I absolutely love Christopher Nolan as a director. I think he's a brilliant, visionary artist who, throughout his career, has been able to surround himself with other brilliant, visionary artists and has mastered his medium to a point of reinvention. His films break boundaries of genre, of blockbuster versus arthouse, of linear storytelling, of digital versus analogue. He blends metaphysical thematics with tight, gripping action in ways that show his immaculate control over his work. I'm constantly in awe of how his films push the medium further and further into the future, while honoring its past. It sometimes makes me jealous to see the lenghths in which he adores his craft, how loving he is of film and the cinematic experience, and how he will try anything in his might to keep that experience refreshing. I truly think he's one of film's greatest contemporary artists, and that film wouldn't be where it is today if it weren't for his consistent innovative perspective — we wouldn't have Joker without the Dark Knight trilogy, regardless of whether that's a good thing or not.

As much as I love Christopher Nolan, The Director, I despise Christopher Nolan, The Phenomenon. Nolans films have consistently sparked mountains of (online) debate and analysis, and while I'm a big proponent of talking about movies (it's one of my fondest hobbies), the kind of discussion his work invites rarely interests me. It's not hard to pinpoint why: Nolans work deals with complex, (meta)physical and/or ethical themes, wrapped up neatly in layers and layers of storytelling that can be mind-boggling for the average audience member, usually with some kind of second meta-narrative that comments on the medium itself. And it looks incredible. Which is why, each time a Nolan film comes out, YouTube gets stuffed with videos titled something along the lines of 'INCEPTION - ENDING EXPLAINED' or 'EVERY HIDDEN MESSAGE YOU MISSED IN THE PRESTIGE' or 'THE PHYSICS OF INTERSTELLAR - AN ANALYSIS'. I've needed them myself on multiple occasions, particularly after watching Inception for the second time, in awe, still not fully comprehending anything I had just seen.

It's a shame, to me, though, that most of the online discourse surrounding Nolans work seems to be about understanding it. Not in the sense of examining its themes, researching its cinematic roots or recognising thematic motifs in his filmography, but literally: trying to figure out what happened in the narrative of the film. Do we really need to know? I've never really understood the plot of any Stanley Kubrick film, or anything by David Lynch, or Claire Denis. I'm still not entirely sure what Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria was about. But that never meant that I couldn't fully engage with their work, that I couldn't discuss it for hours, feel every emotion under the sun when walking out of the theatre. Film is an audiovisual medium, and it has the tremendous benefit over other narrative media that it can touch you in so many ways without being overtly comprehensive.

The discourse surrounding Christopher Nolan, The Phenomenon that's become obsessed with untangling his spiderweb-like narratives doesn't do justice to Nolans wildly interesting thematics. This isn't to say that high-quality analyses of his films don't exist (they thrive, online and in academia). But if you talk to anyone of your friends about Inception, it's more likely that your conversation will circle towards questions like 'Does the top keep spinning at the end' than questions about morality or fate. There are endless subreddit threads about missed hints in The Prestige or video essays on the exact physics behind Interstellar, narrated by Neil Degrasse Tyson, but few on Nolans themes of parenthood, climate change, or the existence of free will. It's a disservice, really, because I think what makes Nolans work so interesting is not necessarily his (brother's) plottwists and layered (sometimes convoluted) narratives, but his use of those facets of filmmaking to weave in themes that are as old as philosophy itself. And the way in which Nolans work is discussed has, starting with Memento and skyrocketing with Inception, trickled into all 'amateur' film analysis: it tends to become a scavenger hunt for meaning, resulting at best in genius work that plays with these kinds of audiences, like Jordan Peele's Us, and at its worst in arrogant, director-as-author-adoring conspiracy theories like Room 237.

Don't try to understand it. Feel it.

But Nolan makes it so hard to feel it sometimes. I've tried, I really have, to accept the fact that I won't understand every one of his narratives on first, second, or even third viewing. I've tried to see his work as Kubrickian, Lynchian, beyond understanding, and just let it wash over me and enjoy the experience. The problem is that his films aren't beyond understanding. In fact, Nolan has made a name for himself with his plothole-less plots and his teams of physicists — everything to ensure that it all makes sense to the attentive viewer. In an age when every teenager with an internet connection, a pause button and too much time on their hands can upload videos pointing out plot inconsistencies and continuity errors, I don't blame him. But the fact that every timeloop or plottwist could theoretically be understood, buries every opportunity of 'feeling' a film like Tenet under layers and layers and layers of confusion. While trying to comprehend one scene, the next one is missed. Hoyte van Hoytema's inimitable cinematography gets lost because I need to read the subtitles to understand the film's physics — which are undoubtedly interesting, but could honestly be explained with 'we can travel through time and these are the rules'. I frankly felt stupid at some points throughout the film, and as soon as I realised that, I got bored. While I admire the ambition of making science fiction that could actually happen, the suspension of disbelief would be so much easier if the film would've let me accept it as science fiction. Any interesting themes hardly get the time to establish themselves in the midst of this whirlwind of world-building. Tenet is an ingenious, unprecedented piece of cinema unlike anything I've seen before, a technical masterpiece. But I didn't care. It's a film that seems to have been made by Christopher Nolan, The Phenomenon, an institute that thrives on endless reddit threads, YouTube videos and repeat viewings. I walked into the theatre hoping to find something by Christopher Nolan, The Director, something like Dunkirk: a complex, layered, intriguing story that bends the definition of time and draws you in emotionally from the first beat. I walked out exhausted. It's as if Nolan has become his own biggest fanboy, like he wanted to make a film for those adoring viewers who love unpacking his stories. It's admirable, but the result is a film consisting of mostly huge set pieces, that's neither emotionally nor intellectually engaging.

The pandemic and subsequent cinema-crisis have taken Christopher Nolan, The Phenomenon to a whole new level. With the closing of cinemas worldwide, media looked at the Hollywood horizon for a glimmer of hope, and found it in the mass-appealing, critically acclaimed Nolan. He makes blockbusters, but they're smart. He's an awards darling and a big box office name, which means that Tenet would inevitably be this season's Saviour, the Christ the Redeemer of 2020's summer, a time of year that even without a pandemic could've used something like an anniversary Bond film. Nolan himself probably hoped so too. To be fair, there were, with the exception of maybe Bond, very few other candidates. And thus the media frenzy began: even before Tenet's first initial delay, headlines popped up about it's remarkable lack of a delay, further fuelled by Nolans own Washington Post op-ed on the value of the theatrical experience in a time of mass worldwide streaming. Nolan was the one thing cinemas had on their side that streaming services would never have. As the months - and the pandemic - progressed, these headlines turned into stories about delays, about speculation surrounding a separate U.S. release, with the final narrative being: Will Christopher Nolan's TENET Save Cinemas?

It's a fair question to ask, really: how will the first blockbuster summer release fare in a worldwide pandemic? Especially if nobody really knows if it's good? Soon, it became the only narrative of the summer. This puts a lot of pressure on one single film, which is not only unfair to the dozens of brilliant releases (online and physical) of the past few months, but also, given Hollywood's history with putting lots of pressure on one single film, is quite toxic. Hollywood tends to learn the wrong lessons from putting lots of pressure on a single film. Which is why we're still getting more gritty Batman and Joker.

Whether Tenet is sold out for months or bombs, its DNA will inevitably shape the kinds of films studios will and won't bet on in the future. And its DNA is hugely informed by the fact that Nolan is a white, male, established western filmmaker. Hollywood (and British cinema, to an extent) has tried to analyse what makes a film a hit or a miss ever since the birth of the studio system, and usually, it has failed to do so. Studio executives try to quantify what makes a film good, so that they can extract those elements and turn them into an even bigger, Frankensteined monster-hit, but it rarely works, because, as they also know, film is art. And art isn't quantitive data. Don't try to understand it. Feel it.

Another big issue with the Christopher-Nolan-As-Cinema's-Saviour is that it presumes that cinema, in its current state, can be saved by just one big hit. As if theatres just need their one fix, and then they're good until awards season starts. The truth is, cinema can't be saved during a pandemic that is mostly being dealt with by worldwide incompetent leadership. As long as cinemas stay closed, or can only operate at limited capacity to ensure safety, as long as culture comes last in financial relief programs, cinemas won't stay afloat. Even if Tenet sells every single seat it can, those seats will never amount to a healthy summer box office at full capacity.

Throwing a dart at a list of release dates and picking the one film responsible for saving cinema is a weak, neoliberal response to a problem that has been persistent for years now: cultural institutions need more funding. Nolan can time-travel all he wants, but he won't fix our political and economic mindset. For decades, we have devalued the things that, in all honesty, have kept us entertained, and sane, during what is probably the most stressful and simultaneously boring period of our lives. I've never read this many books, watched this many shows, saw this many films in such a short span of time before. I was gasping for it. I knew I had a love for media, but I had forgotten how well it could console me. If anything, I hope Tenet can remind us of our desperate need for art, especially in the incomprehensible narrative that is our world right now.

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