Christopher Nolan's Greatest Movies
From 'Memento' to 'The Dark Knight', from 'The Prestige' to 'Interstellar', Christopher Nolan has given the world an incredible body of work. With stories ranging from a man with no memory, a masked vigilante whose best weapon is the fear he instils in his enemies hearts and minds, to a tale of a father trying to save the human race from inside a black hole. Nolan's filmography is diverse and arguably the most consistently great collection of films by any one director. You can't look through Nolan's resume and pick out a bad film, that is a rare feat in the world of film making and film makers. However there are four films that stand out to me personally as being truly great works of art. I could have easily picked four different films for this article and not many would have complained about the choices made, this is a prime example of what a truly impeccable director Christopher Nolan has proven to be.
"We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt".
November 2014, one week before Rosetta landed on a comet after a 6.4 billion km journey and a month before NASA successfully tested their Orion spacecraft, the ship that will eventually be taking humans to Mars. This was a time of anticipation for what the space community had planned, for what might be coming next but it was also a time of disillusionment with the cosmos, of indifference to what might be waiting for us beyond our home planet. I have always been interested in space so when news came that director Christopher Nolan was making a film about wormholes and relativity I for one couldn't have been more excited.
Once I stepped out of the cinema after viewing all 2hrs and 40 minutes of Interstellar I was left in awe, bewildered, emotionally compromised, affected in a way that no movie had ever been able to accomplish. I couldn't believe what I had just experienced and an experience it was, I hadn't just watched a film, I had digested everything that a cinematic experience should be. The cinematography, the performances, the epic story that resonated so resoundingly at that specific moment in time. We have become very insular as a species, obsessed with engineering smart phones and tablets, not spacecraft, not technologies and innovation that might one day save us. Every line that lead character Cooper (McConaughey) spoke hit home in a way that made me despise the people we have become, that had me nodding my head in agreement while Dr. Brand (Cain) was explaining the position the world had found itself in. I was on board, I was invested. Then you have the score, the score so expertly crafted by Hans Zimmer, a masterpiece of the art form that permeated everything and everyone. I was left speechless walking home that night, a night that was as clear as I had ever seen it, a night where seemingly every star in the sky was out, shiny new worlds just waiting to be explored. I was inspired.
The ambition and scope of what Nolan had achieved was beyond anything that I had ever been privileged enough to experience. "No one makes films like this" I told my brother as we strolled down the street together. Nolan has always been a pioneer, a dreamer, an extravagant and intelligent film maker, with 'Interstellar' however he had never been more emotional and heart felt. When Cooper uttered his departing words, "I'm coming back" to his young daughter Murph before leaving on his intergalactic mission, and the look on his face as he drove away from his home, from his family, into the great unknown, my eyes were wet with something awful. And then again during that devastating scene while he watched the decades of messages from his children, now adults, now his age, after spending too long on a planet on the brink of a black hole, I wept. I wept silently with Cooper. I couldn't take it, just like I couldn't handle his now elderly daughter's reply to being asked why she knew her father was coming back after a lifetime of absence, "because my dad made me a promise". The tears were real. This was horrendous stuff but in the best possible way.
'Interstellar', for me and I know for many others was the trip of a lifetime, more than a sci-fi film, more than a film, it was a voyage into the unknown, a love letter to the species we should be, that we once were, that we could still be again. I was there with Cooper, I was lost in time on the other side of the universe, I was inspired, I was moved beyond words, I was affected.
"Are you watching closely?"
In 2006 my view of films was changing dramatically. I had just stepped into the world of classic cinema, coming from liking blockbuster films that didn't really require much thinking, much thought after the fact, movies were just movies to me. I then discovered films such as 'The Godfather', 'Goodfellas', 'On The Waterfront' and 'Raging Bull', I was maturing as a viewer, consuming a different type of entertainment. It wasn't until I saw 'The Prestige' however that the way I viewed films was changed forever.
Once I finished watching Nolan's tale of rival magicians I realised for the first time that film could contain something more, something behind what was presented, that cinema could be tricky, devious, that a piece of drama could lead you in one direction and then pull the rug out from under your feet the very next. In 2006 I realised what I liked, what I wanted from a movie experience. For the first time I knew that a director, a writer, could orchestrate deceptively from behind the scenes and that the person making this particular film was very clever, much smarter than me. I was left scratching my head, with a grin from ear to ear after Alfred Borden's (Bale) big reveal towards the end of the film. I knew I had just seen something very special, something that I enjoyed very much. The moment when Borden is about to be hung, when his character is seemingly at the bottom of the barrel, with no way out, no way to climb to safety, the moment where he delivers his final words, "Abracadabra" before pulling back the curtain from the audiences eyes along with his fierce on screen rival Angier (Jackman) and then dismantling his enemies world in the space of ten seconds was pure magic. I was tricked. Angier was tricked. We were all deceived by not one but two illusionists, two kings of deception, Alfred Borden and Christopher Nolan.
The film boasts a wonderful cast much like all of Nolan's films and much like all of Nolan's films many familiar faces appear but it is the chemistry and the enigmatic battle of personalties between Bale and Jackman that set the film on fire, bringing the script that was so deftly written to life. This whole film is a con, one long magic trick. Nolan even has the audacity to tell us that he is playing a fast one on us twice at the start of the film, yet none of us believed him, we weren't willing to see what was right in front of our eyes. The very first words spoken by Alfred Borden, "Are you watching closely?" surely should have been a red herring. Or at least when Michael Caine's senior magician explains how the trick works, explaining in relative detail what is about to happen to all of us, "It's not enough to make something disappear, you have to bring something back". It was all there, all ready for us to unpack but we weren't ready, none of us were expecting to be duped so expertly by tricksters at the top of their game.
Once the events of the film had somewhat settled in over the coming days and weeks, I knew where my future taste in films would lie. I started seeking out similar works, including Nolan's very own 'Memento' another master work of misrepresentation and one of the finest accounts of unreliable narration in film history. Because of Nolan's work on 'The Prestige' I was turned onto such classics as 'Mulholland Drive' and 'American Psycho', I had found my wheelhouse, I knew what I wanted from a film. I wanted to think, I wanted to be shown something that might not be quite what it seems, I wanted to be shown something that mirrors the way real life behaves, the way things aren't always clear, that sometimes what is right before your eyes is the last thing you see. I wasn't watching closely before I saw 'The Prestige' but I am now.
The Dark Knight
"Sometimes the truth isn't good enough, sometimes people deserve more".
Ah Batman, everyone's... well a lot of peoples favourite superhero even before a certain Christopher Nolan came along in 2005 and breathed new amazingly wonderful life into the franchise with his first entry 'Batman Begins' in the would be 'Dark Knight Trilogy'. People love Batman, I love Batman, we loved Batman while suffering through atrocious films such as 'Batman and Robin' and and to a marginally but still terrible lesser extent, 'Batman Forever'. We endured, we took the punches because we knew one day someone would come along and give us the Batman film we deserved. We deserved something more and Christopher Nolan gave it to us in the form of 'Begins' and then topping that in 2008 by creating the consensus greatest superhero movie of all time, 'The Dark Knight'.
When I first saw this film I remember saying to the friend I saw the movie with that, "It's the greatest movie I've ever seen". I have since come down from that opinion, the hype at the time, the movie still entrenched so firmly within me, I wasn't thinking clearly but I can forgive myself for that because there is no doubt that 'The Dark Knight' isn't just the greatest superhero movie ever but one of the great crime thrillers every brought to cinemas, rivalling movies such as 'Heat' and other classics of the genre. We all knew we had seen something special that summer, something that would change the genre forever, something that would inspire film makers for many years to come. The world was gripped by a frenzy. This wasn't just a movie about a man dressed as a bat, this was something more.
'The Dark Knight' was adored by fans and critics alike, a rare feat for this genre of movie, for any summer blockbuster. A lot of the praise went, rightfully so, to Heath Ledger's Joker who had passed away shortly after filming his now iconic role, redefining who the Joker was for millions of new fans around the world, spawning thousands upon thousands of imitation videos that were going viral all across the internet. The world was obsessed. Nolan had done something remarkable, he made a Batman film that was genuinely being considered a GREAT movie, an Oscar worthy film. 'The Dark Knight' is the reason why the academy expanded their best film category to 10 so that a film this majestic would never be snubbed again.
The middle entry in this masterful trilogy is littered with iconic scenes and moments, moments that send shivers down ones spine. A personal stand out being the final scene between Batman, Two Face and Gordon, with Two Face laying down some hard truths for everyone involved, holding a gun to Gordon's family and raging desperately, "why was I the only one who lost everything?" It is a truly special moment in the film, acted to perfection, directed with a masters precision like touch and another astonishing score from Nolan's long time collaborator Hans Zimmer. One of the most profound and relative moments in the film to real life events was when Joker, hanging upside down from a Gotham skyscraper, looks Batman in the eyes and declares, "I think you and I are destined to do this forever". This is a line so true to the characters, referencing their long history in comics, cartoons and film but also foreshadowing how these two iconic men will forever be battling it out for our amusement. This particular moment also hit home when lamenting the loss of Heath Ledger, the success of this movie would have have no doubt booked his Joker a recurring role in many films to come, fighting for Gotham's soul with Bale's definitive Batman for many a future year. Alas fate had other plans, depriving us of witnessing such a thing.
'The Dark Knight' will always be remembered for Ledger, for his Joker and for the iconic moments he provided, his death trapping him in time along with Batman and Two Face, inside a movie that was more than anything anyone could have possibly dared to dream. No one knew that such a thing was possible before that summer in 2008, before Christopher Nolan provided the world with the Batman we deserved, at the time when we needed it most.
What do you think is Nolan's greatest film?
© 2015 Samuel Brace