A spectre is haunting the Internet – the spectre of the Nolan Bro.
Every few years, Christopher Nolan releases a new film. Some critics don’t care for the new film, and they get angry tweets, comments and emails from obsessed Nolan fans that range from mild rants about how dumb their opinions are to death threats. Next come the thinkpieces – “Why Are Chris Nolan’s Fans Such Jerks?” (circa Inception), “Why Are Christopher Nolan Fans So Intense?” (circa Interstellar), “Why Does Christopher Nolan Have Such Angry Hardcore Fans?” (circa Dunkirk) – and then follows the long murmur in between because no one talks about Christopher Nolan that much except when he’s just made a film. I’ve seen three cycles of this bizarre online phenomenon, and for every time it happens, the online hatred for the Nolan Bro grows ever more widespread and annoying.
We have a policy in these here parts of not linking to tweets that embody bad opinions or attitudes, because they’re too easy to take out of context, because they invite abuse, and because Twitter is a dumb platform that’s designed to basically give you an addiction to expressing your opinions, so half of the things people say on Twitter is half-formed crap rattled off the top of their head that they probably wouldn’t stand over if critiqued, or would only stand over because they think reconsidering your perspective is a sign of weakness. You should take a person at their best when you criticise them, and no one’s at their best on Twitter.
So, if you’ve never seen it yourself, you’ll have to take me at my word when I say that casual disdain for vocal fans of Christopher Nolan is rampant on Twitter. Often, I’m sure, it’s based on unpleasant online interactions with hordes of these “Nolan Bros” (a confusing name since Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan are frequent collaborators, not infrequently referred to as the Nolan brothers), but most of the time, it seems to be inspired by a brief encounter in the real world with a guy who’s maybe a little pushy with his Nolan opinions that becomes magnified by some sort of social media sorcery into an inescapable plague, like the mythical Infinite Jest Guy. Someone tweets “ugh, I saw a Nolan Bro today” and every like or retweet or reply reinforces the idea this is a common experience, as if you can’t walk down the street without a lecture from some neckbeard or manbun or fat acne-ridden basement dweller about how Christopher Nolan’s films are so amazing because he uses mostly practical effects and non-linear storytelling and whatever else.
Let’s ignore for a second all the obvious ways this whole stupid situation is silly: the distorted sense of scale that makes people think the worst behaviour online is representative rather than extreme; the arbitrary elevation of some bad fan behaviour as a Serious Cultural Problem but not others (e.g. the truly terrifying bad fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, who aren’t above threatening competitors they don’t like with acid attacks); how spending too much time online tricks you into thinking the shared experiences of people who spend too much time online are common to all mankind. Let’s even ignore how the casual disdain for Nolan Bros is turning into a casual disdain for Christopher Nolan and his films for no particular reason, just as the hatred for Infinite Jest Guys curdled into hatred for David Foster Wallace for no particular reason. Let’s pretend it’s not at all fucked up and weird how people will disparage almost any opinion they don’t like now by attaching “bro” to it, especially since Ciara already tore into that better than I could.
Even if we leave all that aside, there’s still something that’s never been made clear to me.
What’s wrong with Nolan Bros?
I don’t mean the death threat kind obviously, because what’s wrong with the death threat kind of any group of people is self-explanatory. I mean the average Nolan Bro, who seems to get a truly disproportionate level of scorn for the only real sin that anyone can really attribute to them: they can be a little annoying. Of course, that’s true, but lots of people are annoying. Everyone is at least a little annoying a good twenty-five percent of the time, and lots of people are way more annoying than Nolan Bros.
Here, I’ll list a few:
- people who expect both high-quality public services and low taxes
- people who describe things as “not insignificant” and then don’t explain what they mean by that
- people who think science can answer every question in life
- people who think The Catcher in the Rye is pretentious
- people who make fun of other people for liking sports
- people who talk about memes in real-life, in-person, face-to-face interactions
- people who still care what J. K. Rowling thinks about anything
- people who don’t think they’re rich even though they have six figure incomes
- people who try to make everything about Donald Trump
- people who vape indoors
Those people are so much more annoying than Nolan Bros, and some of their behaviour is even dangerous to other people.
By comparison, the main sin of the Nolan Bro seems to be enthusiasm for something most people aren’t all that enthusiastic about. I find that quality annoying sometimes too, especially with people who are way too into Beyoncé, but most of the time I’m just glad that anyone is enthusiastic about anything. When I was young, I was afraid to be enthusiastic. Some of that was fear I’d be made fun of if I showed enthusiasm for the wrong things, but even when I liked things it was okay to like, I’d play down how much, because I’d been taught in a hundred and one different ways never to let on how much I cared about anything. When I see people shit on Nolan Bros for their enthusiasm, it makes me angry, because the enthusiasm of Nolan Bros can be a starting point for so much more, but shitting on other people for their enthusiasm is always a dead end.
I know because I was once a Nolan Bro.
Though I’d loved other movies as a kid, like Catch Me If You Can and Inside Man, the first movie that really blew my mind open and woke me up to how deeply a film can make you feel was The Prestige. I’m pretty sure I bought it in a charity shop (it was in one of those thin rental boxes), and I only got it because Christian Bale was in it and I liked him in Batman Begins. I definitely didn’t realise until later that both were directed by the same person because I remember thinking the director probably cast Christian Bale and Michael Caine in their roles based on their chemistry in Batman Begins (and, to be fair, I wasn’t wrong). I’d never really thought about directors much by that point – I was vaguely aware of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and James Cameron, but I mostly just liked movies and actors. I thought very highly of Julia Stiles in the Bourne trilogy and George Clooney in the Ocean’s trilogy. I liked Christopher Walken, Leonardo DiCaprio and Clive Owen. I loved Joan Cusack so much in School of Rock that I just assumed she must be one of the most popular and acclaimed actresses in the world.
The Prestige was different from any other film I’d ever seen. The characters were rich and complex and ambiguous in a way I’d never realised could happen outside a book. I’d always liked twisty films, but every twist in The Prestige made me feel something – frustration, disappointment, loss, and an ever-mounting sense of dread as the protagonists mutilated their own souls more and more for less and less reward. I watched it over and over, and when The Dark Knight and Inception came out, I watched them over and over. For the longest time, I thought those three films were just about the greatest movies in the world, and I spent so much time thinking about them that any time I had the chance to talk about them, it was just an endless torrent of word-vomit that I’m sure was annoying for anyone caught in the flood.
Ten years later, Christopher Nolan is not my favourite director. He’s not even top ten, though I still think he’s great. I’ve just seen and loved so many more films from so many great directors since I was thirteen. But I don’t look back on Nolan Bro Dean as a shameful or embarrassing time, and I don’t see Nolan Bros now as people who should be ashamed or embarrassed. Christopher Nolan was my gateway drug to film and whenever I see a Nolan Bro, I see someone who’s on the threshold of loving movies. Sure, they talk too much, but a lot of that’s just because Christopher Nolan films are so easy to talk about – you can see all the seams of the film’s construction on the screen, all their themes come out in dialogue, and they’re full of exposition. There’s not much left ambiguous by the end of any of his movies except Inception. If you’re a young person who wants to talk about something that matters to you, and what matters to you is Christopher Nolan, of course you talk about him too much. Who can’t talk about Christopher Nolan for twenty minutes if the occasion demands it?
Everything that people love about Christopher Nolan’s movies are things you can find in the movies of dozens of great directors – they just need to be pointed in the right direction. Alexander Payne’s films offer a completely different perspective on the obsessive middle-aged man. David Lynch fucks with time and narrative, George Miller does high-concept action with beautiful cinematography, Duncan Jones explores sci-fi concepts through a humanist lens. Whenever I meet a Nolan Bro, I don’t roll my eyes. I’m excited that someone else is on the way to loving film as much as I do. I remember how the films of Terry Gilliam were my first steps into the wider world of films, and I wonder who’ll carry them into their next phase. Akira Kurosawa? Kelly Reichardt? Pedro Almodóvar?
The answer is probably none of those people if instead of offering guidance, everybody just rolls their eyes and goes on Twitter to bitch about them. Personally, I can’t imagine wasting that kind of chance. I might still be a Nolan Bro if I hadn’t basically found Terry Gilliam by accident, and it makes me sad to think of anyone missing out on the wonder of film because no one gave them a helping hand.