Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Inception of Love

Caution: Spoilers Abound for All Christopher Nolan Films

To begin, let me say this: 
I want to live in love. I want love to rule my life, to define my actions. 

There are very few aspects of The Dark Knight that I personally will acknowledge as possible flaws in the creation of that fantastic story. One of those few that do appear to me as legitimate is that of the lack of emotional torque in Bruce Wayne's character... or rather, the lack of time we the audience are given to invest in the emotional state of the Batman himself. In some manner, the death of Rachel Dawes feels more like a plot device to convince us that Bruce is troubled than anything else. We are told to believe that Bruce loves Rachel, but are we ever really sold on that?

Nolan's films have this odd tendency to sell us short on the love spectrum -- hmm -- perhaps that statement is not quite right. Rephrase: Nolan's films never show true love fulfilled; met.

Remember Hamlet? We never say him act out his love towards Ophelia until she rested in the grave.

I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?

A quick look back at romantic love in Nolan's films is quite revealing.

Following: Our protagonist seems to fall for a young blonde that he recently robbed. As it turns out, the protagonist's friend (whose name happens to be Cobb, the very name our lead in Inception claims for himself) and the blonde manipulated this 'love' so as to frame our protagonist for murder. The end, of course, is slightly more complex, as Cobb kills the blonde and frames our main dude for that murder. 
Conclusion: Love is a shame/Love is manipulation.
Memento: Leonard had a wife. He had a love. But she was raped (murdered?), and ol' Lenny is blessed with the inability to love anyone new (due to the whole memory making problems situation, you see). We are led through most of the film to believe that love was killed by force, by death, but the interpretation that I think answers the most questions has Leonard's wife surviving the rape. In this scenario, it would be Leonard's mind that in the end killed the marriage. We are also served a good deal of betrayal in Memento. Both Leonard's copfriend and his ladyfriend turn out to be utilitarians in the sense that they abuse Leonard's memory to work towards their own gains. Finally, let us recall that we never see Leonard happy in this film. All the thoughts of loved are trapped as unlivable memories.
Conclusion: Love ends/Love is too fragile/Compassion is manipulation.
Insomnia: There is no love story here. There is, however, a death of love. After Detective Will Dormer shoots (on accident?) his partner to death, he is burdened with the heavy task of informing his fallen comrade's wife about the death. This is done over the phone. We never see the wife's face. We only ever hear her sorrow. There is, of course, one other potential pair of lovers. Our main murderer, played disturbingly instinctual by Robin Williams, tells Dormer that he loved the girl he killed. It was some form of embarrassment and/or jealousy that led him to do the brutal thing he did. 
Conclusion: Love is fragile/Love ends/Love is a conduit to extreme anger or sadness.
Batman Begins: Bruce loves Rachel. Bruce happens to be a vigilante. We get one kiss at the end of the film. Hooray! But then Rachel has to go and spoil it seconds later by saying: Your real face is the one that criminals now fear. The man I loved - the man who vanished - he never came back at all. But maybe he's still out there, somewhere. Maybe some day, when Gotham no longer needs Batman, I'll see him again. Loved? Past-tense -- so again it happens that we still never see our protagonist in a state of love. It was in the past, and, according to the denouement of Batman Begins, maybe in the future. Great. I happen to know how that one turns out. Oh, and let us not be too hasty to forget Batty's ol' pop. He and Mama presumably loved each other, and Daddy was renown for his compassionate character. Yep, they get popped. Dead via murder. 
Conclusion: Love ends/Love is fragile/Compassion is manipulation/Love is a conduit to extreme anger or sadness.
The Prestige: This one gets us from moment one! We have a happy couple! Look, Hugh just kissed her ankle! Oh they love each other so! And then our inciting incident occurs. She's dead. Great. That happiness lasted what, a good six, maybe seven minutes. Yep, and then, 90 minutes later, Christian Bale's girl goes and kills herself. Oh joy!  And Scarlett Johannson is mostly just leveraged as a manner of manipulation by our dueling illusionists. Jee-whiz! What fun we have with love!
Conclusion: Love is fragile/Love ends/Love is manipulation/Love is a conduit to extreme anger or sadness.
The Dark Knight: Well, in one of the Joker's infancy stories, he tells us he had a wife. She was physically mutilated. Our dear Joker tried to make her feel better, so she abandoned him. More tangible is the love-triangle of Dent-Dawes-Wayne. As it turns out, Dent wins. Rachel Dawes agrees that she'll marry District Attorney Harvey Dent because ol' Bruce will never be able to hang up his cape. Sucks to be Batman! And then she dies that very instant. Murdered. As soon as she speaks her love into existence, she is taken from us. The result for Bruce is one depressed scene. For Harvey Dent, the destruction of his love creates a new madness. His love eradicated, Harvey becomes the antithesis of love; a becomes a super-villain. Then he dies. The end.
Conclusion: Love is fragile/Love ends/Love is a conduit to extreme anger or sadness.

And with that we are brought to Inception, the most romance infused entry in the Nolan-verse. We have a love story that extends over five decades. This feature really is the consummate Hamlet-sode. We have illusions and the effects of a deep love unfathomable, but we are never able to experience it in action. We have only its memory, made wretched by guilt and Poe's raven, flapping about madly with his lamentation of 'Nevermores'. 

And, also like Hamlet, we have our ladylover end herself. 

What does it mean? 

After being stabbed in the dreamscape by Cobb's ghostly reminiscence, Ariadne storms out of Cobb's presence. He then comforts his coworker in her absence: Reality won't be enough for her now.

Nolan's films are heavy on beliefs. Leonard's conviction that he still needs to seek revenge on John G. gives him solace through meaning. Will Dormer's belief as to whether he purposefully killed his partner or not will define him for the rest of his life. 

The Dark Knight begins with a (when you think about it) strange declaration by a shotgun wielding bank manager:
Oh, criminals in this town used to believe in things. 
Honor. Respect. Look at you! 
What do you believe in, huh? 
Nolan extols belief as that which leads to action. And though we never see love in action, we see its consequences relentlessly poured out. Love, and perhaps as well its destruction, is the most dynamic force in all of Nolan's creation. It fuels movement. It is the life-force behind our greatest actions.

Hmm... that makes me think... Remember Christ's words:
There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:13 NLT).

But there's more! 
Why is love never realized in Nolan's world? 
Answer: It can't be.
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Not only is love fragile, but it is rationally, actually, workably: impossible. 
Answer: The world's not enough. Put it another way: Reality won't be enough for [us] now.

Nolan's characters yearn for a world that can't really be... not in this generation, not on this damaged soil.  Many have presumed, probably correctly, that Christopher Nolan is an atheist. Whether that is true or not may just turn out to be irrelevant, for his films are desperately seeking an answer to life's most enigmatic question: why are we never fully satisfied?

There's gotta be more to life than this. 
It's never enough. I say again, it's never enough.
When will it be?

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