Christopher Nolan: The Pros and Cons of a Prestige Filmmaker
An honest assessment of a beloved blockbuster director
Christopher Nolan’s fans—the many, the passionate, the often vociferous—can point to an enviable track record for their champion. He’s arguably this century’s most imaginative mainstream filmmaker, regularly tackling original, epic storylines in a time where innovation means rebooting your branded franchise saga. He’s written or co-written all but one of his 10 features, half of which are brand-new concepts. When he does take on a globally popular franchise, like Batman, he reinvents it to such acclaim that it reshapes the future of the entire superhero genre.
His one literary adaptation, The Prestige, perhaps holds a key to his traditional modus operandi. (Well, second adaptation if you count the Memento screenplay based on brother Jonah’s short story.) That novel’s three-part magic trick structure—Pledge, Turn, and Prestige—seems to exemplify Nolan’s own bait-and-switch approach to genre and narrative, a showman’s flair for spectacle, misdirection and inspiring wonder. Anyone going into his Batman movies expecting primary-coloured superpowers instead got gritty crime epics bathed in moral darkness. Interstellar, a sci-fi adventure that suggested a spiritual companion to Stanley Kubrick’s chilly 2001: A Space Odyssey, actually unearthed a monolith to the power of intergalactic parent-child love.
Naturally, this clever, deceptive, but never heartless approach to storytelling has its drawbacks. And though Nolan acolytes would likely defend even the epically convoluted conclusion to The Dark Knight Rises, this video examines both its positive and potentially negative consequences. Still, the very fact that Nolan’s out there attempting so much more than the majority of his contemporaries is admirable.
That his latest film, Dunkirk, demands a different approach altogether shows that Nolan, like all great artists, is capable of learning new tricks.