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Nolan and Escher at the MFA

17 May

 

What Artist M.C. Escher And Filmmaker Christopher Nolan Have In Common

To complement the perception-warping lithographs of M.C. Escher currently on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, curator Carter Long and the smart folks over in the MFA’s film department have put together “Math, Mind and Memory,” a retrospective of Christopher Nolan’s films. The program launches on Wednesday, May 16 with Nolan’s debut, “Following” (1998), and concludes on May 31 with the British auteur’s 2014 planet-hopping odyssey, “Interstellar.”

If the crossover connection between surrealist graphic designer and alternate reality-conjuring filmmaker doesn’t immediately make sense, consider Escher’s continuous stairway to nowhere, “Ascending and Descending.” Its endless bend of perception and geometric form could easily be mistaken for a storyboard cell pulled from Nolan’s dream-thief thriller, “Inception” (2010), in which streetscapes and buildings get folded in on themselves, even inverted, creating an endless maze of concrete and tarmac that beguiles as it overwhelms. (The film plays on May 24 and 25.)

On the left, M.C. Escher's "Ascending and Descending." On the right, a still from Christopher Nolan's "Inception." (Robin Lubbock/WBUR and MFA)
On the left, M.C. Escher’s “Ascending and Descending.” On the right, a still from Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” (Robin Lubbock/WBUR and MFA)

More thematically, the Dutch artist’s famous “Drawing Hands,” where one hand sketches the next into existence while that hand conversely draws its creator, plays with the sense of time and origin. It’s the chicken and the egg conundrum visualized in evocative 2D (though the deeply layered shadowing lends a rich 3D effect). Something similar is explored in Nolan’s “Interstellar.” The humanity-saving space mission sails off into the fourth dimension of time and space density, creating a scenario in which children out age their parents. (“Interstellar” screens May 20 and 31.)

The retrospective, which includes the latter two of Nolan’s popular Batman films, “The Dark Knight” (on May 26) and “The Dark Knight Rises” (also on May 26), rightly recognizes the director’s box-office brilliance. Who else makes thinking-man thrillers that regularly gross more than $500 million? But the MFA series also more aptly shines a light on Nolan’s early efforts and influences.

“Following,” shot in noirish black and white and on 16mm guerrilla style, unravels agendas within agendas as a wannabe writer (Jeremy Theobald), who follows random people for muse material, gets tangled up with a dapper petty criminal (Alex Haw) and an aloof woman with a Marilyn Monroe-perfect coif (Lucy Russell). The ever-twisting plot complicated by love triangle implications cast wafts of Danny Boyle’s gritty early work, “Shallow Grave” (1994), and is a clear blueprint for Nolan’s sophomore effort, “Memento” (2000). Continue reading