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Christopher Nolan

13 Ratings: 4.2
A British film director

Christopher Jonathan James Nolan (born 30 July 1970) is a British-American filmmaker, writer and producer. The son of an English father and American mother, Nolan is a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and the United States. He is married to Emma Thomas, … see full wiki

1 review about Christopher Nolan

A Remarkable Director

  • Jul 27, 2009
There are quite a few talented directors in the filming industry, and they do a good job at what they do.  On the other hand, there are quite a few that can make you scratch your head sometimes.  It's certainly not an easy profession to dwell into, but when it pays off it does.  When the director is skilled the reward is far more amusing.  Of course, not every director is for everyone.  Christopher Nolan began as an independent film director.  And Independent Films are definitely not for everyone.  As a result, Nolan may be quite a talented director, but not exactly the kind that will please everyone because of his often unique style.  Yet this is also the reason so many are captivated by Nolan's work.  In short, Christopher Nolan, like most independent film directors (Quentin Tarantino comes to mind) is a director you'll either love or hate.  There's hardly a "Christopher Nolan is okay," kind of person out there.  You typically run into people who love him or hate him.  But even more amusing than that is how you might run into someone who loves his mainstream films but hates his independent and vice versa.  In short, Christopher Nolan is quite a versatile man.

But what makes Nolan such an amsuing director?  HIs style is more of a combination of things than anything else.  Nolan often directs dark and mysterious films.  But at the forefront of it all there is usually an emphasis on story and character development.  If that IS your thing, then Christopher Nolan is definitely an amusing director.  Even in his more action oriented movies he makes sure to hold on to strong themes, characters and story.  Nolan has stated himself that he is no big fan of CGI and it shows in many of his films.

It should be known however, that he doesn't have nearly as big a body of work as people might think.  Also, that his films often take on very similar themes, but still manage to be very different from one another.  Even when viewing some of his student films, it is safe to say that Christopher Nolan was developing a unique style of his own:

As I mentioned, Nolan is primarily a story teller.  He often doesn't like directing films that don't have a good story or something he can deal well with.  Today most people recognize Nolan as the Director of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  Yet those of us who came to know Nolan before were perhaps interested in him through Memento.  It was the story of a man who suffered from a memory condition, and he slowly pieces things together thanks to tattoos and photos to find out who murdered his wife.  The movie plays out in almost entirely flashbacks.  Memento shows many of Nolan's familiar themes at work.  The number one of which is how the protagonist is usually striving for such good in the face of adversity.  Or, in some cases it's vengence... in fact, a LOT of his movies center on the theme of vengence at some point.  In Memento it's our protagonist avenging his wife.  In the Prestige another character tries to avenge his wife.  In Batman Begins Wayne, of course, wants to avenge his parents murder.  But in the midst of this vengence theme, Nolan never slumps on developing characters in the process.  He is often also in charge of the screenplays (and often works with his brother Johnathan).  When Nolan takes total control he takes total control.

Another stylistic feature of Nolan is how he constructs his stories and develops characters.  With the exception of The Dark Knight, a great deal of his films start with a flashback of some sort, or sometimes at the end.  Memeto, The Prestige and Batman Begins are perfect examples of this sort of thing.  It's a way to help us understand who the character is and why he is in a quest to do what he is doing.  In terms of character development, Nolan is a fantastic craftsman of film.  Batman Begins is probably his best look at character development and depth.  This is because as Nolan develops characters he goes well beyond the "Here's the good guy and here's the bad guy."  In Batman Begins for example we see how Bruce comes to be Batman and how he does so is a very amusing story.  We see Bruce as a kid and a troubled youth.  Then we see as he becomes Batman and changes from being one who seeks vengence to being one who seeks revenge.

Yet, as I said, he's well beyond simple "good guy" and "bad guy" setups.  In The Prestige, for example, both of our rivalry magicians are unique characters, but both of them are also flawed characters who are doing what it takes to sabatoge each other.  There's an obvious protagonist, but who among these two is the bad guy, exactly?  We come to learn who is the lesser of two evils, but neither of them are truly the "bad guy" within the movies.  To put it more simple, Nolan makes them both quite human.  

When he does have a clear badguy the motive is usually not so stark and one-sided.  In Batman Begins Ras Al Ghul is our bad guy but believes he is doing what he is doing to save Gotham from itself... again, it takes on a form a little bigger because Ras sees himself as a hero rather than not.  The best example of a villain of course... is the Joker.  Who explicitly states just WHY he's the way he is.  And while it isn't complex, it gives us an understanding. 

And what of his good guys?  They're always good but flawed in some way.  In Memento our main character can easily be manipulated thanks to his condition.  In Insomnia Al Pacino's character has to deal with the fact that he killed his partner in pursuit of a killer (and a killer who won't let him forget that he did it).  In The Prestige one magician loses his fingers while the other loses his wife.  And throughout their respective rivalries both suffer terrible loses in part because of their flaws.  The Prestige is perhaps one of Nolan's best films to showcase how complex he can make his characters.  There's nothing perfect about them.

Another technique Nolan has mastered is by far the non-linear story.  This is hard to get a grasp on.  Quentin Tarantino did it marvlously in those Kill Bill movies, but Nolan did it very well in The Prestige and Memento.  Memento consist of several flashbacks while The Prestige starts at the end, then goes back to the beginning of our characters lives and then jumps right back into the middle.  Yet the story in both films is quite coherent.  Even if Memento requires a second glimpse to fully understand (on one of the DVD releases you can watch it forward if you'd like).  But in doing so he manages to really develop his characters in a way very few directors care to do.

Nolan also has a knack for casting.  He can usually do a good job in this regard (although he seems to favor Michael Caine a lot).  Who'd have thought Robin Williams could play such an amusing serial killer and such a serious role?  Well, Nolan did, and Williams did a good job.  Remember when Heath Ledger was first cast as The Joker for The Dark Knight?  There was a huge outcry at first, but when the movie debuted no one argued whether or not he was good or not... everyone was on the same page.  Likewise, when asked why he wanted Heath Ledger, Nolan replied: "Because he's fearless."  What we have is a director who knows what he's capable of and doesn't have to have a huge ego to do it like say... M. Night Shyamalan.

Of course, if you're one for action, then the Batman movies are about the only chance of that you'll get from Nolan.  He doesn't put a whole lot of explosions and whatnot in his films.  When he does, however, it's nice that they aren't in the form of CGI and that they're real.  It makes the experience much more amusing to watch.  But he also tells stories good enough to be interested in.  And he does it in a very serious manner.  He doesn't skimp on humor, but you don't get a whole lot.  In short, if you like dark films, you'll get that from Nolan.  If you want films which have happy endings... well, you won't get that.  In fact the closest we get to a happy ending is Batman Begins.  But for that you still have to deal with films like Memento, Insomnia and The Dark Knight which have endings that are very dark and grim.  In The Dark Knight our hero doesn't even win the battle (but he certainly doesn't lose the war).  Christopher Nolan is not big on happy endings or feel good stories.  But if you are into thought provoking films and thematic structure, then Nolan is the director for you.

If there was anything that some might be bothered by, even fans, it may be that the pacing of his films can be a little slow for those expecting quite a bit.  Since he focuses so much on character development you can sometimes be in for a long haul, even in his shorter films.  The Dark Knight, for example is perhaps his best work (though sometimes I tend to think Memento is better) but it is also a long film because of how much time he spends showing us just who Batman, The Joker and Harvey Dent are.  They never move at a snails pace, but they are often slow.  There's nothing wrong with this when you have a big climax or when you've got interesting transitions and dialog.  Luckly Nolan does all of the above.  He has a way of making the climax of a film seem chaotic by his nifty editing, shifts and cuts.  The Prestige is a great example.  But he is also a master of dialog (The Dark Knight being the best of the lot) and exposition.  His films are often crafted very well that the slow pace isn't so bad because it isn't boring.

Yet it is because of all these techniques that Nolan isn't for everyone.  Nolan isn't always plain and direct with what he directs.  He isn't so concerned with making his movies complex as he is with making sure they're done in a very specific style.  His own.  Not everyone likes the thought-provoking, character driven nature.  And A LOT of people don't like the idea of not getting a happy ending.  Nolan is great at what he does and doesn't try too hard, but he does have those who may not enjoy that he is so meticulous and stubborn about what he does.  He often likes his movies to be grounded in some kind of reality.  It's why his Batman films are so gritty and less surreal than what you got before.  But he has also crossed off several villains because he can't convey them in a real way.

In the end, however, it's because of all these different stylistic things that Nolan is able to distinguish himself.  He's amusing because he's so unique in his approach to film.  It is definitely not like everyone else.  This is mostly because he combines so many different styles from so many different directors so well, and he takes more control of his films than people think.  But so far he has yet to reach higher than he's capable of reaching. 

He may not be for everyone, but his style is enough to make people curious and want to check him out.  He doesn't have too much under his belt, but he is becoming a unique director in his own right.

Flimography (those in bold are highly recommended by yours truly).  The Flimography is from the IMDB and does not include films that have yet to be released

  1. The Dark Knight(2008)
  2. The Prestige (2006)
  3. Batman Begins (2005)
  4. Cinema16: British Short Films (2003) (V)
  5. Insomnia (2002/I)
  6. Memento (2000)
  7. Following (1998)

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