Stanley Kubrick vs. Christopher Nolan

I’ve seen, though not read (I don’t read any blogs besides Paolo’s) some articles comparing these two so I will give it a roll, though I think it’s a mostly fruitless comparison with the exception of one film by each. I’m writing this after having seen Inception last week, though it won’t be part of this post because I’ve only seen it once. I went on a Nolan binge before and after watching his latest, and I saw Following and Insomnia for the first and second times each. I was very pleasantly surprised by the latter, because it shows that Nolan doesn’t have to co-write his own movie to make palpable his characters’ guilt-ridden obsessions, and he doesn’t have to create a puzzle of a narrative to literalize many of his characters’ creations of elaborate ruses to hide the fact that they are doing some pretty awful things to gain revenge on those they feel have wronged them. This is what makes his pre-Batman movies so interesting, his desire to fragment a narrative in order to give the viewer the disorientation that his characters need to hide their crimes from other characters. In nerdy English major terminology, especially so in Memento, his form matches his content, for the way he tells the story is just as important as the story itself. Marshall McLuhan would have been proud.

Then came The Dark Knight, and some of its considerable genius lies in the fact that Nolan had finally written a character whose need to “watch the world burn,” as Michael Caine’s Alfred puts it, is so nakedly ambitious and well-planned that it needs no disguise. Sure, the Joker has the make-up, hideous scars, dye job, and catchphrase name to signify a nominal alter ego, but he’s smart enough to realize that his biggest costume is the fact that he has no known address or occupation and wears label-free clothing, and thus he can’t be traced through either his personal information or what he actually did out in the world. The concept that a man who has clearly lost his sanity could also be the smartest, and in some cases, for some viewers, thus the most sympathetic, man in the room is very Kubrickian, for Stanley directed what is arguably the finest film centered around such a character, A Clockwork Orange.

Now, the difference between the two films is that while I am impressed by the Joker’s intellect and eventual success in exposing that the differences between him and the “saner,” more “morally correct” characters are thin indeed, I am not necessarily cheering for him because there are more characters who are inherently good, and do not stray from that path, in that film (such as Alfred and Rachel), while Alexander DeLarge in the Kubrick is easy to cheer for because he’s the only character who is independent enough to be able to truly choose to be whomever he wants to be in his vanilla world buried in bureaucracy, even if he makes the choice to rape and pillage, and having the ability to question what’s going on and choose how you want to feel and what you want to do about it is intrinsically human. Thus, watching “The Dark Knight” eventually brought me to the conclusion that one of Kubrick’s great legacies is to give other directors the template to create characters who do loathsome things but do them in such a calculated, intelligent fashion that you can separate their actions from their characters and thus be repelled by the former while being really attracted by the latter. That in turn helped me realize that, for whatever reason(s) (maybe the advent of modern-day terrorism has something to do with it), films in which characters gain some audience sympathy by doing quote-unquote insane things, or speaking truth to power, or flummoxing authority, in order to show their worlds what they are missing, are somewhat plentiful over the last decade or so, from David Fincher’s Fight Club to James McTeigue and the Wachowski brothers’ V For Vendetta, to Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, to, finally, M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable. That these movies are all very good, and tell their respective stories in very different fashions, shows that interesting films are everywhere and it is up to discerning moviegoers to seek out, find, and recommend them to others. Therefore, you can consider every single film referenced in this post as highly recommended.

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3 Responses to “Stanley Kubrick vs. Christopher Nolan”

  1. paolocase Says:

    We already had the Kubrick’s heir conversation, in how Todd Field and the Coens could be the ones. But you make a good case on Nolan here. If it wasn’t for his lack of humour, Nolan would be perfect.

  2. larsaumueller Says:

    Very good points. I’m afraid that “Inception,” besides the fact that I was absolutely wowed by it on the day I saw it yet have not thought about it even once since (just like “Avatar”), will be slightly plagued by its humorlessness. I think I might do a follow-up post in detail on how Kubrick’s very black humor sets him apart from most of the candidates people bring up as heirs, except for Field and the Coens, who I neglected to mention because my goal was to show that Nolan, at least thematically, is very separated from Kubrick with the admittedly rather large exception of “The Dark Knight,” which might be the most Kubrickian movie directed by anybody in the last decade. As good an example as any that the best-laid intentions often go awry.

  3. paolocase Says:

    Seriously, not thought about Inception the day after? But then again I live in the Internet and I’ve read too many people’s kooked up theories, that, in a movie like this, can be actual legitimate theories.

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