Christopher Nolan: A celebrity in his own right | Sunday Observer

Christopher Nolan: A celebrity in his own right

8 May, 2022

Christopher Nolan is a British-American film director, producer, and screenwriter. His films have grossed more than US$5 billion worldwide, and have garnered 11 Academy Awards from 36 nominations.

Born and raised in London, Nolan developed an interest in filmmaking from a young age. After studying English literature at University College London, he made his feature debut with ‘Following’ (1998). Nolan gained international recognition with his second film, ‘Memento’ (2000), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

He transitioned from independent to studio filmmaking with ‘Insomnia’ (2002), and found further critical and commercial success with ‘The Dark Knight Trilogy’ (2005–2012), ‘The Prestige’ (2006), and ‘Inception’ (2010), which received eight Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

This was followed by ‘Interstellar’ (2014), ‘Dunkirk’ (2017), and Tenet (2020). He earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Director for his work on ‘Dunkirk’.

Nolan’s films are typically rooted in epistemological and metaphysical themes, exploring human morality, the construction of time, and the malleable nature of memory and personal identity.

His work is permeated by mathematically inspired images and concepts, unconventional narrative structures, practical special effects, experimental soundscapes, large-format film photography, and materialistic perspectives. He has co-written several of his films with his brother Jonathan, and runs the production company Syncopy Inc. with his wife Emma Thomas.

Nolan has received many awards and honours. ‘Time’ named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2015, and in 2019, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to film.

2014–2019: Established Hollywood auteur

Nolan next directed, wrote, and produced the science-fiction film ‘Interstellar’ (2014). The first drafts of the script were written by Jonathan Nolan, and it was originally to be directed by Steven Spielberg.

Based on the scientific theories of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, the film follows a group of astronauts who travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Michael Caine, and Ellen Burstyn, ‘Interstellar’ was released in November 2014 to largely positive reviews and strong box office results, grossing over $700 million worldwide. A. O. Scott wrote, in his review for ‘The New York Times’, “Interstellar, full of visual dazzle, thematic ambition ... is a sweeping, futuristic adventure driven by grief, dread and regret.” Documentary filmmaker Toni Myers said of the film, “I loved it because it tackled the most difficult part of human exploration, which is that it’s a multi-generational journey. It was a real work of art.”

‘Interstellar’ was particularly praised for its scientific accuracy, which led to the publication of two scientific papers and the American Journal of Physics calling for it to be shown in school science lessons. At the 87th Academy Awards, the film won Best Visual Effects and received four other nominations – Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing and Best Production Design. In 2014, Nolan and Emma Thomas also served as executive producers on ‘Transcendence’, the directorial debut of Nolan’s longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister.

In the mid-2010s, Nolan took part in several ventures for film preservation and distribution of the films of lesser-known filmmakers. His production company, Syncopy, formed a joint venture with Zeitgeist Films to release Blu-ray editions of Zeitgeist’s prestige titles.

As part of the Blu-ray release of the animation films of the Brothers Quay, Nolan directed the documentary short Quay (2015). He also initiated a theatrical tour, showcasing the Quays’ ‘In Absentia’, ‘The Comb’, and ‘Street of Crocodiles’. The program and Nolan’s short received critical acclaim, with ‘IndieWire’ writing in their review that the brothers “will undoubtedly have hundreds, if not thousands more fans because of Nolan, and for that ‘The Quay Brothers in 35mm’ will always be one of latter’s most important contributions to cinema”.

An advocate for the survival of the analogue medium, Nolan and visual artist Tacita Dean invited representatives from leading American film archives, laboratories, and presenting institutions to participate in an informal summit entitled ‘Reframing the Future of Film’ at the Getty Museum in March 2015. Subsequent events were held at Tate Modern in London, Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, and Tata Theatre in Mumbai.

In 2015, Nolan also joined the board of directors of The Film Foundation, a US-based non-profitable organisation dedicated to film preservation, and was appointed, along with Martin Scorsese, by the Library of Congress to serve on the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) as DGA representatives.

After serving as an executive producer alongside Thomas on Zack Snyder’s ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (2016) and ‘Justice League’ (2017), Nolan returned to directing with ‘Dunkirk’ (2017). Based on his own original screenplay and co-produced with Thomas, the story is set amid World War II and the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, in 1940.

Describing the film as a survival tale with a triptych structure, Nolan wanted to make a “sensory, almost experimental movie” with minimal dialogue. He said he waited to make ‘Dunkirk’ until he had earned the trust of a major studio to let him make it as a British film, but with an American budget.

Before filming, Nolan sought advice from Spielberg, who later said in an interview with Variety, “knowing and respecting that Chris [Nolan] is one of the world’s most imaginative filmmakers, my advice to him was to leave his imagination, as I did on ‘Ryan’, in second position to the research he was doing to authentically acquit this historical drama.” Starring Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and Kenneth Branagh, ‘Dunkirk’ was released in theatres in July 2017 to widespread critical acclaim and strong box office results.

It grossed over $526 million worldwide, which made it the highest-grossing World War II film of all time In his review, Mick LaSalle of the ‘San Francisco Chronicle’ wrote: “It’s one of the best war films ever made, distinct in its look, in its approach and in the effect it has on viewers. There are movies — they are rare — that lift you out of your present circumstances and immerse you so fully in another experience that you watch in a state of jaw-dropped awe. ‘Dunkirk’ is that kind of movie.” The film received many accolades, including Nolan’s first Oscar nomination for Best Director.

In 2018, Nolan supervised a new 70mm print of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), made from the original camera negative; he presented it at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. USA Today observed that festival-goers greeted the director “like a rock star with a standing ovation.”

A year later, Nolan and Thomas received executive producer credits on ‘The Doll’s Breath’ (2019), an animated short directed by the Quay brothers. By the end of the decade, Nolan had established a reputation as a “Hollywood auteur” and “star director”. ‘The Cinemaholic’ wrote, “A celebrity in his own right, he is one of the most recognizable names in the directing world. He has seen unprecedented success both in commercial and critical space — a rare feat to achieve by all means. There are legions of fans across the globe — and not just in America — who worship him and follow his every move.”