This is the first in my new series, 21st Century Masters, a collection of director profiles specifically on directors and their films from the year 2000 onward. With some exceptions, films made before 2000 are not the subject of these profiles. These are attempts to understand the legacy of filmmakers here and now, not of the past.
There are three steps to Christopher Nolan’s directing process.
- He shows you something ordinary, which it probably isn’t.
- He takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary.
- But you wouldn’t clap yet, because he has to bring everything back.
Conveniently, this is the same model Michael Caine explains in “The Prestige.” A good “magician,” he says, tries to do something new, but not everyone can. A good “magician” gives total devotion to his art.
This is Chris Nolan in a nutshell. He begins with a film that demands your patience and attention, one that feels gritty, realistic and serious but has a little something more. Then, he astounds with monumental twists, stunning special effects, sweeping vistas and a screenplay that ever so slightly bends what’s possible. But Nolan’s real game is in showing you how its all done. He arranges elaborate procedures for his characters with strict rules and principles for them to follow. Then they’re confined to boxy, talky and methodic scenes of dialogue to lay the exposition open for scrutiny.
By doing this in each of his eight films, Nolan has been able to take over the world. No director in the 21st Century has emerged as a more distinctive, important voice for film as a popular art form than him. Other directors have been more critically acclaimed and others have slightly larger box office receipts, but no other director to make his or her mark in the last 12 years has come close to uniting adoring fanboys and appreciative film buffs than Nolan.
Nolan’s films are about singular ideas. His legacy comes from getting modern audiences in the multiplex to obsess over their films, study them with scrupulous attention and adhere to them as important texts made to be discussed.
Like Batman himself, Nolan is a symbol more than a director. He currently has the clout to take on any project he pleases and the fervent belief by many that he can do no wrong. And if through his audience he can transcend the idea that his film is just a movie made for entertainment value, he can become a beacon for something better than what we have in the movies today.
“You take it away… to show them what they had.” Continue reading “Christopher Nolan: Someone more than a man; a symbol”