Christopher Nolan, an icon; the rise of a craftsman

Located in central London, UCL (University College London) is world-renowned for its innovative teaching methods and pioneering research.  Although UCL is known for opening its doors since 1826 to all people regardless of race, religion or creed, the university is one of the most selective campuses in the world.  One Hollywood personality that was selected to study at UCL was Christopher Jonathan James Nolan; whose work ethic and intellect embodies innovative and pioneering as previously mentioned in regards to UCL.   I use the terminology “Hollywood personality” very carefully when speaking of Mr. Nolan, for Hollywood often dumbs-down genres for ticket sales.  Mr. Nolan aspires to deliver grand scale entertainment (movies with a rich plot and well devised dramatic/action sequences) each time audiences enter multiplexes and IMAX theaters.

Nolan’s father bought the young boy a Super 8 camera at the age of 7 and began learning the ABCs of filmmaking.  Nolan grew up in an era where there was no CGI, and he greatly appreciated the painstaking processes that special effects artists and art directors undertook to create lavish worlds for the viewer to be engulfed in.  Nolan was greatly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.  While both of the previously mentioned science fiction films are a testament to in-camera effects and shooting on film stock (particularly 2001’s stunning anamorphic 70mm cinematography), Blade Runner is Mr. Nolan’s favorite film.  Blade Runner served as a paradigm to build the definitive reboot and first actually good Caped-Crusader movie:  Batman Begins.  Now what would have made Warner Bros trust a relatively unknown director to restore dignity to Bob Kane’s Detective Comics character?  The answer is:  Mr. Nolan has two brains.  This will be explained subsequently in this article.

Whether noir is a genre itself or a stylish category within a genre is debatable.  What is not debatable is Mr. Nolan’s understanding of noir.   1998’s Following was a very respectable nod towards genre despite being shot on a $16,000 budget.  Over the course of a year Nolan and fellow classmates from UCL worked on the story of a struggling young London writer whom decides to follow citizens in hopes of acquiring information to craft an elaborate work of fiction.  Following received good praise from critics but it was not a masterpiece.  Orson Welles first feature length film is considered a masterpiece, and Mr. Nolan was able to achieve his first masterpiece with second feature length film Memento.  Memento was my first introduction to Nolan’s work (I subsequently viewed Following) and I was drawn to this film after reading a highly positive review from USATODAY while working a computer lab job at The University Of South Carolina.  Memento was a ground breaking neo-noir that was originally conceived as a short story by Christopher Nolan’s younger brother Jonathan Nolan.  The film’s star Guy Pearce did extensive research on the psychological disorder retrograde amnesia.  Because the main character (Leonard Shelby) cannot create new memories Nolan believed the best way to tell the story was to have the audience view the events in reverse order.  By doing this the audience can see what led Leonard to be obsessed with killing John G, the alleged murderer and rapist whom ended Mrs. Shelby’s existence.  Has Leonard already killed John G and simply chose to forget in order to give his life purpose?  This and dozens of more questions are cleverly addressed, but not exactly fully answered when viewing Memento.  There is one amusing and simultaneously thrilling scene where Leonard is thinking that he is chasing a man when in actuality the man is chasing him and fires a few semi-automatic rounds at Leonard.  The brothers discussed the idea of developing Memento Mori into a film while traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles.  Jonathan Nolan has stated that his older brother has the extraordinary ability to transform good ideas into near genius cinematic images.  Because the older Nolan finished Memento before the younger Nolan published Memento Mori, the film version was nominated for the Best Original screenplay Oscar vice Adapted screenplay.

Memento grossed over $34 million at the worldwide box-office despite initially being turned down by major distributors, because film executives felt that the movie was too smart for audiences.  Next Nolan received a larger budget from the studio that would be the financier and main distributor of all of his later films:  Warner Bros.  Nolan directed Academy Award winners Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hillary Swank in the remake of the Norwegian film Insomnia.  Insomnia grossed over $113 million at the worldwide box-office and high critical praise.  Now Nolan was able to convince Warner Bros to reboot their beloved, but never done correctly Batman series.  Batman Begins received higher praised than Tim Burton’s 1989 original due to its constant theme of fear.  Batman Begins was closely modeled after Blade Runner, and even mimicked the shadowy and atmospheric alleyways seen in Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction noir film.  Batman Begins (along with Casino Royale) is the definitive reboots, but unfortunately as inspired too many uninspired reboots.

Another modestly critical (yet at a respectable 76% on and financial success was The Prestige, adapted from a somewhat unknown novel.  The Prestige was another showcase of Nolan’s ability to transcend charlatan directorial and writing tricks by engaging the audience with intelligent characters and sharp writing. The Prestige was a solid film, but it was a mere prelude to things to come from the British director.  The Dark Knight was the ultimate audience, fan boys, and critic pleaser.  The Dark Knight was so revered that even Clint Eastwood said that he forgot that he was watching a superhero movie, and felt it was on par with crime dramas such as Heat.  The Dark Knight featured 900 less CGI shots than most other action movies despite having scenes such as Batman and an antagonist being airlifted out of a Hong Kong Skyscraper. As huge of a Batman fan that I am, Inception is my most highly regarded Nolan film, and one of the best films I have ever seen.  I will not say much about this modern masterpiece other than it should not be remade or have any sequels.  It is a testament to original ideas, and quoting the movie:  “What is the most resilient parasite?  An idea.  Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it is nearly impossible to eradicate”.

Christopher Nolan has two brains.  Many people of his intellect are so wrapped up into their work that they are elusive to fans and interviews.  Despite being highly secretive and utilizing the Internet to a bare minimum, Nolan is receptive to fans and interviewers, going as far as admitting he has a responsibility to ticket buyers.  He understands that he has a job on two fronts:  To put the best cinematic image on screen (even if that means refusing ridiculous demands of studios i.e 3-D) and making stories that attract large audiences.  Stanley Kubrick operated on the ideal of making an artistic movie that may or may not have entertained audiences.  Nolan educates and thrills his audience.  Nolan has the capability to make up to four films a year in the tradition of John Ford and Steven Spielberg.  But we (the audience) prefer for Mr. Nolan to keep up his short, but highly effective tradition of making one extremely good film a year.  The Dark Knight Rises is released in a two months and the world will once again be treated to a 2.5-hour escape into a world of intrigue, thrill, and psychological intensity.


Author I Travlis Hallingquest I Editor; Correspondent I He’s a traditionalist, a sailor in Navy and a graduate student with a concentration on film and Media studies, who is also the founder and co-founder of and