Christopher Nolan: Savior of the Summer Blockbuster

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Film

It’s July and, frankly, the summer blockbuster season has been a bit of a disappointment. Sure, Toy Story 3 was a tear-jerker. A-Team was loads of fun. And Iron Man 2 let us watch Robert Downey Jr. be Robert Downey Jr. for a few hours (always worth the price of admission).

All that being said, are any of these films remotely memorable? In 20 years will we look back and say, “It was a glorious time for cinema — Rampage Jackson resurrected the A-Team, Jackie Chan brought back karate kid, and that pale whiny bitch picked Cedric Diggory over that Native American kid who looked awesome with his shirt off”? For those of you who don’t understand the concept of a rhetorical question, the answer is “No.”

Then along comes Inception. The early reviews surrounding superstar director Christopher Nolan’s latest film were overwhelmingly positive, which of course was followed by the inevitable backlash to the frontlash (which will soon be followed by the backlash to the backlash of the frontlash). The buzz around the film has been incredible (every other tweet or Facebook status seems to be Inception related). I went into the film with incredibly high expectations — in fact, my expectations were so high I couldn’t imagine the film being as good as everyone was saying. To be honest, it wasn’t. It was better. Exponentially better.

Visually, the film is stunning. Nolan again has demonstrated a mastery of cinematography, creating a look that is distinctive yet familiar to fans of his earlier works. The film boasts one of the most impressive action sequences I have ever seen. It is unique and breathtaking; I literally heard myself and the audience exhale as it finished and an immediate murmur ripple through the crowd. It may prove to be an iconic and groundbreaking piece of action choreography, just as The Matrix was over a decade ago.

I don’t want to ruin the films twisting plot, but it suffices me to say that from an hour into the film until the credits rolled, I had no idea what was about to happen next. It kept me absolutely on the ropes, trying to guess which twisting path it would lead me down next.

Inception is also startlingly original. While the twisting  plot is not as incomprehensible as some would lead you to believe, it is based around an incredibly complex concept. It is here that director/writer Nolan really shines as a storyteller — seamlessly intertwining the explanation of important concepts into the plot, so that at no point was I distracted by its logic or taken out of the reality in which I had been immersed.

Perhaps even more impressive is the way Nolan is able to weave the emotional core of the film into its convoluted plot. Inception is a film about dreams, reality, and our perception of both. At its core, however, Inception is a story about loss, guilt and grief, how we handle them, and how we move on. It is (as every epic since The Odyssey has been) a tale of someone lost, trying to find his way home. Don’t let the brilliant visuals, the mind-bending plot or pulse-pounding action sequences fool you. Inception is not your typical summer blockbuster — it is a film with a heart.

I can only hope that Nolan’s efforts with The Dark Knight and now Inception have a positive impact on American cinema over the years to come. For too long we have had to deal with summers filled with sexually frustrated vampires, computer-generated talking animals and giant peeing robots. Nolan has challenged us — and all of Hollywood — to strive for something better, for something that is a level beyond that. Something that is both entertaining and challenging. Something like Inception.

Inception’s brilliance exists because it forces us to think, ponder and process difficult questions and concepts, while at the same time being ferociously entertained and delighted with its twists, turns, and brilliant action. It is, in short, everything that film can and should aspire to be. It is the savior of this blockbuster season — and hopefully many more to come.

In 20 years, when film historians look back on this decade and ponder upon what films were truly influential, changing cinema for the better, don’t bet against Inception‘s inclusion in the argument. However, when those same people ponder upon who was influential and who changed cinema for the better, there won’t even be an argument. Their response will be Christopher Nolan.

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