The Dark Knight of the bright screen

A couple weeks ago, one of my English classes had a visit from the renowned poet Erin Belieu. When I asked her what one had to do in order to become a capital-G Great Poet, she said this: “You’ve got to become undeniable.”

In other words, the power of your voice, its authoritative strength and strangeness, must become so great that people the world over feel compelled to listen to it, even if they don’t much care for what it has to say.

If undeniability is indeed the way to measure artistic success, then Christopher Nolan is one of the most successful directors in Hollywood today. Many people go gaga for his pop-art parables, with their synthesis of highbrow analytics and lowbrow ass-kicking.

Others write him off as emotionally cold, a clammy aesthete withdrawing from the heat and pulse of human passion to obsess over his confusing loop-the-loop plots.

But neither camp can elide the reality that many of his films wind up winning a 90 percent rating or higher on Rotten Tomatoes, nor can they dismiss the fact that the guy breaks box office records quicker than most of us can draw a breath.

“Memento.” “The Dark Knight.” “Inception.” And now, “Interstellar.” Film by film, Christopher Nolan has become undeniable. But is he any good? Let us clamber into our moviegoing Batmobile and journey through some of his work, for it is there that we will find our answer.

First things first: it seems obvious to me that Nolan, whatever his flaws, is a born filmmaker, one who knows what movies (and only movies) are capable of.

You see, just as music harnesses the power of sound and literature harnesses the power of words, film makes singular use of the moving image. And Nolan has proved beyond a doubt that he can use visuals to make statements that eclipse what any written words could convey.

The Joker dangling his head out of the police car window like a drugged-up Rottweiler. Will Dormer gazing weary-eyed at Alaska’s perpetual daylight. More recently, a space station orbiting foreign worlds while the soundtrack plays nature sounds from Earth. These images convey information about plot, character and theme while still being aesthetically striking in their own right.

Nolan is also quite gifted at montage, the art of intercutting separate images from separate scenes.  Just look at  Bane’s speech in “The Dark Knight Rises” and you’ll see what I mean.

Examining the lead-up to that scene will also give you an idea of Nolan’s greatest flaw: on the way to the Awesome Moments, he often overlooks important details or plot points. To get to Bane’s scene, we have to endure several perfunctory dialogue scenes which even Nolan seems eager to get finished with.

We also have to wade our way through one of the stupidest plot points in cinema history: in order to buy the contents of Bane’s speech, we have to buy that he could LURE AN ENTIRE CITY’S POLICE FORCE INTO A SEWER. Bane’s takeover is filmed with searing power,  but Nolan doesn’t seem to care that the set-up to that scene is about as logical as a “Looney Tunes” sketch.

I was disappointed to see these problems crop up with alarming regularity in Nolan’s latest. For every speech-stealing image of resplendent space, there’s a sloppy scene of confusing exposition.