By Jason Apuzzo.  Speculation is currently very heated about the exact nature of the plotline to writer-director Christopher Nolan’s forthcoming film, Inception.

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Why the speculation is so heated is actually something of a puzzle to me, in so far as the film’s trailer would seem to make Inception’s storyline fairly clear: the film appears to be a kind of sci-fi, Hitchcockian thriller based on the concept of what used to be termed mind-control and/or brainwashing.

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According to Warner Brothers, the film’s distributor:

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“Acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan directs an international cast in an original sci-fi actioner that travels around the globe and into the intimate and infinite world of dreams. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the dangerous art of extraction, stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state, when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb’s rare ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved. Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible—inception. Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse: their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime. But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming. This summer, your mind is the scene of the crime.”

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Personally Nolan’s much-hyped film is of little interest to me, due to its seemingly derivative quality; the film appears to be a kind of pastiche of familiar elements from The Matrix, Memento, The Thirteenth Floor, Dark City and myriad other recent films that have plumbed the theme of mind control.  Inception already appears to lack the punchy, campy vitality of the original Matrix; nor does Nolan appear to have developed a sense of humor – we’re apparently still going to be waiting for that in one of his films.  [And I've been waiting for it ever since his Following, from 1998.]  But Nolan certainly made Warner Brothers enough money from The Dark Knight that he’s earned the right to do what he wants to do with Inception – it’s his film.

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Your mind is the scene of the crime: from Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.”

Superman is a somewhat different matter.  As has been widely reported, Nolan has been given by Warner Brothers what amounts to supervisory control over the forthcoming ‘reboot’ of the Superman franchise.  He’s been given this control due to the wild financial success of The Dark Knight. But Superman is an altogether different kind of ‘property.’  The Superman character is an important figure of American iconography – a product, actually, of America’s epochal battle against fascism in World War II.  Going ‘edgy’ or ‘dark’ with the Superman character – which is ostensibly why Nolan was brought in – is therefore quite a tricky matter.

Miles Millar’s comic series Superman: Red Son (an image of which is seen at the top of this post) – the much-discussed series in which Superman is re-envisioned as a Soviet superhero of the working people – offers a vivid example of how even something as seemingly stable as the Superman image can be tampered with in drastic ways.  With the full-throated support of the fanboy community, Millar was pitching Superman movies as recently as two years ago, although in fairness I don’t believe the Red Son plotline was part of his pitch.  The point is, though, that Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns actually went so far as to drop the ‘American way’ from the famous Superman ‘credo’ of standing for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”  So does anyone really trust these people to retain the essence of the Superman character as a patriotic icon?

There are already rumors about what the next Superman film might be like from the plot standpoint.  The rumors don’t really tell us much – or at least, they don’t tell us the really important things to know.  But I’m long-past trusting the studios to handle this material anymore.  And now Christopher Nolan – the guy making the brainwashing film, who brought a sinister allure to the Batman series – is entrusted with Superman.  And I’m actually a little concerned about it.

For now Nolan has been keeping his cards close to the vest about his plans for Superman.  I understand the showmanship aspect of keeping things secret, but at this point I’d actually like to know a little more about where he intends to take the Superman franchise.  Hopefully during the rollout of Inception we’ll hear a lot more from him about this.

Posted on June 16th, 2010 at 12:57am.

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10 Responses to “What is Christopher Nolan Doing with Superman?”

  1. johngaltjkt says:

    I’ve never been a big Superman fan and have always favored Batman. I loved the Batman television series from the 60’s and felt Nolan’s Dark Knight was probably the best picture of 2008.
    It’s however concerning that Hollywood continues to push this destruction of American exceptionalism with apparent glee. To dilute and disparage what’s made this country great and magnify its faults to absurd proportions. While ignoring the glaring facts of the evil that exists today in other countries and cultures. To continually push a relativism that’s disturbing for the single fact that so many people in this country actually buy into it. Our public (government) schools push this agenda because We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and it doesn’t matter if you have a 4.0 or 1.4, you’ll graduate and on time!
    Sadly nothing Hollywood does is surprising to me. Actually what would be surprising is if they actually did a Superman movie that adhered to what the original character was conceived as. Truth, Justice & The American Way!

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      The striking thing to me is what could be done with the Superman character, if anybody bothered to take a more traditional approach to it. The urge to ‘reinvent’ the mythology on these characters too often overrides common sense. If they were really smart, they would make Superman an all-American kind of hero, and send him around the world fighting tyranny. It’s a simple as that. The money they would make doing this would probably be staggering.

  2. Trojan Horse says:

    I am completely appalled that DC comics actually published a Superman series making him into a Soviet hero. And then that Millar gets to go and pitch Superman movies to Hollywood and be taken seriously? What new depths of anti-American self-loathing will Hollywood/the comic book industry stoop to before Americans finally wake up and kick the bums out?

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  4. shinsnake says:

    I used to be confused about the “re-imagining” of characters. Why not just stop being lazy and create your own character? You want a Soviet hero? Create one.

    Then I belatedly realized that it’s not so much about creating something as it is about tearing something down. A socialist hero can simply be ignored by intelligent people, er, conservatives, but if you take something that conservatives identify with and love, it can’t be ignored and it’s like a shot in their gut.

  5. Prehistoric Woman says:

    I agree with shinsnake here. They are trying to take all our beloved icons and reverse them to serve their own purposes. It’s just disgusting. They did it in that horrible remake of the Alamo from a few years ago, they did it to Christopher Columbus, they did it to Robin Hood, I’m sure coming up soon they’ll try to do it to Washington and Lincoln. Conservatives are so weak in responding to this stuff or in pro-actively creating movies/TV shows to promote our own icons, its a real shame. When will the right’s love of it’s own heritage match the left’s desire to tear it down?

  6. Jeff P. says:

    Why don’t they go back to the old way of handling Superman? Play it at face value, make it patriotic, kid friendly, etc? It worked before, and it’s working now with Iron Man.

  7. Stephen says:

    I would just like to say that I have actually read the Superman: Red Son comic book, and it’s actually excellent. It is an Elseworlds Tale, meaning it is a limited series that re-imagines a character in the DC Universe with some little twist (for instance, “Gotham by Gaslight” has Batman in the Victorian Era). It does not celebrate communism, but in fact becomes a harsh critique of totalitarianism. The premise is this: Superman’s rocket lands in Russia instead of America, and he is raised by Russian farmers who raise him as an honest and upright young man who nevertheless believes in the Soviet ideals of collectivism and state control. He immediately is hailed as a Soviet hero that shifts the whole balance of the Cold War, giving the Soviets a serious advantage, with America’s scientific genius Lex Luthor struggling to come up with something to defeat Superman.

    When Stalin dies, Superman decides that he is the only man who can really take over the empire, and initially does it out of idealistic reasons: he wants to save everyone, and show the whole world the great possibilities of communism. And the the thing is, with all his incredible powers, he can make communism sort of work. The Soviet state becomes truly efficient and it’s living standards shoot up. Countries around the world start volunteering to be part of the Soviet empire and under Superman’s control. Eventually only the United States remains, and it isn’t doing so hot. But over the course of the book, Superman is corrupted by his power. He can watch everyone, hear everyone, make sure everything works: the ultimate Big Brother. But he becomes so obsessed with taking care of everyone that he creates the ultimate nanny state: everyone is always safe and secure, but they are MADE to be so. They lose their drive and creativity, as well as their freedom to do anything transgressive. Various rebellions start to occur, but Superman puts them down brutally. Anyone who is too troublesome, he has turned into docile, practically mindless robots.

    Eventually, Lex Luthor (who is still cruel in a way Superman is not, but is now on the right side) manages to outsmart Superman and destroy him/force him to see the error of his ways. Once Superman is gone, human beings are able to let their individual creativity flow again and create incredible technological advances of their own, proving they don’t need some alien Big Brother to force them all to work together, but only the freedom to figure things out in their own way. The ending is a little weak, because it ends up with Luthor’s descendants basically creating a non-totalitarian utopia, suggesting humanity is perfectible, but everything up to that point is really excellent insightful.

    The best part? Batman shows up as a Russian revolutionary trying to overthrow Superman and communism.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Stephen, I appreciate your thoughts. I was, actually, aware of the basic Red Son plotline – and I agree that the premise is interesting. I really was just making a point about how fungible the identity of even such a seemingly well-established icon as Superman can be. Keep coming back to LFM.

      • Stephen says:

        That’s cool, and I agree that Superman ought to be done in a way that celebrates real heroism and isn’t ashamed to be pro-America. But other people on this thread obviously thought the comic was a pro-Communist book, and I just wanted to set the record straight.

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