WARNING – SPOILERS for All Christopher Nolan Movies!
It’s fair to say that Christopher Nolan has been one of the most influential directors of the new millennium. From his indie cult-hit Memento in 2000, to his mid-2000s re-imagining of Batman with the Dark Knight trilogy, to original sci-fi works like Inception and his latest release, Interstellar, Nolan’s films have been almost as much of a consistent cultural talking point as the enigmatic director himself.
That prominence in the zeitgeist – combined with the mystery surrounding the man and his method – has ballooned Nolan to almost mythic status amongst film fans. Curiosity and excitement for any project bearing his name are automatic guarantees – to the point that criticism of his work (or technique) can be met with almost irrational levels of contention.
However, no filmmaker is above criticism – just as no filmmaker is beneath some kind of praise (for completing a film, if nothing else). With more and more divisive reactions to Interstellar coming in by the day, it’s time to have a real conversation about the ways in which Chris Nolan is (just perhaps) flawed in his filmmaking approach – and where this highly-capable and intelligent filmmaking auteur can stand to do better going forward.
These are 5 Christopher Nolan Movie Criticisms that are totally Valid – and it should be NOTED that these aren’t just our criticisms of the filmmaker. They are critiques we’ve heard repeated over the course of his filmmaking career, from critics and casual viewers alike. And since all five points seem to be echoed in the critical reactions to Interstellar, it seemed that this was the appropriate time to pull them all together .
5. His Endings Inspire More Theories Than Meaning
Look, movies (and stories in general) are meant to be (somewhat) open to interpretation. There is never any one way to view a story, and the best stories tend to be ones that teach us a bit of something, while also inspiring us to new thoughts. Unfortunately, Chris Nolan’s films don’t always do both.
It was fun to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake rise to the Batman alter at the of Dark Knight Rises; or to stare, unblinking, at that spinning top during the end of Inception; and I have personally taught a college class lesson on Memento’s brain-twisting finale (as an example of non-linear narrative). To say that Chris Nolan films leave people pondering deep (or at least confusing) ideas would be an understatement. However, somewhere in all that deep ponderance, it’s become a noticeable pattern that the actual main narrative or thematic thrusts of Nolan films are rarely seized upon or felt, in comparison to all the heady theorizing.
People were writing wild theories about how Inception was all a dream, but few understood that Cobb’s (Leo DiCaprio) spinning totem didn’t matter in face of his reaction in that moment: happy to see his kids again, no longer caring about his totem – i.e., no longer caring what “reality” was. The character had found his place of meaning and that was the reality he was ready to accept; whether it was “real” or not is not the point of the character arc we were following – as eventually explained by Nolan himself.
With our Interstellar Ending Explained article, we’re already seeing another Inception-style descent into metaphysical theory, while the actual story about love and human curiosity being guiding forces in our existence is again a distant afterthought to all the time/space relativity jargon. Even The Dark Knight, Nolan’s most celebrated film, had a final section that didn’t hit home with a lot of viewers; to this day, a considerable percentage of fans insist that the Harvey Dent/Two-Face finale could’ve been cut – even though it represents the true convergence point of the film’s many thematic arcs about the line between heroism and villainy.