Many of Christopher Nolan’s films ironically both embrace the tradition of surrealist and Avant-Garde filmmaking while simultaneously providing (at least tacit) support for the Anglo-American liberal world order. For Nolan, this world order, which relies on global capitalism, technocratic supremacy, and ultimate control of world cultural production, is a much greater alternative to either left- or right-wing challenges to this liberalism. In Nolan’s films, this liberalism must occasionally use violence and violate some of its core principals of privacy and freedom to maintain its dominance. Nonetheless, Anglo-American liberalism, in Nolan’s vision provides a world that is freer, more humane, and more prosperous than other anarchic, Marxist, or fascist alternatives. Finally, (and perhaps most importantly for Nolan) the security, wealth, and freedom of this liberal world order enables the world of art and film to blossom, and the opportunity for Christopher Nolan to create (post-) ironic dream worlds or, in the words of Jean Baudrillard, a “hyperreality”.
Jesse Russell is assistant professor of English at Georgia Southwestern State University
Chapter 1: The Twilight of the American Century in Christopher Nolan’s Memento
Chapter 2: Batman Begins and the Taming of the Orient
Chapter 3: Order and the State in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight
Chapter 4: Defending the Status Quo in The Dark Knight Rises
Chapter 5: Dreaming of Capitalism in Christopher Nolan’s Inception
Chapter 6: Discovering America in Space: Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar
Chapter 7: Recruiting Blackness in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet.
The end of history endures. Not just in intellectual commentary and debate, but also in cinema. And no director has been wrestling with the implications of the end of history more than Christopher Nolan. In our age of encroaching nihilism, revolutionary discontent, and the seeming exhaustion of neoliberal capitalism, how does Nolan’s films deal with the spirit of times? That is the question Jesse Russell is implicitly asking in his new book, The Political Christopher Nolan. Bringing Nolan’s films into dialogue with philosophy and political theory, Russell offers a brilliant reading of the blockbuster film director who not only offers his audience a visual tour-de-force but also deep intellectual contemplation through his films. Russell accepts Nolan’s invitation for intellectual contemplation and shows how Nolan is wrestling with the spirit of the times, the contours of end of history nihilism and exhausted neoliberalism, and how through this wrestling the director ultimately endorses—even if passively so—the belief that “Anglo-American liberalism [is] the most feasible vehicle for the good life...” Jesse Russell does an admirable job in interpreting Nolan’s films through a political lens. He does an equally superb job in highlighting the role of love within the neoliberal paradigm that defines many of Nolan’s best and most mature films. Any lover of Nolan’s cinematic brilliance will be enriched by Russell’s book. One’s only regret is that this book does not yet have an analysis of Nolan’s Oppenheimer. We patiently wait, then, for what Russell might have to say about that film.
"With lively intelligence and winsome wit, Jesse Russell reveals the shifting and far-reaching philosophical implications embedded in Nolan's films, drawing out the deep political theses that drive the culture industry's massively influential entertainments."
Jesse Russell’s new book The Political Christopher Nolan argues that Nolan’s villains present philosophical challenges to the Anglo-American liberal order, and the hero’s victory consistently validates the status quo. Russell’s premise stimulates deeper, symbolic thinking. For instance, in the opening robbery scene of The Dark Knight, we watch goons in Joker masks sequentially kill other members of the crew once their part of the heist is complete. Russell sees this disposal of “employees” as a parody of the instability and vulnerability of late capitalism for workers. Of course, this scene is so entertaining, you may never have considered the political underpinnings of The Joker’s operation. The book is divided into seven chapters, each devoted to one film, beginning with Memento (2000) and ending at Tenet (2020). Eventually, the conclusion of each chapter becomes predictable—Christopher Nolan believes the Anglo-American order is worth protecting, even if it is imperfect—yet Russell’s close reading is still thought-provoking.