Part 3 in a series of essays on the films of director Christopher Nolan.
When Ellie Burr first meets detective Dormer, she gushes about his career, telling him she’s followed all of his cases and that she even wrote her thesis on him in college. She is his biggest fan. Similarly, as the cops uncover the mystery behind Kay Connell’s murder, we discover that Kay was a huge fan of local crime author Walter Finch, and even got to meet and spend time with him. It is not a coincidence that Ellie and Kay are both at least partially defined by their respective fandoms; it compliments and foreshadows the collaboration between the men they admire, Dormer and Finch.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead)
Every fictional character’s live is at the mercy of their creator; the author. Dormer’s next step down the path to authorship is when he actually kills Hap, much the way a writer will metaphorically kill off a character in a movie. Dormer is essentially killing off his partner. Adding to his narrative omnipotence is the fact that no one sees him do it; no one, that is, except for Finch, his eventual collaborator.
Dormer is no stranger to influencing a case; when the film starts, he is under investigation by internal affairs for possibly planting evidence, which as it turns out, he did. The film begins with extreme close ups of the blood he left in a suspect’s home with an eye-dropper. The blood seeps into the fabric of the suspect’s clothing, much the way the planted evidence, or more specifically, the fact of the evidence seeps into the story of the case, and later how other made up facts seep into Kay Connell’s murder investigation. It is notable that blood is notoriously difficult to wash out, as planted evidence and false leads are in the story of a police investigation.
The villain, Finch, is a crime author, and it is almost as if he is writing the very movie he is in. Firstly, he commits the murder that sets events in motion, killing off Kay Connell, and then blackmails Dormer into influencing the investigation, enlisting the detective as his co-writer, so to speak. There is one scene, in fact one shot, in particular where the din of the film almost falls away and we are left, for a moment, with Dormer and Finch. They have met on a ferry at the author’s behest, and the scene eventually moves to this incredible two shot of the men discussing what story to fabricate to deflect attention away from themselves for their respective murders.
The two characters bounce ideas back and forth like a pair of screenwriters formulating plot points, which is something quite remarkable to behold. The flashy covering of the film has been momentarily pulled back, and we are suddenly privy to the inner workings of the narrative; we see the fabric of the story being woven even as it unfolds. Then, as quickly as they were revealed, the gears of the movie are hidden once more; the scene cuts, the music washes back in, and the film carries on.
As the story progresses, the investigations of the murders of Kay Connell and detective Eckhart become increasingly fictionalized. Dormer is influencing both of them, but is also a character in each, and so he is subject to their ebbs and flows; this strange act of participating in the very story he is helping to create has some hazardous effects on our protagonist, as well as foreshadows a theme Nolan explores in his subsequent work, specifically Inception; creating the world around oneself as one experiences it.