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Christopher Nolan – An Innovative Genius Or A Heartless Noir?

Rajesh , 2788

Just nine movies old in the Hollywood industry as a director, Christopher Nolan has shown why he is among the finest in such a short span of time. The director who is known for his innovative structure in film making often divides opinion among critics for his cerebral nature. Nolan, despite known as one of the best in the business and who has attracted a huge fan base largely due to his innovative ways of storytelling, has received his fair share of flak for involving his brain more than heart in movies. Thus he has been dubbed 'Meta-Noir' by critics. Now let us check whether the criticism directed at the Batman director is fair:


A glimpse at Nolan films


Christopher Nolan, born in 1970 made his directing debut in Hollywood industry with Following (1998). Implementing the concept of an unemployed writer who becomes obsessed with learning about strangers by following them and breaking into their apartments to study their lives, Following received numerous accolades and praise from critics as well as fans. Thus began the Nolan revolution....


After making his name with the Black and White movie, Nolan enhanced his reputation further with his next film Memento (2000). The movie is about a man, who is suffering from short term memory loss, uses a strange system to find out about the person who killed his wife. This movie made a great revolution in the film industry. Fans were awestruck with the concept of seeing a film moving back, ie. starting from the climax and finishing with the beginning. 


The complete motive behind the movie was to give the viewers an experience that was more than they could absorb in a single viewing, which will eventually make the audiences revisit after their initial viewing. That gamble paid off as Nolan received massive praise from every section of fans. Infact the concept of short-term memory loss patient's lifestyle became huge hit that many movies in different languages followed the same concept. Both the Tamil as well as Hindi movie 'Ghajini' was largely inspired from this concept.


Then followed the Batman trilogy with Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). With these three movies, Nolan revolutionized people's perception of seeing comic movies. The Dark Knight in particular was honoured with couple of awards at Oscar. In between them, he was involved with The Prestige (2006) and Inception (2010). Both the movies also received grand success among fans and at box office. His latest movie Interstellar (2014) helps Nolan maintain his high standards in the filming industry.


Why Nolan films attract huge fan base?


Various explanation can be given for Nolan's grand success, but the one which has attracted me the most is the suspense which he maintains until the end. Nolan movies often starts in a manner which makes us wonder have we missed the opening few minutes of the film? Because normally it takes a while for someone to understand where he is actually going with the movie. Only after the film reaches a certain stage, all the broken pieces will start to fall in the same plate. Only then, we may able to get an idea about the movie.


But, you may not understand everything yet as Nolan makes sure that the audience will only be able to get a glimpse of the overall concept of the movie at that stage. To understand it fully one has to wait till the very end. The Prestige can be taken as an example. In this movie initially one struggles to understand about the real life story and the flashbacks. Infact in that movie there will be a flashback within a flashback. As a result, the audience will need sometime to get used to it. Even when they do understand it, they may not have all the answers in the same basket. To know it all, they have to wait till the end when someone in this case both Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman explain about their lives and the truth behind 'The Real Transported Man.' Although it seems initially confusing, the end will make it worth waiting. 


Also his movies are not alone about the destination, but it is also about great journey which we witness in it. Despite the inspirational ending in The Dark Knight, few often criticized the way the movie was concluded. However, no one dares to question about the way the movie went about. Often super hero movies are disguised in the same way with an all conquering villain terrorize the public (like in the previous Superman or Spiderman series), the Super-Hero, who often keeps his identity anonymous, wears his masks and rescues them all. However, in the Batman episodes, Nolan broke those barricades.


When the Super-Hero was able to do virtually anything from flying to killing any numerous number of army without even getting shot or kicked once, Nolan introduced a practical kind of Super-Hero, who depends more on the technological advancements to capture the villains rather than using his skills and powers. Also with Bale regularly stating in the Batman series that a 'Hero' can be anyone, rather than a specific chosen one, we finally are told that Super-Heroes are not the Chosen ones, but indeed they can be any normal people. Also when Super-Heroes use their powers to their advantage to gain publicity like Iron Man or Fantastic Four, here Batman uses the mask to protect his loved ones being affected because of his involvement with the bad guys. Also with Batman craving for retirement, shows that he is no different to a normal person, who too eventually wants to lead a normal life away from all the chasing and killing. These are something which we don't often see in a Super-Hero movie.


Are Nolan's criticism justified?


Not many have questioned Nolan's ability or potential as a director, writer or producer, but the questions are often based on the one dimensional way of storytelling. Be it the short-term memory loss guy or a Super-Hero or be it a magician, Nolan movies often goes in the same way. His films are always of noirish manner. Most of his movies are played in the same suspense-thriller concept. Even though they all make for a good viewing, Nolan does not intend to move away from it and maintains the same trend, irrespective of the different stories or characters in it.


Besides, Nolan movies often leaves the ending in an abrupt manner. Rather than leaving it unfinished, he leaves the film in a way, where the audiences are asked to make the final call rather than the director himself giving it. Nolan himself accepted that the most asked question to him was the entire Inception movie a dream? But, even then the director does not give the answer and asks them to focus on the main picture there, which is Leonardo DiCaprio finally getting together with his children. Nolan in an interview said the hero does not bother to look at the totem in the end to verify whether he is actually in a dream or not, because all that matters for him is only getting back together with his children. May be that is enough for DiCaprio in the movie, but why should we care about the same? We came here to watch a movie not to being content seeing a father getting back with his children!


Also he often ignores the emotional part of a movie. We can take all his movies as an example, starting from Following, where the director does not place more emphasis on Lucy Russell being killed or does he not give us enough scenes to actual mourn Jeremy Theobald being unfortunately accused of murdering her. Any of his other movies can also be taken as other examples. In The Dark Knight, Maggie Gyllenhaal the lover of Batman dies, but we never really mourn her death, infact we hardly see Bruce Wayne himself feeling much about it. In the following part, the same applies for The Dark Knight Rises, we again never really get to see the other side of Marion Cotillard, which turns her into this evil character. The same can again be said with Inception as once again we never get to feel much with Marion Cotillard's death.


The director places more emphasis on suspense and thriller, as a result of which he often does not bother to place enough emphasis on the touching moments of the movie. Due to which the scenes which often stays with the audience hearts are never offered any depth to it. Moreover, he does not place enough importance on the humour aspect of the movie as well. Hardly one can witness a laughable scene in Nolan movies. Also Nolan movies have been labeled of always being complex ones. Hence, one has to entirely focus on the movie till the end to understand it. Even that may not be enough with movies like Memento and Inception, as a result the audience are forced to revisit them again. Due to this complex nature, audience struggle to get the main message from his films. Not always audience enjoy a confusing scenario.




Despite all the cons which can be found in Nolan movies, one simply cannot deny the fact that Nolan is a very successful director, who is capable of attracting a large fan base and at the same time is capable of making millions in the box office. The one dimensional way of his movie making or the heartless, emotionless concept in his films does remain a major issue with the director though. But, it cannot question his ability as a director or a writer as no one is better than Nolan in terms of adding innovative new ideas into a movie. So the final conclusion is Nolan has made a reputation of being one of the finest in the business and deservedly so. Hence, if he can fill his movies with these certain missing puzzles, then Christopher Nolan may indeed become invincible.