I re-watched an awesome video that I’ve linked to below. It’s the first of a 3 part series concerning Christopher Nolan’s philosophy. How the creator knows that Christopher Nolan crafts his stories according to the philosophies he mentions, I do not know. Chris Nolan may not even know what Hermeneutics is, for all I know. Nonetheless part 1 has most captivated my interested.
Wisecrack, the creator of the video(more specifically written by Tommy Cook and researched by Austin Smidt), discusses a subject called Hermeneutics – the theory and methodology of interpretation. The video argues that Christopher Nolan applied this theory to films such as Following, Memento, and The Prestige.
Hermeneutics can be observed in regular life with regards to news articles, biblical passages, or honestly any form of information. We collectively interpret news articles with polar opposite degrees of satisfaction and disdain. According to the above video, Christopher Nolan applies hermeneutics to his films in a unique way – His protagonist changes his emotional interpretation of the same information at different points in the story.
In Memento, the protagonist views pictures with accompanying notes as clues he’s written to enable his damaged mind to hunt down his wife’s killer. At the end of the film, it is revealed that he created the puzzle of photos and notes to avoid feeling the pain of realizing that he was the one who actually killed her. That is emotionally impactful due to its irony. I feel this is genius, and an incredible tool to strengthen your storytelling ability. It is almost enough to build the foundation for a character arc all by itself.
Let’s create a 1 paragraph story to see how this might play out:
After the disappearance of his son, Bob discovers an ownerless dog who barks at him. The dog appears starving, homeless, and alone. Bob takes the dog in, feeds it daily, and gradually the dog transforms into a healthy, loving, joyful spirit. One day Bob walks the dog past his angry neighbor’s home. The angry neighbor’s jaw drops – he tells Bob he needs to give up the dog. Skeptical and cocky, Bob replies to him that there’s no way in hell he’d listen to his grumpy ass about anything. Then the neighbor tells Bob that the dog was formerly his until the day he found it tearing the corpse of Bob’s son to pieces. The neighbor left the dog in the streets and never spoke of the matter to anyone.
Do you feel how powerful that is? The dog hasn’t changed – it’s still as fun loving and playful as it’s ever been since Bob took care of it. But we desperately want to know what happens next. Why? Because Bob’s next decision will determine his character. More importantly, you are waiting to judge Bob based on what he does next. As a writer, here are the conflicts you will have to resolve –
1.) What do we do with the dog – kill it? Forgive it? Blow off this new information as nonsense?
2.) What about the neighbor? Call the cops? Kill him? Assume he’s lying? Investigate for the truth? Figure out an alternative reason he’s telling us this?
All of this conflict is strictly internal. Bob’s next course of action will determine his character – who he is. The heroic course of action depends on the viewer – It doesn’t really matter what Bob decides, his decision will ultimately alienate a certain audience while fortifying the support of another audience. That’s what news articles do – they are designed to showcase an event that will capture the judgment of our core values.
Anyways, I’m in love with this new writing tool. I hope you see the value in it as well, because I have yet to read about it in the many books on story telling I’ve devoured. I can’t wait to incorporate it in my next episode of Mountain Cult. Play around with it and let me know what you think. In the meantime, feel free to check out episode 3.