There’s been a long running-joke/talking point that Christopher Nolan would rather you die in a house fire than watch one of his movies on an iPhone or an iPad or any other mobile device. It’s been blown out of proportion over the years due to Nolan’s strong embrace of the sacred theatrical experience, and it only got worse this year when many wondered why Nolan was so adamant about releasing Tenet in theaters rather than VOD. But now Nolan has weighed in on this himself and confirmed that really, it’s okay if you want to watch a Christopher Nolan movie on your phone. So maybe it’s time we all start talking about something else.
Christopher Nolan loves the theatrical experience. He’s talked about it many times, so much so that a narrative has taken hold suggesting Nolan would hate it if you watched one of his movies on a small iPhone screen. “Theatrical experience isn’t just about the size of the screen or the technology behind, although that’s a big part of it. It’s about an audience, the shared experience,” the filmmaker said in the past. “What cinema gives you, unlike any other medium, is this fascinating and wonderful tension and dialogue between this intensely subjective experience you’re having from the imagery the filmmaker has put up there, and this extraordinarily empathetic sharing of that with audience around you. It’s a remarkable medium for that and that’s what defines it. What’s a movie? The only definition of a movie, really, is it’s shown in a movie theater.”
And while Nolan himself never said the words “Don’t you dare watch one of my movies on a small screen!”, that’s how most people have decided to interpret statements like the one above. But in Tom Shone’s new book The Nolan Variations (via Indiewire), the Tenet director seems to set the record straight by flat-out stating that it’s okay to watch one of his big films on a smaller screen. But there’s a catch – he’s okay with people watching his stuff on a smaller screen as long as it’s first released in theaters.
“The reason I don’t [have a problem with watching a Nolan movie on a phone] is because it’s put into these big theaters as its primary form, or its initial distribution,” Nolan said. “And the experience trickles down, to the extent where, if you have an iPad and you’re watching a movie, you carry with you the knowledge and your understanding of what that cinematic experience would be, and you extrapolate that. So, when you watch a TV show on your iPad, your brain is in a completely different mindset.”
In other words, if you need to watch a Nolan movie on an iPad, that’s fine – as long that movie had a chance to play on the biggest screen possible first. So we probably shouldn’t hold our breath for a Christopher Nolan Netflix movie anytime soon.