Christopher Nolan Gets a 'Lot of Complaints' About His Sound Mixing Style from Other Directors

When Tenet was released earlier this year, it was added to the list of Christopher Nolan films featuring inaudible dialogue. Fans and critics are equally flummoxed with the director’s choice of sound mixing techniques. And as it turns out, Nolan also gets criticism and “complaints” from his fellow directors.

Why viewers were frustrated with ‘Tenet’

Nolan is known for making deep, mind-bending films like Inception and Interstellar. So, with Tenet, fans expected to get another dose of his cinematic genius. But after seeing the movie in theaters, many were left frustrated, claiming they could barely hear the film’s critical dialogue.

“Honestly I was not impressed with it one bit,” one viewer wrote on Reddit. “I thought it was borderline unprofessional. It’s a very dialogue-heavy film, and you really do need to hear what characters are saying — It reminded me of that one family member or work colleague who doesn’t talk loud enough, and you have to lean in to hear.”

Some fans pointed out that inaudible sound has been prevalent in many of Nolan’s films. Loud background scores made dialogues hard to hear in Inception, Dunkirk, and Interstellar. And in The Dark Knight Rises, Bane’s (Tom Hardy) words were muffled under his face mask.

Christopher Nolan admits he uses sound differently

In 2014, when viewers criticized Nolan’s sound mixing style for Interstellar, the director admitted he liked to use different techniques for his films’ audio. “I’ve always loved films that approach sound in an impressionistic way, and that is an unusual approach for a mainstream blockbuster, but I feel it’s the right approach for this experiential film,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

“Many of the filmmakers I’ve admired over the years have used sound in bold and adventurous ways,” Nolan added. “I don’t agree with the idea that you can only achieve clarity through dialogue. Clarity of story, clarity of emotions — I  try to achieve that in a very layered way using all the different things at my disposal — picture and sound.”

But Christopher Nolan still gets complaints from other directors 

In Tom Shone’s new book, The Nolan Variations: The Movies, Mysteries, and Marvels of Christopher Nolan, the Hollywood director addressed the criticism he’s received over his sound design. When talking about Interstellar, in particular, Nolan said he was surprised at how many calls he received from fellow filmmakers.

“We got a lot of complaints,” he shared. “I actually got calls from other filmmakers who would say, ‘I just saw your film, and the dialogue is inaudible.’ Some people thought maybe the music’s too loud, but the truth was it was kind of the whole enchilada of how we had chosen to mix it.”

“It was a very, very radical mix,” Nolan continued. “I was a little shocked to realize how conservative people are when it comes to sound. Because you can make a film that looks like anything, you can shoot on your iPhone, no one’s going to complain. But if you mix the sound a certain way, or if you use certain sub-frequencies, people get up in arms.”

Fans, critics, and other filmmakers may be frustrated with Nolan’s use of sound. But the director seems quite content with his techniques. Tenet is currently running in theaters across the country. 

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