🎬 #79 Nolan and Cinematic Sleight of Hand.
This week it’ll be two films from the same filmmaker. As I anticipate sitting in an IMAX theatre soon to enjoy his latest film, Oppenheimer, - I’m taking a look at two of my favourites of his - hard to choose when I honestly really like all his work. Every time he puts his mind to a subject, he creates a unique way into it, propelled by high concept but always keeping our emotional feet firmly on the ground. Always anchoring the audience by making the motivations behind the character’s choices entirely relatable - no matter what fantastical situation they may find themselves.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: DUNKIRK
2017 Dir Christopher Nolan
What I love about Dunkirk can be summed up by the image above. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are corned on a beach in France. Faced with the bleak odds of being sitting ducks for the [largely unseen] axis forces - they have a choice, survive or give up. The shot above might be the most somber in Nolan’s career - an image of hopelessness. Faced with the reality of the situation - a soldier walks into the sea. Surrendering himself to the forces of nature rather the those of the encroaching German military. This is a distillation of the dramatic choice that is the fuel of most narrative films. Summed up by this overly simplistic but useful [maybe] summary - find someway out of the situation you find yourself in. Some way to ‘triumph’ against seemingly impossible odds.
Excuse the crudeness but I don’t think my ass has ever been so tight for such an extended duration as the first time I watched the film. A lot like what I imagine a real war-like scenario would feel like. There is little respite from constant fear and tension. The possibility of obliteration is only ever a few breathes away. Everything that Nolan and his team throw at this, in terms of the tools of cinema, wrench every bit of tension from every frame. The shot above being a prime example - it again acts as a summary of what the film is. The encroaching bombardment getting closer and closer to wiping us out - all we can do is hold onto survival.
TL;DR Experience Nolan’s experiment in pure tension for the first time or have a rewatch before you see his next film based on historical events.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, Apple, Google and YouTube in the US and the UK.
Fact: 12 of the original civilian boats used to evacuate troops were used in the film.
FILM TWO: THE PRESTIGE
2006 Dir Christopher Nolan
To say that this is perhaps my favourite Nolan film is a dodgy. Thought it usually is the one that springs to mind most often, when I ask myself the question. But it is liable to change too. What he manages to do here, just like in most of his films actually, is use the construct of the subject - in this case magic/magicians and apply it to the narrative shape of the picture. The film becomes the shape of a magic trick - an illusion. In the case of Dunkirk, the film becomes the subjective experience of soldiers trying to survive - it’s a tension filled, survival experience. If a film is about warring magicians, the film itself should be a magic trick - if the film is about soldier trying to survive, the film should be tense on all fronts. Sounds simple when it’s simplified I guess, but in a way that is Nolan’s greatest strength - his ability to perform cinematic sleight of hand, right in front of us. He tells the story in the way only that story can be told.
In the case of his big breakout film - Memento, the film is the experience of not being able to form new memories. It’s both the subject and the narrative design - allowing him to explore the noir genre in surprising ways. The same can be said for Dunkirk - it redefines what a ‘war film’ is. And with in the case of The Prestige, Magic is the stage to explore what rivalry is and the the expectations of narrative device. Plus it ends with an absolutely spot on choice of an end title song by Radiohead. Partly inspired by The Prestige, I recently bought a book about 19th century magicians - a subject that is enthralling onto itself, but Nolan again gives us a fresh twist on it.
TL;DR Nolan’s magician rivalry drama explores the lengths people will go to for success in show business.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, Apple, Google and YouTube in the US and UK.
Fact: This is pretty cool - the two principle character’s initials when combined spell ‘ABRA’ [Alfred Borden, Robert Angier] as in abracadabra.
Thanks for reading Video Shop! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.