July 29, 2023


Christopher Nolan: the last Tory: The director is a mass entertainer with an elitist disdain for the masses. In his films, order and hierarchy reign. (Will Lloyd, 7/29/23, New Statesman)

Oppenheimer does not sympathise with Oppenheimer. The bomb, his life's work - which Nolan condemns as a modernist project like those of Freud, or Stravinsky, or Picasso - is a hideous error. The film ends with Oppenheimer tremblingly realising that he has unleashed forces that could destroy the planet. You sense Oppenheimer's, and by extension Nolan's, longing for a return to the old, straight, predictably lined systems of Isaac Newton's universe, and to absolute moral values more generally.

Christopher Nolan is an auteur who claims to be a craftsman, an engineer who despises new technology, a starkly conservative Englishman who lives and works in the most liberal city in the United States. Above all, Nolan is a mass entertainer with an elitist disdain for the masses.

Aggregations of human beings in a Nolan movie are usually a bad sign. In the Batman trilogy they mass only as gangsters, or anarchists, or filthy, deluded revolutionaries. In Interstellar the people are reduced to yokels, who no longer have the vision to save themselves from a dusty environmental apocalypse. The one major crowd scene in Oppenheimer, when the scientist receives the acclaim of his colleagues, degenerates into grotesque bacchanal, where people vomit and scream and fondle each other. Nolan is terrified of the masses because he is terrified of himself, and his lucrative ability to tell them stories. "Who are the people?" Elliot Page's Ariadne asks Leonardo di Caprio's Cobb in Inception. "They're projections of my subconscious," he replies.

Without rules, human beings are nasty and brutish. This lofty insight leads Nolan to believe that the filmmaker and the audience can never be equally matched. He does not do traditional scored research screenings or focus groups. He forced through the cinematic release of Tenet in September 2020 during the pandemic, seemingly unconcerned by Covid circulating in enclosed spaces among herds of unvaccinated people.

The epic scenery of his films - Nolan keeps returning to glaciers, huge, empty glittering cities, and the fizzing, baffling matter of particle physics - feel like intimidation devices. So too do his incomprehensible multi-timeline plots, the insanely loud scores of these pictures, and his delight in forcing actors into masks and helmets and cockpits, where their dialogue can barely be understood. All the fear and flight and anger inside Nolan is contained in these attempts to dominate his audience. If he can dominate us, he can dominate those feelings too.

Haileybury might have been "Darwinian", but Nolan also happily told Shone that he "enjoyed my time there". The reconciliation of brutality and cruelty with order and hierarchy is what Nolan always hopes to achieve. The dormitory room might be bleak, but it will always shelter us. Horror is necessary to prevent greater horror. This is Tory propaganda on the grandest possible scale. 

Posted by at July 29, 2023 6:59 AM