Movies that challenge their audience make the biggest splash. Their ripple effects end up being the talking point in cafes, bars, podcasts, and more. The soothing wake of what remains is their permanence in pop culture. Filmmaker Christopher Nolan is an auteur who has consistently made increasingly larger contributions to the cinematic landscape. Simply put, any contemporary study of cinema will mention his name. From his earlier works, such as Memento and Insomnia, to mind-blowing thought pieces such as Creation and Principle, Nolan has carved out an ubiquitous presence. His name alone generates a splash in cinematic discourse that cannot be ignored. These purposeful actions of criticism and study breathe new life into a film once it hits its theatrical peak (if it even goes that far).
But what about Nolan’s films that push and attract moviegoers? Why do they keep people in awe or stunned silence once the lights come back on? While these ancillary reasons may vary, any Nolan movie will be highly anticipated. His imprint has spanned a multitude of genres: from the comic strip field (The Dark Knight Trilogy) at war (Dunkirk) to science fiction exploration (Interstellar). Nolan is about to come out 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 also the cinephile, to cross into uncharted territory. He’s not just making a movie; it creates an experience.
Greatness doesn’t eclipse entertainment
Christopher Nolan keeps excellent company among his peers. Pop culture favorites such as Spielberg, Tarantino and Scorcese still work, while fresher faces such as Greta Gerwig, Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, Denis Villeneuve and the Safdie brothers are also building their own legacies. However, Nolan sits comfortably between these two generations of talent. Its catalog not only consistently made money at the box office, it also continued to find favor with critics and audiences.
Of course, some of his heaviest plots of Principle and Creation left some viewers scratching their heads. But even when his rather lengthy footage is done (numbers were squeezed, Nolan’s average film length is 132 minutes), the consensus is that people had a good time and enjoyed the experience. Ratings from Rotten Tomatoes critics and audiences are fresh in all areas of Nolan’s directorial work. These responses, coupled with its nearly $4.8 billion worldwide box office receipts, indisputably prove its strength as a profitable and culturally significant storyteller.
Nolan takes bold risks
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Christopher Nolan has constantly pushed himself with each new project. He doesn’t play it safe or look for the opportunities at hand. Even as part of his Black Knight trilogy, Nolan never doubled or retreaded where he was before. He has formed a crew that respects him. He often co-produces with his wife, Emma Thomas, and writes frequently with his brother Jonathan Nolan. Other familiar faces on the 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 them include Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Michael Caine. This continuity allows him to effectively break down barriers and borders from one film to another. Are there any films he has made that are free from flaws and convolutions? Absolutely not. But it’s these exact critiques of making bloated films with semi-confused narratives and questionable sound mixing that give his work that extra sparkle. He should make mistakes. The coldness of his films has been likened to a very Kubrickian style of cinema. But it creates more texture than static. Growth cannot happen without discomfort. A lesson that Nolan writes the book about.
He often explores universal themes in his labyrinthine plots. Categorized as a postmodern filmmaker, Nolan constructs threads that deal with trauma, moral ambiguity, guilt and anxiety. The concept of time and our understanding of it is his most constant theme. Nolan told All Things Considered, “Time is the most cinematic subject. Before the advent of the camera, human beings had no way of seeing time upside down, slowed down, sped up.”
Time and its relative nature fuel the motivations of the characters in Memento, Interstellar, Creation, and Principle. These films are not the average popcorn style.
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 films 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 larger themes of identity and existentialism to feel organic and not fabricated. He never films with a second unit, insisting on supervising every shot of the film himself. There is a boldness to his method, often choosing to shoot in interesting locations. He creates stories with an intricate and detailed level of care. By blending so many elements into synchronous beauty, the end result looks like an epic or a masterpiece. That’s the guarantee with Christopher Nolan. He gets people talking.
Christopher Nolan’s next movie, Oppenheimerwill 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.
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