Christopher Edward Nolan CBE (born 30 July 1970) is an English-American film director, screenwriter, and producer.
He is renowned for making Mind Screwy neo-noir movies, for reviving the Batman film franchise, for his persistent preference of film stock and Practical Effects over digital filmography and CGI, and for single-handedly ending the longest 3D movie craze yet by convincing IMAX to scale back new 3D presentations considerably.
His films tend to emphasize themes of obsession, deception, guilt, and order versus chaos, and a number of them are driven by a man lying to himself or others to cope with grief. He is the brother of scriptwriter Jonathan Nolan, who frequently collaborates with him.
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- Doodlebug (1997, short film)
- Following (1998)
- Memento (2000)
- Insomnia (2002)
- The Dark Knight Trilogy:
- The Prestige (2006)
- Inception (2010)
- Interstellar (2014)
- Dunkirk (2017)
- TENET (2020)
He and his company Syncopy have also produced:
- DC Extended Universe
- Transcendence (2014) (executive producer)
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 96-minute runtime, thus producing this effect.
- 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, Interstellar and Dunkirk.
- 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.
- Awful Truth: Many of his protagonists must deal with this.
- 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 Grey Morality / Grey and Gray Morality: His Dark Knight Trilogy is the former while his other films are usually the latter.
- Black Comedy: His humor goes both ways: dry wit or this. More noticeable in Memento and The Dark Knight.
- Central Theme: Obsession, deception, 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.
- Creator In-Joke: The Working Titles of most of his movies include the names of his four kids (e.g. "Flora's Letter").
- Dark and Troubled Pasts that haunt his protagonists like no other. Sometimes literally, as 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.
- Mind Screw: 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. His resume outside of the Batman films to a lesser extent as well, which can be confusing to follow due to their chaotic narrative structures. Ditto Interstellar, which is told chronologically but can be confusing for those who don't have a great grasp of quantum theory and other space oddities.
- Moral Dilemma: 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.
- 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 eleven films, seven have one-word titles. The Prestige 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.
- 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; and "Cooper", "Murph", "Doyle" and "Romilly" in Interstellar. note
- 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 the actual actors 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.
- 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: Nolan uses many of the same actors in his various projects like Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, and many more. From a business angle, everything he's made post-Batman Begins has been distributed by Warner Bros. who will write him a blank check to make anything he so wishes.
- This also extends to his behind the scenes crew: Hans Zimmer scored all his films from The Dark Knight to Dunkirk (and co-scored Batman Begins with James Newton Howard, who also co-scored The Dark Knight) with his first three films and The Prestige being scored by David Julyan; Lee Smith edited all his films from Batman Begins to Dunkirk; Nathan Crowley working as production designer on all of his films post-Insomnia (barring Inception); and Wally Pfister served as cinematographer on all Nolan's projects from Memento to The Dark Knight Rises (Hoyte van Hoytema became Nolan's preferred cinematographer when Pfister began his own directing career).
- 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.
- Real-Life Relative: In most of his movies so far (beginning with Following), most of his family members, including his four kids, cameo as background extras and bit parts.
- Red Index, Green Index: Averted, since he's red and green colorblind. There's also a distinct lack of either color in most of his works.
- 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.
- 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 vs. 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.
- Stuffed into the Fridge: 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.
- 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.