I should have clarified. I personally do not feel the need to criticize the film for an alleged lack of subtext. However, while I can see where people are coming from when they make that complaint, they don't really have a leg to stand on if that makes sense.
On the other hand, the dialogue in The Dark Knight is very direct when it comes to underlying themes, with the result that some people feel the film lacks subtext. I appreciate its boldness, however. At least the insights the characters share are thought-provoking.
I thought the dialogue was perfect, and it executed subtext an appropriate manner. The thing with Nolan's films is this: There's SO much happening in his stories, both in terms of external and internal conflicts, that if the characters just danced around the subject without expressing themselves directly, you wouldn't have any idea what was going on. TDK is far too complex of a story, it doesn't have the luxury of being able to use heavy subtext.
I tend to agree, especially because the dialogue so eloquently explains the themes.
Navel-gazing 'character studies' (inverted commas because the best way to study a character is to see him or her in action
of some kind, it's what we do
that defines us
)are more suited to extreme levels of subtext.
Inception is another example. People complain about the over-usage of exposition, but they have to understand that if it wasn't for that exposition, the film would have been incomprehensible, it would have been just another David Lynch film. Nolan wasn't trying to make an action packed Eraser Head, he was trying to make an understandable, yet thought provoking science fiction film. If we didn't have the characters explaining things every step of the way, not a single person would have had a clue what was going on. The movie would have bombed, horribly.
Well, without getting this thread moved to the Inception or Film Analysis forum, the fact that Inception's exposition continued even into the film's final act bothered me (for example, if you're following the film, it doesn't really need to be explained how Cobb and Mal made their dream house at the top of a dream skyscraper in the dreamland of Limbo).
However, Inception does not hold the audience's hand when it comes to the actual inception itself, ony for establishing the rules of the universe, which is excellent.
Let's take the ending of TDK for example. The Joker did not flat out explain what he did to Dent and why he did it to Dent, there was plenty of subtext there, but he explained it clear enough for the audience to understand what was happening. If he wasn't so clear, the audience would not have been able to understand the core philosophy of the Joker, it would be impossible, the message would not have gotten across. This is because Nolan deals with things that can't be explained through vague dialogue. And then Gordon and Batman's plan for him to take Dent's wrap... people didn't understand that as it was, could you imagine if that whole scene relied on heavy subtext? People would have just left the theater with not a single question answered.
I agree. The only teensy tiny whiney thing that bothered me was some of the wording of Gordon's ending monologue ('watchful protector' sounded clunky when I first heard it, but I'm just some guy on the Internet). But you're right.
Nolan uses subtext lightly, yet appropriately to make his dialogue sound natural, yet all the while with the messages and meanings very clear. This is what makes him such a great writer, is the fact that he's able to find a balance between subtext and literal dialogue.
So true. I love Lenny's line in Memento: 'Can't remember to forget you.'
I also like the approach to dialogue in The Prestige, for example:
Borden: (paraphrasing) Where's Fallon?
Angier: How fast can you dig?
Sort of give the audience 2 + 2 but don't give them 4, you know?
If everything becomes subtext while dealing with heavy themes, we get Tree of Life... an amazing movie, yet with the majority of the audience leaving the theater with not a single clue of what happened, therefore hating it.
I've yet to see the Tree of Life, but I totally get your point. What I love about the Nolans is that they're both able to clearly communicate brilliant ideas in a clear, accessible way, which is the mark of excellent writing.