Trauma in Christopher Nolan's Films

Published: 2021-06-30
828 words
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University of Richmond
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One of the major concerns in the films of Christopher Nolan is the psychological trauma experienced especially by the male protagonists. The protagonists mainly experience amnesia, hallucinations, and flashbacks that are often caused by guilt or grief. However, Nolan is not the only filmmaker who takes the main characters through mental trauma. Psychological disorders in male characters have been commonly witnessed in very many new millennium films. This may be an indication that the twenty-first-century protagonists unstable mental state may be related to the impact of a post-9/11 environment. Nevertheless, what makes Nolans work different is that the setting in his new millennium films seems to be based on male mental instability, and this may imply an authorial tendency. As noted by Will Brooker, Nolan's authorial interest in psychological drama, his recurring themes of fear and memory and his characteristic experiments with narrative have now become established traits' (2012: 22).

Despite trauma being a seemingly minor aspect, it remains a basic theme in Nolans work. The Prestige (2006), for instance, focuses on deceit yet it has very many traumatic events. Although many films produced after 9/11attribute the traumatic events to the 9/11 occurrence, it is impossible to attribute the trauma in Nolans new millennial films to the 9/11 event exclusively. Memento,' for instance, was produced in 2000. If the theme of trauma is present within Nolans principles, then it is related to his films nourish tendencies whereby the protagonists wife dies as it happened in Interestellar (2014), Inception (2010), The Prestige,' and Memento.' This may be a suggestion that the mentally disturbed male character is based on a predicament in masculinity that is already existed. Nolans films only add to this crisis. In particular, this paper argues that the significance of trauma in Nolans films is related to his concern about the way victim trauma and perpetrator guilt normally are connected in terms of the identity of both.

There is a link between identity and trauma. As Roger Luckhurst observes, trauma disrupts memory, and therefore identity (2010:1). The victim/perpetrator trauma and its associated distortion of evil and good also accommodate political issues that are linked to post-9/11. This aspect clearly emerges in The Dark Night series of 2005, 2008, and 2012, and this suggests more influence on Nolans liking for traumatized characters. One of the effects of such characterization is the possible inclination to multi-stranded, often confusing narratives which are mainly told in reverse as they use a lot of flashbacks. Therefore, Nolans films are increasingly being viewed as psychoanalytic and philosophical (see Fisher 2011); Johnson 2011; Russo 2014), mind game narratives see, for example, Elsaesser 2009; Brown 2014; Buckland 2014; King 2014; Panck 2014) and full of deceit (see McGowan 2012). However, scholars specifically target the revolutionary Memento narrative due to its disorienting effects, the aesthetic rejuvenation of Batman series (see Pheasant-Kelly 2011; Brooker 2012) as well as the innovative distraction of inception (see Cameron and Misck 2014). Although such studies focus on the abnormal mental conditions of the protagonists, they do not represent trauma boundlessly, yet it is a leading aspect in the films of Nolan. This essay thus considers trauma in Nolans films by theoretically engaging in trauma studies that include those of Laurence Kirmayer et al. (2007), and Luckhurst (2008, 2010), Richard McNally (2003).

In this regard, the attention given to The Prestige will be limited because its focus on trauma is rather narrow although it has hints of tragedy and supports the aspect of unclear identity. According to Stuart, the film 'communicates trauma through a process of thematic, technical and visual repetition that is linked to the subject of the unconscious that Jacques Lacan (197) defines being a "lack or gap that emerges in the field of the other' (2014). Some of the objects that may have been made to disappear are restored. All through the film, individuals are made to disappear and ultimately reappear although in some cases, they are made to die thus no reappearance. It is important to note that despite some main characters failing to exhibit signs of traumatic disorders, their wives are made to disappear through death. Their deaths are mainly as a result of either a magicians trick gone awry or suicide. The anguish caused by these two happenings triggers the interests of the two main characters, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackkman). They become so obsessed to outdo each other that finally, they too die. The film also focuses on physical disability by giving details of Bordens injured hand and a low-level shot of Angiers damaged leg. Therefore, it takes the general course of post-millennial cinemas in which masculinity is mediated through psychological trauma and physical injury, just like in the post-9/11 films.

Although traumatic events can be acknowledged as the main obsessions in Nolans films, it is notable that the issue is represented in discussions related to grief, terrorism, and masculinity. The theme of trauma in relation to confused identity is generally represented in past films. Additionally, the ongoing debate on masculinity crisis may come to an end as it is also relevant to the post-9/11 film narratives.

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