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The Motion Picture Prestige of Christopher Nolan

April 12, 2024

Allow me to introduce you to the man, the myth, and the legend—Sir Christopher Nolan himself (yes, the British director is actually receiving a knighthood).

In his career, Nolan has won over 200 awards and has been nominated for nearly 300. For more than 25 years, Nolan has pursued filmmaking with the same curiosity and enthusiasm he approached it with when he was a young boy shooting on a Super-8 camera. He has carried this strength through each film he has worked on, regardless of his role.

Nolan started taking an interest in film at a young age and used to shoot stop-motion short films for fun. During his time at University College London, Nolan studied English literature while gaining experience through the college’s film society. This gave him the skills he needed to create his first full-length film, Following (1998). The low-budget film won several film festival awards, helping Nolan gain support for his next film, Memento(2000), which was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. This film expertly showcased Nolan’s creative and engineering abilities, particularly in the orchestration of time throughout the storyline—a theme that has appeared in many of his films.

Nolan completed his film Insomnia in 2002 starring celebrities Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank. The film was nominated for several awards and won Nolan an award at the London Critics Circle Film Awards for best British director.

After these smaller films, Nolan was approached by DC Comics to recreate the Batman film franchise, starting with Batman Begins (2005) starring Christian Bale as the beloved superhero. This movie was unique and fascinating, not only because of the nostalgia connected to such a fan-favorite figure but also because of the incredible attention to detail and large-scale production quality. The film won 15 awards and was nominated for 79. The blockbuster success was only the first step in even greater achievements to come.

The following year, Nolan came out with The Prestige (2006), starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. This film was written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, another creative genius, and Nolan helped to direct and produce the film as well. Again, weaving a mind-bending timeline into his complex story, this film is a masterpiece in its detail.

In 2008, The Dark Knight was released, which was one of Nolan’s finest films and is one of my absolute favorite movies. From casting to cinematography to score, the film is stunning in its concept and design. Grossing over $1 billion at the box office, the movie was a massive success due to its incredibly talented creative team. Sadly, star Heath Ledger died before being able to accept one of the two Oscars it won, however, his legacy will live on through his outstanding, yet unsettling portrayal of the psychologically tormented Joker.

Nolan’s next film Inception (2010) could be described as kaleidoscopic with its complex dream-in-a-dream storyline and diverse worlds. Nolan said that he was inspired by moviemaking positions to shape the roles of the main characters. Many critics discussed this award-winning film in detail and were fascinated by its intricately designed patterns and plot. During the writing process, Nolan was said to have worked closely with Leonardo DiCaprio on the formulation of his character. With such a complex story, DiCaprio helped Nolan to make the story more understandable for the audience.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) was the last of the Batman movies Nolan worked on and was Nolan’s highest-grossing movie at the box office, bringing in over $1 billion. The movie was highly rated and added Anne Hathaway to the starring cast. It was a busy few years for Nolan as he also helped produce Man of Steel(2013) and Transcendence (2014).

Nolan started working on his next original movie during this time, Interstellar (2014), which again brought Hathaway into the starring cast. According to Hathway, this was a career-saving grace. Following her acceptance of an Oscar for Les Miserables, Hathaway was harshly ridiculed online, bringing her to an extremely low point in her career, and she greatly struggled to gain confidence in herself. Nolan offering her a role in Interstellar was largely what gave her the courage to keep moving forward in her career. Interstellar(2014) was written, directed, and produced by Nolan, getting much attention for its other-worldly effects and sets.

After going on to create a short film, Quay (2015), Nolan proceeded to create Dunkirk (2017). The film was widely recognized at the most prestigious film awards, and Nolan was nominated for an Oscar, two BAFTA awards, a Critics Choice Award, and many others. The war film featured a stunning color palette and cinematography as well as a notable cast.

Three years later in 2020, Tenet was released, which did well considering the difficult time during the pandemic. Tenet did win several big awards for its visual effects, but apart from that, was not nearly as recognized as some of Nolan’s previous films.

However, Nolan more than compensated for this slight dip in success with Oppenheimer (2023). The film was, to say the least, immaculate. The seven Oscars, seven BAFTA Awards, eight Critics Choice Awards, and over 100 more awards attest to that. It was Nolan’s third highest-grossing film at the box office, $50 million less than The Dark Knight.

The film was particularly meaningful to Nolan and those of his generation because of the real threat of nuclear war in the world he grew up in. There had been other films made about the creation of the bomb, yet Nolan stripped himself of these other influences and focused solely on his core research and recreating the story in his head to avoid creating something depicting a docudrama. Nolan discussed his writing process in an interview with the British Film Institute.

“I have to pretend that no one’s ever looked at this before,” Nolan said. “What I’ve found dealing with real material is I find a point where I have to treat it as if I’m making it up.”

Rumors are spreading like wildfire about the next Nolan film, yet he has not officially announced what it is. Some say he is going to do a more lighthearted film, others predict he will be recreating The Prisoner TV series, and others thought he was going to direct a James Bond movie (which he later denied). Regardless of the genre, it is undoubtedly going to be a masterpiece.

Sir Christopher Nolan is inarguably one of the best filmmakers of our time, dare I say, of all time. His standards and skill are nearly unmatched. His actors have the highest respect for him, and the relationship he forms with his cast is admirable to me as someone who desires to become a director. Nolan often uses the same actors for multiple starring roles, which deepens the director-actor relationship on another level. In an interview with fellow Oppenheimer cast members, Robert Downey Jr. commented on Nolan’s directing style.

“He’s kind of like a dad that you can’t have a beef with ‘cause he’s actually just a really good parent,” Downey Jr. said.

His non-judgmental approach mixed with the order and flow of the production process makes the experience somewhat surreal for the actors. Nolan allows his actors to open up, creating a safe environment for them to truly express themselves. A director has a great responsibility to protect the actors while maintaining the integrity of the story. As someone who has extensive experience fulfilling on only the director role, but also the writer and producer roles, Nolan has what it takes to pull off such extraordinary productions.

Regardless of whether the film was low-budget or blockbuster, throughout the entirety of his career, Nolan has paved the way for filmmakers to engineer their dreams into existence. Test your knowledge of this esteemed director and come to Trivia: Directed by Christopher Nolan on Saturday, April 13 at 8 p.m. in the LaHaye Event Space!

 

Written by Faith Catanzaro

Faith
is a sophomore studying Digital Media & Journalism concentrating in Video Production, and she is also a videographer for Student Activities. She loves watching movies, cooking, blogging on Instagram, graphic design, health, and fitness!