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Wait, what did he just say? 🤨


Credit: WB Pictures


Christopher Nolan is one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed directors of our time. Known for mind-bending and question raising films like “Memento“ and “Inception“, as well as a rare and extensive use of practical effects in films such as “Interstellar” or “Batman”, he is often regarded as being highly innovative in the ways he draws his viewers into the stories of his films.


However, with his latest and maybe most ambitious release “Tenet”, starring John David Washington in the lead role in an espionage thriller, his use of practical effects and puzzling story events might have been overused. What happened?


Soon after its release in cinemas in August 2020, one of the first movies to be shown on theater screens after the first lockdown that year, a lot of viewers raised criticism towards the difficulty to follow the characters dialogue. In multiple scenes of of the movie, the dialogue of the characters, such as Washingtons, is layered on top of, or rather beneath, car chases, boat rides, helicopter whirrings, explosions, gun fights and other loud events, all while the unnamed protagonist speaks through oxygen masks and sometimes even in reverse, to intensify the difficulty of hearing what the characters have to say. Why did Nolan make use of such an experimental sound design?


Fans of his work weren’t completely surprised, since the director showed a similar style in his previous work. In “Interstellar” we (try to) listen to Matthew McConaughey speaking through a space helmet while traveling through a wormhole, the actor Tom Hardy speaks through masks in two films, as a villain in “The Dark Knight Rises” and as a fighter pilot in “Dunkirk“. In an interview conducted by “The Hollywood Reporter”, Nolan explained his approach in the case of his space odyssey “Interstellar“:


“The idea is to experience the journey the character is going on, the experience of being in the cockpit is you hear the creaking [of the spacecraft]; it’s a very scary sound. We wanted to be true to the experience of space travel. We wanted to emphasize those intimate elements.”

Credit: WB Pictures


And further:


“Broadly speaking, there is no question when you mix a film in an unconventional way as this, you’re bound to catch some people off guard, but hopefully people can appreciate the experience for what it’s intended to be.”

Until “Tenet”, Nolan gambled and risked a lot with his practical approaches and was so far met with praise, heavy box office results and countless awards. His new espionage thriller however, is somewhat of a change in the perception of the director’s trademarks, more and more fans are wondering: Does this really enhance the movie going experience, or is it just annoying? Has the “Nolan experiment” failed?


Have you seen “Tenet” or other films from Christopher Nolan? If so, which film is your favorite and did you have trouble understanding parts of the dialogue?



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