Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk and his Cinematic Ideology

Across the last week, since the release of his latest movie Dunkirk, much has been written about Christopher Nolan, as always happens whenever he puts a picture out. Nolan may be the most divisive mainstream, heavyweight filmmaker working in cinema today. Some believe he’s a genius. Some believe he’s Stanley Kubrick reborn. Some even believe he’s a rampant Conservative and his films are nothing more than ‘Tory Porn’.

You would do well, incidentally, to read the writing of my friend and super-talented pop culture writer Darren Mooney on Nolan recently, as its insightful, filled with wisdom and there’s every chance he’s not done on the subject yet, simply because the gaggle of voices weighing in on Nolan once again has reached fever pitch. Is Dunkirk a masterpiece? Or is it yet another piece of super-overrated cinema from a filmmaker who can’t see past his own delusions of grandeur? For me, it’s the former, but this is coming from someone who has always considered Nolan to be, if not the greatest living cinematic auteur, then at least among the top five.

What interests me is the accusation he is a Conservative filmmaker when a titanic weight of evidence suggests quite the opposite. Do read the above linked article with the accusation, much as partly I’m loathe to link to it – despite having been written by someone very pleased with their prose, someone with visible disdain for modern film criticism and a level of bitterness toward politics in general, it nonetheless outlines an argument with a level of brevity. Frankly it’s not a piece worth dwelling on and picking apart because some of the arguments are lunacy, but what it does is raise an interesting question: just where does Nolan, and his films, stand on the political spectrum?

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Some Nerve: Social Media and Modern Cinematic Voyeurism

Social media has taken control of the world. Almost all of us have a smartphone and we’re wired into either Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc… or all of them. The open communication of the internet has made us desperate for ultimate, constant connectivity. It’s an idea that across this decade, as social media has fully taken hold over Western society, the movies have begun exploring.

Inevitably, and perhaps appropriately, cinema has largely taken social media to be a new and dangerous playground. Much as the technology is used by people of all ages (yes, even some of the elderly), apps, games and innovations remain primarily the province of the young and impressionable. Social media is attractive, not just for the fact you can build a virtual profile that presents a picture of who you would like the world to *believe* you are, but it provides a gateway to thrills and social taboos. Hence why adults are consistently reminded, and parents are scaremongered, into believing social media is a corrupting evil that will warp and destroy the minds of our children.

Filmmakers on the whole don’t quite see it that way. Many seem to consider social media to be one enormous, conceptual cautionary tale, sometimes fused a with futuristic morality play. An entire sub-genre now exists of pictures often starring, and certainly aimed at, the young, but to classify them specifically as horror films—as some have—does them a slight disservice. Those directors and writers who are interested in the pervasive effect social media has on our lives seem more keen to portray the internet, and all its myriad labryinthian contexts, as something that will only destroy us if we misuse it or refuse to pay it enough respect.

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GAME OF THRONES 7×02 – ‘Stormborn’

“You’re not a sheep. You’re a dragon.”

If you’ve been following the pre-release trailers of Game of Thrones from HBO, chances are you’ll already have pieced together much of ‘Stormborn’. Decoding the series has now become a regular task of detection for fans across the globe and it’s pretty clear that the first three episodes of Season 7’s seven constitute most of what we’ve seen in advance thus far. The very fact Game of Thrones is now in a position to construct multiple, packed trailers from less than half its season shows the depth and breadth of what lies in its arsenal.

‘Stormborn’ in many senses is an example of how Game of Thrones now exists firmly inside the final act of its storytelling. Devoted ‘watchers on the wall’ aka long-term fans and Westerosi obsessives are probably in a position to guess the majority of the narrative beats Bryan Cogman’s script delivers, not simply because of the aforementioned trailers but because the series is now immediately starting to pay off long-term foreshadowing and structural establishment. The fact it’s doing more in two episodes than it may well have done in previous seasons in five or six is a testament to how David Benioff & D.B. Weiss’ show is in the home stretch. There is no time to waste.

That does mean, to the initiated, there’s a level of predictability to ‘Stormborn’. It doesn’t detract from some solid and rewarding storytelling in the process but at the same time it lacks the element of shock and surprise. Pieces aren’t just moving on the chess board now, they’re literally kicking over the pieces and upending the construct, but they are chess pieces which logically make sense to be moving in the direction you may have already prefigured. A lot of ‘Stormborn’ consists of nodding along to characters decisions and choices, given a wonderful sweep of pragmatism has found its way into Westeros as intelligent, sensible rulers start making logical decisions.

There is one exception to that rule, however, and his name is Theon Greyjoy.

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The Netflix Watchlist Number Game #1

Partly because I’m horrendous at picking what movie to watch, and because my UK Netflix watchlist continues exponentially growing, I occasionally have started a game called the ‘Netflix Watchlist Number Game’ to thin the nerd and deal with my indecisiveness in one fell swoop.

Below you’ll find my thoughts on a group of movies I watched in this round of the game, thanks to people who were invited on Twitter to pick a number between 1 and 190. On my Apple TV Netflix app, each film on the list is numbered so thanks to this randomised system, it becomes easier to watch something on the list I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to view.

So my thanks to those I mention below for throwing me a number – maybe the rest of you will find a Netflix movie to check out you wouldn’t previously have considered.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Has 1990’s TV Paranoia Returned?

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Have you been unsettled lately watching The Handmaid’s Tale? Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, a set text certainly in the UK for English A-Level students which has never entirely left the academic consciousness, is now being talked about everywhere. Why? Because it’s scaring people half to death.

Not many people may be aware that it had been adapted before Hulu turned it into a hit TV series. In 1990, German filmmaker Volker Schlondorff—one of the New German Cinema wave of the late 60’s and early 70’s which included better known luminaries such as Fassbinder, Wenders and Herzog—directed a cinematic version with the late Natasha Richardson in the central role of ‘Offred’, the titular handmaiden forced into indentured sexual slavery in the largely infertile Christian hegemony of Gilead, formerly the United States. Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay, no less, but later worked to have his name removed from it.

What matters is that very few people remember The Handmaid’s Tale has ever been committed to celluloid before Bruce Miller’s adaptation for Hulu, which has very quickly gained critical and commercial traction on both sides of the Pond. If it’s not quite water-cooler television on the level of Game of Thrones, for example, then it’s gaining viewers and significant commentary amongst people as it airs. In the US, Season One ended in June and in the UK, it’s about to end next week. The response has been the same: a deep sense of unease.

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Dunkirk (2017)

Audiences are quite understandably going to consider Dunkirk a war film, quite possibly one of the great war films of our age. Christopher Nolan’s tenth picture is possibly an even better survival horror movie, given it takes a well-known piece of 20th century history and pitches the story as a desperate battle for survival against a powerful, largely unseen and intractable foe.

From the very first frame, of isolated and beaten British troops walking down a deserted Dunkirk street as flyers depicting the German advance on their position rain down on them in almost endless supply, a terrifying pallor of dread and ominous doom casts its shadow over Nolan’s picture. This is a war the ‘good guys’ are losing, in terms of France one they have already lost, and all they can do now is run from the darkness that is pursuing and engulfing them. Nolan’s film, on the whole, couldn’t be less jingoistic; the British and their allies are terrified, broken and in a desperate situation.

Though far from being a film which wears any kind of political or social polemic on its sleeve, you’d be hard-pressed to not consider Nolan a pacifist after watching Dunkirk. Not perhaps since Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in 1998, and rarely in all of cinema with its legion and entire sub-genre of war movies, has any director portrayed the senseless horror and brutality of World War Two with such visceral, haunting power. Nolan’s world here isn’t one without hope but it’s absolutely a war where good guys are complicated, and heroes don’t necessarily carry guns.

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The Beguiled (2017)

An open question lies at the heart of The Beguiled and it’s a simple one… who, precisely, *is* the beguiled in Sofia Coppola’s story? Come the conclusion, you may not have reached a simple answer. Beguiled, in its essential form, means ‘charmed’ or ‘to charm’. The answer, considering the plot, may appear obvious but it’s anything but.

The Beguiled started life as a 1966 novel called ‘A Painted Devil’ by late author Thomas P. Cullinan, and was first adapted in 1971 by Don Siegel, with Clint Eastwood in the role of wounded Corporal John McBurney in 1864, during the middle of the American Civil War, a Union soldier who is found injured in the woods of Mississippi by the youngest girl in a Christian seminary & finishing school and upon being brought into the household out of Christian charity, begins to inveigle himself into the lives of a group of girls and women starved of testosterone, with disturbing results.

Having not seen the original it’s hard to compare, but Coppola in reimagining the story was aware that Siegel’s previous take—as one can imagine from a director known for his long-standing working relationship with Eastwood—very much pitched the focus from the point of view of McBurney. A male viewpoint of an extremely female world which Coppola wanted to flip and invert, re-tasking McBurney as the enigmatic outside force who begins to psychologically distract and expose the taut, bridled sexuality of these women against the spirit of their God-fearing values.

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