Welcome to the reverse chronology universe!
To analyze and understand Christopher Nolan’s films on a more theoretical level, it is necessary to be familiar with some concepts, even if only in a general sense. As you will see in the section you are about to read, this can be helpful not only in the realm of film or art but also in deciphering events and communities in contemporary real life. For example, the recent developments in the Gülen Movement and the almost universal dislike of the Gülen Movement by virtually every social group have sociological and scientific foundations.
Let’s take it step by step.
First, we need to take a look at the concept of the archetype. Those who regularly follow this column may remember that we previously discussed Gustav Jung and his Four Primary Archetypes. If you don’t remember, that’s perfectly fine because we’ll revisit this concept and delve a bit deeper into this dimension.
Every person has a unique and highly complex cognitive structure. Although this uniqueness sets us apart, it would not be accurate to deny the existence of some common traits among us. For instance, the fear of the dark during childhood is a common human trait. Or shedding tears during an emotional moment… These are the kinds of experiences that, according to the founder of Analytical Psychology, Carl Gustav Jung, all humans share. These experiences, found everywhere from sacred texts to mythological narratives and in today’s humanity, essentially originate from our collective unconscious.
Jung, who worked alongside the famous Freud for a long time and had similar thoughts, believed that the Collective Unconscious is filled with thoughts and images that are difficult to bring to the level of consciousness, much like Freud’s concept of the subconscious. However, unlike our personal subconscious, we do not need to expend intense energy to suppress the images and thoughts in our collective unconscious. We are all born with these images, and these images exhibit similar characteristics in everyone. According to Jung (who, on this matter, increasingly diverged from Freud and even disagreed with him), we inherit our spiritual characteristics just as we inherit our physical characteristics from our ancestors. Jung attempted to discipline the images and thoughts he called “archetypes” in the collective unconscious.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the main archetypes.
We can start with Anima and Animus.
According to Freud, every man has a portion of femininity within him, and every woman has a portion of masculinity. The fundamental function of these opposite-gender characteristics is to come into play in mate selection. Jung states that, “A man chooses a woman who corresponds to the feminine aspect in his own subconscious, a reflection of his own soul.” According to Jung, this corresponds to the feminine (Anima) in men and the masculine (Animus) in women.
The Shadow, on the other hand, represents the dark side of our personality. While a part of the Shadow is suppressed in our personal subconscious, another part continues to exist in our collective unconscious as a common inheritance from our ancestors. Evil within humanity originates from the archetype of the Shadow. Evil ranks among the oldest behaviors. While it may not be equal to historical goodness, it is closely related. This theme is also found in various places, from religious texts to ancient inscriptions and even contemporary computer games.
The older humanity is, the older the Shadow archetype is.
The depiction of Satan in Abrahamic religions is the result of a different perspective on the Shadow archetype.
Now, let’s talk about the Persona…
Persona is an archetype that represents the outward appearance of one’s personality or, in simpler terms, how one presents themselves to the outside world. Every person has various roles in their social life. A woman may play the roles of a wife and a mother at home while being an employer or an employee at work. Thanks to the Persona archetype, individuals adapt to their social roles, and perhaps most importantly, it helps protect their self-image from negative portrayals.
And then there is the “Self”…
In fact, the “Self” archetype is often confused with Freud’s concept of the “ego.” However, they are not the same. The Self archetype works to create a coherent whole out of the other archetypes. According to Jung, the fundamental purpose of life is the development of the self, and for the development of the self, all other parts of the personality must also develop.
The archetypes mentioned above are the four fundamental archetypes in our collective unconscious.
Jung also discusses other archetypes. For example, the father archetype as an authority and power figure, the mother archetype symbolizing existential comfort, the wise old man archetype representing knowledge and experience, and the child archetype as a figure of innocence can be mentioned.
An archetype is a pattern that symbolizes a specific person, place, or thing.
The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, often considered the father of this field, popularized the theory that there are certain patterns present in the human psyche. In literature and art, an archetype is a narrative element based on universal patterns of human nature. It can be an emotion (e.g., unrequited love), a character (e.g., a tragic hero), a type of story (e.g., rags to riches), or a symbol (e.g., a tree representing life). An archetype instantly creates a sense of familiarity for the viewer, allowing them to relate to an event or character without needing an explanation. We can recognize archetypes instinctively through our instincts and life experiences.
One of the most common understandings of archetypes relates to basic characters. From this perspective, character archetypes are built upon specific and identifiable sets of traits. For instance, the heroes and villains of today’s books and films might draw upon the same heroic and villainous archetypes found in fairy tales, Charles Dickens’ novels, John Milton’s poetry, and ancient Greek theater. Or in sacred texts like the Quran, Bible, etc. Some common archetype characters in literary works include the hero, anti-hero, and trickster.
When it comes to stereotypes…
To put it simply without delving into too much detail, a stereotype refers to an overly simplified concept or characterization. The difference from archetypes is that stereotypes can be applied to an individual or a group of people. Some stereotypes are negative (“dumb jock”), while others are positive (“innocent child”), but all of them are considered overly simplistic and undesirable in literature. Stereotypes weaken art by resorting to clichés that can carry negative connotations. In real life, people are complex and often do not fit into stereotypical character traits. Strong character development aims to replicate human complexity rather than rely on harmful stereotypes.
Do you understand the difference now:
The term “Archetype” represents a default ideal model, which means it signifies a character trait or emotion with universal qualities. On the other hand, a stereotype is a reductionist concept that has the potential to dehumanize. Archetypes help provide a framework that all of humanity can understand. In contrast, stereotypes are based on overly simplified and potentially damaging concepts of humanity.
For example, an archetypal wise character is likely to have similar traits and serve a similar function (wisdom, insight, the ability to assist the hero) regardless of the culture and time period in which the story originates. In contrast, a stereotypical wise character may superficially appear to possess these personality traits but may not be well-developed. They might have long beards or speak in a strange, mystical manner to convey wisdom without a basis in personality.
Now, before we continue, let’s look at Memento from this perspective.
Christopher Nolan’s intricately woven puzzle, Memento, which revolves around a man trying to reconstruct his memory while searching for his wife’s killer, is a standard of narrative complexity that very few mainstream films attempt to imitate. However, its challenging structure, which starts with the final scene and moves backward, is not just a gimmick; it also serves a thematic purpose and plunges us into darkness just like our protagonist. While the film captivates us with its intriguing noir crime story, it also compels us to contemplate the unreliability of human memory and our tendency to deceive ourselves. We see the well-embedded roots of an existential tragedy that may seem like a convoluted cheap narrative piece.
Christopher Nolan’s unique work requires us to approach storytelling in a way that contrasts with traditional methods. Therefore, when analyzing the film, we must closely examine narrative techniques, tension design in complex stories, concise editing amidst complex imagination, and the construction of time and space.
In a broad sense, Memento can be described as “Nolan’s first major example of constructing cinematic puzzles.” This mission serves as a pioneering role for Nolan in this genre. Later films like “The Prestige,” “Inception,” and “Dunkirk” also captivate audiences with their non-linear narrative structures and logical mazes.
We can confidently say that Nolan’s films are characterized by puzzle-like shooting and narrative techniques. His style is influenced by German expressionism and Bertolt Brecht and integrates psychological realism with non-linear narrative, logical thinking, and philosophical insights.
However, despite the numerous studies on Nolan’s overall style and approach, these studies have been limited to perspectives such as narrative science, psychoanalysis, and American culture. The biggest factor, in my opinion, is the focus of the industry and the academic world on Nolan’s post-directorial film career. Indeed, there is almost no comprehensive research on Nolan’s earlier works before entering Hollywood.
This is where the research titled “A Model of (Often Mixed) Stereotype Content: Competence and Warmth Respectively Follow From Perceived Status and Competition,” published in the Personality and Social Psychology Journal in 2002 by Susan T. Fiske and her assistants from Princeton University, becomes highly valuable.
This research emphasizes the systematic processes of stereotypes rather than their content. However, the content of stereotypes can also be systematic. For example, the Stereotype Content Model suggests the following:
Stereotypes have two main dimensions: competence and warmth.
Common mixed stereotypes combine high warmth with low competence (paternalistic) or high competence with low warmth (envious).
Different emotions distinguish competence and warmth combinations.
Status is typically associated with high competence in stereotypes, while competition is predicted with low warmth.
The study aims to understand the origins of stereotype content and suggests that stereotype content can respond to systematic principles.
The Stereotype Content Model proposes that stereotypes are not just about antipathy; they can be understood in terms of two dimensions: warmth and competence. Positive stereotypes may exist in one dimension, while negative stereotypes may exist in the other. The model also suggests that status and competition, which have been identified as important in intergroup relations over time, can predict the dimensions of stereotypes.
The study discusses the concept of mixed stereotype content by focusing on paternalistic and envious stereotypes. Paternalistic stereotypes are seen when external groups are viewed as warm but not competent. Envious stereotypes are seen when external groups are perceived as competent but not warm.
The study highlights the importance of understanding stereotype content and how it operates in society, especially in terms of maintaining the current situation and defending the position of social reference groups. In its final sections, the research provides a detailed discussion of how this model was tested, the methods used, and the results obtained.
Prof. Fiske’s observations and descriptions personally led to significant insights for me.
Here is the magnificent classification from there:
At the top of this classification, termed “Behaviors from Intergroup Affect and Stereotypes (BIAS) Map,” is High Warmth.
High Warmth – High Competence carries a sense of admiration and actively facilitates behavior.
Fiske describes this group as follows: The in-group, meaning the group to which the observer personally belongs, close allies, and social reference groups (e.g., cultural default groups like the middle class, heterosexuals) tend to be rated high in both dimensions. However, there are differences in in-group perceptions between Western and Eastern cultures, with in-group favoritism exhibited only in Western cultures.
High Warmth – Low Competence, on the other hand, tends to have a feeling of pity and facilitates passively.
The explanation is as follows: According to stereotype research conducted in the United States, some external groups, in general, fall into the category of those to be pitied, including the elderly and individuals with intellectual disabilities. Pitying external groups fall within the moral framework of the in-group but are often isolated from society. For example, pitying the elderly may involve passive harm, such as isolation in nursing homes, or active facilitation, such as through charity organizations or community service.
Nevertheless, both of these categories are positive; they are not negative or harmful, at least not in a negative way.
You will see in a moment that the sociological structure of the Gülen Movement exhibits these types of reflexes. High warmth/high competence always brings about active facilitation, but in terms of other societal stereotypes, this situation can be seen as an enemy.
I will explain shortly; let me first finish this classification.
The third group includes Low Warmth/High Competence. Decreasing warmth gives rise to envy. This leads to a passive harm reflex even if it is not active. In Fiske’s words again: Groups perceived as lacking warmth and having high competence arouse envy. Research on U.S. stereotypes identifies wealthy Americans, Asian Americans, and members of the Jewish community as part of the high competence/low warmth out-group category.
And the last group, the worst of all: Low warmth and low competence!
Political Islamists fall into this group.
The fundamental emotion of this group is humiliation, and their action is active harm.
This group harbors the most hostility and is the most combative.
The heroes or anti-heroes in Nolan’s films lead their lives in these groups. Unfortunately, the audience may not be aware of this, but through the plot and time manipulation, Nolan creates this sentiment perfectly.
Now, I will address why there is so much hatred towards the Gülen Movement currently.
The ancient concept of “prejudice” has been restructured and debated by social psychologists for over a century. Gordon Allport’s 1954 study on this topic is unique. Allport borrowed a concept from Aristotle for this purpose: Proprium. The word signifies an incomprehensible, complex, and peculiar logical load in logic. Proprium is one of the five fundamental loads, along with genus, species, difference, and accident.
I won’t make it too complicated.
The development is as follows:
It begins with the bodily sense of “self” in infancy.
Personal identity develops from the age of two onwards.
The third year marks the beginning of self-esteem.
The next stage is self-improvement, followed by a sense of characterization. After that (between 6-12 years old), self-logic begins to merge with self.
Then comes the birth of the self appropriate to character.
From there, we move to genotypes and phenotypes (Allport uses this term because) – let’s leave it here for now.
Again, Allport claims that an impulse forms as a response to an urge. In this case, the impulse, whether it’s an instinct or something else, becomes an independent feeling, and it’s challenging to call it an urge anymore.
At this stage, Allport talks about three characteristics:
Central, cardinal, and secondary traits.
Cardinal traits are rare but are the dominant passions/obsessions that control and shape a person’s behavior, such as money, fame, etc.
Central traits, on the other hand, are general characteristics present in everyone to some degree. They are the fundamental building blocks that shape most of our behavior. They influence behavior but do not determine it. An example of a central trait could be honesty.
And secondary traits…
These are the lowest level of the hierarchy and are not as prominent as central traits. Secondary traits are characteristics that are only observed in specific situations (for example, specific likes or dislikes that only a close friend would know). To provide a complete picture of human complexity, these should be included.
In general, it can be said that in societies, especially in contemporary Turkish society, most social groups act with reflexes that are consistent with these traits.
The Gülen Movement, both existentially and behaviorally, falls into the High Warmth/High Competence category (although it may also exhibit reflexes that could be placed in the High Warmth/Low Competence category), so almost all definitions attributed to it revolve around envy and humiliation. This axis drives both passive and active harm.
Political Islam, by its nature, is characterized by envy and seeks to actively harm. If you are not in their neighborhood, they are after humiliation and defamation. Similarly, the secular/nationalist segment, which can be considered the symmetry of this group, also hates and always seeks active harm against the movement(s) due to these traits.
Some other Islamic social groups (for example, the Nur Movement) escalate things to the point of active harm using any behavior as an excuse (for example, the attempt to translate the Risale-i Nur). For example, during the July 15th coup attempt, they considered it a social duty to harm individuals associated with the movement, both covertly and overtly.
This warmth/competence issue has come a long way over time. For example, Bogdan Wojciszke’s study conducted in 1997 in his laboratory showed that the dual warmth/competence model explains 82% of the variance in social perceptions of daily behavior.
I’m not sure if delving so deep into sociology in an art article is the right approach, but it is possible to enjoy Nolan’s films without a deep understanding of this information, but analyzing them thoroughly may not be feasible.
Now, let’s get back to our director and our film.
Nolan and Time
Christopher Nolan often prefers to use nonlinear narratives, combining various narrative structures such as intertwined, fragmented, echoing, and multithreaded narratives.
Nolan’s films are known for their complex suspense designs. He establishes a general suspense at the beginning of the film and adds smaller suspense elements throughout the film. While doing this, he uses stereotypes rather than archetypes. Although Nolan’s films (especially Memento) are generally more complex, they offer an impressive viewing experience. Nolan balances complex imagination with concise arrangement. Moreover, the way he deals with time and space in his films is remarkable. Time constantly delays the meaning of the film, presenting a typical “different delay” feature.
Although we will discuss it in detail when the time comes, for example, in “Inception,” Nolan creates a five-layered narrative space and time (including reality). The characteristics of each layer are quickly introduced to the audience so that they can identify which dream they are in. Nolan presents the audience with a “mental game” between the director and the viewers.
In Memento, this layering number is two.
Furthermore, in his films, space not only elevates the concept of “region” but also shows a spread structure by combining imagination with reality and ultimately creates multifaceted, dynamic, and flexible film styles. Nolan creates two dimensions in the film narrative with the dimensions of time and space, and these two dimensions determine the consistency of countless specifications. While the time dimension fills Nolan’s films with uncertainty and clarity, the space dimension allows meaning and content to constantly change and trigger. The different delays of time and space not only serve various narrative modes and suspense but also add vitality to the film on their own.
We will finish discussing Memento in the next article.
In the meantime, you can follow the explanation of time and chronology regarding Memento here.
After watching the film, the following linear analysis may be useful to you.