Christopher Nolan's Useful Lies


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Good read. I think Stephen King had it right in his memoir/manual On Writing, where he wrote: "Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

Art is the justifiable lie.; necessary, even. It embellishes the world with meaning and lends a depth of nobility to the banal procession of life's struggles.

I see humankind as the storytellers of nature, and have always been fascinated with the subject of art as the justifiable lie. Your thoughtful essay immediately resonated with ideas I've long held about the power of fiction to not merely reflect truth, but to warp it and even create it.

Hopefully you'll appreciate the similarities in our consideration of the matter, and again I compliment you on your lucid exploration.
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I agree. My viewpoint on art as a writer (and a Christian) is that we, made in God's image, can and rightly should also tell stories and invent "worlds" even as God invented and created this world and its stories/histories.

It is our re-creation of His own acts of creation that give art its meaning and usefulness.

With that starting point, I see so many avenues and directions to go (with writing, art, film, music, etc.).

But these thoughts are a bit tangential, I know.

Very much appreciated, Deadite. Thanks for taking the time to read it.

Great reference to On Writing, which I also read and really enjoyed. I really like King's orientation there; there are a lot of implications to it, both about what writing is and what it should not be. There's a sort of swipe in there at a certain type of artist, I think, but in a way that doesn't belittle the art itself, just people's perspective on what it should be. One gets the impression King's thought quite a lot about this.

And I agree, we're definitely born storytellers, and it's interesting to trace the implications of that, too, metaphysically and otherwise. I'm sure we'd differ a little on that, but the mere fact of the thing is undeniable. There's something about stories that we respond to on a very, very deep level.

Still scratching my head a little on where Nolan comes down on the questions he's posing. I made my best guess there, and it's clear this is a running theme. It'll be interesting to see if we get a more definitive answer in The Dark Knight Rises next year.

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Apologies for nerding out there. I could barely pull myself away from the essay to post that. I admire your big-picture thinking (pun intended) about Nolan's pictures.

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Thanks for the read. I enjoyed it and look forward to more....hopefully.
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Very interesting stuff; now that you mention it, the "useful lie" is a theme Nolan uses frequently. Never picked up on that, thanks for the essay
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Really interesting read! He really puts a lot of thought into his works.
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Wow, that was a terrific read. Believe it or not I actually had the idea to write something similar on Nolan, except I was going to explore multiple themes rather than just 'the useful lie' one. Though while I only thought about it, you actually wrote it. Great stuff, man. I'm a bit embarrassed and envious that you wrote this before I attempted to do my one :-(

Well, I wrote 90% of 15 months ago and then just got sidetrack, so I gave you as long as I could. I'm sure there's a lot more, as you've alluded to, so I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on some other themes in his work.

I did think about writing something much longer about it that explores each of the examples in depth, and still may. Not sure yet.

I think come December we should watch each of Nolan's films month by month as we get to July, which can also act as a sort of count down to The Dark Knight rises. We can do it in reverse order because, y'know, we can . So say we start with Following in december, Memento in January and so on and on. Each month we can have a full discussion about those films and such. Anybody here who would be up for that?

There was an essay I read years ago that would serve almost as a prelude to your essay, Yod. It tells of Leonard Shelby as the ultimate pragmatist. In fact, just googled it and here it is

The interesting thing about this and your essay is how both have highlighted whether or not lying is a bad thing. Who says it's wrong to lie when one lie can save or prevent harm from oneself or others? You've acknowledged how many of his character's lie for different reasons, some with good intentions, some without. One thing that sticks though is his characters seem to sacrifice something in order to get that lie across. Will explain in more detail.

Interesting essay, and nicely executed. Thumbs up.
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Someone on another site pointed out to me that Christopher Nolan said something in a recent interview that really jibes with the theory at the end of this essay. When asked about Gotham being seeming peaceful after Harvey Dent's apparent death, he said:

"At least superficially. The movie deals with the idea that if you've papered over the cracks, then you're just solving problems in a way that may not hold for the future."
Looking pretty good for the theory that the Useful Lie must inevitably backfire. It looks like Nolan's coming down on the side of Augustine and his critique of Republic.

And the evidence mounts! Along with Nolan's own words above, we have the following from Drew McWeeny's (non-spoilery) review of The Dark Knight Rises:

Nolan seems to believe that a lie in service of something good is still a lie, and it's been festering.
Lookin' good, especially considering I started writing the essay a full two years ago. Maybe Nolan's examination of this question is deliberate, and maybe it's just something that interests him enough that it keeps seeping into his work. But either way, it can't be a coincidence, and it's pretty clear that the rest of his work told us the nature, tone, and thrust of the final Batman film long before it was even formally written. Awesome.