To coincide with this weekend’s release of World War-II epic Dunkirk, we’ll be shining the spotlight on Christopher Nolan. His name alone makes his upcoming films unmissable as he evokes the same seal-of-quality feel you have come to expect from his peers such as Steven Spielberg and David Fincher – Christopher Nolan is a true heavyweight filmmaker of modern times.
A Brief History
Nolan’s directorial debut was the low-budget 1998 movie Following. Clocking in at 69-minutes and shot in black and white, it’s a taut little thriller in every sense and establishes some of Nolan’s hallmark narrative beats that are prominent throughout most of his later films. Following was critically lauded during its film festival run and allowed the London-born filmmaker his first crack at the big time with the modestly budgeted Memento.Memento is supremely original and immersive testing its audience to piece together clues and Polaroids through the eyes of Guy Pearce as he tries to find the murderer of his wife, whilst battling his crippling short-term memory loss every step of the way. The movie proved to be an instant modern classic and helped secure a budget nearly ten times larger for his next film, the 2002-released Insomnia.
Insomnia was a box-office hit and cemented Christopher Nolan’s place as a critics’ darling. It would be a couple of years before he committed to the driver’s seat once again, but in that ether of time he was toying with a Howard Hughes biopic and rejected the director’s job on Troy. Nolan was then handed the cape and cowl to save Batman, Warner Brother’s attempt to resurrect the ailing icon after the bat nips bullshit of Batman & Robin. It’s not unfair to say the director helped reinvent the face of comic book movies, turning in the moody yet accessible Batman Begins (2005). It was with Begins that Nolan shifted gears into the popularisation of the mainstream, but staying true to his roots and inspirations, his Batman reboot was more in line with the grandeur imagery of Blade Runner and grounded in real life practicality.The Prestige followed in 2006 setting the stage in 19th-century London, and even though it was a much-scaled back affair compared to that of his previous Gotham city sized blockbuster, the magic was not lost on audiences nor critics. To this date, the defining chapter of his legacy continues to be The Dark Knight (2008). The filmmaker’s adoration of IMAX leant the Batman Begins sequel a huge scope and I cannot think of a film in recent memory so influential to giving the medium such a pivotal berth in the movie-going experience. The film was shrouded in tragedy, with the untimely loss of Heath Ledger before the film was completed, but ultimately Ledger was the ace in the pack for a film Nolan meticulously realised.Mindbending all-star ensemble Inception was released in 2010 to a rapturous response; the film picked up Oscars for Cinematography and Visual Effects, elements that are so unique in Nolan films for his preference to shoot as much in-camera as possible using traditional film stock as opposed to digital. The curse of the threequel slowed his momentum with 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, which unfortunately has more plot holes than thrills. Not that the esteemed auteur was ever in any danger of falling off his pedestal, 2014 marked a solid comeback for the director’s first foray into space with the existential end-of-the-world blockbuster Interstellar.
It’s well publicised Christoper Nolan has always, and continues, to shun shooting his movies in digital. He doesn’t believe there is a need to change from using film stock discrediting digital as being more expensive and less pristine. In the past Nolan has shot his movies in a combination of 35mm and IMAX; he’s going one step further with Dunkirk filming it entirely in 65mm and IMAX. That means it promises to be absolutely huge. I think one of the most glorious scenes I have ever witnessed was the bank robbery scene in The Dark Knight at the IMAX. Let’s see how much further Nolan can push film’s relevance in a digital age with Dunkirk.
Remember the backlash when Nolan employed Heath Ledger as the Joker? It was a casting choice met with genuine scorn; criticism sounding off from every corner of the internet ranging from Ledger being “too pretty” for the job or fans having a disdain for his previous roles. Never have so many people been proved wrong as Ledger delivered a universally-praised performance winning a posthumous Oscar; unprecedented for a comic-book movie. It’s not just his casting of Ledger that raised eyebrows though with Robin Williams and David Bowie‘s respective turns in Insomnia and The Prestige initially being met with surprise.
Nolan continues his ingenuity for throwing a casting curveball with Harry Styles – And I for one can’t wait to see the pop star’s performance.
Nolan’s films are by no means straightforward stories, literally. Memento is probably the best example of this; written by his brother Jonathan Nolan, the psychological thriller starts with the end scene and ends with the beginning of the story; this is because it’s structured as a non-linear narrative. Whilst the film is playing in reverse, every 15-minutes (which is in sync with how long Guy Pearce’s character’s memory lasts) a chronological scene is inserted, so our perception of the film is as fragmented as the main character’s. Nolan cleverly uses strong visual cues such as extreme close-ups and black & white photography to help the audience decipher key clues and define the order of sequence. Check out this rad video from A-A-RONproductions that explains in more depth:
With a plethora of absolute classics to choose from it’s entirely subjective which Christopher Nolan movie you deem quintessential. For me, it has to be The Dark Knight. I genuinely regard Batman Begins as such a definitive movie in not only its genre but also personally; the real world aesthetic Nolan injected into Begins along with the most believable Batman we ever saw at that point finally gave me a comic-book movie to cherish. Then The Dark Knight comes along and it’s essentially what The Godfather Part II is to The Godfather; The Empire Strikes Back to Star Wars.
Whilst many sequels fall down the wayside buckling under the weight of audiences expectations, the rare few actually outdo their predecessors in every department. The Dark Knight enters that pantheon, raising the stakes tenfold it stands firmly as the best and most uncompromising movie of its genre.
If you got down to the end thanks for reading this week’s Spotlight On! If you fancy reminiscing about The Dark Knight with me hit me up in the comments below and be sure to let us know what you think about Dunkirk.