Christopher Nolan and Smart Movies for Dumb People

I’m going to say something many will find controversial, so prepare yourself. Have a seat, remove your monocle, and perhaps preemptively begin the process of fanning yourself. Are you prepared?

I think Christopher Nolan is hugely overrated.

*Waits several minutes for you to wake up from your fainting spell*

I warned you. Here’s your monocle. It broke upon hitting the floor.

Christopher Nolan makes what I like to (offensively) call Smart Movies for Dumb People. They’re refrigerator movies; complicated plots driven by gorgeous visuals that fall apart the minute you start thinking about them deeper than surface level. And believe you me, I’m not the only one who thinks this.

It’s fairly easy to tear apart the logic of each of Christopher Nolan’s films*, so I won’t do that. Instead, I’d like to talk about one thing that all of his movies lack, but that would go a long way toward changing my (and others) opinions of them.

Keep it simple.

For all of its faults, The Dark Knight was one of Christopher Nolan’s simplest films and the argument could be made that it’s one of his best. I, personally, think that’s because the story was so much simpler than his other films. Sure, the Joker’s motivations and schemes were often unclear but it fed into the story and the story was simple: Chaos vs. Order.

That’s really all the film was about. The Joker was a simple way to explore the larger theme of order and disorder. It drives everything that happens. There are always relatively clear goals (Joker wants money, Joker wants to establish himself as “king of the underworld,” Bruce/Batman wants to save Rachel, Bruce/Batman wants to step away from the cowl and sees Harvey Dent as the way to do that, etc.). The dichotomy between Joker and Batman (and even moreso as personified by Harvey Dent after his turn into Two-Face), as it relates to the theme, is what makes everything in the film so compelling.

The same can’t be said for Inception. The movie is beautiful and tries to play with big ideas about dreams, but is so confusing and self-referential that the action becomes hard to enjoy. The story bends under the weight of the bullshit Nolan adds to his plots to make them more complicated or, dare I say, “smarter.” But it’s not “smart,” it’s confusing. And, in a lot of cases, unnecessary. There was no real need to go to a third level of dreams in Inception. Even in the theater, on my initial viewing, I called bullshit on that.

There is a lot to learn from Chris Nolan. He’s a technical genius. He plays with big ideas and creates realistic but imaginative worlds. He somehow managed to bring his version of art to the masses and succeed. But if you’re going to complicate things for the sake of adding “substance” or exploring a big “idea,” do it with a purpose. Don’t make smart films for stupid people. Make smart films for smart people. They’re a less forgiving audience, but that difficulty in pleasing them makes success that much sweeter.

*I know that using Cinema Sins to make a point is counter-productive, but I do think they make goods general points in their videos. Plus, they’re entertaining and I’m all about that entertainment.


1 Comment

  1. Deathly hollow

    I don't why I read the entire blog. It's good.

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