Christopher Nolan He is one of the most exciting directors working today, creating some of the most amazing experiences an audience can have in cinema. He accomplished this through his unique sensibility in making films that deliver mind-boggling stories that aren’t afraid to break the typical conventions of most films. Whether it’s changing the perception of time or showing events out of order, he always finds interesting ways to challenge the audience. His two most recent films, the apocalyptic historical drama Dunkirk An exciting spy adventure Tenet, are no exception, but they also serve as perfect examples of the strengths and weaknesses that come with Nolan’s signature style. Comparing the two highlights what can make watching his movies feel so special but also so isolating.

Play with time

Warner Bros.

DunkirkOur approach to time is wonderfully creative, but rarely mystifying. It offers three different perspectives of saving Dunkirk with different time frames. The ground part of the tattered soldiers waits one week, the sea part of the patriotic civilians who will save them one day, and the air part with brave pilots trying to protect the fleeing troops is one hour. This bold approach works beautifully, cutting between the three points of view to ratchet up tension or relieve the audience of it as needed. It also fits with the emotional impetus of each perspective, with soldiers’ long waits of despair, anxious but hopeful civilians’ day-long journey across the water, and fighter pilots’ intense battles to save their people. This bold use of time is something most directors would struggle with or avoid altogether due to the complexity of pulling off, but Nolan pulls it off in a way that no one else can. It makes it one of the movie’s greatest strengths that it avoids overwhelming the audience and keeps them constantly engaged by never having a dull moment.

Tenet The movie is all about time, with a story that follows spies trying to stop the apocalypse through a unique form of time travel that resulted in some of the most creative action sequences ever filmed. Sad to say that TenetThe use of time is also hampered by poor execution. The film has trouble overstating its concept, which confuses rather than informs, something Nolan has done more successfully in other films. The more the audience is told, the more questions they have, and the less it all makes sense. This is something that happens gradually throughout the movie, eventually coming to a head in the movie’s epic finale, as two small armies fight in different directions in time. The audience may know the primary goals of stopping a world-ending bomb, but the instantaneous action, while very cool to look at, is hard to understand. Nolan should be commended for his unique approach to time travel, but he should have considered telling them less and trusting their belief.

Related: Why Christopher Nolan Is Slowly Turning Towards Historical Drama

nonlinear structure

Warner Bros. the pictures
SF Studios

For a story all about desperate survival, the views nested in Dunkirk Make sure to maintain sharp tension the entire time. With different timeframes, there is a risk of losing the audience back and forth, frustrating them by taking away from complementary moments. Nolan uses it to build suspense with excellent foreshadowing or give more context to a particularly harrowing moment. This can be seen in moments like the fighter pilot crashing into the water with no knowledge of their fate until we jump into another perspective later to see his last-minute rescue. Another example is the audience seeing a shipwreck moment early on which is later shown at an early moment in the story being boarded by important characters, hoping as a means of escape. Nolan deftly weaves all of these threads to make the experience an ever-gripping one.

Tenet The story is like a circle, which is appropriate to the ideas of the time in which it is played. We follow the main character of the story in a relatively straight line, but the experience still has a non-linear element in how events recur. The beginning teaches us about the powerful concepts in the gameplay and goes through exciting moments of spy action. About halfway through, the film reverses, even revisiting pivotal moments in another direction in time. This leads to exciting discoveries, as previously described concepts become more and more complex in the process. This is also when it starts to unravel, as characters revisit previously seen moments in time to a point that doesn’t make sense. This results in some interesting twists, but it doesn’t advance the story so much as it pushes the audience away from it, bending their minds so much as to confusion. Nolan may have trusted audiences drawn into the excitement just to go along with it or come up with their own satisfying interpretations with what they were presented with, but he may have expected too much.

Related: Quentin Tarantino was as confused by Tenet as most of us

emotional distance

Christopher Nolan Dunkirk
Pictures Warner Bros

Nolan is often criticized for the lack of personality in his films. when Dunkirk First released, some critics have decried the movie for that very thing. The audience is told little or nothing about anyone on screen, and watches only young soldiers desperate to survive the constant barrage of German forces. While some might see this as the film’s weak point, it’s actually one of its greatest strengths. It offers a story in which the audience becomes one of the wrecked soldiers on that beach, thinking of nothing but getting out alive. He makes the experience a visceral one that refrains from the heroism and brotherhood found in most war films, instead casting the men’s story down to their sole motive, survival. It feels like a conscious choice on Nolan’s part in this movie making it a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, unique to his own tastes.

characters in Tenet They likewise have little or nothing about them, which is the movie’s biggest weakness. Where the lack of personality added a special element to immersion Dunkirk, Tenet It becomes more empty for that. The audience doesn’t feel for the people on screen because they don’t know them. The only feelings I had were the excitement of the events happening and the excitement of seeing what had never been seen before from an artistic point of view. This is evident in the main character having no name, being credited only by the name of the protagonist. There’s no real emotion to anything going on, which leads to a weaker experience that leaves the viewer cold. Nolan may be trying a daring experiment to reduce the story to its essential elements, but it reveals a movie that cares more about its concept than the people who make us care about it.


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