Academic journal article PSYART

Legendary Caesar and the Architect Ariadne: Narrative, Myth and Psychology in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, the Dark Knight and Inception*

Academic journal article PSYART

Legendary Caesar and the Architect Ariadne: Narrative, Myth and Psychology in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, the Dark Knight and Inception*

Article excerpt

Abstract

The paper begins with an overview of stylistic and narrative features of Christopher Nolan's films (tracing his sources of influence), which consistently reveals their explicit psychological motivation. The bulk of the paper thus consists of a psychological analysis of three films (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and Inception) as examples of Nolan's exploration of human subjectivity. The films are primarily analysed in a Lacanian framework, but some other psychological approaches (Zimbardo, neuroscience) are used to reinforce the argument. Lacanian registers of the symbolic and the Real are applied to Nolan's exploration of the relation between the individual and society. Special attention is given to Nolan's use of classical myth ("legendary Caesar", architect Ariadne) as these intertextual references play a significant role in the structure of The Dark Knight and Inception, respectively.

Christopher Nolan is one of the most popular, influential and innovative modern filmmakers. In a true postmodern fashion, his films have been equally influenced by the legacy of classical Hollywood, ranging from Porter and Griffith to film noir classics, and by modern-day neo-noir (Blade Runner, Angel Heart), and so-called puzzle films (The Usual Suspects, Tarantino's films) (see Jankiewicz). Although formally innovative, Nolan's style is also very traditional. In the fashion of classical narration, his films are very redundant and he carefully distinguishes between multiple narrative layers, diverse chronological sequences and complex shifts between subjective and objective storytelling.

The aim of this paper is to give an overview of the stylistic and narrative features of Nolan's films (setting them against the background of the classical period of American cinema), and to explain the psychological motivation behind his narrative strategies. The bulk of the paper consists of a psychological analysis of three films (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and Inception) as examples of Nolan's exploration of human subjectivity. Thus, the introductory narrative and stylistic analysis will be followed by a Lacanian reading of the films and some of their intertextual references (use of ancient myth and history).

It can be argued that complex filmmaking in American cinema started almost at the outset, and was followed by a gradual shiftto narrative films. Edwin S. Porter directed two milestones, Life of an American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery, which inaugurated two vital principles - overlapping continuity in the former and crosscutting narration in the latter. The principle of crosscutting was then perfected by D. W. Griffith, arguably the most important American filmmaker of the silent period, whose Intolerance (with its complex interweaving of four stories set in different temporal periods) has greatly influenced modern American filmmakers, and especially Nolan. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, made just before Intolerance, signalled the shiftto epic narrative cinema in American filmmaking, and Nolan's gradual shiftfrom complex narratives to blockbuster films (especially the Batman trilogy) follows this parallel trajectory already set in the silent era.

Classical Hollywood has also had a profound influence on Nolan. Complex narrative structure of Citizen Kane, Kubrick's The Killing and Hitchcock's formal experiments are all clearly echoed in Nolan's work, as well as the influence of film noir, with its underlying principles of insecurity, ambiguity and moral ambivalence, a staple of all Nolan's films. The transgeneric phenomenon of film noir is a clear precursor to modernist and postmodernist narrative modes, because the range of innovative narrative strategies (unreliable or multiple narrators, complex temporal arrangement including the multiple layers of flashbacks in Passage to Marseille and The Locket) and introduction of themes reflecting fragmentation and disorder in modern American society were virtually unprecedented in American cinema before film noir appeared. …

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