This year marks the 10th year anniversary of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. This news caught me by surprise, it can’t have been that long ago, can it? Was I only 19 when I watched it? This got me thinking about Christopher Nolan, and what makes his films so special.
I have watched every single one of Christopher Nolan’s movies, well, all but one, his very first. I will probably get to it in time, when the stars align in my favor. For the sake of today’s post, I will be focusing on the movies I have watched, and why I can proudly proclaim Nolan’s position as one of my favorite directors.
His Use of Realism and Practical Effects
Did you know that Nolan planted 500 acres of corn for Interstellar, because he didn’t want to use CGI for the farm? That’s dedication. After the CGI debacle that was Henry Cavill’s face in Justice League, I feel a more moderate use of CGI might not be a bad thing. Nolan’s preoccupation with practical effects has given us wonderful scenes, like the opening plane scene in The Dark Knight Rises, which is one of Nolan’s favorites. He actually supervised the shooting of that scene from a helicopter! There are numerous other examples, like how he built clones of Ellen Page and Leonardo DiCaprio for the mirror scene in Inception or the truck flip in The Dark Knight. His belief is that audiences can sense when things are actually there and when they are computer generated, so he goes an extra mile to make it an authentic experience for us.
Recently, you might have heard that Nolan turned down the opportunity to direct the next Bond movie. But fret not, he is not saying no forever. One day he might take on the glorious mantle — just not yet. What is interesting is that his movie The Dark Knight actually influenced Sam Mendes’ approach to Skyfall. The fact that Nolan could create a movie that is entertaining, yet provide social commentary on the world we live in, was something that stuck with Mendes. It definitely shows in the movie, where we go deeper into Bond’s past, as well as the introduction of the most diabolical villain Bond has come up against so far.
Currently Matt Reeves, who has done a fantastic job on the Planet of the Apes franchise, is set to usher in a new presentation of Batman. He is aware of the large shoes he has to fill, and has mentioned his intention to look to Nolan’s universe for inspiration. The Batman origin story wasn’t exactly a thriving universe before Nolan picked it up, especially after the disaster that was Batman and Robin. Nolan gave it momentum, and because of him, the world gets to continue and hopefully, improve with age.
His Preoccupation with Time
Regardless of the genre, most of Christopher Nolan’s films deal with some element of time. In Interstellar, we are presented with a kind of time travel, through the theory of relativity. We see the characters finding out that one hour on a planet amounts to 7 years, experiencing time dilation. The concept of the 5th dimension is explored, where all states of time can be accessed.
For Dunkirk, the film’s narrative is shaped by 3 different timelines, occurring on land, sea and sky. When we are on the beach, he slows it down for us. Long lingering shots of the soldiers on the beach, just waiting to be rescued. When we move to the sea, there is a greater sense of urgency, as we bob around in the water on Mr. Dawson’s ship, with more interior shots to bring us into the action. Lastly, he takes us to the air, where we see the pilots in the cockpit but also at times see things from their perspective as well. He shows us the speed of the planes so we feel the quickness of he pacing. Then he shows us the moment where all three timelines overlap, which forms the film’s climax.
In Insomnia, which I feel is one of his most underrated films, he sets us in a location where our protagonist is always exposed to the sun, because it never sets. If it never sets, how do we feel the turnaround of a new day? Our protagonist is hence unable to outrun the past, haunted by a moment which never seems to recede. All this is exacerbated by his insomnia, or does it cause it?
I mean, need I go on? Time is a consistent factor in his movies, and yet he never uses it the same way, either embedding it within the structure of his film or melding it together with the genre he explores.
I first noticed the soundscape when I watched Inception. Hans Zimmer’s “Mind Heist” was something I couldn’t get out of my head, which makes sense given the title. The slow creeping sound to give the heist feel before increasing in energy to the signature foghorn. Christopher Nolan always remains in close talks with his sound team, recognizing that a good soundscape is as integral to the movie watching experience as the visuals.
When Matthew McConaughey drives through the cornfield in Interstellar, Nolan actually rode on the back of the car, filming point of view shots, as well as wanting the sound to bring across the exhilaration and chaos in the scene. The choice to have a reading of Dylan Thomas Do not go gentle into that good night in Interstellar is so emotionally stirring. I had tears in my eyes as I listened to Michael Caine read it, the quiet intensity of the poem contrasted with the loud blast of the takeoff.
His addition of little details, like recording the sound of his own pocket watch for Dunkirk, and sending it to Zimmer to weave into the score. There is such a thoughtfulness to his work, and this really comes across when I watch his films again, and gain new insights every time I do.
His Ability to Deliver Blockbusters Yet Never Skimping on the Narrative
Dunkirk was the first movie I ever watched in IMAX, and I am forever grateful to my brother for suggesting that we do this. I can honestly say that I felt a sensory overload after the movie, my mind overcome with the rich hue of images. I felt like I had watched something that is definitely Oscar material, but it also felt like a blockbuster movie that people would watch; the fact that it made $500 million cements this idea.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his Batman trilogy, action packed goodness which never loses sight of its narrative. At all times, he gives us well-developed characters and compelling antagonists. Bruce Wayne, haunted by the death of his parents, ridden with guilt, trying to outrun his past. But when Gotham is threatened, he is willing to torch his brand new haven to save it. So while he ran away before, he proved that when it counts, he will push through the pain to do what’s right. This is consistent throughout the trilogy.
Bruce is set in contrast to men like Harvey Dent and Bane. Dent lets the emotional pain of loss overcome him, giving into the darkness, while Bruce, who was also dealing with the death of Rachel, doubled down on his efforts to stop the joker and deal with dent. Bane was born in the shadows, but he never had the courage to leave it. Bruce fought through his injuries of a broken back (a bit hyperbolic but he is Batman), healed himself, pushed himself through the pain and decided to make the climb without the rope, as usual putting all of himself out there, never holding back.
His films have quite an A-list actor presence, which definitely helps in box office earnings. Actors like Al Pacino and Robin Williams, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard, even interesting choices like Harry Styles for Dunkirk. Nolan knows how to draw a mainstream crowd, and he never underestimates us. He tells the story the way he wants to, nothing more, nothing less.
I think the true mettle of a director comes from us watching a film of theirs, and instantly seeing a recognisable style, an oeuvre that is undeniably theirs. When we watch a Wes Anderson film, the use of symmetry and the whimsy qualities marks it as authentically Wes. Christopher Nolan puts so much of himself into his films. He leaves his mark on everything, script, sound, sight – all this he tightly wraps into a present for us, a distinctly Nolan experience.
Thank you for reading! What are you thoughts on Christopher Nolan? Comment down below!
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