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Trying to make sense of Christopher Nolan’s popularity

The kids and I watched Batman Begins earlier this week. It was the first time watching it for them, maybe the third for me (and the first time in quite a number of years).

They enjoyed it. I thought it was… fine?

That kind of sums up my general feeling about basically all of Christopher Nolan’s movies. He seems like a competent and adequate filmmaker, and that is about as far as it goes for me.

I would not have much more to say about it, except that ever since Memento it has felt like I am supposed to laud every movie Nolan makes as some sort of stunning masterpiece. And again, it’s not like I think his movies suck; they’re mostly fine. Rather, it’s the collective adulation of every one of his movies as some sort of monument of filmmaking. Nolan has accumulated this aura of being A Director, like his work carries some special import.

I find his movies to be plot-heavy exercises with little to say, his visual style to be about as interesting as a PB&J sandwich, and his editing mostly incoherent. Whatever—that’s just me, and different people can like different things. But Nolan seems to hold some special appeal for a certain slice of Internet commenters. The image that comes to mind is a straight white guy in his late twenties to mid-forties who watches a lot of HDTV reviews on YouTube and insists that unless you’ve watched it in IMAX, you really haven’t watched it at all.

Maybe it’s Nolan’s overly finnicky plots—the tendency of his movies to rely upon narrative tricks like a plot running in reverse, or dreams within dreams, or time dilation and loops. These contrivances add nothing to the story—rather, they distract from it—but they do make excellent fodder for the sort of YouTube explainer video that somehow manages to be simultaneously obsessive and derivative.

And with the ongoing slow-and-then-fast death of the journalism industry, these sorts of YouTubes—and plot-recapping more broadly—seem to have largely taken over the notion of film criticism in the public mind.

Given that, I suppose it should not come as much of a surprise that a director who specializes in non-threatening, plot-heavy exercises with a vaguely intellectual patina has become of the darling of this set.

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