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Are Christopher Nolan's movies all about exposition?

By on July 21, 2012

James Verini argues that Christopher Nolan’s greatest films are best understood as games:

They are contests with rules and phases, gambits and defenses, many losers and the occasional victor, usually a Pyrrhus type. Take “Inception.” Many thrilled to this story about corporate spies who invade dreams, but smart critics tended to find it, like Slate’s Dana Stevens, “mind-blowing but not heart-moving.” On the whole, men like it more than women. I was confused by this until one female friend cut me off as I tried to explain my adoration for “Inception,” with, “Ugh, see, you have to explain it. It was all exposition.” And she’s right—the movie suffers from male-answer syndrome. When “Inception” isn’t explaining the rules of inception, the trick of implanting ideas in minds that’s at the center of its plot, it’s explaining the rules of “Inception.”

This friend, a novelist, is unmoved by quantifiable outcomes, strategy, unromantic conflict—by rule, the stuff of games. She has grown accustomed to considering those things to be opposed to feeling and invention, the stuff of good storytelling, of life. Yet, the philosopher Bernard Suits wrote, “To play a game is to engage in activity directed towards bringing about a specific state of affairs, using only means permitted by rules, where the rules prohibit more efficient in favor of less efficient means, and where such rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity.” Doesn’t that definition apply to life, too, and to the best stories?

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