Metaphorical language of C. Nolan

The Oscar Nominated writer and director to whom this site is dedicated.
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Posts: 16
Joined: December 2019
Understanding even the on the surface plot of Nolan's movies is usually a challenge, not to mention what is hidden below.
Moreover, understanding visual metaphors and cymbols in Nolan's movie is even harder for a viewer, who is not native English speaker (like me).

To understand a hidden meaning in its entirety it might be usefull sharing the metaphors and cymbols you have gathered watching the movie.

For example, Nolan frequently uses a plane crash metaphor in TDKR (and in Tenet) to depict the crisis/breakdown of civilization. Or collapsing the football field in TDKR to visualize a collapse of civilized political system (game, simulation of the combat) and start of the real battle - revolution.

It might be usefull forming pools of metaphors per each movie. Would like to know your thoughts in this regard

Posts: 16
Joined: December 2019
Watching Tenet 2 times (though, one was in Ukrainian and the other - in original with no English subtitles, so most of spelled metaphors I have missed due to distortion or mishearing) I have gathered the following:

"People in the future" and "future" in the context of the movie, as I understand, must mean children (teenagers/youth), obsessed with deconstructionist ideas (based on theories of climate change, presense of institutional racism/enequity and other radical notions), requiring giving up (or tearing down) the achievments of our civilization. Therefore, phrases in trailers "there are people in the future... they need us. They need Tenet", "we are attacked by the future" become meaningfull in this context. It may also imply other Horsemen of the Progress and Bringers of the Future, such as funds and NGO's heating up the obsession of youth with these ideas.

"Inverted bullets" may imply the words/ideas used by obsessed youth to abolish the historical characters, events, achievments and even moral landmarks of society.

Plane crash - just the same as in TDKR - the fall of civilization.

Catching the bullet (except for literally being shot) may mean provoking or "deactivating" deconstructionist words/ideas. Or accepting the allegations of "our future" and disproving them. It may even imply restoring of the original neutral meaning of accusatory words (such as, "discrimination", "intolerance" etc).

In the beginning Donovan's hero when explaining to the Protagonist the threat uses gesture very similar to gesture of prayer. From my perspective, the Tenet organization/movement shall refer to Christian movement and Christianity.

My thoughts are pretty vague and chaotic, but the movie is a hell of a mystery (especially given that I am not a native English speaker and did not hear most of the lines in the movie), so I am very far from the holistic understanding of the hidden meaning.

Please share your thoughts in this regard. Especially, what do you thing the car chase scene, highway, car crashes and the Temporal Pincer Movement (!!!) may mean.

Posts: 72
Joined: October 2010
Hi Stan,

Thanks for the comment on my Tenet post. Some general comments to add to your thread here if you're compiling.

Nolan uses water *consistently* in the Jungian/Christian sense of the subconscious and death. Examples are in Inception where the water imagery gets stronger as characters go into their subconscious, the waves destroying the sandcastles on the beach. In Interstellar we have water-filled coffins and two death-worlds associated with water/ice, The Prestige offers death by drowning, and wraps the cloning machine in water imagery ("drop it to the bottom of the deepest ocean"), while Tenet has the protagonist wake up in his "afterlife" on a boat where the villain ends in the sea. Dunkirk is of course about life the face of certain death (driven into the sea), with the characters not escaping until they act with moral courage, at which point they rescue each other. Nolan has a real gift for subtle dialogue that's on-theme ("humanity's adrift", "I knew a sailor once...", "couldn't anyone have dreamed up a goddamn beach").

Other common themes that spring to mind include the garden and particularly expulsion from or destruction of it and then finally the return to it. We see this in Batman (the orphans returning to the garden), Inception (Cobb back with his children), Interstellar (recreation of the garden in the heavens). Caves are used in the Jungian sense of the journey within. The "train" in Inception is also associated with death and that seems to be the same in Tenet. There are some reviews on that go into detail for a couple of Nolan films -- if you haven't seen them I think you will enjoy:

When Nolan and his brother drop literary references in their films, they're also usually film-specific. Dylan Thomas' poem about death has specific meaning in Interstellar linking the voyage to the "gentle" black hole to to a journey into death (you can't see past the event horizon, etc.). A Tale of Two Cities provides the ending of The Dark Knight Rises (and explains some of the cinematic references to Eisenstein). And names are usually significant too. Peter is a "fisher of men" in Dunkirk. Ariadne is the spiritual guide who leads Theseus/Cobb from the maze of the mortal world. Fischer as the wounded prince from the Fisher King story, etc.

Maybe less a visual theme, but there's a lot of Plato floating around. One of the major themes in Inception is anamnesis (the remembrance of things once known but forgotten) and The Republic also makes at least two appearances in other films -- it's on the table of the protagonist in The Following and works its way into the first superman film that Nolan's company produced, where it's linked to the structure of the Krypton society and the film's theme of free-will etc.

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Posts: 222
Joined: July 2018
For me personally Dunkirk is about spiritual existentialism. In my case a lapsed Catholic perspective. I find it a very religious type of film even though on the surface it’s entirely secular and has no obvious spiritual overtones. The emotional undercurrent of that movie is 100% about God’s eye view of morality, ricocheting through telescoping time frames; how the choices one makes in their moments of truth matter to the larger world around them.

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