Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Funhouse Transparency: The 2011 Oscar Nominations

The 2011 Oscar Nominations

January 25th, 2011

On Twitter, I suggested that I was relatively bored with this morning’s Oscar nominations…or, more accurately, I tweeted “Oscar nods = yawn,” which frankly says more about how much I enjoy being up at 7:30 in the morning than it does about the nominations themselves.

Still, though, I must admit to being fairly unexcited by the whole affair. While there were a few pleasant surprises, and a few snubs which raise my ire in the way that I more or less enjoy, something about the nominations just doesn’t sit right. While the nature of the 10 Best Picture nominations means that a large number of major films from the year enjoy a moment in the spotlight, I would actually argue that there are subtle ways in which this is ruining some of the other categories where voters should be more willing to go out on a limb. With the Academy’s populist and avant garde recognition now done in the main category, the ability for a director like Christopher Nolan to earn a Best Director nomination has been severely diminished, as the legacy of the five-film Best Picture race continues to hang over the remainder of the awards.

And while I wouldn’t quite call it a travesty, I would say that it demonstrates how awards voters only break out of patterns where they are absolutely required to do so.

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Some Extraction Required: Sharing the Experience of Interpreting Inception

Some Extraction Required: Interpreting Inception

July 21st, 2010

Although Christopher Nolan’s Inception introduces evidence to the contrary, in our reality dreams are a solitary experience: not only are they personal in terms of context, unique to each dreamer, but they are also personal in that only that dreamer can see the dream as it first appeared. After that point, the dreamer can only relay their memory of the events therein – memory which varies from vivid recollection to vague, disconnected images – to those around them.

And yet, Inception is very much built around the notion of shared experience, both within its story and in its clear desire for the audience to leave the theatre discussing what they just witnessed. In fact, I’m sure some would argue that the film requires this sort of discussion to truly come into its own, demanding that the audience either works with others who shared the same experience to reconstruct its intricacies from memory or to do what dreamers can’t do by going to the theatre and watching it again.

Accordingly, I have no intentions on offering a definitive take on Inception, both because I’m generally bad at developing theories and because a single viewing and an MSN conversation with my brother do not a complete understanding of the film make. Rather, I simply want to discuss how the film goes about creating this seemingly necessary sort of interaction, and why Nolan achieves this less through cheap ambiguities and more through a growing sense of uncertainty which simultaneously breaks down our reading of the film and the film itself as it reaches its conclusion.

A conclusion, by the way, which is not what it appears to be.

SPOILER WARNING: if you haven’t seen the film, and intend to in the future, and don’t want to read spoilers, stop reading.

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On a Grand Scale: The Similarities between “The Wire” and “The Dark Knight”

As has been noted many times when my guest spots on the /Filmcast (Which, excitingly for Kevin Bacon potential, has Kevin Smith as its guest on Monday night) end before the group gets into discussing the latest new release, I’m not much of a moviegoer. When my own visual media renaissance hit a few years ago, Television was just what I gravitated towards – it happened in such a way that I’m still one of those people who has to pretend I’ve seen various classics I haven’t. Just last night I pulled I “I think I’ve seen parts of X” when, in reality, I’m clueless.

But, like a whole boatload of other people, I headed to the theatres last evening to check out the biggest film of the summer. And like any multi-layered epic film of this nature, I do have a lot of things to say, but I don’t really want to write a review. Cultural Learnings is, at the end of the day, a television blog, and part of my life’s curse is comparing everything I read/watch to some sort of television example.

So, I decided that I’d kill two birds with one stone. I’m halfway through Season Four of The Wire, David Simon and Ed Burns’ HBO masterpiece, and I see a lot of connections between the construction of that series and what Nolan has accomplished with The Dark Knight. I’m not suggesting that the two shows are identical, or that Nolan achieves the effect or quality of The Wire’s five season long story arcs within a single two and a half hour film, but rather that some of the decisions and emphases he makes render this story as much an exercise of scale as Simon’s visionary work.

And both in the world of television crime series and superhero cinema, this type of scale is unprecedented.

[Note: Yes, believe it or not, I am going to try to discuss both of these examples without any major spoilers. This means that, while I’m going to talk about themes and characters in both series, I don’t plan on going into major details on either of them. So, people who have seen both can fill in the blanks, and maybe those who’ve only seen one may be intrigued by the other.]

In Terms of Scale

What sets The Wire apart from other crime shows on television is its emphasis on all impacts of a particular event or scenario. It is not a story of the police fighting against the Baltimore Drug Trade, but a show about the expansive impacts of that trade on the people fighting it, the people trapped inside of it, and the people who are simply innocent bystanders caught up in a game they’re not playing.

Similarly, The Dark Knight isn’t a film about one man’s crusade against crime. It is, instead, about Gotham’s reaction to the rise of crime and, in particular, the introduction of the diabolical terrorism of the Joker. Batman is but one of the many players we see – whether it’s new district attorney Harvey Dent, Lieutenant Gordon, Rachel Dawes, or even the people of Gotham themselves. The Joker’s terrorism impacts all of them, and such a broad viewpoint takes this from being a traditional story of good vs. evil to a whole new level of social inspection.

In Terms of Character

While some have criticized The Wire for lacking traditional character development, what it allows is for later seasons to go beyond its set of main characters into something deeper and more thematically interesting. Because the expected actions and reactions of various characters were already in place, Simon and Burns were able to use their time in establishing new characters in relation to them. By constantly adding to the universe, you get a very complicated but rewarding structure wherein heroes are not always playing the hero and villains are not always plotting villainy.

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