After having written an article about my favorite screenwriter of all time, I thought that it was evident that I’d write one about my favorite movie director of all time: Christopher Nolan.
I fell in love with Christopher Nolan after having seen his 2010 epic called Inception. I was amazed by the story, the visuals, the characters, the acting, the directing: everything in that movie felt right. It became an instant favorite of mine, and it stayed on number one for quite some time, until I discovered The Shawshank Redemption, which I currently see as the best film to ever be made. Inception is the film that introduced me to Nolan and made me beg for more. I wanted to see more of the genius behind Inception. So I did. I watched Memento, The Prestige and some other of his films. Including Batman Begins. While watching Batman Begins I quickly realized that I’d already seen it when I was younger, but never came to appreciate the thing that Nolan had done in this film with the character of Batman: make him cool again. Last summer, I went on a journey to watch every remaining Christopher Nolan that I hadn’t already seen, which turned out to be a not so very long journey because he doesn’t have a big filmography, merely ten films. I ended up watching his most recent film Interstellar and his oldest film Following. I even sat down and watched his first short film called Doodlebug, to see where the genius had started. Insomnia was the only film I couldn’t get my hands on, but with Dunkirk coming up, I decided to order the DVD and I’m seeing it the night before this article will go up.
But what is it that makes Nolan so special, so unique and stand out from the rest? What is it that I like so much about him, that he has become my favorite filmmaker? There are a lot of answers to those questions, but it all comes back to his style of filmmaking. The stories he wants to play on the big screen. The way he captures them, the way he tells them and the way he shows them.
Nolan’s movies practically all have one thing in common: nonlinearity. Memento is a prime example of that, but his first film Following also utilizes this story technique. The technique makes you more engaged into the story since you have to pay attention during the whole movie and search for details to finally understand what the film was about. Films Nolan makes always have something there that you have to think about to understand. There’s an underlying meaning to them and they aren’t just superficial movies. The Dark Knight wants to prove that there’s not a lot needed for someone to turn into a villain. An ordinary man can turn into someone they never thought they could turn into. Into someone insane. Like Harvey Dent did in that movie. Just like the graphic novel The Killing Joke wanted to prove. Or in Memento Leonard comes to accept his subjective reality and the whole movie is basically an exploration of the “condition” he has, to quote the movie. Nolan’s films are like puzzles given to you with the pieces scrambled around for you to put the pieces in the right order to see the full picture, and when the end credits begin to roll you have the “ah”-moment. It’s the moment you have put the pieces in the right order. It’s a satisfying moment and makes the film worth the watch. Obviously not only for that reason but also for the many reasons why you’d watch a Christopher Nolan film. The film doesn’t per se need a non-linear story to have that “ah”-moment, but it can have a twist, like The Dark Knight Rises. The movie doesn’t even need a twist, it can just have really great characters, like in The Dark Knight, which is probably the best superhero movie in the genre. It’s humane, realistic and has a fantastic villain, who is brilliantly played by Heath Ledger.
That brings me to one of the other qualities of Nolan: he gets the best out of every actor. Guy Pierce probably gave his best performance ever in Memento and one of the better performances of Hugh Jackman in The Prestige (personally found him better in Prisoners and in Logan). He works with top-class actors, but still manages to push their limits and let them give it their all.
Another reason why I appreciate him that much is because of his use of practical effects. Nolan insists on having them over CGI. He pushes limits to get what he wants and that I really admire. He built an entire hallway that was able to turn for a scene in Inception, which looked incredible and would’ve suffered from the use of CGI. He built the spaceship out of Interstellar and limited the use of green screen and had the special effects pre-made, to then project them outside of the spacecraft and film them that way to make it seem like they really were in space. To use a quote from him on Interstellar:
“We have spatial interiors. We built closed sets and shot it like a documentary like the actors were really there,” – Christopher Nolan
Nolan even made a plane fall to the ground in The Dark Knight Rises, with the actors dangling by wires. If that doesn’t show that he really wants things to be done practical, I don’t know what else will convince you. I admire his will to do so because it makes his movies feel realistic and grounded, even though it’s about a man dressed as a bat fighting crime or about a man invading another man’s dreams to steal something. That grounded portrayal and that realistic feel make the movies more engaging and relatable regardless of the fact that the movie is about something unrealistic. It’s the realistic approach that makes them so fun to watch and the use of practical effects really helps with achieving that feel. It’s definitely worth pushing limits for and that’s why I like that Nolan’s doing that one thing.
He also likes to leave the film with an ambiguous ending. Lots of people would argue that it’s annoying that he has ambiguous endings, lots of people hate them. They want to have a satisfying conclusion with everything explained, but often they don’t get them. Think of the ending of Inception, which is the cause of a ton of theories. Was Cobb dreaming, or wasn’t he? But people just totally seemed to have missed the point. It doesn’t matter if he was dreaming or not, it matters that he is happy in what he is living in. Whether it is a dream or whether it isn’t, he is happy and that’s what counts. Here’s another quote of Christopher Nolan on the film:
“He was off with his kids, he was in his own subjective reality and didn’t really care anymore. And that makes a statement that perhaps all levels of reality are equally valid” – Christopher Nolan
I could ramble on and on about Nolan. About the cinematography in his films or about the score Hans Zimmer can produce fittingly with each film Nolan has created. I could keep on giving reasons why I truly love his work, but I am going to leave it at this tiny bit about Nolan. Thanks for reading.
Be sure to check out my previous article, in which I analyze It Comes at Night, by clicking here.
Side note: in the evening you can expect a review for “Dunkirk” since the film already comes out the 19th in my country, so stay tuned for that!