A Christopher Nolan fan discusses the arc of the director's sound design choices.
If you haven't seen Tenet, here's your spoiler alert.
The Dark Knight may be looked at as the best superhero film ever made, but is it Nolan's best film? Fans of his work will note the character complexities of Memento, the puzzling layers of Inception, and even the magically crafted story behind The Prestige. With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan starting experimenting in the way he approached sound. For some, it was downright hard to hear what was being said by the villain Bane. So before the final release, the film was remixed for clarity.
But that didn't stop Nolan from continuing to try new things with the auditory palette of his movies. As storytellers ourselves, we don't blame him as it's important to grow and experiment in your craft.
Richard King, the sound supervising editor for many of Nolan's films including The Dark Knight, The Dark Night Rises, Interstellar, Dunking, and Tenet, says, "Chris is trying to create a visceral emotional experience for the audience, beyond merely an intellectual one. Like punk rock music, it's a full body experience, and dialogue is only one facet of the sonic palette. He wants to grab the audience by the lapels and pull them toward the screen, and not allow the watching of his films to be a passive experience. If you can, my advice would be to let go of any preconceptions of what is appropriate and right and experience the film as it is, because a lot of hard intentional thought and work has gone into the mix."
The issue that can arise with such an approach is that our ears have been tuned for decades in a certain way while watching movies. Dialog has always been king. It has always been presented to us in a way that's easy to hear and understand. It's what our ears have been trained for when we go to the movies. In a way, as moviegoers, we've dumbed down our ability to listen. So when Nolan attempts to change what's been basically standard dating back to the talkies of the 1920s, it's going to rub some people the wrong way. Our ears are simply not used to low-hitting dialog that is surrounded by louder music and sound effects.
While Nolan is trying to draw people into the story and make sure they pay attention to every moment, he might need to consider a learning curve with the general audience. Nolan is essentially throwing everyone into the deep end. And the ones who can swim, can hear the movie, while others say to themselves, "What the f--- is going on?"
And the latter has taken issue with Tenet. People are having a hard time understanding what's being said in the movie let alone grasping the complexities of time conversion and the film's connection to the Sator square.
You have to wonder how Nolan will approach sound going forward. As a filmmaker, you want to make sure the audience understands what the story is about, but when you have as much carte blanche as Nolan, you can do almost anything.
Have you seen Tenet? What did you think of its final mix? Let us know in the comments below.