Christopher Nolan is one of the few directors working today whose name alone above a movie poster is enough to convince audiences to purchase a ticket. He’s appeased the comic-book and genre loving fan base with his ultra gritty and realistic depiction of Gotham’s Caped Crusader Batman and thoughtful sci-fi efforts. Critics adore Nolan’s vision that marries blockbuster sensibilities with high concept material and deeply emotional turmoil experiences by his protagonists. This far-reaching, mutual appreciation of the writer/director’s talents has translated time and time again into box-office brilliance and critical acclaim, most recently evidenced by his 2017 release Dunkirk.
At the tender age of 11, Nolan aspired to be a professional film-maker and spent his formative years in Chicago indulging in the creative medium before returning to the UK to study at University College London (UCL). During his time there, he made two short films, Tarantella (1989) and Larceny (1995), and also met his wife and producing partner Emma Thomas. Upon graduating, he worked industry-related jobs such as script reading and camera operating but found little success in getting his projects made. Ultimately, Nolan self-funded his feature film debut Following in 1998 which received high praise from critics and afforded him to make Memento, Nolan’s breakthrough picture that introduced the world to his innovative storytelling.
Due to his employment of unique temporal structures, Nolan has proven to be a master of misdirection. His stories pose and curate questions for audiences but the riddles are never unsolvable – instead, they are techniques used to create more compelling and emotionally conflicted characters. For example, Memento is told in reverse and we inevitably share amnesiac Shelby’s (Guy Pearce) confusion. Inception deftly dips in and out of mind-altering dreamscapes and the reality in which conman Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his band of dream-busters operate. Dunkirk encapsulates three different time periods during the evacuation; one week on the beaches, one day on a civilian rescue boat and one hour in a spitfire with all three flawlessly woven together in a taut and tense cinematic experience. Bursting with elaborate set pieces and big spectacle, Nolan’s work is more personal and intimate than a first glance could offer. Fractured families and damaged protagonists seeking redemption or justice are a staple of the auteur’s repertoire and with each film, Nolan’s creativity and intention become even more ambitious – but never at the expense of the emotional pull.
Unsurprisingly, Nolan cites the cinematic legend Stanley Kubrick as a major influence, particularly the sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey that served as inspiration for his 2014 space flick Interstellar. Nolan remarked, “I think anytime you look at science fiction in movies, there are key touchstones. Metropolis, Blade Runner, 2001. Whenever you’re talking about getting off the planet, 2001 is somewhat unavoidable. But there is only one 2001. So you don’t want to go too near that.” He also seemingly finds inspiration in the actors he works with as he often casts the same actors in different projects. One of his most notable repeat collaborators is Michael Caine, with the iconic actor appearing in six of his feature films (eagle-eared viewers, try and spot Caine’s voice-only cameo in Dunkirk) and affectionately referring to himself as Nolan’s “lucky charm”. Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have all also earned their stripes as Nolan regulars. Their respect and revere for the director runs deep with Hathaway profoundly stating that he is “the best of what humanity can be”.