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Creator / Christopher Nolan

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"I think audiences get too comfortable and familiar in today's movies. They believe everything they're hearing and seeing. I like to shake that up."

Christopher Edward Nolan, CBE, (born 30 July 1970 in Westminster, London) is a British-American film director, screenwriter, and producer.

Regarded as a postmodern filmmaker, he is renowned for making Mind Screwy neo-noir movies, reviving the Batman film franchise, having a persistent preference of film stock and Practical Effects over digital filmography and CGI, and single-handedly ending the longest 3D movie craze yet by convincing IMAX to scale back new 3D presentations considerably. The man clearly loves IMAX. In addition, he is a staunch proponent and advocate of the "theatrical experience" in an age where streaming and video on demand are all the rage.

His films tend to emphasize themes of obsession, deception, guilt, and Order Versus Chaos, and timenote . His protagonists are often grief-stricken men lying to themselves or others as a coping mechanism. He's also known for meticulously planning his films ahead of time by developing detailed scripts and elaborate backstories. This is because he's loathe to shoot more than what he deems absolutely necessarynote . As a result, his films have no deleted scenes. What you see in the theater is his final vision.

His brother is scriptwriter Jonathan Nolan, who frequently collaborates with him.

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Films he directed:

Films he has producing credits in:

Tropes usually applied in his works:

  • Anachronic Order: There are elements of this in every single one of his films.
    • It's most extensively used in Memento: over the course of the whole film, the main narrative is entirely in reverse scene by scene, with a B-story that happens prior to chronologically intercut.
    • There are also elements of this in Batman Begins and Man Of Steel, which both have extensive flashback sequences over their first halves.
    • Dunkirk is a particularly bizarre example: the events are technically all overlapping and progressing forward in time, but we see them in three different time scales (a week, a day, and an hour, respectively) over its 106-minute runtime, thus producing this effect.
    • Played With In Tenet: Due to the nature of the film's time travel mechanics, the order of events turns in on itself in the final act, so that the characters revisit the timeframe of the previous two acts in reverse, with the final scenes taking place near the film's chronological beginning.
  • Anti-Hero: Morally ambiguous, psychologically-obsessed protagonists are his trademark.
  • Aspect Ratio Switch: He switched between aspect ratios in several of his film, including The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Interstellar, Dunkirk and Tenet.
  • Associated Composer:
    • Hans Zimmer is a longtime collaborator of his, composing most of his biggest films' soundtracks until Tenet.
    • He works with Ludwig Göransson since Tenet.
  • Auteur License: Hollywood is under the impression that any film in which he has the slightest involvement will turn to box-office gold and critical acclaim. The successes of his non-Batman films—Inception, Interstellar, and Dunkirk—proves that this belief is not unfounded. Even after Tenet underperformed during the COVID-19 Pandemic and he had a falling out with Warner Bros. due to their hybrid HBO Max / theaters release strategy in 2021, Universal welcomed him with open arms for Oppenheimer and agreed to his specific theatrical exclusivity window conditions and the film became another huge hit.
  • Author Usurpation: The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception have overshadowed his other films.
  • Awful Truth: Many of his protagonists must deal with this and have varying levels of success in doing so.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: A recurring theme throughout his work is self-deception and how characters lie to themselves to avoid their own evil nature or as a way of dealing with terrible truths, most notably Leonard in Memento.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Many of the Femme Fatales in his work will present themselves as much sweeter than they really are.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality / Grey-and-Gray Morality: His Dark Knight Trilogy is the former while his other films are usually the latter.
  • Central Theme: Obsession, deception (both of others and the self), theft of personal and/or important objects, and guilt are common themes shared by almost all his films.
    • A less-common one is fathers and their relationships to their children, which often drive certain characters (Bruce Wayne's relationship with his father figures Thomas and Alfred; Dominic Cobb working One Last Job to reunite with his children, and Fischer Sr. and Jr.'s strained relationship; Cooper's love for his children; and Mr. Dawson joining the rescue effort weeks after learning of his eldest son's death). Perhaps a given with Nolan being a father himself, giving him something to draw from.
  • Close on Title: The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and Interstellar have the title card appear at the end (at the beginning of the credits), instead of the beginning. Ironically (or perhaps fittingly), he put the title card at the beginning of Memento, a film where the present events are shown in backward-chronological order.
    • Averted with Dunkirk, which begins the film (and concludes the credits) with the title.
    • Again averted in Tenet, with the title card appearing at the beginning and end of the prologue sequence. Likely done to mark the Protagonist's faked death and the final act of the film occurring at the same time as the prologue.
  • Collateral Angst: A number of his protagonists are motivated primarily by the deaths of their loved ones, guilt over their deaths, and so on. Memento, The Dark Knight, Inception come to mind.
  • Creator Couple: He's married to Emma Thomas, who's worked as a producer on all of his films.
  • Creator In-Joke: The Working Titles of most of his movies include the names of his four kids (e.g. "Flora's Letter").
  • Creator's Oddball: Oppenheimer is his first foray into the biopic genre.
  • Dark and Troubled Pasts that haunt his protagonists like no other. Sometimes literally, as in Inception.
  • Deadpan Snarker: It's practically his sense of humor. The humor in his films is both dry wit and ironic. More noticeable in Inception.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Nolan loves using complete sets, practical effects, and making actors eat real food on camera. Especially on Dunkirk, where hydraulics were used to simulate the impact of real ordinance on the ship interior set (and everybody eating bread-and-jam until they had to spit it out).
  • Epic Movie: Interstellar. Nolan has also stated in his Wall Street Journal article that this kind of movie is almost a necessity for the future if studios want people to come to the theater instead of being content with home theater TV systems.
  • Femme Fatale: To go with his Neo-noir style mentioned below.
  • Film Noir: Many of his films are of the Neo-noir variety.
  • Humans Are Bastards: A common topic in most of his films in regards to human nature. However, most of them end up showing the complete opposite of the trope, and the ones who thought so previously end up being wrong. This is especially notable in The Dark Knight and Interstellar.
  • Ignorance Is Bliss: Nolan's films often deal with the theme of fooling either one's self or others into believing something that's easier to digest than the reality.
  • In Medias Res: In keeping with his fondness for Anachronic Order (as described above), many of his films use this, such as Batman Begins and Inception.
  • An Insert: A close-up shot of hands, seemingly non-threatening objects, and/or both tend to appear in his films. Often at the very beginning, but not always.
  • Jitter Cam: His Batman films, Inception, and Dunkirk use handheld camerawork extensively, but it's often hard to notice because he uses them very strategically, using simpler shots when nothing intense is going on. He even goes so far as to have the camera operators carry IMAX cameras, which are much heavier than the traditional cameras.
  • The Lost Lenore: The death of a Love Interest is often a key plot point and strong character motivator in his films.
  • Loudness War: Nolan has become infamous in recent years for only allowing one audio mix to be made for his films: a theatrical mix, meant to take advantage of the specialized audio setups of nearly all movie theaters. When watching one of his films on even the most cutting-edge home theater setup, it's not uncommon for fans to complain about the track being poorly balanced in regards to the sound effects or score drowning out dialogue. Some of his later films, like Tenet and Oppenheimer, have become infamous for their problems with audio balancing and inaudible dialogue drowned out and buried in the mix compared to the sound effects and score even in many less-advanced theaters that themselves don't have state-of-the-art audio speakers.
  • Mind Screw: His resume outside of the Batman films can be confusing to follow due to their chaotic narrative structures.
    • Nolan's short film Doodlebug—which follows a paranoid guy who finds a tiny version of himself at his feet, and is compelled to follow said tiny versions actions up to and including getting squashed—would be the most straightforward example.
    • Interstellar is told chronologically but can be confusing for those who don't have a great grasp of general relativity, quantum theory, and other space oddities.
    • And then there's TENET... the Time Rewind Mechanic and the shenanigans around it can be difficult to follow.
  • Multi-Take Cut: He sometimes downplays this trope, such as in the hospital explosion in The Dark Knight. As shown here, Nolan filmed the explosion from several angles but decided to put only two in the finished movie.
  • One-Word Title: Of his twelve films, eight have one-word titles. The Prestige (which takes its name from the original novel) is the only non-Batman film that doesn't use this format.
  • Once More, with Clarity: Used in Memento, The Prestige, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises, to go along with the audiences learning the Awful Truth. It shows up in TENET too, but more in a Stable Time Loop way.
  • Only One Name: Many characters in his film only use one name, sometimes implying that they're hiding something about their identity. There's "Cobb" in Following; "Natalie" in Memento; "Fallon" and "Cutter" in The Prestige; "Lau" and "Gambol" in The Dark Knight; "Arthur", "Eames", "Saito" and "Ariadne" in Inception; "Cooper", "Murph", "Doyle" and "Romilly" in Interstellar. note ; and Neil in Tenet, while "The Protagonist" (John David Washington's character) takes it up a level by having No Name Given.
  • Plot Twist: All the freaking time, even though it's quite difficult to pull off in the age of things like the Internet.
  • Practical Effects: Nolan is a massive proponent for practical effects.
    • The Dark Knight Trilogy was very conservative on the post-production special effects. Only the most extravagant or dangerous stunts were performed in post-production. But certain scenes like Bruce saving Ducard from sliding off the edge of a cliff was done on location, with Christian Bale and Liam Neeson wearing the necessary safety lines. The Dark Knight managed to film the flipping of an 18-wheeler by...actually flipping an 18-wheeler on the streets of Chicago. They got it in one try. The plane hijacking scene in Rises makes rather spectacular use of practical sets and stuntwork.
    • Other notable examples include the tumbling hotel corridor scene in Inception, and the robot characters TARS and CASE in Interstellar.
    • For TENET, it was apparently cheaper to buy an actual Boeing 747 and crash it into a hangar than building a miniature model for that purpose.
    • Oppenheimer features the extreme feat of convincingly simulating a nuclear explosion (complete with the signature blinding flash and mushroom cloud effect) without any CGI. Mercifully, no actual nukes were used, but the film did require an unholy amount of gasoline, petroleum, aluminum powder and magnesium flares (as well as some mundane forced-perspective cinematography) to get the look and size of the explosion correct, and actors were placed in a bunker watching a very real and gigantic bomb go off before them.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • The Dark Knight Trilogy takes many liberties with the Batman universe, but they are considered to be among the greatest Batman adaptations ever put to film.
    • The Prestige changed everything from the plot to characterization, but all without detracting from the original work. And it is widely considered better than the usual book-to-film adaptations.
  • Production Posse:
  • Recognition Failure: When casting Dunkirk he didn’t really know who Harry Styles was until his daughters told him. He knew Harry was famous but nothing really beyond that.
  • Reconstruction: The Dark Knight Trilogy in particular, which takes the pretty fantastical concept of a masked vigilante superhero dressed as a bat and grounds it in a somewhat-realistic, though still "comic-booky", worldscape.
  • Red Index, Green Index: Averted, since he's red-green colorblind. There's also a distinct lack of either color in most of his works.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Many of his films have details which become easier to appreciate after the first viewing when the major twists in the story are known.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Even though his films can debate about whether or not Humans Are Bastards, many of his films end up proving it to be this trope instead.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Especially in Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises.
  • Rule of Three: His movies are often built around well-defined groups of three. There's the three-act structure of The Dark Knight Trilogy, the three-part magic tricks in The Prestige (the Pledge, the Turn, and the Prestige), the three layers of Fischer's dream in Inception (the City, the Hotel and the Mountain), the three planets in Interstellar (Miller's planet, Mann's planet, and Edmunds' planet), and the three interacting plots in Dunkirk.
  • Sadistic Choice: Many of the 'right' choices in his films are often debatable. Usually happens to the protagonists, but sometimes not even secondary characters or extras are spared.
  • Scenery Porn: All of his films, especially The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception. There's a reason why Inception won an Oscar for Best Cinematography.
  • Sibling Team: His brother Jonathan is sometimes his screenwriting partner.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: A common theme of debate in most his movies with characters representing either side, especially predominate in The Dark Knight Trilogy. His films differentiate about where they stand at the end.
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness vs. Seriousness: All of his movies are very much on the serious end of the scale. While most of his films aren't completely humorless, the jokes that are there tend to be very dryly delivered and quite dark.
  • Tragic Hero: Most of Nolan's protagonists suffer from some tragic flaw that leads to their downfall.
  • Twist Ending: Many films written by him and/or his brother have this.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: His stock in trade. Nolan is not a filmmaker who dumbs things down for his audience, that's for damn sure.