Poetics of Christopher Nolan

How to make a mind-game film?

A Mid-Cult Auteur? 

Assessing Christopher Nolan’s body of work has been a highly contested topic. (1) Widely praised for his complex narratives, he is equally criticised for lacking visual sophistication (2) and mastery (3). Even film scholars are divided in their evaluation of the director. While acknowledging his achievements, renowned film scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson are of the opinion that ‘we might be better off in viewing Nolan as a mid-cult auteur whose cinematic innovations lies in ‘subjectivity and nonlinear narrative’. Ultimately, their assessment sees Nolan as a filmmaker who ‘is often better at mind games than spatially precise physical activity’ (Bordwell and Thompson 2013, p.54). (4)

But I argue that this perspective lacks a deeper assessment of Nolan’s visual strategies and ignores the complexity of his visual strategies. As criticisms against Nolan seemed to be made primarily against a particular kind of ‘Hollywood’ filmmaking style, these hostile reactions have largely ignore the importance of artistic unity and coherency. Instead I argue that critics have confused visual style with thematic and narrative preferences.

Intensified Visual Style

Spoilers Alert! An example of intensified visual style in Nolan’s The Prestige (2006)

David Bordwell’s essay Intensified Continuity, a study on a tendency by Hollywood filmmakers to shoot closer and cut faster, provides a framework in which to make sense on an increasingly dominant mode of filmmaking.

Intensified style of continuity is a style of shooting and editing that directs attention by cutting faster with a focus on tight close to medium shots. The tactics used in the intensified style involves a consistently moving camera, a tight close up shot-reserve-shot pattern, varied lens lengths and rapid editing. Actors are blocked with minimum mobility in relation to the space of the sets.

Shots become quicker and tighter and focuses on tight shots of actor’s expressions. Scenes are shot so fast that information have to be conveyed by succinct and uncomplicated dialogue. Plot points moves from one point to another in an intense manner that framing and composition needs to convey information, meaning and resonance in a few seconds (Bordwell 2002, pp.16-28).

Drawing on David Bordwell’s notion of intensified continuity, I examine how Nolan works in this mode of filmmaking to produce his cinematic puzzle boxes. But the intensified style in Nolanverse is not just a fashionable inclination adopted by the director. Instead I argue that Nolan has formulated a consistent conceptual design that supports and strengthens the supposedly oneiric expressions of his films.

The following essay is a textual analysis that provides a counter argument to these charges. I first break down the key formal elements structuring the director’s thematic and narrative concerns. Then I analyse The Prestige (2006) and Dark Knight Trilogy (2006 – 2012) in terms of crystallizing the director’s visual mastery with his unique brand of cinematic innovations. By doing so, I demonstrate how Nolan’s visual strategy enables the ‘puzzle’ in his narratives as well as reinforcing thematic concerns. In this regard, I show how Nolan’s visual style is highly complex as much as it is consistent with thematic and narrative concerns.

Defending Michael Bay’s Visual Design?

Relax dude. Bay is not the enemy. 

While the debate surrounding style and content is not the focus of this analysis, one suspects that what rouses suspicion in critics is not necessarily this supposed intensified style but rather the content and narratives typically associated with this particular style. Indeed, this position confuses style with content.

To see this confusion, we can compare Nolan with another filmmaker whose films have also been criticized for its kinetic visual style. In this regard, Michael Bay is someone who has also been fiercely criticised for similar visual tendencies.

Dubbed Bayhem, the director’s visual strategy is considered artless and restless precisely because of a preference for a highly kinetic mode of shooting and editing. Again, this position seemed to replace a dispassionate analysis in favour of preferences. Whether one agrees with Bay’s chosen content, it is necessary to disentangle from seeing the intensified style as detrimental to storytelling.

But intensified continuity including rapid editing and incoherent visual shot design have always been part of cinematic history. An example is the montage aesthetic found in City Symphony Films. The fast editing and shooting style found in city symphonies are not necessarily more coherent and slower than an intensified style. In fact, it is more frantic, abrupt and incoherent.

Of course, it is inappropriate to compare a non-narrative film genre with mainstream cinema. But by focusing on the technical aspect of shot composition and editing between two kinds of filmmaking, I draw attention to the importance of content choices influencing the perception of stylistic choices.

To belabour the point, style can be independent from content. An example is to use the aesthetics of slow cinema in action films. Does it make it conceptually interesting? Sure. But does it mean that such a film is necessarily exciting? It depends on what the viewer considers exciting. If one equate excitement with fast motion and quick changes, then slow aesthetics might not necessary fit the bill. But if one equate excitement with fresh stylistic innovations, then slow aesthetics in action films might constitute excitement.

Depending on personal tastes, slow aesthetics might or might not be appropriate to action cinema. Whether one is for or against such fusions, style can be independent from content even if the resulting film may not be as fulfilling as a whole.

The point I want to make is that it can be easy to confuse personal preferences for a certain kind of content with preferences for certain stylistic choices. So just because some might dislike certain kind of action cinema, it does not mean that action aesthetics do not hold cinematic innovations and artistic merits. Indeed, this position lies more with the evaluator’s preference for certain kind of narrative and thematic treatment than with the visual style itself.

So while some might disagree with Bay’s preferences for certain kind of narratives, it does not mean that the director is not a master visual stylist; in fact his visual composition is highly complex, dynamic and engaging.  If visual design is the only criteria for assessing Bay, then it is clear that the director is as visually sophisticated and engaging as any director in the world. And even though Bay might not measure highly on other criterion, it does not take away his achievement and competency as a visual stylist.

As a corollary, Nolan’s narrative innovations does not necessarily mean that he is less of a visual stylist. Instead of seeing style as being merely a container, I argue that Nolan’s stylistic choices reinforces thematic ideas as much as they manipulate narrative structure. In this sense, I regard Christopher Nolan as a director who proves an example of a director who is visually consistent and someone who is able to fuse the technical with thematic and narrative concerns. As a result, Nolan’s visual style is highly distinctive and unique.

Basic Narrative and Thematic Elements  

Infallible memories? How about flashbacks? Or flash forwards?

Despite working across many genres, Nolan mainly works within the genre of neo-noir. Defined as a modern type of noir, neo-noirs stresses structure elements such as flashbacks, multiple voice-overs, dream sequences and non-linearity (Spicer 2007, p.47).

Neo-noir extends and intensifies the notion of the anti-hero who is not only passive and weak but also suffer from a range of psychological neuroses whose memories and experience of time are confused and uncertain. There are also structural elements inherited from film noir such as character types (the morally ambiguous protagonist, the femme fatale, and the mentor) location setting (urban cities) and visual aesthetics of low-key lighting and stark mise-en-scene (see Hirsch 2008; Naremore 2008).

Culpability and Self-Deception 

The fault is all mine.

The archetypical Nolaneque story often deals with the interior and virtual spaces of the individual mind. Framed by a host of dissociative devices including displacement, condensation, mis-recognition, Nolan’s protagonists are either afflicted with psychological conditions or traumatized by the death of a loved one. As a result, these mental disturbances affect their perception of reality.

A recurring motif is the idea of obsession and guilt over a missing-woman. Nolan’s protagonists are compelled by their guilt to seek vengeance or to seek out the reasons behind their loss. As a result, Nolan’s protagonists are obsessed in their mission to absolve their past mistakes. In doing so, this internal turmoil and obsession drives their search for the truth. But this obsessive drive also compel Nolan’s protagonist to look for external antagonists that may or may not be responsible for their loss.

Shirking personal responsibility is another recurring motif. Coupled with guilt, Nolan’s protagonists tend to ignore their own culpability for their loss. As a way of coping with it, they often turn to revenge and redirect their guilt by blaming other people. One example is the amnesic protagonist in Memento.  Despite being obsessed with finding his wife’s killer, it is revealed that the protagonist had already avenged his wife. Unfortunately, the protagonist cannot remember the event.

Nolan’s protagonists are often the cause of their personal losses and salvation. Examples include Angier’s obsessive competition with Borden in  The Prestige or in Inception where Cobb indirectly cause Mal to commit suicide. But at the same time, Nolan’s protagonists are often the solution in resolving their situation. To redeem and absolve their past, all Nolan’s protagonists need to do is to find the courage to face up to their mistakes and let go of their obsessive need to redeem themselves.

Deception and Distractions

First-person subjective point of view as distractions?

Much like Batman’s use of gunpowder and fancy gadgetry to deceive and distract attention, Nolan follows a similar strategy in his filmmaking.

Todd McGowan writes that ‘Nolan uses the form of deception to constitute an ethical philosophy rooted in the ontological primacy of the lie’ (McGowan 2012, p.1) and that the structure of a Nolan’s film ‘plays on the interest in the idea of truth’ and define ‘the lie as a disjunction between what one believes and what happens.’ (McGowan 2012, p.3)  So in what form does this deception take shape in? How does Nolan do this on a structural level?

Film theorists have labelled Nolan’s films as puzzle films or mind-game films. Thomas Elsaesser points out that mind-game narratives play games with the mind on two levels, the first is with the minds of the characters in the story and the second is with audience’s perception and expectations.

From concepts like ‘forking path narratives’ (Bordwell 2002), ‘multi-draft narratives’ (Branigan 2002), ‘database narratives’ (Kinder 2002), ‘modular narratives’ (Cameron 2006), to ‘mind-game” films’ (Elsaesser 2008), Simons notes that telling stories in these mode instead of a linear and progressive development reminds audiences that stories are not necessarily based in causality, determinism and linear temporality.

Instead complex films and their playful narratives intimate a whole range of possibilities, probabilities and ‘chance and contingency’ (Simons 2008, p.123).

Playing Mindgames with us?

Indeed, Nolan’s experimentation with flashbacks within flashbacks, backwards-forward storytelling and multiple points of view demonstrates the concern of someone with a great interest in testing new and refreshing ways of storytelling. But he is not necessarily an isolated case study.

Complex narratives have always been part of film history. From Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), Rashamon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950) to Last Year in Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961), filmmakers have always been interested in non-conventional ways of storytelling. But what is unique, as Bordwell and Thompson have noted, is Nolan’s consistency and commitment.

Films such as Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994), The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995), Sliding Doors (Peter Howitt, 1998), Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998), The Game (David Fincher, 1997),  Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999), 21 Grams (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2003) etc. have led scholars to notice a tendency and interest in making films with “unfamiliar forms of narration and narrative” that address and engage spectators and audiences in unfamiliar ways. (See Bordwell, 2002: Elsaesser, 2008; Simons, 2008)

Scholars noted that Nolan can be considered as part of an emerging group of filmmakers during the nineties who were drawn to experimental and alternative ways of storytelling. They noted that these filmmakers, although not part of a concerted and coherent film movement, were making films that were concerned with “unfamiliar forms of narration and narrative” (see Bordwell, 2002: Elsaesser, 2008; Simons, 2008).

However these experimental strategies serves a larger purpose. By requiring the viewer to solve puzzles and work out problems in dramatic forms, these experimental strategies looks to upend and subvert the expectations of an increasingly literate audience. In other word, it is a strategy that serves to delight and surprise an increasingly blasé and unimpressed audience.

But how does Nolan do this on a structural level? Drawing upon David Bordwell’s idea of intensified continuity style, I examine how Christopher Nolan uses dialogue, sound, shot design and editing to construct his cinematic puzzle films.5 I examine how these elements are used to hold the viewer’s emotional and visual attention. And as a result makes it possible to distract and hide his narrative games.

CASE STUDY: THE PRESTIGE (2006) and Dark Knight Trilogy (2006 – 2012)

In my estimation, The Prestige is the strongest example of what can be considered as a Nolan aesthetic. The following list is a breakdown of its component parts.

Themes

  • Search for Answers  (Story Drive)
  • The archetypal anti-hero stricken by guilt and obsessed with taking revenge.
  • Motivated by the loss of a loved one. Including a search to find the missing-woman

Narrative Structure 

  • First-Person narration
  • Multiple Perspectives /  Embedded Stories
  • Flashback ./ Flash forward
  • Unreliable narrator

Cinematic Devices

  1. Production
  • Intensified Continuity Mode (Fast Style)
  • Medium Shots Composition (Camera)
  • Cinema Verite Camerawork (Camera)
  • Static Staging of Actors (Blocking)
  • Cinematography (Practical-Lights Motivated)
  • Fully Built Sets / Wardrobe / Props   (Tactile and Natural Setting
  1. Post Production
  • Fast Editing
  • Dialogue Bridge
  • Voiceover Bridge
  • Colour fitted to environment
  • Music Score as Transition Bridge

The following clips contain a majority of these techniques.

Embedded Stories / Multi Level editing / Docu Cam / Music & Dialogue Bridge

Same Thing but no music and dialogue bridge

Much like Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey (1998), Nolan utilised a flash forward and back editing technique to mirror the fragmented memories and fantasies of the main protagonists. But instead of using low ambient sound effects like Soderbergh, dialogue and music is used by Nolan to ‘bridge’ the different timelines of his story.

This brings us to a very important weapon in Nolan’s arsenal; Audio.

Dialogue and Sound / Bridging Transition 

Just listen! Voice-over, music and sound effects as audio bridges between scenes. At the same time, sound distracts and misdirect attention.

Sound and Music forms a critical component in Nolanverse. It is therefore a little surprising that film scholars and writers do not pay more attention to how Nolan’s narrative tricks are hidden by an overwhelming and extensive use of dialogue and musical bridges. However this neglect is understandable because most film analyses are often image or narrative-based and seldom experiential.

Music can be an effective tool to elicit emotion, it can also cover up visual trickery and narrative deception. In this regard, Nolan’s use of dialogue and music is critical in shaping and masking the tricks behind his cinematic mind-games. In fact, the musical score is a perfect mask to hide temporal transitions and narrative deceptions. In fact, most film editors will understand the importance of suitable musical score; in mainstream cinema, it is used mainly as a complementary edition either to amplify emotions or evoke a sense of dread and anticipation.

Unreliable First-Person narration. Nolan’s use of first person voice-overs drives the narratives in his films. But they are often unreliable narration because Nolan’s protagonists are often afflicted with psychological disturbances that affects their perception of reality. In turn, their altered perception affect the way in which information is relayed back to the viewer. And it is because of this unreliable narration that mind-games appears to be played with both the protagonists and the viewer. In other words, Nolan uses first-person and subjective point of view as a principal device to complicate the veracity of truth.

Nolan plays upon the assumptions of first person voice-over narration. His narrations are never simply descriptions of what is happening on-screen but are almost always about the film’s protagonists posing questions, making assertions and drawing conclusions in relation to their mental conditions. The viewer is prompted that what is screened is a factual presentation by the protagonist’s own discourse and logic in gathering clues, solving a mysteries and working out their own solutions in their mental space; via voice-overs. This future orientated thread is made possible by the erotetic principle that motivates the film; who is responsible for Angier’s death? How did two friends become rivals? What secrets lie behind Angier’s and Borden’s trick? What will happen next?

Dialogue Edit and Music Bridge. At a secondary level, scenes are linked by using dialogue to bridge across different timelines (real and perceived). In The Prestige (2006), the opening scene shows up how Nolan uses the voice-over to quickly transit amongst different timelines and perspectives. As the film cuts across at least three different perspectives, quick editing is key to “hides” the distinction between fabricated flashbacks and real flashbacks. From prison Borden’s pov to Journal Angier’s pov and then to Journal Borden’s pov, the voice-over acts as a dialogue and sound bridge. When it is revealed later in the film that Borden and Angier had been engaging in a series of deceptions with their journals, it reveals how Nolan has subverted the idea that flashbacks should be taken as true reflection of history and information.

*To see how voice-over narration, dialogue and music help hide narrative deception, please watch the first 10 minutes of The Prestige to see how Nolan seamlessly combine these elements into a coherent whole by focusing upon the protagonist’s emotional search for the truth. As a filmmaker, the use of a (quest motif) or a (investigation motif) seem to be the default structuring mechanisms for Nolan’s films.

Documentary Camera / Loose and Handheld / Jump Cuts

Nolan’s cinematography (composition and lighting) is another component of his visual strategy to sell an illusion of truth and veracity. Of course, it may just be a personal preference. But the use of a cinema-verite style of cinematography along with its association of handheld camera and seemingly naturalistic lighting lends a veneer of grounded realism.  In other words, the use of a documentary camerawork is a visual shorthand to suggest realism.

The style invites associations with documentaries in the use of handheld camera shots. By extension, the idea of documentaries is usually associated with the idea of realism and real life. And through this technical code of handheld camerawork, Nolan tries to evoke an implicit idea that what is presented to the viewer has a sense of truthfulness. At the same time, this supposed ‘visual realism’ becomes the mask that covers the transitions among different story lines.

It is at this level that Nolan’s mind games are given shape. By using a documentary style cinematography, the technique blurs the line between genres but more importantly blurs the line between different stories and their visual reality. Think of how flashbacks have traditionally been shown as black and white. It allows the viewer to differentiate between different time periods in the narrative. In fact, colour coding becomes an important tool for the filmmaker to differentiate not only time period but also different locations and point of views.

Different colour coding between locations.

Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000) is an example where the use of colour coding is used to separate different countries, locations and stories. But in Nolan’s film, flashbacks are not colour-coded or differentiated between ‘present time’ and ‘past time’ with the use of interstitials.

By not colour-coding changes in storylines, locations and time periods, Nolan plays with the viewer’s expectations and assumptions. Even for the non-initiated, maintaining a consistent colouring system makes it harder for the viewer to differentiate narrative changes.

Black and white colour coding

In this regard, Nolan subvert the conventional use of flashbacks, multiple storylines and time periods through cinematography and colouring.  How do we know that Nolan is actively subverting the idea of flashbacks-as black and white and colour-coding different locations and time periods?  That is because he had used the very same conventions in his other films.

Emotional Editing / Fast Edit / Jump Cuts

Emotional Dominance.  In his book, Oscar-winning editor Walter Murch points out six basic principles of editing. But above all else, an editor should always edit according to the emotional needs of a scene or film. As the average viewer is only interested in a well told story, the most important principle is cutting to emotion even if it is at the expense of screen direction and technical continuity (Murch 2001).

While some might dismiss this principle as a feature of mainstream cinema, it is actually a fairly common principle found even in art cinema. Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996) is one example of emotional editing outside of the Hollywood system. Over the DVD commentary, Anders Refn the film’s editor points out how the team prioritized emotional editing over visual orientation and consistency (see above clip).

Linked with Shot Design / Action Staging 

In this section, I will discuss how Nolan’s action choreography is much more sophisticated and complex than is generally granted to the filmmaker. In this following, I will compare the visual design of three fight scenes that are found in Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

EDITING AS THEME IN BATMAN

Nolan’s films are rooted in the psychological influences and effects of his protagonists and this has an effect on his visual style.  But by looking at Nolan’s more commercial films The Dark Knight trilogy, I hope to clarify how key themes are worked in visually.  Broadly, the first film focuses upon the theme of fear. The second film was about the theme of chaos and fighting against overwhelming odds. The third film dealt the courage and strength to overcome one’s loss.

But how to construct this visually instead of plot-wise?

Batman as Fear / Close Shot, Fast Cutting, Suspense Score to signify an off-screen force

The first appearance of the Batman in each films provides a good illustration to see this being done on a visual level. The first appearance of Batman in Batman Begins occurs in the dock scene where a gang is unloading a shipment of drugs. As henchmen searches for Batman, we hear audio effects (clanging sounds) to imply an off-screen presence. These sound pops causes the men to become increasingly jittery. But as we will come to know it is simply Batman using diversionary tactics to throw them off-balance. This combines with the use of quick cuts as Batman takes down a gang; the notion of a supernatural figure is constructed visually is done by the staging, framing and quick cuts. The dock scene thus visually encapsulate how Nolan uses editing to work in the theme of fear through the first appearance of Batman to the criminal underworld.

The editing in this scene is fast, abrupt and disjointed with the use of off-screen space and sounds signals the omniscience of the character. The visual treatment reiterates the presentation of the killer or monster in horror films; the scene is structured with a slow build-up of the monster or killer. This visual approach has also been referenced earlier within the narrative itself. During the training sequence in the film, Ra’s-Al Ghul who is Bruce Wayne’s mentor points out the importance of stealth, theatricality and deception to project fear in criminals. This triadic set thus motivates the visual strategy of the scene.

Batman as an Immovable Object /  Medium Shots,  Slower Cuts,  Thematic Score to signify an unstoppable figure

As for The Dark Knight, this visual strategy of presenting Batman in quick cuts and off-screen sounds is undermined in the beginning of the multi-storey car park scene. This is the opening moments of the film where drug dealers are in the middle of their transactions before a group of imitators showed up to stop them. The initial set up shows the same visual pattern before the real Batman shows up and stops the imitators from doing more harm. Once it is established that the real Batman has arrived, the visual strategy then shifts towards another visual representation. Nolan showed this evolution by using wide and mediums shots to see the full figure of the crime fighter.

The staging in this scene is presented not with an elusive and slow build-up of Batman hiding in the shadows but with a directness of someone who has move past the theatrical persona of intimating fear. It puts Batman in locations where the figure is no longer an off-screen sound or as a quick edit; take the interrogation scene with the Joker for example. The staging puts Batman in a situation where the detectives and lawyers can observe his interactions with the criminal. The scene shows the progression of Batman as an off-screen presence to become more of a central figure in the investigation; in the visual construction of how Batman appears to other characters. Therefore, the need for disjointed and close editing to present Batman is eschewed over a presentation that calls for wider and more sustained shots of the character.

Batman as a Declining Force / Med to Long Shots, Longer Durations / No music to signify the stripping off of Batman’s mask to reveal the human behind it.

The first appearance of Batman in The Dark Knight Rises is once again presented differently from the preceding films. As Batman leads a police convoy in a pursuit, the furtive and elusive presentation of close-shots are eschewed in favour of presenting the protagonist in medium to wide shots. The visual progression and thematic trajectory of the character; a progression from a symbol of supernatural fear to a stoppable and fallible subject is best encapsulated in the tunnel scene of the film. It is a moment in the film where Batman enters the underground tunnel to apprehend Bane. It is precisely in this moment of the film that we are shown the visual design of Batman as supernatural and Batman as fallible. As Batman encounters Bane’s henchmen, the scene is shot in accordance to the jump-cuts and off-screen sound technique of the first film.  This scene show how Batman uses the low visibility and darkness of the tunnels to enable stealth and combat tactics. This is an example of the mesh of visual style and thematic focus to represent the supernatural qualities of Batman.

But when Batman finally tracked down Bane, the visual construction changes from a fragmented strategy to a sustained fight sequence. The composition shows up Batman’s vulnerability and exposure via the use of wide shots and longer edits. As Batman tentatively approach Bane, the staging puts the fight in an open locale on top of a bridge and watched by a circle of henchmen whereas the previous scene is constructed in the tunnels. As mentioned, the framing and editing of the previous scene is quick, abrupt and disjointed. The former shows up the supernatural abilities of Batman with fast editing and close shots. But in the latter scene, Batman’s supernatural powers are exposed up by Bane as the results of diversionary tactics. The contrast between these two scenes shows up a sophisticated use of editing and cinematography by Nolan in collaboration with cinematographer Wally Pfister and Editor Lee Smith. The visual strategy of Batman in fight scenes extends and reveal psychological impulses rather than functioning as perfunctory sequences.

Conclusion

Nolan explaining his filmmaking thesis?

Nolanverse is primarily guided by the principle of montage and inference. Any moving image text can be divided into three basic materials; the visual track, the sound track and the written word track. But all of these elements, in order to be coherent and make sense, are directed by an erotetic spine or dramatic construction or in plain speak; what? Who? When? Where? How? These five basic dimensions help structure and prompts the viewer to shift their attention accordingly to what is presented to them.

But Nolanverse subverts the basic materials of filmmaking in order to undermine assumptions. His puzzle-boxes shows up the performative aspect of filmmaking and media practice.  So what does The Prestige and Nolanverse say about the performance and productive process?

Within the context of the film, a close reading reveal the thematic link of performance and production and the similarities between the form, function and techniques of filmmaking and magic. This connection is perhaps revealed in the opening sequence with Borden’s voice-over asking; “Are you watching closely?”

The performativity of cinema and magic are strikingly similar once you get past their obvious dissimilarities. But ultimately, both disciplines are functions of communicative performance. While the film does not address filmmaking per se, there are many parallels between the two disciplines.

Come back and watch it again?

The filmmaker, like the magician, shows us something ordinary then he or she does something amazing like making an object disappear (plot twist) and finally to complete the trick has to bring back said object (climax) and the viewer is left entertained by the trick (film).

The “mind-games” that Nolanverse prompts in the viewer comes from utilising the techniques of filmmaking and undermine assumptions of truthiness, reliability and history. But while some locate the “games” at merely the narrative level, I have tried to shift attention to a more fundamental level in the use and construction of moving visuals and sound design.

Considering the criticism surrounding Christopher Nolan, it is also important to address his visual strategy in relation to thematic interests.  As audiences have come to enjoy and at times scratch their heads over Nolan’s cinematic mind-games, the focus on dynamic plotting often hides the very techniques that supports his illustration of psychic disturbances.

Despite opposition to intensified continuity, Nolan’s epistemological thrillers are only able to function because of the principle of montage and inference. Nolanverse thus does not necessarily mean a disjointed shooting and editing style but rather a strategy that exploit the full repertoire of cinematic tools. Nolan’s cinematic vision provides a production example of a consistent and coherent application of working through not only thematic interests in formal structures from a filmmaking perspective but equally it reveals how media practice operates on multiple dimensions.

References

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