Film director Christopher Nolan is changing Hollywood. And, as movie goers it’s a change that we should decide to embrace. Nolan is at the forefront of the minor renaissance that’s taking place in filmmaking; delivering thoughtful and intelligent blockbusters. Nolan’s recent successes with the Dark Knight/Batman trilogy have altered the expectations of what a blockbuster movie is…or can become.
With ‘Batman Begins’ , ‘The Dark Knight’, and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Nolan has taken an iconic superhero character and imbued that story with deep human emotion, presented an epic scale in those films worthy of their history, and has almost single handedly affected the way that future genre films are marketed. If you haven’t yet seen the early promotional posters for ‘Oblivion’ or ‘Star Trek: Journey Into Darkness’, the resemblances to the Batman marketing strategy is obvious. And warranted.
What Nolan has accomplished with his still relatively small body of work is astounding. He makes movies that are grand in scale, require active participation by and reward his audience for their efforts, are thematically multi-layered, and are intelligently and brilliantly entertaining. Each of Nolan’s films, from ‘Memento’ in 2000, to ‘The Prestige’ in 2006, and through ‘Inception’ (2010) and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ this past year; each are classics in their own right. There are layers of depth and subtext not only in the storytelling, but in the performances themselves which reward the film fan for multiple viewing. Christopher Nolan has seemed to perfect the art of providing big, glossy, mega-budgeted movies that actually have heart and substance.
Nolan’s central characters seem to be overwhelmed by obsession and personal demons. Somehow, these anti-heroic traits don’t prevent us from connecting with and even rooting for his protagonists. From Leonard ‘I have this condition…’ Shelby in ‘Memento’ to Leonardo Di Caprio’s control obsessed Cobb character in ‘Inception’, (and obviously Bruce Wayne/Batman has some issues) Nolan has a gift for making these people appear real despite their unpleasant natures and overwhelming obstacles. They are flawed, have dubious pasts or agendas, but are extremely accessible to the viewer.
Perhaps what we’re witnessing is the ‘second coming’ of adult dramatic film as a popular blockbuster. In the early 1970’s a young director named Martin Scorsese ushered in a similar movie making renaissance along with directors like Francis Ford Coppola and William Friedkin. Each of these directors found the pulse of the film going public that craved more adult stories made with a grand scale and scope. Similar to the long standing relationship between director Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro, Nolan seems to have found his preferred anti-hero in Christian Bale and his story’s moral compass in Michael Caine. Bale and Caine appeared in all three recent ‘Batman’ films as well as ‘The Prestige.’
What is exciting as a movie fan is that Nolan is still in the early stages of his career. His successes from the Batman franchise have carried over into his attachment as producer on the upcoming Superman reboot: Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ and has given that film extra buzz and credibility just through Nolan’s involvement. He has also been rumored to have an interest in the James Bond franchise and his future involvement in the DC Comics/Warner Brothers ‘Justice League’ film(s) is hotly debated amongst film fans.
Christopher Nolan’s next project, whatever it turns out to be will be met with strong expectations and high anticipation. In the meantime, film fans, enjoy the moment. There exists a working film director whose films entertain, challenge, and often reward the viewer with beautifully produced and well written films that showcase terrific actors and are often thought provoking adventures.
The monetary achievements and mass appeal will likely inspire better quality films in the immediate future. Nolan’s successes have created a template for film studios and producers alike. ‘There’s money to be made in well made, entertaining movies? Let’s make more of those.’ I can only imagine being spoken in Hollywood boardrooms as you read this.