Watch: Christopher Nolan’s Films Immerse You in the Moment

Watch: Christopher Nolan’s Films Immerse You in the Moment

Though "realism" might be, in one sense, the last word you might use in association with Christopher Nolan, maker of ‘Inception‘ and the ‘Dark Knight’ films, in another sense, it fits him perfectly. If we take the term "cinematic realism" to mean immersing viewers completely within a depiction of a time or place through camera techniques, special effects, and other cinematographers’ tricks, then Nolan and his DP Wally Pfister have been making highly realistic films for years, from ‘Following‘ to "Memento’ to ‘Insomnia’ to, yes, ‘Inception’ and the Dark Knight films. Trevor Ball explores Nolan and Pfister’s work carefully and intelligently in this dynamic video essay. 

Watch: Vancouver Has Stood In for Many Cities, But Rarely Plays Itself

Watch: Vancouver Has Stood In for Many Cities, But Rarely Plays Itself

Moviegoers are, by definition, trusting souls. When a film begins, we block more avenues to skepticism than we could possibly imagine. We believe that animals talk, aliens burst from people’s stomachs, and giant, strangely human-looking gorillas crush skyscrapers–or at least we want to believe these things. We also believe that if a film tells us it is taking place in Chicago, boom: we ‘re in Chicago. If it tells us we’re in New York, voila: we’re in New York, in the middle of Bronx traffic. And yet, as this new video essay by Tony Zhou points out, often, we’re actually in Vancouver. The piece is one part homage, one part truth-telling mission, as Zhou goes through all the different films that have used Vancouver as their backdrop while calling it something (or somewhere) else: everything from Christopher Nolan’s ‘Insomnia‘ to Mike Nichols’ ‘Carnal Knowledge.’ Take a look, and see how many films you recognize–or, as it were, don’t recognize.

Watch: Christopher Nolan Meets Wes Craven in a Mix of ‘Inception’ and ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

Watch: Christopher Nolan Meets Wes Craven in a Mix of ‘Inception’ and ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’

Christopher Nolan and Wes Craven? Mash-up partners? Sure. They are linked in a number of ways. Both are obsessed with the dream-life and its interaction with the waking life, they both look unflinchingly at nightmares, and they both–and this is perhaps their point of greatest similarity–hold little back stylistically. Indeed, the heavy, emotion-laden atmosphere of a film like ‘Inception‘ or a film like ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street‘ sits on top of the film like a crouching demon, both daring the viewer to enter the filmmaker’s world and scaring the viewer with what lies within that world. So Pablo Fernández Eyre, far from making a stretch with this video, makes a significant, provocative connection between the two directors’ work.

Watch: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Insomnia’ (2002) vs. Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s ‘Insomnia’ (1997): Two Cultures

Watch: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Insomnia’ (2002) vs. Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s ‘Insomnia’ (1997): Two Cultures

In the range of Christopher Nolan’s films, ‘Insomnia’ is far more satisfying than any of the ‘Dark Knight’ films. Why do I say that? Well, there’s a concentration of hardened talent in the one, versus younger, less proven or battle-tested talents in the latter series. The former film seeks to tell a story, while the latter series seeks to impress, through volume, set-design, special effects, and sheer enormity. The former is a tale of psychology, of different modes of desperation, while the latter series builds on a story-line, or maybe a mythos, which is on it way to being spent. This Fandor video essay by Kevin B. Lee looks at Nolan’s 2002 ‘Insomnia‘ alongside Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s 1997 original. Both transfix us, but by different methods; what the comparison shows is that Skjoldbjaerg remains, even at the film’s most intense moments, at an arm’s length from the action, always intent on having us gaze on the events occurring onscreen rather than immersing us in them–while Nolan takes quite the opposite approach. As Lee shows in this meticulous, methodical piece of work, every move Nolan makes–with visual effects, use of silence, use of noise, pacing–is designed to plunge us inwards, even if the film is hardly blockbuster-level in its throat-grabbing urge. Given that approach, and given the skill and subtlety Nolan used in telling this tale, his work proves rewardingly re-watchable in this case, not so much in the case of his more widely known movies. 

Watch: Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ Meets Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’

Watch: Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ Meets Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’

Given the dramatic way in which Christopher Nolan injected the imagination into the plot of ‘Inception,’ and given the surreal, somewhat dreamlike premise of Pixar’s ‘Inside Out,’ it wouldn’t be too far off to suggest that the soundtrack of the older film and the bizarre visuals of the ever-more-popular new film were simply waiting for Nelson Carvajal to come along and mix them. The result is fitting, playing up the elements of both films that give you butterflies in your stomach.

Watch: How Are Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ and Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Linked? Let Us Count the Ways…

Watch: How Are Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ and Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Linked?

If you’re an imaginative filmmaker in the present day, Stanley Kubrick is your father and Maya Deren is your mother, to paraphrase something a writing teacher once told me. Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar‘ was one fairly huge example of that; the film wore its ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ influences on its sleeve in grand fashion. Nevertheless, seeing the similarities spelled out cleverly and with brevity, as Jorge Luengo has done with this video essay, is unsettling and entertaining, in equal parts.

METAMERICANA: Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR Offers Us a New Theory of Everything

METAMERICANA: Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR Offers Us a New Theory of Everything

nullScientists have recently claimed that a possible
“theory of everything,” an escape from our dreary four-dimensional reality, resides
in “M-theory,” an eleven-dimensional unification of all extant superstring
equations. As crazy as a mathematical maxim that resides in the eleventh
dimension may sound, M-theory is endorsed by renowned genius Stephen Hawking
and others of his ilk as a sort of universal codebreaker—what the alchemists of
old would have called the Philosopher’s Stone, and what religious people in all
periods have loosely thought of as God. If we presently feel bounded by our
limited understanding of the universe, M-theory would obliterate that sense of

Simultaneously, poets have striven for a similar
escape, only through words. However, they have not kept pace with their
opposite numbers in the sciences. This is in part because they’ve come to
believe themselves mathematicians’ competitors. For the last forty years, the
most innovative Western poetry has been so layered and nuanced that it has
written itself out of all sociocultural coherence. Not only is it no longer a
counterweight to the intricacies of science, it no longer speaks to the great mass
of persons now living. The belief that innovative poetries must be every bit as
theorized and conceptually indecipherable as M-theory is to most of us has
guaranteed poetry a marginalized place in our collective consciousness, if that.

Christopher Nolan’s new film Interstellar, which addresses both science and poetry in
implicit and explicit ways, offers us a possible “theory of everything”—one
in which the simple beauties of art are conjoined with the complex mathematics
of science in a middle space between the two, with that middle space
corresponding to the pathway from our collective reality so many of us have
been seeking for so long.

That scientists have always looked to the stars
(literally) and higher dimensions (figuratively) for the key to unlocking all
we can’t access is no surprise; the notion that poets have been engaged in the
same task from the very beginning of art is perhaps a more controversial
submission. Don’t the best poets find timeless ways to drill down on individual
words and phrases and ideas, rather than creating and testing out entirely new
realities through new forms of speech? A cynic might say so, but French critic
and theoretician Jacques Derrida said differently: he imagined that speech and
the written word could transcend spacetime. Derrida suggested that language can
outlive both its author and its intended recipient, providing
a pathway to unanchoring language from its moorings in time and space. The
much-vaunted “death of the author” Derrida’s (and French theorist Roland
Barthes’) work eventually heralded in Western literature was intended as a
freeing of language, not its imprisonment. So those who study and perform the
capacities and incapacities of language have always, in their own way, been
reaching for the stars—even if the way they’ve gone about it of late is to
surround their work with such a volume of theory and abstraction that it looks
and sounds to most like quantum physics.

“Love is the only thing we can observe that transcends
space and time,” says astronaut Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) to Cooper
(Matthew McConaughey) in Interstellar, and as cornball as that sentiment
sounds out of context, it happens to be true. Though “love” is a term that
should by all rights require the presence of two entities—an author and an
intended recipient who are both necessary if interchangeable—in fact love often
survives the separation of entities by space and time. We continue to love
those who’ve left us, whether they’ve left us figuratively (by emotional
detachment), geographically (by distance in space), or literally and finally
(by dint of death). So maybe Interstellar is on to something. The film’s
suggestion that just as quantum physics now resides in the fifth and higher
dimensions, so too must the simple emotions both art and life invoke in us, is
less a play on our heartstrings than an actionable suggestion for living.
Perhaps art and science were intended to take dramatically different paths
toward the same conclusion, not so much because each can independently come up
with a satisfactory answer to the problem of everything but because the two
jointly just might. If many of this decade’s newest forms of innovative art
find ways to juxtapose polar opposites like sincerity and irony or cynicism and
optimism, perhaps they ought to add to those generatively contending forces art
and science. Perhaps art must be as different from science as it can possibly
be—while maintaining a common purpose—in order for it to fulfill its implicit
promise to the species.

For much of its lengthy run-time, Interstellar
is a slow and quiet movie, but once it picks up it amps up its melodrama. The
film’s elegantly simple visuals are finally matched by equally simple
sentiments that run the risk of mawkishness. Yet somehow the film always stays
on the right side of that line. Perhaps that’s because watching four astronauts
seek habitable planets in order to save the species—a species, in the
near-future world of Interstellar, starving from food shortages and
choking on unpredictable dustclouds—is not, actually, something we can detach
ourselves from sufficiently to smother it with our cynicism and irony. So the
film’s final solution to the problem of getting astronauts decades out into
space and then having them send helpful messages back to Earth—the idea that
love is to art what gravity is to science, i.e. transdimensional—seems less
like treacly wisdom and more like something today’s creative avant-garde would
do well to consider.

In the realm of the scientific, increasing degrees
of complexity are welcome so long as they’re intellectually solvent; in the
realm of art, perhaps increasing degrees of simplicity should be welcome as
long as they’re spiritually mimetic—that is, as long as they trace human
experience as faithfully as the tenets of physics do. The late great David
Foster Wallace once predicted that the next authentic literary avant-garde
wouldn’t need tenured boosters in the academy to sell it, or pedigreed authors
to write it, or a sufficiently jaded populace to read it, as in fact it would
endorse just the sort of “single-entendre principles” that already guide our
lives (however imperfectly). Though the means of their operation is frequently
hidden from us, our guiding stars as civic and creative beings are still basic
principles like courage, integrity, charity, empathy, grace, kindness, and
inquisitiveness. These are not ideas we need to shroud in the coded language of
theory to enact; in fact, as important as these ideas are to the contemporary
arts—every bit as important as unfathomably intricate equations are to quantum
physics—they require no steeping in elevated language to remain fully

The final thirty minutes of Interstellar are as
strange a cinematic experience as you’ll ever have, so strange an experience
that their logic at times seems beyond the grasp of anyone but a Hawking or the
equivalent. But in fact the emotional and creative logic of Interstellar
is every bit as simple as its science is complex. This doesn’t mean that its
emotional and creative logic is less advanced than its science; instead, it
merely reminds us that the boundaries we need to push in art are not
necessarily those of science, even as the two are collaborators (not
competitors) in the development of a theory of everything. Just as the new
science looks absolutely nothing like the old science, however much it builds
on the discoveries of mathematicians long dead, our new art will look (and
read) absolutely nothing like our old art, however much it couldn’t have been
produced without the countless generations of poets and other artists who
preceded it and who reached for transcendence and fell short. Show me a theory
of the avant-garde in art as easily spoken and easy to understand as M-theory
is beyond my grasp and I’ll show you a step forward in time our leading lights
in the arts have yet to take.

Seth Abramson is the author of five poetry collections, including two, Metamericana and DATA,
forthcoming in 2015 and 2016. Currently a doctoral candidate at
University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is also Series Co-Editor for
Best American Experimental Writing, whose next edition will be published by Wesleyan University Press in 2015.



When director Christopher Nolan first conceived of his Batman film trilogy, the challenge was revitalizing a hero who had previously been buried in cinematic fantasy shtick—a de-evolution that started with Tim Burton’s promising Batman and ended with Joel Schumacher’s laughably bad Batman & Robin. And Nolan wasn’t a franchise superhero movie director either. From the get-go, Nolan was an unlikely choice to take over such a mammoth cash cow for Warner Bros. Nolan’s previous films—Following, Memento and Insomnia—were small by comparison with the Batman films but shared the common narrative thread of a protagonist struggling to find moral redemption amidst the chaotic (psychological) forces of each film’s unique environment.  Therefore, the Batman mythos and its dark, enigmatic origin story of a billionaire turned self-made vigilante proved an apt fit for the intellectual Nolan—ultimately helping the director edge out the likes of Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One) for the job of rebooting the series.

In his first entry, Batman Begins, Nolan’s masterstroke lay in envisioning Gotham City as a modern, real city. Gone were the colorful, circus-like set pieces from earlier Batman films. There weren’t any fantastical lairs or alternate dimensions. Nolan’s Gotham had public transportation, seedy corporate suits, corrupt court systems and even a lower-income housing area only accessible by street bridges. By positioning a beloved comic book superhero in a very accessible and believable environment, Nolan transcended the dated source material and forced audiences to re-evaluate Batman’s role. In other words, it wasn’t so much about what outrageous predicament Batman would have to punch (Pow!) his way out of. It was more of seeing how this new Batman could plausibly function within the day-to-day operations of the modern urban world.

After establishing a parallel “real” society in Batman Begins, Nolan raised the stakes with The Dark Knight. By zeroing in on the very relevant, modern topic of terrorism, Nolan recreated the post-9/11 atmosphere of dread and fear for the citizens of Gotham. In The Dark Knight, Nolan separated the villainous Joker character from his silly, cartoonish origins and recreated the Joker as “an agent of chaos”—a volatile criminal hell-bent on demoralizing the citizens of Gotham. The Joker’s plan was simple: If he could invoke the fear of death at every corner for every Gotham citizen, a radical unbiased social structure based on elemental fear would emerge. Thus, this society would be in constant stasis; the people of Gotham would be united by fear but torn apart by their animalistic instincts to outlive one another.

Putting Batman in the backseat in a Batman film was an important gesture for this movie and for Nolan’s work—as well as a first in the Batman filmography. In The Dark Knight, Batman himself was unusually absent from the screen, allowing for an array of equally compelling characters to come through. By building the film this way, Nolan deconstructed the mythology behind the Batman figure. Specifically, this once indomitable hero from comic book legend now became as vulnerable as anybody else in Gotham (or the real world for that matter).

Still, the fundamentals that Batman stood for as a comic book hero—justice, social order and establishing a sense of collective moral hope for Gotham—were evident in Nolan’s interpretation of the caped crusader (e.g. Batman reconciled both his and Gotham’s disillusionment with faux heroism by taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s murderous rampage in The Dark Knight). More interestingly, Nolan’s modernized Batman redefined the function of the traditional myth. Consider: The comic book Batman’s original Sociological Function was to establish a proper social order by existing outside the parameters of society, as an elite hero. In the comic book and earlier film adaptations, Batman was only accessible to Gotham’s police (via a red telephone or a bat signal in the sky); this exclusivity positioned Batman to exist as an intangible, incorruptible and unbelievably fantastic heroic figure. Yet, in Nolan’s screen narrative, Batman has been dethroned from his once-elusive crime fighter status. In an obscenely modern twist, Nolan looks to argue that order in any society cannot rest solely on an elected or officially prominent figure.

The promotional clips for Nolan’s third and final entry, The Dark Knight Rises, show Batman in the war zone streets, fighting alongside the citizens of Gotham. This is fitting imagery for Nolan’s modernization of this once-romantic comic book myth. The new Batman mythology isn’t meant to serve as adventurous escapism. The new Batman mythology reflects our very modern world, a society desperately trying to restore order amidst all the chaos—without having to always flash a bat signal in the sky.

Nelson Carvajal is an independent digital filmmaker, writer and content creator based out of Chicago, Illinois. His digital short films usually contain appropriated content and have screened at such venues as the London Underground Film Festival. Carvajal runs a blog called FREE CINEMA NOW which boasts the tagline: "Liberating Independent Film And Video From A Prehistoric Value System."



At the end of The Dark Knight, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) had to explain to his son why Batman (Christian Bale) was being willfully chased by police—disgracing himself and abandoning his post for the greater good of Gotham. The new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises zeroes in on the sleepy void that abandonment left behind, positioning Batman as the embodiment of hope, which won't return to the city's people until he himself returns. At the center is another boy who, while chalking the bat symbol on the pavement and chatting with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's beat cop, asks the question on everyone's mind: “Do you think he's coming back?”

Christopher Nolan hasn't been wont to cater to fanboy demands, but with the inclusion of idealistic children, he allows for the presence of both innocence and wide-eyed admiration, representative of vulnerable Gothamites and minute-counting franchise diehards. The moods of both parties are evoked in the trailer's first half, which, but for a light score accented with gentle piano notes, uses the sound of silence to ratchet up tension and augment awe. In rather Spielbergian fashion, both viewers and city residents look on as epic effects ravage Gotham in an eerie hush, its bridges, football fields, and crowded interiors handily destroyed by Bane (Tom Hardy), representing the self-professed “Reckoning” of the gray metropolis. “Hope is lost” and “Faith is broken,” read the ominous intertitles, setting up everything, from the music to the masked avenger, to ultimately rise, appeasing all who were flabbergasted by Gotham's quiet undoing.  

Through it all, the trailer finds precious balance in shady Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a character who, beyond possessing unique allure, has notoriously played both sides in Batman's world. In voiceover, she whispers that “a storm is coming,” which one could apply to everything from Bane's impending assault to the movie's probable record-breaking sales. And with both a teasing menace and a clear devotion to the hero, her ambiguity is employed to amplify the theme of unease, another figure denoting citizens' fears and fans' rapid pulses.

The double entendres continue to pour from Selina's mouth, as she assures Batman that he “[doesn't] owe these people anymore,” and that he's “given them everything.” “Not everything,” Batman replies. “Not yet.” Without doubt, this exchange speaks directly to the tricks still tucked up Nolan's sleeve, and aims to assure the masses there's still plenty to come from the Caped Crusader. It's a promise that requires more faith than one may have expected, seeing as this preview doesn't boast the kind of wow factors oft-associated with a year's most anticipated film (the tacked-on reveal of a new Bat-vehicle seems more like a shameless trick than a thrilling addition). But in its use of the silent hovering of hope, the latest Dark Knight Rises trailer weaves audience loyalty into its very fabric, and leaves to the ticket-buyer the final assertion that the storm was worth waiting for.

R. Kurt Osenlund is the Managing Editor of Slant Magazine's The House Next Door, as well as a film critic & contributor for Slant, South Philly Review, Film Experience, Cineaste, Fandor, ICON, and many other publications.