With Interstellar out today, Critic Jess Ennis tells her Top 3: Chistopher Nolan…
I am a self-professed lover of Christopher Nolan – this is an undisputable fact.
My love for his works has grown with every movie he makes, and despite my dubiousness towards the 2014 ‘McConnaissance’, it stands to reason thatInterstellar might be my favourite yet. It looks to be another movie that has his trademark combination of psychological complexity and science-fiction, taking vast ideas and placing them in the hands of wonderfully honest characters in the same way that so many of his successes, box-office smashes or not, have done.
In preparation for the release of Interstellar, then, I decided that a Netflix-sponsored, good old-fashioned binge of Mr Nolan’s selected filmography was well overdue, and so below is just a snapshot of movies that I believe are his biggest, most ambitious works, imaginatively titled ‘Three Christopher Nolan Films You Have To Watch To Prepare You For The Brilliance That Will Probably Be Interstellar’.
3. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
Yes, Batman has been done to death; between Arnold Schwarzenegger in a tank made of ice and Ben Affleck’s upcoming Superman team-up, Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy could have joined many others in the category of ‘franchises that should have ended with Danny DeVito’. But it didn’t. What Nolan gave us, instead, was dark, gritty, and full of enough wonderfully executed fights and car chases to exceed the previous attempts at envisioning ‘The Bat’.
If we set aside Christian Bale’s voice, which ended up in The Dark Knight Rises sounding like a man doing his best Darth Vader impression, the final of the three movies was undeniably the best. This is, in no small part, down to Tom Hardy’s astonishing performance as Bane, but the direction by Nolan is what really makes the film. The film is so fast-paced that it might seem impossible to capture the level of action without going into shaky, guerrilla style camera work, but it actually strikes a balance between that and quality defined filming that means all of the fantastically choreographed showdowns are caught and maximised for some really jaw-dropping shots. Nolan hits the action-thriller genre head on, packing The Dark Knight Rises with enough explosions to be a financial success at the cinemas whilst still retaining the darkness and cerebral depth of his earlier, more niche work.
2. INSOMNIA (2002)
One of Nolan’s lesser known films, Insomnia tells the story of a detective who is sent to Alaska to find a missing girl, only to get embroiled in a deceit of his own. As per with Nolan’s work, it’s clever, with lead protagonist Dormer – played surprisingly well by Al Pacino – slowly losing his mind and fusing reality with his own spiralling imagination.
The film is one of Nolan’s moodier pieces too, with the dark expanses of Alaskan lakes and woodland providing the ideal setting for something brooding, swimming in mystery – a crime, hidden in fog. The result is visually stunning, full of long, slow shots and striking overhead pans over vast forests; the characters feel small, caught in something larger than themselves, and it gives the film a palpable tension that continually ramps up.
That isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have its flaws. The ending itself is somewhat of an anti-climax, though again beautifully shot, but it seems to be a film that follows the ‘it’s in the journey, not in the destination’ mantra – as a whole, it is a thoroughly engaging experience, and one that I don’t believe is marred by an underwhelming close.
1. INCEPTION (2010)
Inception is perhaps the smartest film I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean this in purely cinematic terms, either – the intelligence doesn’t come from plot twist after plot twist, but from truly ingenious ideas and a great deal of research. Nolan spent upwards of seven years developing the premise and detailed outline of the film, theorising about lucid dreaming and ‘dream stealers’ until it eventually became the psychological powerhouse that it is.
I’ve come across very few people who haven’t already seen Inception, but for those interested in film-making or the cinema in general, I think that it’s a film that should really be studied; it’s a masterclass in screenwriting, with Nolan writing the ensemble of characters and every inch of the film’s action with such detail that, as I mentioned earlier, it really starts to feel real. The science behind it, though fictionalised, is cleverly worked into reality, and contrasts beautifully with the ephemerality of the dreams; the film is at once spacey and grounded, simultaneously thinking on a vast scale whilst still appealing to the individual.
Inception also has the greatest soundtrack in modern film history. Fact. Hans Zimmer’s overwhelming, ambitious score really makes the film a masterpiece – the final scene, where Cobb is reunited with his children is perhaps one of the most simple but powerful scenes, and it’s the combination of Nolan’s direction with the Zimmer’s gigantic orchestra that makes that moment so wonderfully impacting.
Practically, the film as a whole is one that really emphasises Nolan’s prowess as an experimental and extravagant director – he had a 100ft hotel corridor built in an air hangar that rotated 360 degrees, allowing for the camera to stay relatively level while the set itself actually moved. Similarly, he constructed a bar that tilted 30 degrees, meaning that the film combines really simple camera work with elaborate set design, creating something that never feels overdramatic or too artsy, and allows the audience to focus less on making sense of the visuals and more upon the complex ideas at play.
This film, then, is perfect preparation for Interstellar, what looks to be one of Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious pieces yet.
With this complete – albeit short – list in mind, I leave you with only two things to ponder as we count down the days until Interstellar is released:
Will humanity take to the stars in search of a new home? Maybe.
Will Matthew McConaughey’s character’s first words be “alright, alright, alright”? If we’re lucky.
Interstellar is released in UK cinemas today.