harrytheheir (harrytheheir) wrote,

Thoughts (w/o spoilers) on The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012)

I mentioned on my Twitter feed yesterday that I had the opportunity to see an advance screening of The Dark Knight Rises.  I had a terrific time, and my friend Jim can attest that I was fairly bouncing with excitement when the movie ended. And in a way that was the ideal time to see it, because it sometimes feels as if my experience with Christopher Nolan movies rises and falls depending on how much exposure I have to Nolan fanboys before I see the movie. Because I think that in many ways Nolan is a terrifically talented director, but I get tired of hearing the one where he came down from Mt. Sinai with a stone tablet in either hand to speak the Word of the Lord.

Take the Bane/Bain theory that Rush Limbaugh is pushing. As he is wont to do, Limbaugh is expressing a common sentiment in a crude, reductive and basically idiotic way. It's ridiculous to think that a character originally created in 1993, or for that matter a movie written well before Romney became the presumptive nominee, would be written in response to what was then a fairly obscure private equity firm. But Limbaugh is far from alone in perceiving that there must be some kind of political allegory behind Nolan's Batman movies--remember the theories that The Dark Knight was an allegorical defense of George W. Bush?--and it's not hard to see why. Nolan spent most of The Dark Knight name-dropping issues like terrorism and universal surveillance, and it should not surprise you to learn that TDKR toys a lot with socialism, class warfare, and including a pretty obvious reference to Katrina. People think that Christopher Nolan has ideas about contemporary politics because he works very hard to give that impression.

But does he? What does all of that name-dropping amount to, in the end? Scott Tobias, in his typically perceptive review, said that Nolan ultimately gives the viewer a Rorsharch Test, allowing his collection of references to combine in any way that you'd like to make. It's a canny move for a mass-market entertainer, giving the movie a jolt of relevance without committing to any kind of point-of-view that might alienate potential moviegoers. In that way, Christopher Nolan is a lot like Battlestar Galactica's Ronald D. Moore, who used references to Iraq to serve the drama, and not the other way around. (Tigh defended suicide bombing because it said something interesting about Tigh, not about suicide bombing.) 

To leave Batman to the side for a second, I think a similar thing happened with Inception. Although there's a lot on the surface about the nature of dreams and different levels of reality or whatever in Inception, the movie doesn't really delve into the subject too deeply. The heist movies plot mechanics can only exist in a very rigidly defined world. This is why people in heist movies always have super-precise schedules: "The guard takes his break from 8:15. He goes to the soda machine at 8:17, and he uses four quarters and five dimes to pay for a Cherry Coke, which he drinks for exactly two minutes before scratching his balls for thirty seconds", etc., etc. But dream logic doesn't follow clockwork rules. It's slippery and emotional in ways that would defeat the neat plot mechanics that Nolan had in mind. And yet I heard a number of earnest thoughts about what Inception had to say about dreams and perceptions of reality.

So I guess what annoys me about Christopher Nolan fanboys is the degree to which they end up misunderstanding what he's really about. He didn't want to talk about dreams, he wanted to give you Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a zero-gravity fight scene. He doesn't want to tell you about Occupy Wall Street, he wants to make the story of Batman facing off against a charismatic mercenary as crazy-intense and epic as possible. It's great that we have a director out there as talented at goosing the audience's lizard brain as Nolan is, but don't waste my time telling me that he's Kubrick when he isn't.

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