Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker that uses certain hallmarks in each of his films. We've already discussed his tendency to reuse ideas, theories, and even actors in his various productions, but one aspect of Nolan's work that is often overshadowed the way he uses extremely loud and violent action sequences to disrupt a normally calm or joyful scene. He's done this as far back as Batman Begins and even uses the trick in the opening scene of his latest offering Tenet.
Now, I'm not exactly sure why Christopher Nolan likes to return to this method time and time again (I'm not complaining because it works), but I would like to guess that he does it to rattle his audience and take them on a journey that is one of his masterful films. So, come with me as we take another journey into some of the most jarring scenes to take place in a Christopher Nolan movie. And who knows, maybe we'll learn something about why they're there in the first place. But heads up, there are some minor spoilers about the beginning of Tenet at the end of this piece, so you have been warned.
Batman Begins - The League Of Shadows Invades Bruce Wayne's Birthday Party
One thing that Christopher Nolan did in each of his three Batman movies is introduce (or reintroduce) the main villain during scenes where you would least expect it. This is especially true with Bruce Wayne's birthday party near the end of Batman Begins when Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) reveals himself to be real Ra's al Ghul. Throughout the first two-thirds of the movie, everyone (Batman and the audience) is under the impression that the leader of the League of Shadows is dead and gone, but this pivotal scene proves that not only is the group's leader alive, he's been pulling the strings all along.
The scene ends in an extremely violent manner with Bruce Wayne beaten down by the League of Shadows and Wayne Manor in rubble, which helps guide the audience into understanding what is really at stake and that the destruction of Gotham City is a reality and not some far-fetched scheme by the city's crime lords and psychotic doctors.
The Prestige - Julia Drowns On Stage
Christopher Nolan wouldn't waste any time inserting an extremely violent and impactful scene in his next film, 2006's The Prestige. The movie, which details the friendship turned bitter rivalry between Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), starts off with what appears to be a normal magic show with the two central characters playing the shills to John Cutter's (Michael Caine) water tank trick. Everything seems normal when Angier's wife, Julia McCullough (Piper Perabo) goes into the covered tank, but the routine trick quickly goes awry.
Before the audience is even settled into their seats, Christopher Nolan throws one of the most violent and shocking scenes in the entire movie and strikes a nerve as Robert Angier stands by helplessly as his wife dies in front of him. The magic trick gone wrong sets the tone for things to come later on and the rivalry that consumers both of the film's leads couldn't have benefited from it more.
The Dark Knight - The Joker Takes Over Harvey Dent's Fundraiser
Not to be outdone by himself, Christopher Nolan went back to his old bag of tricks in The Dark Knight in 2008 with the scene where The Joker (Heath Ledger) and his goons take over the Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) fundraising event at Bruce Wayne's Penthouse. The audience has a feeling that something is going to happen before Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and every party guest not named Bruce Wayne, but the gang's introduction is just as explosive and frightening.
At this point in the movie only the poor sucker who dressed up like Batman and Gambol (Michael Jai White) had felt the true strength of The Joker's punch, but in this scene, the upper elite of Gotham City were put face-to-face with someone who goes against everything they, and the rest of society, represent. And with the firing of a single shotgun blast, the world is introduced to The Joker and his intentions.
Inception - Disrupting Mr. Saito's Dinner
Okay, this next one is a little different because, well, it takes place in a dream within a dream in the opening minutes of Christopher Nolan's 2010 sci-fi head-scratcher Inception. After the movie's confusing opening of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) being brought into an elderly Mr. Saito's (Ken Watanabe) residence, the scene switches over to a conversation the two are having at what appears to an earlier time during a larger party. The first hint that something is up is seen when the building begins to shake and Cobb and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) give each other an apprehensive look.
Everything is brought into full swing when the world begins caving in on itself and the once ornate Japanese palatial estate is brought to ruin. And then things get even crazier when Mal (Marion Cotillard), Cobb's deceased wife and the manifestation of his guilt, appears and tries to take over the scene. If Christopher Nolan was trying to confuse and disorient the audience here, I think it was a success.
The Dark Knight Rises - Bane Blows Up Gotham During The Rogues Football Game
Say what you will about The Dark Knight Rises, but the scene when Bane (Tom Hardy) destroys the field (and a large chunk of Gotham City) during the Gotham Rogues football game is and forever will be one of the most intense and shocking scenes in any Batman movie (even if it was featured heavily in all of the trailers). And what an introduction at that!
Leading up to the scene, no one besides Batman, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and a few others knew or believed in Bane, but after this, everyone in the city of Gotham and around the world knew what Gothamnites were up against.
Not only is the field taken out (and the poor Mayor of Gotham), but all but one of the bridges, tunnels, and other means of escaping the locked down island are cut off, leaving the residents trapped with a madman and a nuclear device. And while the story gets muddied in the second half of The Dark Knight Rises, the football game will always be a reminder of how Christopher Nolan knows how to ruin a perfectly good day with a lot of style.
Interstellar - Dust Storm At The Baseball Game
Christopher Nolan did something similar, but to a lesser extent, in 2014's Interstellar when he disrupted a baseball game with a massive dust storm. And while it's not as explosive, or really all action-packed, but it does accomplish two things — first, it disrupts the normal flow of a perfectly fine weekend afternoon, and second, it pushes Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter Murphy Cooper (Mackenzie Foy) back home where the truth behind Murph's "ghost" is planted in their brains.
Now that we have that little breather out of the way, let's get to what we've been waiting for — That insane opening sequence in Tenet. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you might want to hold off on the rest of this article as there are minor spoilers.
Tenet - The Opening Scene At A Kiev Opera House
Christopher Nolan didn't waste any time getting the ball rolling in Tenet. Like with The Prestige, Nolan's 2020 spy thriller starts with a large crowd finding their seats, only this time it's in a Kiev opera house. Just before the band can tune their instruments and sync up with one another, a group of masked assailants burst in with guns drawn, sending us in the audience down a loud, explosive, and extremely confusing journey. With frantic music, screams, and concussive shots from semi-automatic rifles and explosive charges, it's hard to make sense of what is going on, and I think that's what Nolan is trying to do.
If we know what's happening and what's coming down the road, we will be able to see the small clues he left behind (don't worry, still not really spoiling anything major). Instead, we're distracted trying to figure out who's the hero, what they are trying to prevent, and who's behind the attack. Sometimes, a filmmaker needs to treat his audience like a group of hostages a part of the action, and Nolan does just that.
What did you think about the opening of Tenet, the film's confusing final act, or any other action-packed scenes from Christopher Nolan's collection of movies? Make sure to sound off in the comments below.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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