Mailbag: Christopher Nolan
With Tenet continuing to get pushed to a later release date, Rough Cut hopes to help moviegoers get their Nolan fix with its July Spotlight on the British-American filmmaker. We hope Nolan and Warner Bros. prioritize health and safety over profits. In the meantime, we kick off our spotlight with a staff mailbag.
1. Top 3 Christopher Nolan films, go:
(2) The Prestige
(3) (tie) The Dark Knight, Dunkirk
(1) The Dark Knight
(3) The Prestige
(2) The Dark Knight
2. What’s the biggest plot hole in a Christopher Nolan movie?
ZD: The thing that pisses me off about Inception, even though it’s my favorite Nolan film, is that it actually gets the big stuff right – or at least internally consistent. But then it messes up things that are eminently fixable – when/where the “kick” happens, and the time translation from one dream level to the next.
JD: In The Dark Knight, the Joker crashes a fundraiser for Harvey Dent and holds Gotham’s elite hostage, only to be foiled by Batman. Among the hostages is Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes, Dent’s partner and Bruce Wayne’s erstwhile flame. When the Joker tosses her off the penthouse balcony, Batman dives to her rescue, grabbing her in midair and saving her from certain death. The movie then cuts straight to the next scene—and it’s easy to be carried along by the brisk plot machinations and the excitement to see what Ledger’s Joker does next. But when Batman jumps off that balcony, Joker is still in Bruce Wayne’s penthouse with a cadre of armed henchmen, Gotham’s wealthiest hundred hostages, and an unconscious Harvey Dent stuffed in a broom closet. What happens to all those people? Does Batman just abandon them? Does the Joker just leave? Who lets Dent out of the cupboard? Never mind, don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out later, gotta send Batman and Morgan Freeman to Hong Kong.
SD: In Interstellar, Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) has to eject from his disintegrating spaceship when he goes through the black hole, but somehow he (and his spacesuit) are fine. If High Life had been around when the Nolans were writing this they might have had a better idea of what actually happens when you enter a black hole’s event horizon.
BN: I don’t believe in plot holes, as movies are a form of escape and entertainment, so I’ll never be terribly upset at a choice made with the viewer’s best interests in mind. That said, Batman doin’ some killin’ might be up there. I know, Zach Snyder’s Batman also killed – but if we’re comparing Nolan to Snyder, that’s reason enough to count it as a big mistake.
3. Speaking of plot holes, Inception. Does the top keep spinning?
ZD: Yes, and this is a hill I will happily die on.
CC: I’m a sucker for a happy ending, so I want to say no. But I guess the film tells us that false memories can feel just as real as anything else, so maybe it ultimately doesn’t really matter — it’s a happy ending for Cobb either way.
JD: It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Cobb doesn’t need to check anymore.
SD: Definitely. That movie is just too complicated to end in the real world (if anyone was ever there to begin with??)
BN: Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with manufacturing more happy endings, please. So, Cobb can see his kids now, as a treat.
4. Nolan frequently works with much of the same cast and crew across his films. Who do you see as Nolan’s key collaborator?
ZD: My instinct is his brother, screenwriter Jonathan Nolan. He’s co-written a half dozen of Nolan’s movies, and given his work on the HBO show Westworld, I’d posit that we have him to thank for the repeated use of mind-bending plot mechanics as a tool for questioning our reality.
CC: Hans Zimmer — the German composer has scored six of Nolan’s films, and it’s hard to imagine the experience of watching The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar, or Dunkirk without Zimmer’s percussive symphonies in the background (or, more often, the foreground).
JD: At least once during every Christopher Nolan movie, I stop and ask myself “is this actually good, or is Hans Zimmer just a genius?” The answer to both questions, of course, is yes. Nolan is good, but the secret sauce is his collaboration with Zimmer, who’s done his best work on Nolan’s films. They really do bring out the best in each other—it will be fascinating to see if Ludwig Göransson can recreate that magic on Tenet.
SD: Jonathan Nolan, his brother. They’ve written several films together, including The Prestige, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and Interstellar. And Memento (which the brothers also wrote together) was based on a short story (Memento Mori) that Jonathan wrote for Esquire.
BN: Michael Caine, but always open to more Cillian Murphy.
5. Nolan wrote a script for a biographical film about Howard Hughes (to be played by Jim Carey), but he tabled the project after learning that Scorsese was making The Aviator. Who would you like to be the topic of another Nolan biographical film, and who would you cast to play that character?
ZD: I’m actually a little surprised that he was drawn to Hughes, but the piece that makes sense to me is the way Hughes, like Nolan’s films, was larger than life. I’ll spin off that idea and his preoccupation with Nikola Tesla in The Prestige and suggest another magnate-inventor turned filmmaker, Thomas Edison. And of course, I want Tom Hardy as Edison.
CC: I’m not sure I have much interest in seeing Nolan go the biopic route, but if he did, it seems like Einstein would be the natural fit given Nolan’s preoccupations. Plus, could be a chance to let Michael Caine finally be the star.
JD: Among the most tantalizing loose ends in Nolan’s filmography is the brief appearance of David Bowie’s Nikola Tesla in The Prestige, and Tesla is the kind of obsessive genius figure (not unlike Hughes) who I feel like Nolan could really explore from both a thematic and visual perspective. Of course, the perfect casting for that project is Bowie himself, who is no longer with us, so Nolan should go with the next closest thing—Tilda Swinton.
SD: I would say Archimedes, though I’m assuming some of it would have to be fictionalized because he was alive around 200 BC. And I’m not sure there are a lot of great records from that time. I want to say I’d go with...Ryan Gosling??
BN: Leonardo Da Vinci played by Leonardo DiCaprio. (Wait, that’s actually happening already?) Let’s go with the Montgolfier brothers, played by Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy.
6. Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas’s production company, Syncopy Inc., has only produced one film NOT directed by Nolan (Man of Steel by Zach Snyder). Who is the next director Syncopy should sync up with?
ZD: Give Shane Carruth all the money he needs to make A Topiary!! He’s a director with similarly heady ideas as Nolan, but without the budget, and who has abandoned filmmaking after getting chewed up by the industry.
CC: Karyn Kusama’s work seems right up Nolan’s alley: give her the budget she deserves!
JD: One of Nolan’s key cinematic influences is Michael Mann, and I would love to see Syncopy back the next movie by Steve McQueen, who made an incredible Mann homage two years ago with Widows.
SD: My vote would be Denis Villeneuve. They both have made top-notch science-fiction films (and omg aren’t you so excited for Dune and Tenet?!?!) and I think Syncopy would be a good fit for Villeneuve’s next project.
BN: Christopher Nolan x Yorgos Lanthimos – who says no? Anybody that’s not my friend, that’s who.
7. Tenet has been released. It’s six months later. How much has it made at the box office?
ZD: First of all, I think it’s May 2021 at this point, because I don’t think theaters will open until at least close to Thanksgiving / Christmas. And second, I think it’s made $250 million domestic, leveraging its endless hype cycle and the extended play in a smaller (~2,000) number of theaters to get close to Inception’s take home.
CC: A thousand barrels of guzzolene.
JD: Because we find ourselves in the worst possible timeline, Tenet makes exactly $146,066,469 at the domestic box office—one dollar less than Sonic the Hedgehog. In retrospect, Nolan should’ve had John David Washington floss more.
SD: Trick question, it’s never released because time starts running backwards on August 11.
BN: Beyond the likelihood of Tenet being a flat-out fun sci-fi romp – plus Robert Pattinson! – the pent up need for movie theaters will play a huge role here too. If, eventually, movie theaters open and it’s safe to go – another worry altogether – the choices will be Mulan or Tenet. While Disney is always guaranteed to rack up a billion-plus on a worldwide release, Nolan’s latest will come close simply for lack of competition and a desperate need to get back in those seats!
8. And a Rough Cut favorite: what’s the one clip that should play when Christopher Nolan wins a lifetime achievement award?
ZD: This is an extremely basic answer, but the JGL hallway fight scene from Inception, but a clip that also includes the behind-the-scenes “how they did it.”
JD: Obviously, it should be this clip that describes Nolan’s entire approach to filmmaking.
BN: I mean, the Hallway Fight from Inception, sure. Considering I’m likely not the only person to suggest that, I’d like to offer some others up: Tom Hardy’s Dog Fight over the English Channel (Dunkirk), When My Eyes Are Closed, The World’s Still Here (Memento) or Waves (Interstellar).
Literally pick any and I’d be a happy boy.