A Time Traveler’s Trip Through the Films of Christopher Nolan (in Layman’s Term)

Christopher Nolan is considered one of the best directors of the 21st century, if not in cinematic history. Although that superlative is subjective, he does hold an impressive range of works. From his ventures into comic books to the beaches of Dunkirk, Nolan has proved both his versatility and his vision. However, if you’re new to his films then allow me to take you on a trip down some of Nolan’s cinematic adventures. 

Doodlebug (1997)

One might mistake this for one of David Lynch’s experimental pieces, but let it be known that here stands Christopher Nolan’s first short film out of college. At face value, the film depicts a man’s troubles with a small nuisance within his apartment. If one were to look closer they would see that this nuisance is in fact a man the size of a large spider. And if one was to put on their glasses (if they lack proper vision), one might also see that this man is the man we’ve been watching all along. 

Memento (2000)

If one was to turn a dream into a paperclip into a film, then this would be Memento. The film dives into the fragility of memories and truth, whilst less seriously featuring a man who might just enjoy analog photography. The chronology of Memento is what draws people to the film. Nolan takes scissors to the story’s chronological order and still manages to set them up like some narrative domino set. He describes the film’s timeline like a paperclip, where the ending and beginning are featured at the start of the film, while the middle is the resolution. Memento is sure to be the go to Nolan film to completely fail at predicting what will happen next. 

Batman Begins (2005)

I’ll be expecting negative comments when I say that in my opinion, Batman Begins is perhaps Nolan’s worst film. Meaning, the movie is still an exceptional piece, it just does succeed to the standards of his other works. My gripes with the first Batman installment lie in the film’s world building. Nolan’s Gotham is heavily influenced by Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, with perhaps some inspiration from Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner. The grimy, gothic, and somewhat theatrical sets of the city contrast heavily to Nolan’s flair for a more realistic take on the Dark Knight. However, Batman Begins is still a worthwhile superhero film that stays true to both the comics and Nolan’s great writing. 

The Prestige (2006)

 Science is magic and magic is science, and Nichola Tesla lives in a field of light bulbs! The film features two magicians devoted to a bitter rivalry. Each is as equally obsessed with the game as the other, with the tricks and traps becoming all the more elaborate. Christopher Nolan dares the audience to never blink as he performs his own magic for the world to see. I’m convinced he was Houndini in a past life. 

The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight was my first Christopher Nolan film at the ripe old age of 8 years old. Heath Ledger’s Joker is captivating and seems to work perfectly in tandem with Nolan’s hands-off approach to his actors. The film serves as a perfect contradiction to those that believe Nolan runs a tight, slightly authoritative ship. You can feel the energy of the set through the moving images and at the end you will definitely be wishing you could have interned for Nolan while he was shooting this one. 

Inception (2010)

Perhaps Christopher Nolan’s most popular movie, Inception takes you on a trip down memory lane, quite literally. The film centers around Cobb, a thief that enters people’s dreams to steal important information. When a client offers a job, he just cannot refuse and a chance to see his family again, Cobb takes it, unknowingly setting himself down a difficult and deadly path. The film is well known for its mind-bending city landscapes and easily understood science. And let us not forget Joseph Gordon Levitt’s leaps and bounds through a rotating hallway. The film is an excellent watch and a must see for those just getting into Nolan’s movies. 

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Is that Tom Hardy? Well, yes, I think it is. 

Christopher Nolan delivers on his epic conclusion to the Batman trilogy, with the great additions of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt offering a beloved take on the origins a certain sidekick. Tom Hardy’s Bane is sure to be the best interpretation of the character since the comics and will leave you imitating his distinctive cadence for days. 

Interstellar (2014)

The music alone is enough to draw people into the world of Interstellar. Christopher Nolan made the recommendation for using a church organ to Hans Zimmer, to which Zimmer said “that’s stupid.” Little did he know, he would stumble upon a masterpiece. Interstellar postulates the day earth would become uninhabitable and the responsibility of one man to search for a solution amongst the stars. The film is arguably one of Nolan’s more personal films with a strong emphasis on moral and character dilemmas and the difficult choices to be made. It was also heavily supervised by Nobel-Prize winning physicist, Kip Thorne, which means it is possibly one of the most scientifically accurate sci-fi movies to grace the screens of the cinema. 

Dunkirk (2017)

Christopher Nolan never ceases to surprise his viewers. Who would have known he would turn towards historical reenactments? However, this reimagining of the evacuation at Dunkirk comes with Nolan’s signature twists. He uses time to drive the film’s dramatic and intense plot, with three intersection storylines, each of which take place along a different span of time. From one hour by air, to one day crossing the English Channel, to an entire week on the beaches of Dunkirk. Nolan’s film is by means attempting to make you fall in the love with the characters, but rather hang off the edge of your seat wondering, “will they get out here?”

Tenet (2020)

Perhaps one of the most controversial of Nolan films just in critics’ reviews alone; time travelling spies should never be downplayed. The film features a nameless main character, known only as the protagonist, who becomes enthralled in the inner workings of a darker world as he attempts to stop World War III. Although there have been complaints about the music and sound choices, I actually found the film to be my favourite of Nolan’s works. It feels strange to compliment a film’s colour palette, 21st century costume, and impersonal protagonist, but that’s exactly what I just did. Tenet in no way is aiming to be a character study, but rather an echo of the old school espionage films with Nolan’s classic twists. 

Oppenheimer (2023)

Set to be released in 2023, the future Christopher Nolan film will be his eleventh film. Oppenheimer, as the title suggests, will focus on J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who changed the world. Cillian Murphy will be playing the lead, with notable stars such as Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon filling in supporting roles. 

So as we look forward to Christopher Nolan’s next upcoming work, I’ll invite you to take a trip down his past films. There is always something new to learn and discover along the way. And whether you like superhero movies, or thrillers, Lynchian brain teasers, historical dramas, or science fiction epics Nolan is sure to offer something for everyone. 

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