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Have you been watching closely? For the uninitiated, this is a question, which is a direct reference to Nolan’s 2006 masterwork The Prestige. Have you been watching an artist continuously redefine the landscape of the thought-provoking, brain-food film in an industry obsessed with the sequel and the reboot? If you haven’t been, now is a good time to get started. Of course Nolan is no stranger to the reboot or the sequel, but if we have learned anything from any of his work, it’s that we can expect to be surprised, confused and called upon to figure out the riddles he poses. We can expect his take on the material to be original.
Only a handful of directors today come to mind when considering films that are less the standard popcorn fare, which more often than not, seems to be what we get when we go to the movies. That is unless we “know where to go”, as our friend Rubeus Hagrid says. Knowing where to go has something to do with knowing what a director is capable of bringing you. Christopher Nolan is one such director on a short list whose films are by no means standard. You know this if you have seen any one of his masterpieces. Sure, there is a sort of Nolan standard that we expect to experience, but the notion that there is somehow something ‘normal’ or ‘average’ about a Nolan film, would be a far cry from the truth.
With his latest offering, the highly anticipated Interstellar hitting theaters this Friday, we here at Entertainment Fuse are trying something different. Rather than do a full-on retrospective of Nolan’s oeuvre, we look at the films that are the product of the wonderfully innovative Nolan factory (i.e. the mind of Christopher Nolan or his brother Jonathan Nolan) from concept to completion.
We begin with Nolan’s debut feature film about a struggling, unemployed writer who enjoys secretly following people around London in order to find inspiration for his work. Written by Nolan himself, his talent and skill as a credible filmmaker is apparent. Upon its release in the late 90s, the film garnered generally positive reviews as well as several awards. Already the notable trademarks and themes of his work can be seen. Particularly, the stylistic non-linear storytelling, the protagonist who has an unusual obsession and relationships between characters that at some point is questioned. Following is a low-budget indie flick that not many Nolanites know about, but if you search for it, you will find that it is in strong standing in terms of what critics think of it. Definitely worth a look for any fan.
This was the film that introduced wider audiences to Nolan. That is, before the Batman films. Working with a considerably larger budget, a stronger cast, and a script he wrote based on a story by his brother Jonathan Nolan, the elder Nolan expands on the themes and techniques presented in Following and the result is not only a psychological twister in terms of the film’s very intricate plot structure, but a bit of a master-class in character development in the Nolan way. The story follows Leonard (Guy Pearce) as a man without short-term memory, who is obsessed with getting revenge on the man who murdered his wife. A character who lacks short-term memory on top of a twist on non-linear storytelling in that the story is told backwards with multiple timelines established, already sounds like a recipe for something that begs to be experienced multiple times. Memento is definitely one of those films to watch a second, third, or fourth time in order to really understand what happens. You might even try watching the film in chronological order (an option the DVD allows) and see if that helps anything.
To call the film ambitious would be accurate. Probably Nolan’s most personal passion project following the huge success of The Dark Knight (2008), once again, he demonstrates what fans of his take on the Batman mythology already expected: he is in top form here. Inception won four Academy Awards, making it one of his most successful projects. This unconventional heist film follows a team of dream extractors led by Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) as they race against time to perform the impossible act of inception, which means essentially planting an idea in the mind of a subject making it appear as if whatever idea they have comes from the subject organically. As entertaining as it is supremely intellectual, Inception is a film that not only speaks to the very core of how we engage with our dreams, but it also speaks to a certain extent, to how we experience movies, which if you want to see it, is a pretty cool metaphor for the motion picture.
Now we come to Interstellar, which by virtue of its premise, takes the place of Inception as the most monumental project that Nolan has tackled to date. At this point in his career, Nolan has proved that he is not only a master at approaching pre-existing properties like Batman and Superman and improving how those properties could be experienced in a thoughtful way, but he is a master at bringing is own ideas to the fore and executing them with aplomb.
Interstellar opens Friday, November 7.