Dissecting Christopher Nolan!

Last Updated on August 2, 2021


Cannot wait! T-minus 10 days until the official launch of Christopher Nolan's INTERSTELLAR. F*ck yeah, friends! Really, is there a more anticipated genre joint of A-list prestige touching-down this year? If so, I can't think of one. Real shite, Chris Nolan has become the preeminent purveyor of artistic commerce – blending high and low brow, independent and mainstream sensibilities – perhaps in a way we haven't seen since the likes of halcyon Spielberg. Nolan makes big, bold, spectacular films for the masses that actually make you think. Quite a rarity indeed! And INSTERSTELLAR? Well, running at 169 minutes, it's safe to say this is Nolan's most ambitious flick to date, somewhat redolent of the massive undertaking Kubrick explored 45 years ago with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. And for that, I cannot wait for liftoff! I know you can't either, which is why, as a way to kill a bit of time between now and next Friday, we're un-holstering the big-blade to Dissect the ascending career of one Chris Nolan!



Because they were basically made at different points in his career (from scrappy upstart to Hollywood power-player) – not to mention assembled on complete opposite spectrum of the economic poles – I think it's fair to celebrate a pair of films as Nolan's best so far. You cool with that? Damn skippy!

The first has to be MEMENTO, a wholly unique and cryptic experience of nonlinear storytelling and unreliable narration. An absolute mind-f*ck of a game-changer! Put simply, MEMENTO is unlike any movie I'd seen before it… a daring, risky, though-provoking puzzle-piece that really pushes the boundaries of what cinema, at its absolute best, has to offer. The disjointed chronology, the amnesiac flashbacks, the bizarre tattooed clues, the abrupt crosscutting from black and white to color film stock (as one storyline progresses and another regresses), the utter confusion we feel as a viewer peering through the blurrily jaundiced eyes of our lost lead, Leonard Shelby (played perfectly by Guy Pearce)…all of it combine to form a complete original we've never witnessed before. The artistic aesthetic of the movie is just as original as the story, and perfectly mirrors such in way that feels so singular and unique. The jumbled editing accurately reflects Leonard's confused mind-state, and keeps the action completely unpredictable as a result.


But if MEMENTO is an example of low-budget Nolan ingenuity, INCEPTION has to be his big-budget counterpart. What a f*cking flick! An A-list production in every sense of the word, let us make no mistake, INCEPTION is a massive, mega-art-house-marvel…a thinking man's blockbuster that is just as entertaining as it is challenging. Hard to achieve! Not only does the flick boast a wildly original conceit – about a dream thief operating in the world of corporate espionage – like the best of Nolan's work, it's also photographed in a very specific, reflexive way. This includes the Oscar winning cinematography of Wally Pfister and Oscar winning Visual FX of Chris Corbould and crew. I mean, just think of that one anti-gravity scene in which Joseph Gordon Levitt's character is forced into hand-to-hand combat. Did you see the set Nolan built for that scene? Shite was a giant rotating, gyrating box that he had the actors physically adhere to while the camera was mounted atop with a multi-angle view. Shite was insane. A splendid blend of practical FX with CG augmentation!



We can all agree right, even Nolan's most inferior work is superior to roughly 90% of his contemporaries. So when you frame it in that regard, INSOMNIA isn't so much a bad film as it is comparatively lesser one given Nolan's standards. And honestly, I think it's a pretty enjoyable film, even if it is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. Not because of its seemingly straight-forward police-procedural it becomes, but because of what I always saw as a moody character piece featuring three fantastic actors in Al Pacino, Hilary Swank and the late great Robin Williams in his dark cinematic year (ONE HOUR PHOTO, DEATH TO SMOOCHY) in an equally atmospheric setting…the inalterably day-lit Alaska!

If you've not seen it, INSOMNIA revolves around sleep-deprived homicide detective Will Dormer (Pacino) and the relationship he forges with local Alaska detective Ellie Burr (Swank) as they try to solve the murder of a teenage girl. But that's not the only relationship forged. The girl's murderer Walter Finch (Williams) increasingly contacts Dormer, teasing and taunting him, until an ultimate cat-and-mouse chase culminates in an action-packed shootout. So yeah, on paper, not Nolan's most inspired (he didn't even originate the script, as is usually his forte), but given the eerie location and committed turns from his A-list cast, it could be a lot worse. Then again, given Nolan's pedigree, it could be a lot better!


Tons of trademarks to be found in Nolan's canon, there really are. For starters, how about titling a third of his movies with the prefix IN…like he's done with INSOMNIA, INCEPTION, and now INTERSTELLAR? Yeah, well that's rather light. How about opening every one of his films with a scene from the middle of the narrative (flashback or forward), then doubling back over it through the course of the runtime? Nonlinear storylines and crosscut multi-narratives? All Nolan! How about his archetypal protagonists…troubled, vengeful, self-destructive, redemptive. How about the way he ends his joints…smash cut to black and flash the film title?

How about the recurrent casting of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy and others. The consistent collaborations with brother Jonathan, DP Wally Pfister and composer Hans Zimmer? On and on. Many through-lines and patterns emerge when digging into Nolan's resume, but really, to me the most important is that he delivers quality over quantity in a way few mega-commercial filmmakers ever have. Gotta respect that shite!



How many of you have seen Nolan's creepy-cool black-and-white short film FOLLOWING? Tight little flick, right? So clearly a preamble of things to come from Nolan in the years after, FOLLOWING had everything…the mystery and intrigue, the distinct visual tone, the unreliable narrator, and of course, the holy-shit snap-twist finale. Now, still considered a hidden gem, I won't spoil too much for those in the know not, but the flick literally follows various strangers milling about in public, as seen through the eyes of our young male protagonist. Our "stalker" doesn't harm these strangers per se, he just…follows them. Follows them home, follows them through the park, follows them anywhere they happen to go. And we become utterly complicit! Really, I cannot recommend to all Nolan completists. Find FOLLOWING, you won't be disappointed!


And speaking of met expectations, how apt is that Nolan's most precious buried jewel – THE PRESTIGE – is a movie entirely based on sleight-of-hand and overlooked trickery. Makes perfect sense then that it's his most tucked-away ace! Honestly, and I may catch some hell for this, but I think THE PRESTIGE is my favorite Nolan flick. I just love it. Love everything about it. Starting with the wonderfully realized, specifically placed story of rival magicians at the turn of the 20th century. Loved the fully involved screenplay, the twists and turns, the unpredictable nature, the circular symmetry (the bouncy ball, for example). Above all though, I loved the performances of Bale and Jackman, Scarlett and Rebecca Hall. And hell, how about Bowie playing Tesla? Shit's badass!

Moreover, the whole movie plays like one big magic trick. It's a movie that demands the utmost attention, that you look closer, even in repeat viewings.  And the thing is, we're told exactly what we're in for up front, through the expository scenes with Michael Caine. He explains to us the three parts to a well defined trick: the Pledge, The Turn, and The Prestige. Well, the entire movie follows that exact three-act structure to a tee, and still manages to leave us…like a great magic show…completely mouth agape with bewilderment. Real shite, THE PRESTIGE is moviemaking of the highest order!


It's no secret that Nolan's newest films extends his lofty reach beyond the cosmos with INTERSTELLAR, a trenchantly salient mega-spectacle. Clearly inspired by Kubrick's inimitable 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, it's obvious just from the few clips (trailer, featurettes, interviews, etc.) Paramount chose to release that this movie will, in addition to being a visceral visual experience, address large thematic conundrums the current world faces. But before we spoil too much on that front, consider the generic INTERSTELLAR logline below:

A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

Nothing terribly revelatory there, right? Well, I'll have you know that the film's narrative isn't so much centered around the notion of alien life forms or extraterrestrial threats per se, but rather, the implications of crop-famine resulting from irreparable climate change. Like I said, a salient topic for sure, however allegorical, the kind that science fiction has long latently explored in its subtext. How overt or preachy INTERSTELLARS messages will be remain to be seen, but this is Nolan we're talking about, dude tows the line between art and commerce better than anyone right now. My guess he won't alienate audiences too much with the "message" portion of the narrative.

Starring Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, David Oyelowo, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Bill Irwin, Mackenzie Foy, Topher Grace, David Gyasi and Matt Damon – INTERSTELLAR blasts off November 7th. Be there!



Few filmmakers, if a single one, have more power at their fingertips than Christopher Nolan right now. Dude's Jimmy Cagney…ON TOP OF THE WORLD, MA! And you know what, he deserves it. Ever since showing tremendous promise with his twisty first feature FOLLOWING in 1998, Nolan has continued to push the cinematic boundaries, challenge himself and audiences alike, and make one mega-movie-marvel after another. Yet while his supreme gifts of visual storytelling would alone set him apart, what truly separates Nolan from his contemporaries is that he's first and foremost a writer, an author of his own scripts. And it's the intelligence and sophistication with which he (and hid brother Jonathan) carefully writes that can allow for such a visual reinforcement to transcend. Transcend the page. Transcend his peers. Transcend the medium.

Put it this way, it's no coincidence that every single one of Chris' features (minus INSOMNIA) are currently ranked no lower than #104 on IMDB's Top 250. Without even mentioning the Batman trilogy he so thoroughly redefined, movies like MEMENTO (#40), THE PRESTIGE (#51) and INCEPTION (#13) are all nothing short of modern day classics. With that kind of qualitative track-record, can we really expect anything less from his newest, sky-reaching effort in when he extends his reign toward the INTERSTELLAR?!

Source: AITH

About the Author

5379 Articles Published

Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.