Christopher Nolan Writes For Women

I greatly enjoy the storytelling of filmmaker Christopher Nolan. I enjoy his needless plot twists, his bizarre, limited character motivations, and his tendency to have his characters repeat the same lines over and over again. I’m serious—Nolan has narrative blind spots, but they don’t bother me at all. I find them charming.

I recently saw Following, his first feature film. Following seems less like a Memento precursor and more like a weak imitator. All of the Nolan obsessions are there, but they don’t have any emotional impact at all.

Nolan also seems to have a “Boy’s Adventure” mentality; who needs girls when you’ve got Batman? Because of this, women don’t seem to get the best roles in a Nolan film. I’ve decided to catalog his major female roles. Let’s see if there’s a pattern.

The blonde does some sort of pointless double-cross.
Guy Pearce’s wife is dead. This gives him purpose.
Carrie-Anne Moss does some sort of pointless double-cross.
Hey, Harriet Harris is in this movie! This is her least ironic role ever.
Hilary Swank is the only woman in this movie.
Batman Begins
Katie Holmes is the only woman in this movie.
The Prestige
Hugh Jackman’s wife is dead. This gives him purpose.
Christian Bale’s wife figures out the end of the movie before we do. She kills herself.
Scarlett Johansson does some sort of pointless double-cross.
The Dark Knight
Maggie Gyllenhaal is in this movie. Then she’s not.
There’s also a prima ballerina. She allows Aaron Eckhart to say lines that will be repeated at the end of the film.
Other women in Gotham City: A crooked cop, a judge, Gary Oldman’s hysterical wife, and a woman on the ferry who looks like Karen Allen. None of these people do anything important.

Nolan could do a lot worse by his female characters, and it isn’t like his male characters aren’t also narrative props. And it isn’t like my track record for the stage is much better. But it sure must be dispiriting to audition for a character that will either be stupid or be dead. Or both.

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One Response to Christopher Nolan Writes For Women

  1. Andreas says:

    This makes some great points that I noticed while looking over Nolan’s career: in keeping with the noir archetypes that inspire him, he writes women as either femmes fatales (like Carrie-Anne Moss or Scarlett Johansson) or as vengeance-motivating victims. So more often than not, they’re narrative props, but the femmes fatales can still be as interesting characters as the men they double-cross.

    Still, great assessment of those blind spots; it’s strange how easy it is for folks (myself included) to praise a filmmaker to the heavens without noting the positions to which their films consistently relegate women.

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