Nolan’s Juxtaposition Style
- One trend that you will consistently notice in stories is that several storylines come together to reach a heightened climax.
- Juxtaposition is a technique quite often used in film making as a method of showing how many things come together.
What does this have to do with Christopher Nolan?
No one uses juxtaposition like to tell climatic events. Juxtaposition is supposed to be quick montages that leads to an epic, climatic end. But, that’s not the way Nolan deals with it. Rather, he uses juxtaposition to build up his story to a climactic end.
Didn’t get it? Well, the best way to explain it is through an example.
Doctor Mann and Cooper go out for an excursion to check the world’s habitability. The start of the juxtaposition is signified by the start of the sound track “No Sign for Caution.” It’s at this moment that Doctor Mann reveals that he faked his data because he’s not the hero that was promised to us. Simultaneously, there are several other things happening.
At the same time, Romilly, is investigating the broken down robot.
Back on Earth, on another timeline, Murph is fighting with her brother over what to do with the dying corn fields and his child who is suffering from cough.
We switch back, and Doctor Mann attacks Copper and Romilly is killed in an explosion.
The story is picking up. We now have two distinctive stories. While Doctor Mann and Copper are confronting each other, so is Murph and her brother.
Both of them are increasing in intensity, until it reaches the final end – Doctor Mann dies.
Observe all of Christopher Nolan’s movies and you will notice this crescendo.
A good story is a tale of a rising tide. You think everything is going well for the protagonist, until the first challenge appears. From there, things are only going to get more difficult for the protagonist until the final resolution.
But, with Nolan, nothing is ever simple. The protagonist is not the only character in the film. There are several other characters who are key to the progression of the plot, and they too have their challenges to face. Each of these stories play around the main protagonist’s story to reach the final crescendo. And, probably the best part about this is that Christopher Nolan makes sure you care about the outcome of each character. In the mentioned Interstellar example, you care about Cooper, his daughter and his son. You are invested in the characters, their challenges and the final outcome. And, you’re gripping the edge of your seat as the tension rises.
These same elements play out in Nolan’s other movies.
In the Dark Knight, we seem the story lead to final confrontation between Batman and the Joker, yet the civilians and prisoners on the ferries face their own challenge/dilemma.
Inception has a longer period of juxtapositions; almost 30 minutes.
It starts with the van finally leaping off the bridge. From there, we see characters in each layer of the dream struggle with the final act of giving the team “the push” to wake them up. Yusuf, Arthur, Eames, Ariadne, Cobb, and Saito each have their own tasks to complete and challenge to overcome. For a juxtaposition scene, it’s quite long, but not only do you have plenty of characters to cover, the intensity of the film rises like a pot of milk that’s about to overflow. – until the van finally crashes into the river.
Juxtaposition is a filming technique that’s traditionally used to show a character’s reaction to particular stimuli.
However, Christopher Nolan uses it to tell a story with rising tension until the final crescendo. It would be easy for him to simply tell one story. He could just tell a single story of Cooper and Doctor Mann’s conflict, however, by also telling the tale of Murph and her brother’s conflict, we are pulled into a much more intense story that we can’t take our eyes of. And, don’t just watch the screen, listen to the music too. Hans Zimmer changing soundtrack does more than just drama; it plays along with the juxtaposition.
It is for reasons like this that Nolan movies should never be watched just once.