Nuts about Nolan

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 9.08.12

Team t2: Why Nolan?

Aditya Sengupta: (21 years old and currently assisting in films.)

Why not Nolan?! There are many directors who make films like Christopher Nolan, but the way Nolan keeps estimating his audience’s intelligence at just the right level sets him apart. He understands that his audience is not stupid and gives them something matching their intelligence. And audiences make multiple interpretations of his films. Take Inception. You will find a different interpretation of that film every time you speak to a new person. Same for The Prestige or Batman Begins.

For me what’s best about Nolan is that he has an emotional structure and in it he places a very filmi idea. He’s I think the most Bollywood-ish filmmaker in Hollywood. He has these big action sequences, huge plots, romance, fights, drama, bits of comedy… everything that you would find in a Bollywood potboiler. But he dresses it up in a visceral way, in a very intelligent way. His dressing up of a film, the marketing, the packaging is so intelligent. That’s why Nolan is not just one of the greatest directors of our time but I think THE greatest.

Roshni Ali: (Third year, Mass communication, St. Xavier’s College.) When you think of a big canvas like Nolan has in his films, you think of big budgets, 3D, CGI (computer-generated imagery) but he takes everything out of the film and makes it work. Like in the Dark Knight trilogy, the only superpower Batman really had was his money and Nolan took even that away from him! He made him human, he made him real, he made him a person we could relate to and he made Batman much more than what a hero of a superhero film could be. And he changed how we looked at the entire genre of superhero films.

And as Aditya said, Nolan tests the brains of his audience. It was the silent and the smallest moments that really made Inception, not the buildings flipping over. There was this ending jump cut and then the film stopped. That made the film.

Nishan Sarkar: (21, budding filmmaker.) In our generation there are three-four big directors who have influenced me and as a filmmaker in the making, I’d name Quentin Tarantino, Mark Webb, Zack Snyder and definitely James Cameron, along with Nolan. All these people have changed how we watch films and what films we watch. I would say Nolan has changed how we watch superhero movies. And well, may be Inception changed how we thought about dreams. But it’s been done before.

I’d like to mention here a young director, Robert Rodriguez. He’s someone like us. He doesn’t come from a studio background, he didn’t know people in films… he had a good story and he made El Mariachi with something around $5,000. The big studio people liked it and they backed it later. I am in support of people who make small-budget movies, like 500 Days of Summer, movies that are the underdogs of the box office.

Also, when you make films on Batman or Superman, characters that have been around for 70 years, you already have a ready-made audience. But to come up with a concept from scratch and put it out there, that’s something.

So, I would say though not THE greatest, Nolan is one among the greatest directors of this generation.

Pramurta Sen: (23, electronics engineer.) I think the huge trust that everyone has put in Nolan, that whenever he makes a movie it has to be epic, that has got to be respected. Growing up, Batman was one of my idols, my ultimate hero. And when I saw the pre-Nolan Batman movies, I was terrified, shocked….

Nolan brought respect back to the franchise. That’s why I can never lose respect for the man. That scene in The Dark Knight, where there were people on two boats with bombs and they held the fate one another in their hands, that scene really moved me. He brought humanity to a superhero movie.

Rijoy Chatterjee: (Third year, Communicative English, Asutosh College.) Nolan connects with the psyche of the youth impeccably. In a way, he crafts his storyline at a very elemental level. While watching a Nolan film, a person can identify his own mindcraft and imagine how he would have reacted in that particular situation. Nolan puts in lots of twists in his plot that change the story and the treatment of the film and also the entire timeline. And he lets us interpret. That is very important. Because when we have our own interpretation of a film, we also put in our own creativity, we become a part of the film. We not only identify with the characters, we become a character in the film. Like we become the citizens of Gotham while watching The Dark Knight Rises.

With Nolan, it all started with one of his best films, Memento. That was his second movie after Following. Memento brought about a revolution in screenplay. The screenplay showed the character going through short-term memory loss, which was later very badly remade into Ghajini! In Memento, just as the character is experiencing short-term amnesia, the audience experiences the same. In The Prestige, we experience an illusion. We know we’re being tricked and we are always anticipating what will come next.

In Inception, as Roshni said, we get an ending that says so much in just one shot. And finally when it comes to the Batman trilogy, after Batman and Robin in 1997, where we had a really flashy Batman [played by George Clooney], Warner Bros. scrapped the franchise, Nolan brought new life into Batman. He revolutionised the whole thing, he made it darker, more gritty, also warmer and gave the characters more depth.

Sayantan Ghosh: (25, self-employed in real estate) Well, most of it has already been said. Nolan burst into the scene in 2000 with Memento and I was hooked. What appealed to me was his audacity. What he did with Memento was unexplainable, unimaginable at that point. In all his subsequent scripts, till Inception, I think if you read them on paper, you’ll think he’s a madman. His genius lies in the fact that he makes his films so comprehensible. He never wants to trick his audience into not knowing what happens. Yes, he wants them to think but he never wants to appear more intelligent than them.

Also, before Nolan happened, I was watching films that were more about good versus evil. I’ve grown up with superheroes, and it was always good against bad. But Nolan took away the good vs evil scenario and brought in its place, as The Joker had put it, “order and chaos”. And it’s very dichotomous in nature. If you are an agent of chaos, like The Joker or Bane, then you have to have some order. And if you are an agent of order, like Batman is, you have to get your hands dirty. There’s nothing black or white in Nolan’s world, which is what intrigues me. It’s more about the greyscale.

From left: Sayantan, Rijoy, Pramurta, Nishan, Roshni and Aditya discuss and debate Nolan. (Rashbehari Das)

Team t2: But would Nolan be Nolan without the grand canvas on which he mounts his films?

Roshni: Of course! What about Memento, The Following, even Batman Begins? And though the Dark Knight films do have a grand canvas, The Dark Knight Rises could have had a lot more explosions and computer graphics. Compared with The Avengers, it could have had much more of all that. Even The Prestige is not exactly blowing up cars, is it?

Aditya: Satyajit Ray comes to my mind. He made Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen and Hirak Rajar Deshe at a time when there was no technological advancement here. But he had a lot of friends in the West. One of them even told him that they would fund the special effects in Hirak Rajar Deshe. But Ray said no. Because, and as Nolan himself has said, ‘the magic of movies is being as spectacular as you want by being as real as you can’.

That’s what Nolan is about. He will go for that one shot where the Batmobile is flying, but he won’t have the explosion in CGI. He will not have the people in a room go up and down in CGI but make a revolving set to create zero gravity, in Inception.

Nishan: May be 20 years ago we did not have the technology but today if we have it, what’s wrong in using it? And if you have a certain amount of budget, what’s the harm?

Aditya: See, it’s like how clothes go in and out of fashion every few years. If CGI was in fashion from 2000 to 2008, it’s gone out of favour now. In the forthcoming Life of Pi, Ang Lee has used a real tiger. Everyone advised him to use CGI but he didn’t. Then Game of Thrones. It’s the most expensive serial being made. Half the people in the world thought it was CGI before someone revealed that thousands and thousands and thousands of extras were being used.

Sayantan: Wasn’t the question more about canvas than CGI, guys? I disagree with the question because Nolan is an intelligent man. When he started out, he wanted to make a movie for a big studio. He wanted to direct Insomnia. But he was not being hired. He was, but later. But he didn’t get to write it, which is when he went ahead and made Memento with $5 million. He made Memento primarily to get into the studios. He took his film, showed it to the studio owners and asked them to decide for themselves. And he was asked to direct Insomnia. That is the audacity that I was talking about.

Aditya: And Following happened when Nolan was already working somewhere else. He shot the film once a week, for one entire year.

Rijoy: If we are to talk about his canvas, Memento had simple black-and-white scenes shot in a motel room. And the colour shots were for outside. These were going parallely, with the colour shots moving in reverse chronology. And that created a kind of canvas we had never seen before. So, big or small, his canvas is like no one else’s.


Team t2: Some say Nolan’s ideas are borrowed, be it Batman or Inception.... [After five minutes of excited and anguished chatter, we managed to calm down the Nolan-ites for some comprehensible conversation!]

Aditya: Yes, many say that before Inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004] dealt with dreams. But more than being a film about dreams, I feel Inception was a film about a bunch of robbers. It is the biggest and most complicated heist film in the world.

Nishan: What about Ocean’s 11?

Aditya: Okay, Inception was Ocean’s 11 inside Eternal Sunshine. But do you know, Nolan wrote Inception right after Memento, around 2001? Eternal Sunshine came in 2004. I don’t think Nolan was inspired by Eternal Sunshine. He probably saw the movie in 2004, realised the common thread and said, ‘Okay, I’ll wait.’ And he waited till 2010.

Rijoy: Yes and he’s waiting for his next film too, Howard Hughes. It was supposed to be made in 2004 but the same year Martin Scorsese came out with The Aviator. And I believe Nolan gives a whole new perspective to anything that he may have borrowed. That’s what makes all the difference.

Sayantan: There’s no harm in borrowing or drawing inspiration. Wasn’t Sholay borrowed from Seven Samurai [by Akira Kurosawa, 1954]?

Team t2: We called Nolan fans, five guys turned up and just one girl. Is Nolan more a man’s moviemaker?

Roshni: Yes! So he must marry me! [Everyone bursts out laughing.]

Aditya: If we talk about movie-going sensibilities, I know a lot of girls who love Inception and The Prestige as much as I do but given a choice, they would prefer Twilight!

Nishan: No, I don’t think Nolan is a man’s director. He’s a unisex director. You can’t make this kind of a generalisation.

Aditya: But there is a common generalisation that generally holds true. Guys love action, girls go for romance.

Sayantan: Not men or women, Nolan is an intelligent person’s filmmaker.

Rijoy: But no, it’s true that there are more guy fans of Nolan. May be that is because he doesn’t have that many interesting female characters.

Aditya: I disgree. Because except the Batman trilogy, in all his films, the driving force is a female character.

Rijoy: But his women characters are not fleshed out. Women come in as backstories, not as central characters.

Aditya: May I point to Marion Cotillard in Inception? She’s the backbone of the film.

Nishan: No, no. The backbone is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, who is driving the story. Woman characters do not feature prominently.

Roshni: I’d love to see a female-powered Nolan film. But a girl doesn’t always want to go and see a girl-empowered film. It’s not necessary. People loved Spider-Man because ‘oooh, Andrew Garfield is so cute’. That way The Amazing Spider-Man was much more of a chick-flick than The Dark Knight Rises.

Aditya: Okay people, tell me, which Nolan film does not have a strong female presence?

Rijoy: Following.

Aditya: Following I accept. But it’s the only film.

Nishan: What about The Dark Knight, Memento… there are no female leads there. Nolan doesn’t appeal to women so much because his female characters are not strong enough.

Roshni: I think Nolan has less of a female following because he deals with the noir genre, which is not that popular with women.

Aditya: But the biggest twist in Inception, apart from the ending, was Marion Cotillard landing up in DiCaprio’s dream right at the moment when he’s supposed to enter the chamber. And the biggest trigger point in The Prestige involves the woman [Piper Perabo].


Team t2: Which is your favourite Nolan film and why?

Sayantan: I don’t want to sound different or anything but my favourite Nolan film is Insomnia. It’s a very disturbing film because the very aspect that there’s light throughout the day is the backbone, the crux of the film. I’ve never seen a film where the lead character’s basic suffering, his guilt, his remorse is reflected through the fact that the sun never sets. Also, it was Al Pacino and Robin Williams coming together.

Rijoy: My favourite Nolan film will always be Memento. The way this film gives the audience the same experience that the central character is going through is exceptional. People sometimes say one needs a ready-reckoner to watch Memento because it is so complicated but I feel that Memento and most Nolan films have the best repeat value. We can watch his films as many times and every time we discover a new feature, a hidden shot that Nolan has placed on purpose.

Pramurta: Mine’s the typical answer, The Dark Knight. For many reasons. While watching the film, there were two parts of me — one the film buff, the other the Batman freak. The depth of every scene left a tingling sensation all over my body. Nolan’s presentation of basic human emotions in The Dark Knight was outstanding, which is why it is my favourite. And yes, the repeat value of the film. I’ve watched it at least 20 times, I think.

Nishan: I think Memento. Because that was the first time that I really got to see Nolan without his huge canvas. To me it’s really distracting when you have so many storylines, so many characters… I’m not against epics but I think I could relate to Memento more because it was much more human than Inception, which was too fantastic.

Roshni: For me, it is The Dark Knight Rises, the main reason being that in this film, he took something like Occupy Wall Street and put it in the film. And then the entire concept of how The League of Shadows got connected in the end and even the philosophy behind the League, like why they wanted to destroy Gotham, the corruption, at some point you might even side with the villains. It was the perfect ending to the trilogy, I don’t think the ending could’ve been better. And I’d like to mention a small inter-cut, when Bruce Wayne looks up the prison well and sees his father’s hand, those moments made the film for me. It was everything what Batman is to me....

I just… love Nolan.

Aditya: For me it’s a close call between The Prestige and Inception. I’ll pick Inception because Nolan made The Prestige, he made Batman Begins, he made The Dark Knight and people started craving for more. That was the time when he delivered Inception. When people thought that he could get no better, when they thought that The Dark Knight was the height of his filmmaking skills, he gave us a films on dreams, he gave us a mind heist, he gave us a film with a score that I could play for years, he gave us a film with posters that looked like art and I could have it framed and put in a museum. But what I liked best about Inception was that it was just what films are meant to be — larger than life. You enter the theatre, stop thinking about anything else for two-and-a-half-hours and lose yourself in the film, and when the film ends, you just sit there for a moment, staring at the screen, thinking what the *beep* just happened?!

Samhita Chakraborty
of t2 sat in on the chat

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