Christopher Nolan: a complete filmmaker | Sunday Observer

Christopher Nolan: a complete filmmaker

11 December, 2022

Christopher Nolan CBE (born 30 July 1970) is a British-American filmmaker. Known for his lucrative Hollywood blockbusters with complex storytelling, Nolan is considered a leading filmmaker of the 21st century.

His films have grossed more than US$5.7 billion worldwide and have garnered 11 Academy Awards from 36 nominations. Having received many awards and honours, he was listed in 2015 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time. In 2019, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to film.

Nolan developed an interest in filmmaking from a young age. After studying English literature at University College London, he made his feature film debut by making Following (1998). Nolan gained international recognition with his second film, Memento (2000), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Christopher Nolan

He transitioned from independent to studio filmmaking with ’Insomnia’ (2002), and found further critical and commercial success with ’The Dark Knight Trilogy’ (2005–2012), ’The Prestige’ (2006), and ’Inception’ (2010); the last of these received eight Oscar nominations, including two for Nolan—Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. This was followed by ‘Interstellar’ (2014), ’Dunkirk’ (2017), and ‘Tenet’ (2020). For ’Dunkirk’, he earned two Academy Award nominations, including his first for Best Director.

Nolan’s work regularly feature in listings of the best films of the 21st century. They are typically characterised by existentialism and epistemology. Infused with a metaphysical outlook, they explore human ethics, the construction of time, and the malleable nature of memory and personal identity. His work is permeated with mathematically inspired images and concepts, unconventional narrative structures, practical special effects, experimental soundscapes, large-format film photography, and materialistic perspectives. He has co-written several of his films with his brother Jonathan, and runs the production company Syncopy Inc. with his wife Emma Thomas.

Cinematic sensibility

Nolan’s films are majorly centred in metaphysical themes, exploring the concepts of time, memory, and personal identity. His work is characterised by mathematically inspired ideas and images, unconventional narrative structures, materialistic perspectives, and evocative use of music and sound. Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro called Nolan “an emotional mathematician”. BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz described the director as “an art house auteur making intellectually ambitious blockbuster movies that can leave your pulse racing and your head spinning.” Nolan views himself as “an indie filmmaker working inside the studio system”

In the sixteen-essay book ’The Philosophy of Christopher Nolan’, professional philosophers and writers analysed Nolan’s work; they identified themes of self-destruction, the truth’s nature and value, and the political mindset of the hero and villain, among others.

Robbie B. H. Goh, a professor of English literature, described Nolan as a “philosophical filmmaker” who includes philosophical ideas — existentialism, morality, epistemology and the distinction between appearance and reality — in films that frequently portray suspense, action and violence. Goh appreciated his ability to incorporate such themes in films that possess “elements of the Hollywood blockbuster” — which help keep the audiences engaged — but simultaneously remain “more thoughtful and self-reflexive than the typical consumerist action film”. He further wrote that Nolan’s body of work reflect “a heterogeneity of conditions of products” extending from low-budget, independent films to lucrative blockbusters; “a wide range of genres and settings” and “a diversity of styles that trumpet his versatility”.

Film theorist David Bordwell opined that Nolan has been able to blend his “experimental impulses” with the demands of mainstream entertainment, further describing his oeuvre as, “experiments with cinematic time by means of techniques of subjective viewpoint and crosscutting.” Nolan’s use of practical, in-camera effects, miniatures and models, as well as shooting on celluloid film, has been highly influential in early 21st century cinema. ’IndieWire’ wrote in 2019 that the director “kept a viable alternate model of big-budget filmmaking alive” in an era where blockbuster filmmaking has become “a largely computer-generated art form”. Because of Nolan’s deep involvement in the technical facet of his films, Stuart Joy described him as a “complete filmmaker” who “oversees all aspects of production while also managing cultural and industrial factors outside of the text”.

Awards and honours

As of 2021, Nolan has been nominated for five Academy Awards, five British Academy Film Awards and five Golden Globe Awards. His films have received a total of 36 Oscar nominations and 11 wins. Nolan was named an Honorary Fellow of UCL in 2006, and conferred an honorary doctorate in literature (DLit) in 2017. In 2012, he became the youngest director to receive a hand-and-footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. Nolan appeared in ’Time’s’ 100 most influential people in the world in 2015.

Nolan was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2019 New Year Honours for services to film.

Personal life and image

Nolan is married to Emma Thomas, whom he met at University College London when he was 19. She has worked as a producer on all of his films, and together they founded the production company Syncopy Inc. The couple have four children and reside in Los Angeles, California.

Nolan rarely grants promotional interviews about his films and prefers to maintain a certain level of mystery about his work. Refusing to discuss his personal life, he feels that too much biographical information about a filmmaker detracts from the experience of his audiences. “I actually don’t want people to have me in mind at all when they’re watching the films.” Author Stuart Joy felt that Nolan’s unwillingness to talk about his personal life shows a desire for control, one of the recurring themes in his work.

Nolan has publicly shared some of his socio-political concerns for the future, such as the current conditions of nuclear weapons and environmental issues that he says need to be addressed. He has expressed his admiration for scientific objectivity, wishing it were applied “in every aspect of our civilisation”. Nolan made a donation to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2012, and serves on the Motion Picture and Television Fund Board of Governors.