Christopher Nolan is known for films that are often great and always interesting. Even when his movies where reaction was mixed such as The Dark Knight Returns and Interstellar, the consensus was less that the films were bad so much as they didn’t compare well to the rest of his body of work. Nolan’s films are often visually stunning and philosophically heady. Since entering the mainstream with Batman Begins, Nolan has enjoyed the kind of blockbuster budget that allows him to push the envelope in the marriage of high art with pop art. Below are three films that show Nolan’s mastery.
This film is, in many ways, the forgotten child of Nolan’s filmography. The Prestige is, on its surface, about stage magicians on the dawn of the 20th century but is also as much about film-making itself as anything else. The two male leads play the roles of showman vs. technician flawlessly as a labyrinth of twists wraps around them. The film succeeds in never being predictable with endless twists and turns while still being internally cohesive as a story of obsession and the nature of perception against reality.
It’s the one that goes backwards. It would be easy to write off the narrative hook of this film as novelty but Nolan’s skill in maximizing such a gimmick is what gives Memento its teeth. The way Nolan reveals information, especially in the subplot with Carrie Anne-Moss, gives real dynamic to the backwards narrative and keeps the viewer always guessing what might have been around the corner. Again, Nolan shows the strength of perception and how that might warp the very nature of reality.
The Dark Knight
For a director whose filmography includes an epic sci-fi homage to Andrei Tarkovsky and an immersive cinematic war piece, one might feel silly placing as his top film a franchise superhero movie. Nevertheless, The Dark Knight is not simply a great movie, it changed the way blockbusters were made. From Skyfall to The Last Jedi, Nolan’s influence on characterization, narrative structure, and tone can be seen everywhere.