In this week’s episode, we look at a part of “The Nolanverse”, a term refers to movies that have had Christopher Nolan involved in their production. There is a prevalent fan theory1 that claims not only is the Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) a cohesive trilogy, but so are The Prestige, Inception, and Interstellar. This theory is not conjecturing that all of these movies take place within the same “universe”2; rather they are “spiritual” brothers in a sense. While this might not be a conscious move by Nolan; it is perhaps a subconscious one. Where the Dark Knight Trilogy seems to follow the path of the Hero’s Journey, the second trilogy describes the art of film making, since they do seem to coincide with the filmmaking process, something Nolan is steeped in every day of his life.
First, The Prestige explains how to write a proper story within the universally held structure: three acts. We have talked about this idea in previous podcasts3 that most stories follow a three-part structure: the Setup, the Confrontation and the Resolution. The Prestige uses the allegory of a magic trick. Each part leads to the next and is necessary for the ending to make sense and have an impact. Every good story follows the same structure. The only real difference is the twist at the end, the surprise to the audience of how the plot is resolved.
Second, Inception’s characters show that they each have a counterpart on a film crew. Eames is the actor because he changes faces and has to study subjects before he goes into the dream. Ariadne is the screenwriter because she designs the dreams. Saito is the studio executive financing the operation. Cobb is the director, the one with vision. Everyone has a part in order for the story to happen.
Lastly, Interstellar tells us how to end a movie and that is by allowing room for the audience to participate in conversation afterwards by letting their beliefs influence the ending. This is the twist. Who put the wormhole there? Was it aliens? 5th Dimensional beings? Jesus? The audience gets to take all the information given to them and come to their own conclusion. This also happened in Inception. Does the Totem indicate that Cobb is still in a dream or is he finally free to see his kids?
In storytelling, the twist usually involves something that gets the audience talking afterwards. A good story won’t wrap EVERYTHING into a bow, it will leave bread crumbs for the audience to have some critical thinking on the matter. This is indicative of how Jesus utilizes parables. He tells them the truth with the intention of hiding it from Pharisees, who have hardened their hearts. The same thing happens with moviegoers- often what they will say after a movie will reveal whether or not their heart is open to examining their beliefs. Jesus didn’t do this because he didn’t want people to know the Good News. He did this because it forces the listener to seek Him for the answer. We see this method successfully being carried out in John 3, when Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dead of night4. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, is fearing for his safety because he is willing to examine his own beliefs, which puts his status as a Pharisee at risk. Jesus obliges by saying his famous teaching on how we must be reborn.
As a whole, this trilogy seems to present three questions: ‘How do we tell a story?’, ‘How do we relate to a story?’, and ‘How do we participate in a story?’. Each of these three questions is essential in how we approach faith. The story of Jesus working in our lives is about transformation. True transformation is allowing the individual to come to the conclusion on their own instead of forcing a conclusion. This is the twist at the end of the movie that Christopher Nolan leaves you with. The twist is that you have to make up your own mind about the ending. He leaves it as a choice. It’s not something that is neatly wrapped up for you but something that you have to decide for yourself.