Christopher Nolan is arguably one of the most interesting and talented directors to emerge in the past ten years. His films have received both commercial and critical praise, and his latest, ‘The Dark Knight,’ has been receiving so much praise, and is poised to be the biggest hit of the summer.
Nolan, a graduate of Haileybury College, grew up in the Chicago area, making films with his Dad’s Super 8 Camera. After studying English literature at University College London, he filmed several shorts for the college’s film society. He made his first feature in 1996, titled ‘Following’
‘Following’ was a noir film that tells the story of a young writer who follows strangers around London, drawing him into the criminal underworld, by helping a man he befriends. The film was shot in 16mm, and the plot structure much like his later films, uses a non-linear timeline. He was the sole writer, and the film was produced for less then $10,000 dollars.
‘Following’ was eventually picked up by Zeitgist films in 1998 for distribution after receiving notable reviews from its festival runs.
His follow up, ‘Memento,’ has reached cult classic status, and was released to great critical praise. The film was based on a short story written by Nolan’s brother, Jonathan. It follows Leonard Shelby (Guy Pierce), who is unable to form new memories due to and injury he received while fighting a burglar who he believes raped and killed his wife. The film while in black and white, features Leonard’s investigations in short color sequences that are shown in reverse order. The films nonlinear structure was heralded as unique, and the film was ultimately fairly successful, receiving Oscar nominations for Original Screenplay and Editing.
The next film Nolan tackled was a remake of a 1997 Norwegian film called ‘Insomnia,’ for Warner Bros. The film is about two detectives assisting local authorities to find a murderer, however, they arrive in Alaska during a time where the sun never sets. Will Dormer (Al Pacino) cannot sleep due to the constant light. His character begins to make mistakes, and accidentally shoots his partne, and covers it up. The film grossed $67 million domestically, and received good reviews.
Then something interesting happened, Christopher Nolan, a director known for his fairly independent “small” films, was brought on to direct his first big budget “blockbuster.” The Batman franchise was considered dead, especially because of the last outing by “overdirector” Joel Schumacher. Nolan, and writer David S. Goyer came up with the idea of restarting the film with a complete origin story. So Warner Bros. took the risk, and green lit the film.
Nolan refused a second unit for shooting, shooting for the movie took place in Iceland, London, England, and Chicago. The film was dark, a stark contrast to the campy overproduced Schumacher films. The film starred Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, and Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow.
Despite its fairly typical final quarter (no spoilers here), the origin part of the film was received warmly by critics and audiences alike. The character development and performances were also heralded.
Before stepping back into Batman, Nolan, once again collaborating with his brother, adapted ‘The Prestige,” a novel by Christopher Priest. The story is about two rival stage magicians, Robert Angier, and Alfred Borden, who seek to outdo each other on stage. The story has tragic twists and turns, with major parallels in theme throughout. The film is split into three storylines, the setup, the turn, and the “prestige.” The film, again much like Nolan’s other work features a non-linear storyline.
The film challenged its audience to catch everything, though, some found the film hard to follow. Surprisingly, the critics found the film average, disappointed with the final act. Some also called the book much more complex, and the film fairly simplified. Personally, the film was in my top 5 for that year.
Finally, Nolan revisits the character he gave so much to just a few years prior, and blows audiences away with ‘The Dark Knight.’ Teaming up once again with his brother, Nolan decides to reimagine the character of the Joker, by casting Heath Ledger. The interpretation of the character is a far cry from anything audiences have seen, Ledger’s Joker is a true psychopath, a criminal who commits crime simply for the joy. An evil match to Batman’s fight against organized crime in Gotham City.
‘Dark Knight’ opened to an estimated domestic gross of $155 million dollars, to extremely positive reviews. Some may argue that Nolan has set a standard for “comic-book” movies, the ‘Dark Knight,’ proves that superhero tentpoles can be just as much about character development as they can be about their action.
Christopher Nolan has proved his versatility as a director in a very short amount of time. He very quickly built his credibility, and his work shows that people can still make films that appeal to audiences and critics alike. At 38 years old, Mr. Nolan has quite a lot of work in him, and I definitely believe, he’s got a lot more up his sleeve.