The Chris Nolan Conundrum
Over the years I've seen a lot of mixed feelings towards Chris Nolan. People who dislike him, usually say he is overrated as a director. I am not sure why - looking at his list of films, I think he is a cinematic genius. With his upcoming movie, TENET, due to release sometime in the near future (we live in hope... thanks Covid), I thought I'd share my thoughts on why he's one of my favourite directors.
One of the things I love about him, is that he can take a simple story, and turn it into something epic and yes, complicated. Take Inception for example. If you have to think about it, the main story is really just about a man trying to reunite with his family. Simple. It's everything that he builds around it that makes it complicated. Dreams within dreams, time stretching, tricky relationships - these all build onto a simple narrative to create a much more engaging story than just a man searching for his children.
Side note: I remember talking to a filmmaker friend just after Inception came out, and he described it as "ham-ey". First of all, what does that even mean? And second of all, "ham-ey" may have been how to describe it if he had made the film when he originally pitched it in 2001. Instead, he waited 9 years so that he could gain experience on big-budget films (hello Batman series) and make sure that Inception was perfect. Respect!
The tables turned for Dunkirk. I'm sure most of us were expecting an epic war movie with amazing visual effects that we came to love in Inception. However, what we got was more of an epic drama - a story of survival and sacrifice during one of the world's darkest times. It was completely unexpected, and left a lot of people disappointed. Nolan did give a "warning" that it was not a typical war movie, but I think people ignored that and still expected something epic and out-of-this-world anyway.
I love the way Nolan can take stories and themes that we think should be a certain way, and give us the unexpected. For The Dark Knight he took a loved comic and a classic character, and turned them into something iconic. I don't think anyone can ever top the Joker from this movie - what he and Heath Ledger did together is nothing short of amazing. So much so, that this style of Joker has become the standard halloween look, even being used in TV shows such as The Office.
One of my favourite things about Nolan's story-telling style is that music is not an afterthought. The score is as crucial to the story as the script (and beautiful - I don't think I'll ever get tired of listening to the Inception score - it's 10 years later and it's still on my playlist). For example, the ticking sound in Interstellar that formed part of the track when they were on the water planet, was actually telling us that every 1.25 seconds when we heard a tick, a whole day had passed on earth. It's small details like this, that go unnoticed, yet play such an important role in the story, that make me enjoy him as a director. And of course, he always teams up with one of the greatest, Hans Zimmer. I always get excited when I see his name in the credits, because I know it's going to be something great.
Everything Nolan does is thought out, purposeful and beautiful - from the smallest details to the large scale sets - everything plays a part in the greater story. In a dream world, when I pitch my movie, my perfect team is Chris Nolan, Hans Zimmer and Leo DiCaprio. They will, of course, love it and accept on the spot.
And that's my take on Chris Nolan. I'd love to hear your thoughts!