Nolan is part of the Pantheon of auteur directors, those directors who control every creative aspect of their film; Kubrick, Tarantino, Ford, Lynch and Hitchcock. In interviews, he cites the reason for this dating back to the start of his career when he didn’t think anyone would give a fledgling director a script, so he set about writing his own. He also co-writes with his younger brother Jonathan who provided the source material for The Prestige and with whom he co-wrote Interstellar. He’s referenced Star Wars as making an early impact on his career, as well as Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey. The impression these films have left on him are evident – his fascination with space, dreams and telling stories on an epic scale.
Memento is probably engrained in your memory. You can probably even remember the feeling of disorientation, thinking what is this? Why? Who? What? As Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) tried in vain to remember what happened to him. That’s how you make an entry, make sure you are unforgettable. Christopher Nolan certainly did just that with his award-winning second feature film – Memento in 2000.
It is with Memento that Nolan introduces us to his unique style of film making. You are plunged straight into the action He also lays down one rule: with his films you have to engage all of your senses. Most of the narratives are multi-layered – a story within a story such as The Prestige and almost all use a non-linear narrative as well as misdirection. He never dumbs down his style and has said he approaches every film as if it is his last and is always invested. It follows that as an audience we know we need to be invested from the opening credits.
Even with sci-fi films on an epic scale, such as, Interstellar or the labyrinth that is Inception, they feel relatable because of the simple premise – a man’s love for his family will transcend time and space. Regardless of the scale of his work, the core of Christopher Nolan’s film are always grounded in universal truths: dreams, hope, perception, altered states of reality. One theme that is present across his entire body of work is love. Whether it is lost love in Memento, on a grand scale in Batman or parental love in both Inception and Interstellar.
Part of the fun of watching Christopher Nolan’s films is trying to look for the clues before the end reveal. The clues are there in plain sight. Equally, part of the joy of his films are his trademark ambiguous endings, most prominently in Memento, The Prestige & Inception. In The Prestige, the character of Cutter (Michael Caine) explains the magic trick and, in some respects, explains the magic and trick to deciphering Nolan’s films and showing the man himself to be a true magician of film:
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called The Pledge. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. The second act is called The Turn. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it into something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret…but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled…Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call The Prestige.”
Memento can be described as Neo noir and this theme is carried on throughout the film as memory is shown in black and white whilst the present is shown in colour. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is suffering from anterograde amnesia which is the inability to form new memories and with very little short term memory. The opening scene of the film drops you right into the narrative and part of the fun is trying to figure out at the same time as Leonard if he has killed the right man. Leonard’s wife was murdered and he suffered trauma leading to his current situation, with the help of a tattoo and polaroid pictures he is trying to piece together the fragments of his short term memory to avenge the murder of his dead wife. However, Leonard is an unreliable narrator and through this character Nolan is able to examine how memory works, the fallibility of memory and people’s manipulation of their own memory. As Leonard discovers, without memories there can be no trust.
DVD – £5
The Prestige (2006)
The brother Nolans strike again with the adaptation of the 1995 novel by Christopher Priest. The Prestige is Nolan’s only period costume drama set in 1890s London and follows the lives of two professional illusionists Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and it uses multiple timelines to build up to a crescendo that makes the film almost a magic trick in itself. Angier and Borden start out as friends until a terrible accident occurs on stage and Angier’s wife dies.The aftermath is a bitter acrimony with Borden perfecting a trick called the Transported Man that Angier simply cannot figure out but will go to the ends of the earth to try and learn. The film centres on the secret and lies and the hunt to be the best but with a heavy cost; not every price is paid in money, it’s also paid in blood. Look out for David Bowie as Tesla, otherworldly, and acted to perfection.
DVD – £5
The Dark Knight (2008)
This is the second in the trilogy and set within a year of Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) continues the good fight to rid Gotham of organised crime and corruption with the help of Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). However, standing in Batman’s way is the psychopathic and destructive criminal mastermind known as The Joker (Heath Ledger) who has other plans for Gotham. The question has to be asked why can’t Nolan direct all superhero films? The magic of this film is that it can stand alone from the previous, Batman Begins, in the trilogy and that even though the characters are comic book creations they feel like real people. Heath Ledger’s performance as the psychotic, sadistic Joker must be one of the greatest committed to celluloid. If there’s ever a question as to whether it is possible to make an intelligent, yet action packed popcorn superhero film. The answer is yes, the Dark Knight is proof.
DVD – £5
Inception follows Dominick “Dom” Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who together steal corporate secrets from their targets and extract valuable information through a shared dream world. Their latest target, Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe), reveals that he arranged their mission himself to test Cobb for a seemingly-impossible job: planting an idea in a person’s subconscious, or “inception”. Most do not think this is possible but Dom knows that it is. Whilst Nolan collaborates with Hans Zimmer for the soundtrack he also uses one song – Non, Je ne regrette rien by Edith Piaf. It provides the kick in the film for the characters to come out of their dream-like state but also for the audience, so rare is it to hear a recognisable song in a Nolan film. Like all good art, this is the film that provokes furious debate; what does the ending mean? The spinning totem. Is Cobb still in the dream world or the real one? Does any of that really matter when the main theme throughout this film is Cobb’s love for his children and that he has no regrets about doing anything to be with them.
DVD – £5
“We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known.” —Cooper, the hero of Interstellar played by Matthew McConaughey, a former space pilot now farmer on a futuristic earth that is in the final stages of death – terrible climate change, famine and disease. So in true Nolan style we have to keep looking and not settle for the ordinary. After accidentally discovering a rather paired down Nasa, Cooper is asked by Dr Brand (Michael Caine) to pilot the space ship to see whether the 10 bravest human beings, previously sent into space, have in fact found planets to support human life. Jessica Chastain plays Murphy, who never stops looking for her father, Cooper. There’s a little nod to Star Wars with TARS and CASE as robots with the sarcasm of C-3PO. The Hans Zimmer soundtrack perfectly suits the film and when they enter space there is no sound. As an audience you will feel weightless. Interstellar feels like a deeply personal film, an examination of father-daughter love, it transcends time and space.
DVD – £5
Also in the offer:
Batman Begins – DVD £5 / Blu-ray £6
Christopher Nolan Box Set – Blu-ray £40
The Dark Knight Rises – DVD £5 / Blu-ray £6
The Dark Knight Trilogy – DVD £13 / Blu-ray £15