BU in LA – Christopher Nolan and Parking Woes

7:15. Of course, my archaic PC is taking years to shut down. My boss says not to worry about it. He must sense my anxiousness. I mumble a thank you and race out the door.

Traffic. Damn. But what did I expect?

It only takes me two laps around the block to find a parking space. Oh wait, I need to parallel park. Oh Vehicular Gods, why have you forsaken me?

Leonard Shelby has car issues too. Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Despite all odds, I parallel park. What possesses me to be able to perform such an impossible feat of driving, you might ask? Oh, just a chance to see a question and answer session with the most smartypants, fanboy-tastic director of our time: Christopher Nolan.

Sprinting around the corner, I grab my friend waiting for me outside the theater, push past loitering patrons and plant myself in the closest available seats. The dude sitting next to us smells like he hasn’t had a shower since Adam West was Batman. I don’t even care!

The lights dim. To celebrate it’s 10th anniversary and Blu-Ray release, the thriller Memento in gorgeous 35mm fades in before my eyes.

Two hours later. Damn, I always forget what a good movie that is. And now that the film is over with, the Q&A is set to begin. Oh, and I forgot to mention, the Q&A is moderated by that other coolest guy in Hollywood, director Guillermo del Toro.

Guillermo is introduced. So is Christopher. Holy crap. Two of the smartest people in entertainment are just chillin’, having a conversation right in front of me. I met del Toro at the Brattle Theater in Boston a few months before. Just as he did then, del Toro sets a very comfortable mood for the evening with his blend of self-effacing humor, incredible intelligence and adorable accent.

Before Nolan began to speak, I expected the uber-cerebral director of the dream within the dream within the dream (BRAAAAHHHHHMMM) to be so stodgy and uptight. Thankfully, this is not the case. Hearing the two speak is like being a welcome part of these two friends chatting with each other.

del Toro asks Nolan about his working relationship with his brother, Jonathan. Jonathan provided the short story on which Memento was based, and it is so interesting to hear Nolan talk about his ideas not as the grand intellectual visions that the internet feasts upon. Instead, he speaks about character. Of course, as Guillermo points out, Nolan’s original works, especially Memento and Inception are notoriously difficult, and have a reputation of being too confusing. But what Nolan says strikes me as being the ultimate come-back to all his detractors that accuse him of trying too hard to be smart.Nolan says that while one of his main interests is to test the limits of an audience’s ability to connect with the material, the end goal is to still achieve that connection.

Yes, Memento and Inception are puzzles. But he tells del Toro that one of the best parts of the process was working with actors like Guy Pierce and Leonardo DiCaprio, who make their respective films just as much about the people as they are the puzzles.

Of course, neither Memento nor Inception are perfect films (although if you want my two cents, Memento isn’t too terribly far off). The degree to which Nolan succeeds in creating really engaging characters… well that’s up to you. But for me, it is just incredible to see one of the most revered directors of our time, especially one so notoriously tight-lipped as Nolan, speak so candidly about his creative goals.

Remember...where you parked. Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

While most of the Q&A is spent in del Toro and Nolan’s conversation, they decide to take a few audience questions near the end.

“No Batman, No Hobbit,” del Toro warns. “Okay. Go.”

Immediately, hands shoot up. That super-awkward funk descends on the room. It’s the moment when the overwhelming majority (normal people) realize that the weirdos are going to make the directors, and everyone else, very uncomfortable. I look to my left. At least Smelly McNoShower has kept his hand down.

And hey, it doesn’t go so bad. Of course, someone had to ask Nolan about his favorite films right after someone else had asked about his favorite directors (come with more than one question, dude!). But that most dreaded of questions, the I’m-going-to-make-a-statement-about-how-much-I-know-but-it’s-not-really-a-question-so-everyone-knows-how-smart-I am-mise-en-scene! question was gloriously absent.

And then, like the memory of Memento‘s Leonard Shelby, they are gone too soon. But one thing that del Toro said stuck with me. Nolan said how, with all the bells and whistles of big-budget productions, it becomes harder and harder, and more necessary to capture the same energy and spark that runs rampant around the production of a small film like Memento.

Guillermo responded, “And the madness. Stay mad.”

The audience pours out of the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. The Friday night air is electric around me. I pause…think. Wait. I parked at a two-hour meter. That was four hours ago. Damn.

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