My Dinner with Christopher Nolan

nolan.jpgOn January 28, Ed Howard at Only the Cinema demanded that I ask somebody to dinner. That’s a bit rude, but I had imposed upon Ed last year, so he was well within his rights.

(By the way, this whole have-someone-over-for-dinner business was apparently started by Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre. While I will participate, I shan’t perpetuate; socializing shouldn’t be forced on anyone.)

I’ve been otherwise occupied for a while, but I finally got around to inviting Christopher Nolan to dinner. (Not literally, of course. Still, that invitation should be clear.) He hasn’t accepted yet, but I hear he’s busy, too.

Nolan was an easy choice for me, because he seems the rare filmmaker who’s aggressively pursuing art in movies that attempt to be broadly entertaining. He is not turning superheroes into “difficult” films, and he is not giving trash the air of respectability. He’s making dense, rigorous films without sacrificing their fun or their thrills.

Despite his dignified good looks — he could be Jude Law’s coarser-featured brother — I think of Nolan as a miner first and foremost. In both The Prestige and Batman Begins, the writer and director unearthed, developed, clarified, and polished themes and ideas latent in the source material.

He transcends his pulpy genres without belaboring it. I doubt many people appreciate the depth of exploration in Batman Begins, the sense of fair play that invigorates The Prestige, or the structural complexity and clarity of Memento, which challenges you to keep your head on straight but is never confusing. At the age of 37, he already has three pop masterpieces under his belt, and he might sneak another in before he’s 38.

Nolan still has a tendency to swing a hammer when a finer tool is warranted — in Batman Begins, some of the “satisfying” lines (“So we can learn to pick ourselves up”; “Didn’t you get the memo?”) make me cringe — but he’s a master storyteller who approaches his work earnestly and thoughtfully, even when it involves giant bats.

Our meal will be casual, at my home. (We don’t get out much anymore.) Bride of Culture Snob will prepare two of her specialties: a main course of Montalcino chicken with figs and gnocchi and a dessert of molten chocolate cakes with raspberries. We shall serve wine and homemade beer. Nolan gets baby duty — including diaper changes — for the duration of his visit. (This is my fantasy, right? I’m allowed to dream.)

Because I’m limited to five questions — I think that’s in his home-visit rider — I’ve chosen my queries carefully. They’re open-ended, and they’re intended to get Nolan to talk as much as possible. While I might like to know the answers to some specific questions — “Why did you bother re-making Insomnia?” — they had to give way to broader inquiries.

  1. Your protagonists tend to be damaged, tunnel-visioned obsessives. What’s your interest in these men?
  2. Describe your translation process with the Batman movies and The Prestige. How do you go about finding and developing your voice in these universes?
  3. Make a case for the seriousness of your movies, despite their genre trappings and commercial aspirations.
  4. After nearly 70 years, what remains to be said about and through Batman, and what’s your vision for the series moving forward?
  5. While there is certainly an interesting architectural element in Batman Begins — withholding the “hero” from the audience for roughly an hour — none of your work since Memento has as obviously reflected your interest in structural innovation and rigor. What uses of structure do you hope to explore in the future, and might we see a less linear approach to Batman?

I’m not sure how we’ll spend the rest of the evening, but Spawn of Culture Snob needs the care of a Brit film director, the wine rack is nearly full, and there are hundreds of movies we could watch. Perhaps a Drunken Commentary Track on Batman Begins?

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