Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Compendium of Invisible Icons

I saw the film Inception recently and fell in love. It's so much the kind of movie I adore- something with style, with depth, with passion, with a kind of truth to it, with a new way to look at things. It also made me realize, once and for all, that Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors. The Dark Knight for me is a flawless movie, something which I can and do watch repeatedly and just absorb it, take in the power of Heath Ledger's performance, a performance that could in and of itself be a film school, marvel at the building rhythm of the story, the flawless editing of sounds, sights, senses, all of it coming together and never stopping for a moment.

Seeing and falling in love with Inception pushed me to finally watch Following, Nolan's very first film, an indie made on the cheap when no one knew they should know him. It was just as expected, good but not great, promising would be the best way to explain it, and while I was watching it I noticed with some surprise that on the door of the main character's apartment, there was a sticker of nothing less than the Bat Symbol. It made me laugh, and then it made me think: was this a coincidence, or the sign of an interest in Batman on Nolan's part? I put it aside and moved on, amused, interested.

Then, still being on a Nolan kick, complete with Inception soundtrack playing on loop in the car, I went next to rewatching Memento. This was the film that I, like so many others, watched in shock wondering who the hell this director was. It was so good I bought it twice, the second version offering little more than a new cover and menu.

Halfway through the movie, still just as taken in as I've always been by it, I noticed it: the Bat Symbol. Again. This time just briefly, in the window of a comic store across the street as a car left an alley. It was so incidental as to seem completely unplanned. I sat forward, pausing and rewinding to make sure I'd seen what I'd seen, and sure enough I had. This was too much. This was the second time in as many films. His first two he'd ever made, containing an image from the one which would define and seal his career, his success.

What signs fill our lives? What symbols, literally and figuratively, float around on the edges of our sight, trying to warn us or prod us, steer us or taunt us? How much don't we see because there's simply so much to see we can't possibly take it all in?

It can be pure coincidence, of course. Of course.

I went to Google and typed in "Bat Symbol in Nolan Films" and came up with some hits. It did for me what the internet always does- tells you you're not alone in this world while simultaneously stealing from you the possibility of a unique discovery, thought, moment. The article or post or whatever it was included a quote from the cinematographer, I believe, of Following, who did his best to explain away the phenomenon. He explained that the apartment had been his own, a common thing when shooting on the cheap, and he had put the sticker up when he moved in in 1989, the year the original Batman film was conquering the world. It wasn't magic, he was saying, it was a series of common events.

I was angry at first, having the epiphany ripped from my hands. Then I realized he'd done no such thing- he'd proved it, because how else would, for lack of a better word, fate work but through a sequence of events which on the surface would seem random, innoccuous? The symbol being there on the door wasn't planned, wasn't an interest or an obsession of Nolan's, it had arrived there on its own. A movie coming out. A sticker purchase. A hiring of a cinematographer. A choice of location. A choice of shots.

If you look at anything close enough you find it's made of cells. Look closer and you'll identify the parts of the cell- the membrane, the nucleus, so on. Look even closer and you'll see the very protons and electrons that make up the thing, make up all things. It's all biology and math, numbers and science, and some people will use that to say it isn't incredible, it isn't a miracle, but I'll always, always, always use it to explain why it is. Just because a thing has skin doesn't mean it can't be a phantasm, an apparition. Maybe you look for symbols. Maybe you don't. It doesn't change their being there, toiling in the fringes, like electrons, unaware of eyes and needing no praise, busy with their work.