one thing I most want to do right now, I am not going to see “Tenet” in the theater come September given the state of things.

Wear a mask! And stay home!
Neither is Rachel Handler, staff writer at Vulture, who last week wondered which Christopher Nolan movie she would risk her life to see in a theater during a pandemic. This was and I cannot stress this enough superior Internet content. I mean, this was a sensational post. I seethed with faux-jealousy that I failed to come up with it first and I tip my blogging beret to Handler and link to it again right here to ensure you do not miss it. Still, her post got me to thinking, as it absolutely had to, which Nolan movie I would risk my life to see in a theater.  

There is some irony to this question given the half-baked and not entirely consistent theory I have developed in the outpost of my mind that despite his commitment to IMAX and 70mm that in an era where TV and movies are blurring, Christopher Nolan is so beloved because he is the biggest small screen director working today. I say that because of his fetish for sprawling narratives, a la “The Dark Knight” trilogy, that feel like works of serialized television and his preference for concocting intricate puzzles, a la “Inception” and “The Prestige”, intended to be poured over in group chats afterward as much as experienced in the moment. Despite “Interstellar”, which still skews too talky, and “Dunkirk”, which might be the best piece of pure cinema Nolan has created, he is less proficient as many of his colleagues in telling his stories through images. Look no further than “Inception’s” ultimate moment when he falls back on the old voiceover stacked on top of flashbacks trope; c’mon, man.

If there was one Nolan movie I would risk my life to see on the big screen, then, it might be “Batman Begins.” Not because the methodical nature of a Nolan joint might be at its best here but because that one mid-movie scene, cutting from our first glimpse of the Bat Signal to Batman standing atop Gotham, looking out over it, its protector, is the rare memorable Nolan image, manifest in its visual sweep. But no, if I was going to risk my life to see one Nolan movie on the big screen, it would be “The Dark Knight Rises.” 

Not because of any one image, though, but because of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle as Catwoman. “Anne Hathaway,” Handler wrote, “is the only one who understands that Christopher Nolan’s movies are gay camp.” I’d never thought of it like that and I’d love for Handler to see that whole idea through in a more extensive piece. I just loved Hathaway because it’s the best performance to ever emerge from a Nolan movie. It’s the best because, as Handler implies, Hathaway is reading the material in an entirely different way, having a ball rather than grinding her teeth as is typically required of actors under the direction of Nolan.

Everything in Nolan-verse is designed to his exacting specifications to be just so, but Anne Hathaway in “The Dark Knight Rises” is something else, in both meanings of the phrase, splendid in a performance that rather than existing as merely a marionette, breaks free and just seems to be making it up as she goes along. 

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