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No, Christopher Nolan is not “the Next Stanley Kubrick”

Another Christopher Nolan film, another round of stock comparisons.

To his credit, Nolan sparks genuine critical debate and discussion online, even if there’s an uncomfortable whiff of sensationalism to the coverage. Is Christopher Nolan responsible for everything that is wrong with Hollywood right now? (Spoiler: No. Not at all. Not even slightly.) Is Christopher Nolan a pompous and privileged douchebag for wanting audiences to see his film in the format that he has intended? (Spoiler: While he could probably be a bit more mindful that one size doesn’t always fit all, dude has a right to have a preference about how his work is consumed.)

To be fair, these provocative and confrontational articles at least provide a nice reprieve from the listacles and fan service that define so much of the discourse about modern summer movies. How does [minor character] set up the future of [major franchise]? How many easter eggs did you identify from in [franchise blockbuster]? One of the advantages of Hollywood’s modern franchise-driven mindset is that it makes ranking [entire franchise] articles popular and recyclable. It is exhausting. At least a new Nolan film tends to mean new director-centric debates.

That said, there is one comparison that tends to get rehashed quite a bit. Almost every time that Christopher Nolan releases a feature film, film writers who really should know better stop to ask whether Christopher Nolan is the next Stanley Kubrick. Andrew Pulver addressed the comparison in The Guardian, providing a nice piece of symmetry to an article he wrote almost a decade ago. Christopher Priest, author of The Prestige, made the case only a few years ago.

It is a fairly obvious argument. Both Nolan and Kubrick are directors who worked at a remove from the press, tending to live and work outside the studio system while developing their ideas. They both seem to straddle the Atlantic, both having spent a lot of time living in England and working in America. Neither director ever seemed entirely comfortable talking to the press or doing the publicity circuit. Both produce films that are very stylishly produced, often tending to keep the audience at a slight remove from their characters that some may consider “cold.”

However obvious the comparison might be, it relies on a fundamental misunderstanding of both directors.

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My 12 for ’14: Interstellar and Our Place in the Stars…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Interstellar is an unapologetically emotional film.

This seems a bit odd, given the reputation that Christopher Nolan has built up as a somewhat cold and clinical film maker. However, that reputation always seemed a little undeserved, based more on his meticulous craftsmanship and tendency towards intricate plot structures than on the material content of his movies. Nolan’s films have always had strong emotional cores buried beneath cynical exteriors. He is one of the few writers to give Batman a happy ending, after all.

interstellar8

Interstellar tips its hand early on, with Brand proposing love as a universal force on par with gravity. Despite Interstellar‘s keen attention to detail and physics, the final act was all but inevitable. At its core, Interstellar is the story about a father’s love transcending time and space. The actual mechanics necessary to reach that point are intricate and stylishly realised, but they are not the point of the film. Ironically, in constructing a film that repeatedly (and consciously) mimics 2001: A Space Odyssey, Nolan casts off the stock comparison to Kubrick.

Oddly enough, Nolan brings a decidedly old-school aesthetic to Interstellar. Any number of visuals from the film would not look out of place on the battered cover of a fifties or sixties paperback. Filmed using practical effects and on real film, Interstellar‘s style evokes an older style of cinematic spectacle. Even its pacing evokes classic Hollywood storytelling, with Interstellar never feeling too rushed or relaxed as it crafts a three-hour saga. The result is stunningly beautiful piece of work.

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Non-Review Review: Interstellar

Interestingly, Christopher Nolan seems to have generated a reputation as a rather detached director. Common wisdom around Nolan’s films suggest that the film-maker is perhaps too cold and clinical in his approach to the material; that his films lack warmth or humour. This reputation is probably a result of the director’s fascination with non-linear storytelling. After all, The Dark Knight is his only straight-arrow-from-beginning-to-end film.

Probably also due to the narrative contortions and distortions of films like Memento or The Prestige, Nolan is generally presented as a film-maker who constructs visual puzzle-boxes. His films are frequently treated as riddles to be solved. Consider the discussion of narrative “plot holes” in The Dark Knight Rises that fixates on how Bruce Wayne got around back to Gotham, or the discussion on the mechanics of the final shot of Inception. This approaches to his work tend to divorce the viewer from his films.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

Interstellar will likely be Nolan’s most polarising film to date, replacing The Prestige or The Dark Knight Rises. The film offers an extended two-and-a-half hour rebuttal to accusations that Nolan is detached or distant. Much has been made about the attention to detail on Interstellar. The physics on the movie were so exact and precise that physicist Kip Thorne actually made theoretical advances while working on the film.

However, at the same time, one character posits love as a force more powerful than gravity or time. Interstellar might be precise and meticulous, but it is not a film that lacks for an emotional core; it is not a movie that lacks for warmth. Interstellar feels like a conscious attempt to cast off the image of a cynical and cold film-maker.

Out of this world...

Out of this world…

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Watch! Interstellar Trailer!

The trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is here, and it looks typically bold and ambitious. As a sci-fi fan (and no small admirer of Nolan’s work) I am really looking forward to this one. Check out the trailer below: