Deep inside the heart of any major fan is the conviction that their favorite artists must support their worldview. The problem with Christopher Nolan movies is that they underdevelop their thematic content: Memento is about memory and free will; The Prestige is about illusion as a metaphor for deception; Inception is about the nature of reality and our choices; Batman Begins is about what happens when you join and then leave a shadowy cabal of ninjas who secretly control the world. Each of them is about its subjects only in the most superficial and perfunctory of ways: there is the text, which lays out the themes in the broadest possible terms and rarely elaborates them, some basic symbolism, a clockwork plot, and a complete absence of any further elaboration. The films are perfect for a certain kind of reading, one that begins with the assumption that there must be a single, significant meaning to the whole and assigning that meaning in the most coherent manner possible, whether or not the film itself supports that meaning.

I am a fan of none of these things. The grim tone wears very quickly in movies that are very long. Adult seriousness is recognizable by its occasional comedic tone, which as most adults know is eternally present in life. The commitment to grim realism is also often colored by sentimentality rather than a more human range of emotions, genuine emotional reactions replaced by a general feeling of being impressed by the nature of the universe. Rather than the range of emotional connection to a variety of different people, there is only the most tear-jerking of parental or pseudo-parental connections (here we enter the territory of what is wrong with comic book movies, as well); individuals become totems of types. Cobb in Inception is a Husband and Father. The details of his wife are held out of the story for the longest possible time, and even less is said of his children: his Desire To See Them is what drives him.

The clockwork plotting of his films is also difficult to put up with. The question of construction in any narrative form is this: would the story collapse if the elements were ordered differently? My favorite example is the novel The Luminaries, ordered as the serial recollections of a group of men about events that have been transpiring in their community. Each tells his story and adds a bit of information to what has gone before, but the construction of the novel makes it clear that most of its length is taken up with these recollections, which will, by the end, bring the reader up to date. There's no particular reason why one of these gentlemen--who now all know the whole story--can't tell a brief summation of it, except that the book could not exist if they did so. Memento is not much of a movie if it is ordered in chronological sequence; Inception doesn't happen as it does if what is eventually revealed about Cobb is known at the beginning (it also might put more unwanted stress on questions like "why can't Cobb go see his kids exactly?" "why did people think he's responsible for his wife's death, which was obviously not the frame-up we are supposed to believe it to be?" and "why isn't Cobb in therapy?" Dwelling too much on this last one might also raise the question of why Batman, with his extensive emotional trauma, is not in therapy, unless Great Men Don't Need Shrinks).

This is unfortunate because the science fiction many of Nolan's films aspire to is a great genre for working out meaning, especially through the form of a single metaphor or allegory worked out to its full extent (Planet of the Apes is not subtle, but it is thorough) or complex but not complicated reflection on the conditions of normal life (Blade Runner is not a game of "who's the replicant?"; whether the world gets saved, and what happens to Bruce Willis, are neither of them the point of 12 Monkeys).

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