Each month, Quench looks at different directors’ selected filmography. We take a look at Christopher Nolan for December’s online feature.
Christopher Nolan is one of the most well known modern directors. From making stop motion films as a child with his dad’s super 8 camera, he went on to make short films as a part of UCL film society where he studied English Literature, and from there to direct and produce some of the highest grossing films of all time. As a filmmaker he has managed to combine mainstream success with complex ideas in psychological suspense-filled thrillers. He could be described as an equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock for this age; a meticulous, technically knowledgeable director, pushing the boundaries of mainstream cinema.
His films often have grand themes: dream worlds, space travel, crime and conflict, with constantly driving narratives that build to huge and powerful crescendos. Often his films are non-linear, rearranging time and the order of events to build the narrative. He often uses cross cutting and simultaneous events to enhance the spectacular action sequences in his films.
Stylistically his films are influenced by film noir and have a rich and realistic quality that may be due to his decision to favour film over digital, and live action over its virtual counterpart. The scores to his films have had a particular influence, and his creative collaboration with composer Hans Zimmer has lead to some of the most powerful film soundtracks, with a scale and an impact that is the musical equivalent of the themes and visuals of his films.
But within the spectacle and the action, his films always have a human component. Often at the centre is the personal relationship between two people, the bond between two family members, that makes the action relatable, giving his films an emotional depth missing from other Hollywood blockbusters.
From his earlier detective style stories, to the world of Gotham city, to the heist narrative of dreams in Inception and the Stanley Kubrick inspired space and time travel story of Interstellar, each of his films has had a wider scope as he takes on narratives and themes on a larger and larger scale.
Nolan’s first film is just over an hour long and shot in black and white; a neo-noir crime story about, Bill, a young unemployed writer, who begins following people in the streets of London under the idea that is for artistic material. His voyeurism and his curiosity eventually get him involved with Cobb, a burglar, who draws Bill into his illegal profession and a complicated scenario in which Bill always seems to a few steps behind.
Written, shot, directed and funded by Nolan himself and with his friends playing the central characters, there are characteristics in Following that would go on to define his later films. Non-linear sequences and the cross cutting of action, which Nolan said were a way not only to enhance the action, but to limit the expense of the film, and the modernised noir feel, are all elements that became a part of his later films.
There may be a number of aspects that are far weaker in Following, which Nolan openly admits, and many of these are clearly due to budget. Elements like sound and cinematography, a slightly confused narrative, as well as some poorly written dialogue and noticeable acting. But the whole film remains highly watchable, with moments of engaging emotion and suspense particularly in the climactic sequence. As a first full length film on a low budget it clearly shows the reason that Nolan was picked up as a talented young director, and it remains interesting viewing for Nolan fans and for general watching.
If you enjoy brain teasers, you will definitely love Memento. This film, directed and written by Christopher Nolan, will catch your attention from the first minute with its unsolved puzzles and nostalgic atmosphere. Memento is a film where Nolan explores the non-linear narrative popularized by Orson Welles on Citizen Kane, and which has become a very popular narrative technique since the late 40’s, widely used on Quentin Tarantino’s and David Lynch’s films.
Going backwards and forwards, Leonard (Guy Pearce) is on a 113 minute quest searching for his wife’s murderer, using unorthodox methods to remember important facts. After the accident, Leonard cannot create new memories, as his short-term memory skills has been affected by it. The last thing he can remember is the rape and murder of his wife, which drives him on an endless quest for revenge. While new faces will keep crossing on his way, Leonard will only be able to react to his instincts rather than his knowledge.
Memento is one of the first films that actually starts with the end of the story, making it, for me, one of Christopher Nolan’s masterpieces. It is a film that you will need to watch more than once to entirely capture its photographic essence, and has an incredibly heart touching script that will keep you reflecting on how we build our own reality based on our memories.
This film is definitely a must for any film lover, or anyone willing to expand their film collection. If you have not watched it yet, then go and grab a bowl of popcorn and prepare to get immersed in the beauty of this unconventional script and its extraordinary actors.
The Dark Knight (2008)
The idea that The Dark Knight revolutionised the superhero genre isn’t just hype. Building upon Batman Begins, a superb film in its own right, The Dark Knight takes an ever-recycled formula and turns it on its head – generating imitators of all stripes to follow suit.
What Christopher Nolan achieved in this film was not simply a gritty realism that kept fans on the edge of their seats, but an experience of character rarely seen in previous comic-book films, complemented by astonishingly original set-piece action which Nolan can safely claim as his trademark. It’s a master-class in tone, a brilliant depiction of an urban nightmare masterminded by a genuinely chilling villain…
The Dark Knight would not be what it is without the genius of Heath Ledger. His Oscar winning depiction of the Joker as a cackling, lick-lipping, blade-wielding, psychopathic, smart-talking lunatic is the sort of performance every actor of his ilk wishes they could’ve pulled off had they landed such a coveted role. Ledger as the Joker is now synonymous with Batman lore; in his performance he escaped the potential trappings of the superhero genre to become revered as one of the greatest movie villains of all time. His patchy clown make-up, horror stories of scars, and the line “why so serious” are iconic, so much so that perhaps a posthumous Oscar doesn’t do him enough credit.
It goes to show how great a film is when so many of its strengths can be identified without even beginning to mention the actual story, which, unsurprisingly, is a corker; interweaving the fall from grace of Harvey Dent, the humble heroism of Jim Gordon (the movie’s real hero?) Rachel’s doomed love triangle, the steady presence of Michael Caine’s Alfred, and the theme that Bruce Wayne (Batman) is only human, all mired in Gotham’s underworld feuding sullied by the Joker’s madness and anarchism, Nolan pulls together everything that makes the Batman franchise great and puts on a show. It’s a rare film in that repeat viewing (for me anyway) brings near equal enjoyment. Even people who dislike superhero films enjoy it, because, although it’s a cliché to say it, The Dark Knight really does ‘transcend the genre’, into realms rarely touched in cinema, a grand crime tragedy on par with The Godfather films and yet in a category all on its own. It’s the film that the long-storied Batman saga deserves, and one that only Christopher Nolan could make.
A blockbuster movie that entertains and intrigues its audience, Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception is one of his best. A two and a half hour epic, Nolan takes us along a journey that weaves in and out of reality and dream, as we question which is which alongside the characters of the film.
Inception is based on the notion that experts can enter our dreams with the aim of stealing ideas from our subconscious mind or, with the aim of placing ideas within the dreamer’s mind. The latter is known as ‘Inception’, and it is this aim that Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo Dicaprio, seeks to achieve as the film progresses.
With a cast surrounding Dicaprio featuring the likes of Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, it is not hard to see why Inception is such a success. Nolan uses the stellar cast to his full advantage to navigate us through the complicated plot, and we are able to feel the same confusion as his characters do when they are unsure what is dream and what is reality. By experiencing the uncertainty the characters are experiencing, we feel empathy towards the protagonist Cobb, who simply wants to see his children once again. Cobb’s past is complex and messy; he is unable to go back to America and is filled with remorse and guilt meaning his dreams and the dreams he enters are haunted by his late wife. This gives the film another layer and adds poignancy, and with the help of this ‘dream team’, the rules that govern the different layers of the dream worlds are explained to the audience in full. Despite the accumulation of varying layers of the film, it never gets overwhelming. Nolan gets the balance between action, emotion and education spot on, and this is complemented throughout by a compelling Hans Zimmer soundtrack.
A truly engaging film to get your head spinning and your heart pounding, Nolan’s Inception is certainly one to watch.
Christopher Nolan has always strove to boggle our minds as much as humanely possible with his films, but honestly even with my experience in his cinematic universe, I found Interstellar a hard pill to swallow.
Matthew McConaughey features as Joe Cooper, a widowed ex-NASA astronaut who alongside is son and daughter, is faced with the prospect of a dying Earth due to a blight making farming nigh-impossible. However thanks to the help of a ‘Poltergeist’ Ex-Machina in the form of geographical co-ordinates, Cooper discovers that a facility headed by the mysterious Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) is attempting to locate habitable planets for humanity to settle on. The fantastic array of actors in this film allows for an incredible performance by all. McConaughey is particularly fantastic at playing a family man forced into an uncompromising position, and one particular tear-jerker of a scene later in the film is extremely hard-hitting because of his ability to portray somebody faced by a grave uncertainty, and elicit sympathy from the audience. Anne Hathaway also gives an exemplary performance as a scientist assisting the mission, although sometimes in some emotional scenes it can seem quite wooden.
However, as the narrative progresses, the story becomes way too convoluted. It tries to ground itself in a strict progression of events and then by the end I was left utterly baffled by how much the story had leapt in another direction completely. The inability to keep up with the narrative can be argued however, as a staple of Nolan’s storytelling; Inception is a clear example of this. It must be stressed that this film does attempt to lay a huge and interesting twist, but the impact just isn’t felt. The music, effects and cinematography are all excellent. I had a few minor discrepancies about how some of the scenes with Cooper interacting with his family felt like they were too long, but otherwise, a satisfying movie if you enjoy digging to find the underlying meaning.