Christopher Nolan, We Need to Have a Talk About Your Obsession With Dead Wives
Chris! Christopher. Mr. Christacular. The Nolanizer. CHRISTOPHER BROLAN. Why are you obsessed with dead wives?
Look at your filmography, sir. Dead wives. Dead wives everywhere. And, I’ll be fair, dead girlfriends. The point stands: You have a thing about brooding white male leads with manpain motivated by the death of a female love interest. Sometimes the wife died before the movie started (Memento). Sometimes the wife dies during the events of movie (The Prestige). Sometimes the wife died before the movie started but still shows up to be French all over the place (Inception). I admit I haven’t seen your first film, Following, but apparently the finale involves the female lead/love interest being murdered, and her murder being pinned on the male lead. SO. YANNO. And the dead girl in Insomnia wasn’t the love interest of the main character, but you still built your entire movie around a dead lady, bro.
You gave Batman a dead girlfriend (Katgie Gyllenholmes) to angst over, Chris. BATMAN. Batman doesn’t need any more dead loved ones. He has that covered. It’s kind of a thing about him.
I was thinking about this pattern of yours when I went to an advance screening of Interstellar, which I actually ended up really enjoying. I’m never going to say no to space porn. “Matthew McConaughey’s farmer-cum-ruggedly handsome space explorer doesn’t look particularly broody, at least not to Bale or DiCaprio levels,” I thought to myself. “And there’s no mention of a dead wife in any of the trailers. The plot of the film seems like it could happen without there being a dead wife at all.”
And then, maybe half an hour in [vague spoilers], McConaughey is summoned to a parent-teacher conference, where the principal at his daughter’s school proceeds to go anti-science all over his ass. It’s the “we didn’t run out of engineers, we ran out of food” exchange from the trailer. McConaughey is pissed (but in a chill way, because McConaughey). One of those highfalutin science machines invented back in the old days was an MRI machine, he explains. And if they still existed, doctors may have been able to find the cyst in my wife’s brain after she died, and not before.
The dead wife is never mentioned again. The only way she’s vaguely relevant to the plot is that it’s important to Matty-boy’s relationship to his kids that he’s their only remaining parent. There was no real reason to bring a dead wife into the mix. But you had to, CNo. You just haaaaad to.
Is your wife/producing partner OK with this? I’m just curious. Because it seems like it’d be weird.
The thing is, I generally really enjoy your movies. They’re entertaining, well-made blockbusters, though it’s my opinion that their being so well-made makes people think they’re smarter than they actually are. Inception wasn’t that hard to understand, y’all. I got the feeling with Interstellar in particular that you’re patting yourself on the back for an intellectualism that just isn’t there. Stop giving your characters monologues where they explain what’s going on, dude. We guessed that shit like an hour ago. There’s nothing all that complicated going on. (Oh, and stop using the Dylan Thomas poem. We get it. It’s thematically appropriate. It doesn’t need to be repeated by every single character.)
So, while I wouldn’t call your films smart (at least not smarter than the average Marvel movie. Which is fine! As long as they’re not dumb like Bayformers, I’m cool), they’re smartly made. You’re an excellent storyteller. Which makes this over-reliance on the “fridged wife/girlfriend” trope so frustrating. While it’s a sexist trope, I don’t think you’resexist necessarily. You’re just in a creative rut that you refuse to climb out of.
There are other ways to motivate your main character than with a dead chick, Chris. You can get there. I know you can.
Rebecca Pahle (@RebeccaPahle) believes in the power of Google Image Search.