We look at why Christopher Nolan’s work keeps people talking. Films that challenge their audiences make the biggest splash. Their rippling effects end up being the topic of discussion in coffee shops, bars, podcasts, etc. The calming wake of what’s left behind is their permanence in pop culture. Filmmaker Christopher Nolan is an auteur who has systematically cranked out grand and grander contributions to the movie landscape. Simply put, any contemporary study of film will mention his name. From his earlier work, such as Memento and Insomnia, to mind-bending think pieces such as Inception and Tenet, Nolan has carved a ubiquitous presence. His name alone generates a splash in film discourse that cannot be ignored. These motivated actions of critique and study breathe in new life for a film once it has peaked theatrically (if it even gets that far).
But what is it about Nolan’s films that push and pull on film-goers? Why do they keep people in slack-jawed wonder or stunned silence once the lights come back up? While those ancillary reasons can vary, any Nolan film will be anticipated heavily. His thumbprint has spanned across a swath of genres: from comic-book terrain (The Dark Knight trilogy) to war (Dunkirk) to science fiction exploration (Interstellar). Nolan is set to release Oppenheimer next year – his first foray into biopics – about J. Robert Oppenheimer, who created the atomic bomb. It is through these ambitious leaps that Nolan dares not only himself but the moviegoer to traverse into uncharted territory. He doesn’t just make a movie; he creates an experience.
Grandness Doesn’t Overshadow the Entertainment
Christopher Nolan is keeping great company among his peers. Pop culture favorites such as Spielberg, Tarantino, and Scorcese are still working, while fresher faces such as Greta Gerwig, Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, Denis Villeneuve, and the Safdie Brothers are building their own legacies as well. However, Nolan sits comfortably between these two generations of talent. His catalog has not only steadily made money at the box office, but it has also continued to find favor with critics and audiences.
Sure, a few of his heftier plots from Tenet and Inception have left some viewers scratching their heads. But even when his rather lengthy pictures are done (the numbers were crunched, Nolan’s average film running time is 132 minutes), the consensus is that people had a great time and enjoyed the experience. Rotten Tomatoes critics’ and audiences’ scores are fresh across the board on Nolan’s directorial body of work. These responses, coupled with his nearly $4.8 billion worldwide box office returns, incontrovertibly prove his strength as a profitable and culturally significant storyteller.
Nolan Takes Bold Risks
Not one to shy from a challenge, Christopher Nolan has consistently pushed himself with each new project. He doesn’t play it safe or goes for the low-hanging opportunities. Even in the context of his Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan never doubled-down or retreaded where he was before. He has cultivated a crew that respects him. He often co-produces with his wife, Emma Thomas, and frequently writes with his brother Jonathan Nolan. Other familiar faces on staff include cinematographer Wally Phister, production designer Nathan Crowley, editor Lee Smith, and composer Hans Zimmer. Nolan often employs a revolving door of familiar faces in his cast who trust him.
Some of these include Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, and Michael Caine. This continuity allows him the license to effectively break barriers and boundaries from film to film. Is any film he has made free of flaw and convolution? Absolutely not. But it is these exact criticisms of making bloated movies with semi-confusing narratives and questionable sound mixing that give his work that extra shine. He should make mistakes. The coldness of his films has been likened to a very Kubrickian style of filmmaking. But he creates more texture than static. Growth cannot be achieved without discomfort. A lesson Nolan is writing the book on.
He often explores universal themes in his labyrinth plots. Categorized as a postmodern filmmaker, Nolan constructs threads that discuss trauma, moral ambiguity, guilt, and anxiety. The concept of time and our understanding of it serves as his most constant theme. Nolan told All Things Considered, “Time is the most cinematic of subjects. Before the movie camera came along, human beings had no way of seeing time backwards, slowed down, sped up.”
Time and its relative nature fuel characters’ motivations in Memento, Interstellar, Inception, and Tenet. These films aren’t average popcorn flair.
Greater Than the Sum of its Parts
With his nest of frequent collaborators, Nolan also pushes the technical aspects of his films. He is an avid fan of film stock such as Panavision 35mm, Panavision 70mm, and IMAX, rejecting digital filming. He shoots his films in muted tones, his actors in suits. His style is slick but not flashy. This allows the weightier themes of identity and existentialism to feel organic and not manufactured. He never films with a second unit, insisting on overseeing every shot of the movie himself. There is an audacity in his method, often choosing to shoot in interesting locations. He crafts stories with an intricate and detailed level of care. By blending in so many elements in a synchronous beauty, the end result feels like an epic or masterpiece. That’s the guarantee with Christopher Nolan. He keeps people talking.
Christopher Nolan’s next film, Oppenheimer, will be released on July 21, 2023. It stars Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Rami Malek, Josh Hartnett, Jason Clarke, Kenneth Branagh, David Dastmalchian, Dane DeHann, Jack Quaid, Alex Wolff, Casey Affleck, and Gary Oldman.