I am very well aware that my opinion in this post will cause some controversy. I know that, but I am going to write this analysis anyway. I will preface all of this with these words: I do like Christopher Nolan. I think he is an extremely talented director. He is easily my choice for ‘Most Successful Director’ for the Decade of the 00s. I adore a lot of his movies. However with all of this known, with all my enjoyment for him as a director, and with all my respect that I have for him as a filmmaker I can still hold this opinion for him. Why? Because it’s true. Christopher Nolan’s films are very dumb. This doesn’t take away from them as films, or lower their initial quality, but, long term, the cracks show through his films and upon further analysis you’ll be able to see just how simple they are.
I’m sorry Christopher Nolan fans. I don’t mean this to be an insult towards Christopher Nolan but rather an in depth look into how his movies aren’t as complex as we make them out to be. Really when you strip everything down, and this will sound like a much bigger insult than it is, Nolan’s movies are really along the same lines of Michael Bay movies. Now that I probably have your attention and anger, I’ll delve further into that beyond the cut.
I also figured I’d be nice and say there are some spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises.
Before I get balls deep in this post I want to even further specify that I am not talking about Old School Nolan. Old School Nolan brought out two very engaging movies, Memento and Insomnia. Insomnia is a neat little thriller that I’m sure a lot of casual Nolan fans haven’t even seen let alone known that he directed. Those two are quality movies wrapped up in a neat little bow. The Prestige is also one of those movies that I enjoy each time I watch. These are what I’d call ‘Old School Nolan’. Yes, it’s true, I am establishing my entire thesis on his most recent cinematic adventures, but the reasons behind my ‘Nolan’s movies are dumb’ argument are so strong that I’m sure if I went back into his old movies I’d be able to pick out the cherry blossoms that were ‘New School Nolan’s’ guilty habits of filmmaking.
Pay attention to what the characters in his movies say and how they interact with themselves and others. All of his characters don’t really have any ‘character’, we are told things about them through other characters and we see them doing these things at a face value, but are they really actually these characters we’re told about? A great example is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb in Inception. Throughout the overwhelming and thick exposition we’re occasionally given glimpses into Cobb’s character. Ellen Page says now and again that Cobb is obsessed with his dead wife and we get to see it through with just how much he’s really into the whole ‘Dream Machine’ thing they have cooked up. Yes, we’re told that he really misses his dead wife and that’s sad, but when you peel back all the layers of that characterization… is it actual characterization or is it just stuff we’re being told along with our exposition?
I never really felt anything for the relationship between Cobb and his wife and that’s because there really is nothing there. While we’re being trampled with dialogue about how to enter the dream realm we’re occasionally trampled with even more dialogue regarding Cobb and, sniffles, his dead wife. How much of this information is subtle? How much do we have to figure out that Cobb truly misses his wife through a quiet character moment with just him, silence and a character quirk? Nothing in Inception can be defined as subtle. The movie is a summer blockbuster, not unlike Transformers, where it is mindless fun wrapped in an action packed package. You’d be kidding yourself if you said anything in Inception was deep or thought-provoking. Everything from story to characters to characterization is spelt out for you in block letters with black sharpie. There’s no thinking in a film like Inception, it’s more ‘following along’ with the movie.
It’s with all that known that truly shows how thin of a character Cobb is. He loves his wife because we are told he loves his wife, not because we see him love his wife. There’s a huge difference in how a character comes across. It’s the difference between someone telling you ‘that guys looks like a jerk’ to seeing him purposely make somebody miss their elevator. Or something even more subtle and seeing that person burn a letter their colleague received telling them of their promotion and then saying the letter never came at all. No, instead of subtlety Nolan decides to literally connect everything Cobb does with his wife. He visits her in the dream world, he uses a totem connected to her, yadda yadda yadda yadda — WE GET IT HE MISSES HIS WIFE.
It spells out everything for you straight up and doesn’t leave anything to implication. The Dark Knight Rises does the exact same thing. It’s a comic book movie, so it doesn’t need to be perfect, but there are fans of the movie hailing it as a masterpiece. It isn’t a masterpiece. It’s predictable and cliché for most of the movie, and not even in the acceptable stuff like Batman overcoming his odds and the like. I’m talking about in the less obvious parts of filmmaking, the set-ups and pay-offs. Chekhov’s Gun, if you’re a Troper. A good example is the speech that Michael Caine does as Alfred early on in the movie, about how he goes to Venice and goes to a particular café and hopes to see Bruce sitting there smiling and Batman free. I won’t exactly give you any praise if you can figure out what happens next.
It’s fine if this happens now and again, but the entire movie, no-less most of filmography, has these glaring issues. It goes even further than simple characters and simple plot set-ups, but because of the characters being so simple they say simple things. The painful exchange in The Dark Knight Rises of the whole ‘my parents told me not to get into cars with strangers’ – ‘this isn’t a car’ is just vomit inducing. He does this a lot in his scripts, really simple and groan-inducing one liners that are there to, and usually succeed in, getting a laugh from the audience. Most people wouldn’t find anything glaringly wrong with this, but it’s just something that BOILS MY BLOOD. Whenever it happens I hate it. I HATE IT.
Back to the beginning when I said that Nolan and Michael Bay had similarities. The big difference, right off the bat, is that I actually like Nolan’s movies. However, the two of them master in the Summer blockbuster. The last movie that I can remember of Nolan’s that didn’t come out in the Summer was The Prestige, which came out in the month of October. Essentially Nolan’s movies are not nearly as complex as some of his audience makes it out to be. Inception is not a smart movie. Inception is an entertaining movie. Inception is a movie I will watch now and again and always enjoy. Hell, Inception is a movie I would recommend to anyone to watch. With all of this known, Inception is also cheap drivel filled with exposition. Entertaining and fun drivel, but, in the end, I can’t help analysing it after watching it quite a few times and see just how dumb it really is.