“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you . . . strangeerrr.” If this quote conjures images of smeared face paint and a twisted smile, you did not live under a rock in the year 2008.
The Dark Knight (TDK) is a thrilling superhero blockbuster from the mind of director/co-writer Christopher Nolan, and though obviously adapted from Batman source material, Nolan was sure to put his signature stamp on the film. TDK sits as a staple of both one of the most successful superhero films of recent years, and one of Nolan’s larger films commercially due to its iconic cape-wearing vigilante, grossing in a whopping 533.3 million domestically in its theatrical run (that’s right, before DVD/Blu-ray sales).
However, I shall not be speaking strictly of this complex crime saga but instead talking of the man behind all the cinematic magic, Mr. Christopher Nolan. Having now seen all seven feature films he has directed (and wrote/co-wrote), along with one of three short films, I feel confident in saying that now is as good as any to try and encompass one of the most imaginative and genius directors my generation has had the privilege of seeing work and evolve.
Where to begin? Have you ever walked out of a movie theater with your head aching, and not from the loud noises and frenetic camera movement of a typical Hollywood action flick, but from the twisting and turning of a story, the vast questions it poses, and the sheer size of the ideas woven into a film? In my experience, almost every Nolan film demands your mind to try and squeeze all that was just presented into coherent sequence and break events down so you don’t virtually implode (the exception being Batman Begins, not because I consider it inferior to the rest of his filmography, but simply because it is the beginnings of a trilogy and thus less vast in its reach as a solitary story and works more as the teasing of a larger picture).
That’s not to say Mr. Nolan presents his films in a manner of incoherence, just that he has a knack for telling complex stories which test and tease your brain and inflict chaos on your senses at every turn. Subsequent to my first viewing of Inception, the sophisticated dream-invasion sci-fi epic, my brain throbbed from the intricate layers, broad ideas and concepts, and profuse questions that filled my head. Even in his feature-length debut Following, with a budget of just $6,000, Nolan wove a labyrinth tale of conspiracy and scheming into a short hour and ten minute run time.
Nolan often employs non-linear narrative, which means the story is told out of chronological sequence. The Prestige’s narrative switches between multiple characters and flashbacks/forwards while telling a story of intrigue and deception in the world of magicians.
In Memento, the film begins at the end, and then plays backwards in fragmented segments interspersed with flashback clips from earlier in the story. This ingenious approach has been called a gimmick by some, but I just can’t see it that way. If a narrative technique can absorb and immerse a viewer in a way they haven’t seen before and lift the film itself to a different level, I say full speed ahead.
That’s the beauty of Mr. Nolan; I believe he is truly one of the few American directors striving to reach new, groundbreaking areas of cinema. He is not satisfied with settling for something that has been done a thousand times before, but for what is ahead. For what lies in the expansive space of the unknown and unexplored. Even when dealing with material handled by many before him, Nolan was able to give the Batman series a fresh and innovative approach that felt as original as the rest of his work.
Watching any one of his films, I instantly hand all the problems and woes in my life over to Mr. Nolan in exchange for not only total escapism, but the knowledge that my brain power will be used elsewhere.
Nolan demands your attention from the opening credits to the final curtain, pinning you to your seat throughout. Though never cheating the audience, Nolan does not hold the viewers hand: blink for a moment and you may miss a sign or symbol, message or clue. If you’re prepared for a mind-bending and complex ride that will both test and ultimately satisfy, allow yourself to be swept away in the ever-expanding Nolanverse. Are you watching closely?