There will be no Rosebud (pun intended) in Christopher Nolan’s Citizen Hughes. Only extreme paranoia, corrupt politicians, expensive errand boys, racism, and nuclear detonations.
DAYLIGHT. The camera pans across the searing Nevada desert. There seems to be miles upon miles of barren land with no civilization insight.
INT. A heavily withered and frail hand is writing in a notepad. As the hand continues writing, it is clear that the person is having trouble generating legible prose. This is due to his incredibly long and gnarled brownish-yellow nails.
EXT. There is a small but heavily reinforced bunker in the desert. Inside the bunker are one civilian (presumably a scientist) and three junior military officers. The camera cuts again to an artillery crew. The crew is enlisted soldiers and they are loading what looks like conventional 105mm artillery shells into a howitzer. What happens next is strange. The crew fires the shell and immediately run in the bunker and slams its steel door shut.
EXT. Cont. An enormous and incredibly bright flash is seen in the reflection of a secluded Mansion’s window. The window rattles violently until a single small crack forms in its center.
INT. The Mansion rattles as though a magnitude 7 earthquake has struck. Despite the mansion’s appearance being immaculate, the minuscule dust on the ceiling and drapes is shown falling down in high-speed motion due to the atomic explosion.
The dust settles on the lap of the frail old man. The camera pans up to Howard Hughes’ liver-spotted, clammy, malnourished, and absolutely damn ugly face.
Howard Hughes (in calm but gravelly and agitated voice)
Get Robert Maheu on the fucking phone…now.
Okay, I know that I am no director, certainly no Nolan. But this is my feeble attempt to imagine what the opening scene of Christopher Nolan’s Howard Hughes project might possibly be. There is indeed a nuclear explosion in Michael Drosnin’s Citizen Hughes. However, it does not occur until midway through the biography. But this scenario is not too far fetched since Mr. Nolan is known for his non-linear story telling. And as the tagline of this article suggests, there will be ample opportunity for Nolan and company to expand upon their themes of grief, perception and paranoia. Chris Corbould will probably not be as challenged by this possible project as he was in The Dark Knight, Quantum of Solace, and especially in Inception and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises. However with atomic detonations aside, there is a need for close collaboration between the visual effects teams and set designers to create a world that captures the psychosis of a former brilliant aviator, filmmaker, and businessman. A world of being transported to secluded destinations under the cover of nightfall and vehicles with darkly tinted windows. A world of only being touched and seen by meticulously selected Mormon caregivers. The set design and subtle visual effects needed to convey all of the previously mentioned would still need at least a 50 million dollar or more budget.
I know that faultfinders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would have a few things to say about the idea of Sammy Davis Jr. being used as a pawn to deter blacks from moving into the vicinity of Hughes’ neighborhood. But Davis Jr. was not always a favorite of some black 1950s-1960s American Citizens. He was a Republican Jew whom publicly ridiculed then Senator Kennedy during the 1960 election. Therefore he wasn’t Christian or Democrat, a huge unviable proposition amongst many African Americans. But the story of a person of a particular race being used as an insider against his or her own race needs to be told.
And although Nolan has not yet made a film that was deemed “controversial” per se, he has attention to detail will work wonders with making a story with true events seem authentic yet highly entertaining. Unfortunately Sammy Davis Jr. was never physically in the novel, only utilized as an unseen pawn on the chessboard of the reclusive billionaire. This is more of a subjective want of my own, but casting an actor to portray Davis Jr. or another reluctant African American socialite could bring Nolan and Drosnin’s material to an even grander scale.
Of course the most interesting subject in Citizen Hughes is Hughes himself. Nolan wanted rubber-face Jim Carrey to have the title role, before Martin Scorsese’s well received (and rightfully so) The Aviator premiered. Along with many others, I am well aware that Jim Carrey can pull off non-comedic roles. But it’s extremely difficult to think of any actor who could embody the man present in Drosnin’s work. When I think of a pre-existing theatrical character that reminds me of the Drosnin’s Howard Hughes, Gary Oldman’s Mason Verger from Hannibal comes to mind. Only Hughes’ once handsome face was destroyed by his over compulsiveness; not drug induced by a sadistic John Hopkins Medical School graduate.
Bottom line: Warner Bros should give free reign over this project, for it may fit the more mainstream criteria that the Academy usually awards. And although I still think that Inception was a craftier film than The King’s Speech, historical works usually take home the coveted gold statue.