Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Christopher Nolan | The Illusion of Identity

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What makes this scene so memorable and uplifting? Although the camera work and Hans Zimmer's

brilliance can be commended, these shots go one step further.

The genius of Christopher Nolan is that he blends the mass audience appeal of blockbusters

with the art house sensibilities that many tend to dismiss.

What this results in are narratives constructed primarily around the characters themselves,

which are thematically and stylistically similar garnished with the odd dashes of

Hollywood spectacle thrown in here and there. Looking over the past couple years or so,

the oversaturation of superhero flicks and action

blockbusters focused solely to sell tickets, is frankly quite alarming. Literally nothing

to offer thematically or character wise; it's easy to pinpoint the directors who put in

the extra mile during pre production and the ones that pump out corporate art for the sake

of the film business. Out of the top 10 highest grossing films of

2014, Interstellar was the only film that gave the audience a cerebral experience, with

it being the only original film among sequels, prequels, reboots and comic

book films. So the question is, what exactly does Christopher Nolan bring to the table

that no others dare to? What sets apart Batman Begins from any other

superhero films? What's so unique and different about Memento compared to any other perplexing

thriller? Well firstly, all his films include a protagonist

who struggles to perceive reality and the world around them.

As the protagonist plays an integral role in moving the story forward, the viewer is

on the receiving end of this very uncertainty. This leads me nicely onto the character of

Leonard Shelby, the "driving force" of Memento's narrative.

The aspect of Leonard having temporary memory loss puts into perspective the idea of an

unreliable narrator. As the audience, it's hard for us to take

heed of his claims, but at the same time, his vulnerability to the surrounding characters

makes us fall directly into his shoes. Pretend living a life where you can't remember

anything for minutes on end. That's what engrossed me into Leonard's world, a world where nothing

is stable and apparent to his fragmented mind, and with the non-chronological

structure of the film; it really pertains to the idea of searching for ones true self.

The narrative structure

of the film emphasises his inability to remember, as well as his need to tell his narrative,

by moving between a backwards and forwards storyline, intercutting at key

points in the plot. Nolan creates a situation which asks the audience to actively participate

in forming meaning by watching carefully to make sense of the time and status of each

character. Nolan aims to present Leonard believing that he is a righteous avenger, and constant

introduction of contradictory information helps

to highlight the conflict between his internal and social identity. At the end of the film,

which is the story's beginning, its left ambiguous whether Leonard is truly in control of his

identity construction or is once again being manipulated by the

forces he is surrounded by. As in Nolan's other works, especially Batman Begins and

Dark Knight, Memento concludes with a close up of Leonard, placing him at

the centre of the narrative. He

rejects the evidence around him, despite saying that he is still part of the world, making

the audience decide whether its Leonard or Teddy that is

correct, or if neither is telling the truth. The shot composition of placing his eyes as

the focal point throughout the monologue implies that Leonard's

truth is only in his mind and not in the larger world. Nolan suggests truth and identity are

both complex and uncertain. What Nolan did next was take the stereotypical

archetype of a superhero and continued to explore the theme of identity within the Batman

legend. He takes the issue of dual personas and takes

it one step further in the realm of generic comic book movies during the early 2000's.

Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, gives time to observe the internal

and external struggles of Bruce Wayne, in an attempt to

determine what he believes to be his authentic identity. Bruce Wayne's performance as Batman

helps to make him into a more complete person. The role of Batman is essentially another

form of Bruce's identity, which helps him become the person he is, rather someone completely

separate. In a pivotal scene in Batman Begins, Bruce

comments. He realises that he needs put on a new identity beyond his own to become what

he needs to be, which eventually evolves into a new form of the Bruce Wayne

identity. Nolan uses frequent flashbacks throughout the early part of the story so that Bruce's

past and present are woven together with a clear

distinction on what set Bruce Wayne down the path of justice and order. The move from The

Narrows in Begins to the clean, classy, urban landscapes of Chicago enables the audience

to really relate to the characters and situations

more. Its real people in a real place. It's not only the hero that has this problem, Ra's

Al Ghul, Scarecrow, Harvey Dent and the Joker all show

glimpses of another persona that inherently controls their character. The way each film

starts off with a character recounting the villain of the film, akin to that of a mythical

legend, places the Batman myhtos firmly in the society we live

in today. Nolan presents the character of The Joker as a mysterious persona, with his

past only being visited through vague anecdotes of his scar.

The lack of a specific origin for the Joker contrasts with Bruce Wayne, which poises the

men as opposites; Batman has a distinct beginning and

alternate persona while the Joker is undefined, preaching chaos as a unifying theory. District

Attorney Harvey Dent is the most poignant and important example of

Nolan's fascination with identity. The so called "White Knight", a pure statue whose

job is to clean the streets of crime, can be so easily drenched in villainy that

killing for him is the only form of vindication. Like his favoured coin he constantly flips,

Harvey has two distinct and opposite sides, and the tragedy of his character is that

the dark side ultimately gobbles up the light. There's always a little bad in Harvey's good,

a touch of shadow in the midst of his light. The posters for the film also suggest the

duplicitous nature of the main characters. In the Dark Knight Rises, Bruce's soul is

in decay. He is tested, broken and brought back up to

the hero that Gotham needs. After a crippling defeat at Bane's hands, Bruce comes to a realization

that he became the Batman prematurely. He sacrificed both mental and physical discipline

to become what he once was 8 years ago. The pit symbolizes the depths a human goes through

on a spiritual level, which leads him to experience his deepest arc of personality

development, ranging from reckless confidence, to blinding anger, to a very mortal fear of

death. He leaves the pit with a new sense of conviction,

as well as a steeled mind and body that is finally ready to confront Bane on an even

platform. Moving away from the Dark Knight trilogy,

not only does the Prestige explore the theme of identity, but also the idea of self-deception,

that we many times suppress inside of us what we know to

be the truth. The non-linear narrative told through flashbacks reveals a story of two

magicians who use illusion to their advantage to outdo one another. In

the end, it's revealed to the audience that Borden and Angier are not what they seem.

Both have multiple versions of themselves who use their identity to mislead each other

while following their drive to become the best in the world.

Both magicians accept the price of either not having a specific identity, sharing it

with someone else or changing it whenever the task demands it - be it by crippling oneself,

sacrificing their own life for their brother or constantly committing

suicide by drowning their own existence again, and again, and again.

Angier and Borden never fully understood the concepts, their obsession against each other

destroyed the people they loved and ultimately destroyed themselves.

Inception and Interstellar deal with identity on a much larger scale. On the surface, Inception

is about a man who tries to cope with a personal loss by creating an

illusion for himself in which things take a different turn. He wishes so strongly not

to be the man that he was forced to be that he is willing - if not desiring - to get lost

in this parallel world for good. However, the involvement of dreams brings

in to question the idea of reality. Can someone really know the difference between a dream

world and real life? This is the problem Mal deals with throughout;

not knowing herself well enough that the only way to explore was to dream, which ultimately

led to her death. Cobb is a dynamic character due to the fact

that he relinquishes his hold on the memories he's trapped in his mind of Mal and his children.

When he lets out his big secret, that he's responsible for Mal's suicide, he's finally

able to accept that she isn't real. He chooses to go back to the real world, to his real

children. It's heartbreaking and cathartic at the same

time. Interstellar deals with a greater identity- a collective consciousness of all humanity.

In a world tarnished by the catastrophes that humanity have let loose upon the planet, Cooper

implores the viewers, through the narrative, to seek greater

purpose and rise as a collective to rescue the human race. Interstellar can be seen as

an allegory of a philosophy pioneered by Carl Sagan, who has spoken about

a greater identity that connects humanity to Mother Nature. Cooper struggles internally

to balance his life as a father and as an astronaut who is essentially the saviour of

humanity. His outlook on life certainly trumps the nihilistic

outlook of Dr Mann and Professor Brand. Nolan opted for big, existential themes, and what

he manages to get across is the fact that humans, as a race,

are all one. We're a speck of dust within the vastness of the universe and it's our

job, as a means of survival, to look outside our own and strive forward united.

So, what makes this scene memorable? The answer simply lies in plain view of the audience,

the question of identity, an area honed in on the characters themselves.

Bruce Wayne is a man, like us, discovering another piece of him that truly defines his

character. Being surrounded by something that he fears allows him to

overcome the pain and suffering it has caused him in the past, literally rising from the

dark into the new persona he now wears, Batman. The power of cinema is that we look within

ourselves after being moved, or not moved, by certain stories and character.

Christopher Nolan takes this idea and expands his images exponentially to create worlds

that feel lived in, feel as if it can take the audience by his hand with every viewing.

Well that's at least one reason to why I enjoy his films. Looking over the horizon, it's

exciting to see Nolan take on a war film with Dunkirk, a historical piece in comparison

to his fictional fantasies. Who knows, maybe we'll get to explore the

dehumanisation of man within a battlefield, or even a profound message about the importance

of life. Along with the themes of idealism versus cynicism

and self deception, identity weaves in and out of his filmography, an area so complex

yet resonant enough to make Nolan's films likeable, re-watchable and,

most importantly, relatable.

The Description of Christopher Nolan | The Illusion of Identity