Monday, June 28, 2010

Christopher Nolan and his use of Time

I thought about doing separate reviews for each of the movies here, but while viewing them I found the common link was time. Nolan uses flashbacks, reverse storytelling, and unspecified sequences to increase tension in his films and create a better experience. Film-by-film, here's how I saw his use of time.
Goes without saying: spoilers

Following is really very dark and examines the danger of our own human curiosity. But the dramatic tension in the film largely comes from the flashback sequencing. Throughout the film, I empathized with the Young Man. Sure, he was creepy and had problems. But he seemed essentially good, and I was hoping he would realize his errors. The beginning sequence made this seem possible; the Young Man could turn himself in and repent and send Cobb to jail. So when we see that it's all been a conspiracy to blame the Young Man for the murder of the Blonde, it hits much harder.

Memento is a very heavily discussed film, so I'll try to not delve into it too much. The non-sequential story-telling in Memento is perfect. While the timeline goes A to B to C, the story is told in alternating sequences from C to B and A to B, with the ending of the film taking place in the middle of the timeline. The temporal games make the viewer just as confused as the amnesiac Leonard. It also stresses that the climax and turning point of the film is the point where Leonard begins his own hunt for who should be his last John G: Teddy. This takes place at the middle, but is the height of excitement in the film, and a fitting end to the movie.

Insomnia really only plays with time through lighting and delusion. The perpetual light of the North throws off the viewer and the characters. The delusions of Dormer are non-sequential, but they don't leave us questioning too much. All in all, the two up the tension, but not as much as the interactions between the characters.

Batman Begins and Dark Knight
I'm not going to talk about these right now, as I don't think time matters as much in these. Another viewing of Begins (I've seen TDK enough) might change that though.

The Prestige
The Prestige has a sequencing nearly as complex as Memento, yet I don't find it as tense. Still, it helps to make the movie a thrill ride. Like Memento, While we have the A to B to C sequencing, we begin at both B and C, see part of C and the beginning of B, and then flash back to A. The slow unveiling of the entire illusion allows us to see the full moral stakes at the climax of the film, which impacts us more.

Nolan is one of my favorite directors, and his use of time is a reason why. I hope this helps explain why I have a man-crush on him.

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