FIB’s Film Masterclass simply had to cover the work of director Christopher Nolan, who’s style can best be described as cerebral, nonlinear, and the embodiment of cinematic art.
For all our superhero and DC Fans out there, you have Nolan to thank for the beauty that was the Dark Knight Trilogy. Although, Nolan’s film catalogue shares titles and celebrity names that have cemented his role as an industry goliath.
Nolan’s interest in filmaking started at very young age and now a days, his movies have garnered a 34 Oscar nominations and 10 wins.
With films such as Dunkirk (2017), Insomnia (2002), Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014), and The Prestige (2006); Nolan proves time and time again that he has mastered the art of merging blockbuster entertainment with complex narratives while successfully experimenting with form like no other filmmaker before him.
Let’s have a look at what our FIB Film Team had to say about Nolan’s film-making style:
FIB Film Team Member
Christopher Nolan might be the kind of director that comes to mind when one considering the word “cinematic”. While pretentious and seemingly undescriptive, the term does actually call to mind a particular style of filmmaking that has evolved to be the dominant stylistic palette for contemporary blockbusters. Nolan’s take however, has always seemed a little more intellectual than flamboyant, as he typically strays away from storylines that are easily digestible to the masses.
Films such as Memento (2000) and Inception (2010) follow non-linear plotlines. Memento deals with a protagonist with amnesia, and jumps between the present timeline and the past. We see the pieces of the story come together with the main character, until the two timelines meet at the end of the film. Inception could simply be described as a chase movie through people’s dreams. It was a groundbreaking film in terms of creative visual effects, scope and spectacle; and absolutely iconic for its concept and score.
Inception also highlights the director’s preference for grounding his film’s in reality when it comes to effects. Essentially, if something can be done as a practical effect, for the most part, Nolan will do it that way. A perfect example is the rotating hallway fight scene. This was filmed using a large rotating set piece. The camera was attached to the rig so that it rotated along with the platform. This created the illusion of the world staying level while the gravity of the world moved around an axis. The effect is also motivated by what is happening in the ‘real world’ of the film (a van holding the characters is being rammed and rolled off the road), which we see thanks to Nolan’s famous use of ‘intercutting’ between two scenes / locations / etc.
Nolan’s penchant for mind-bending storylines is exercised in a slightly different manner in films such as The Prestige (2006) and Interstellar (2014). The former deals with stage magicians, and Nolan fittingly adopted the role of an illusionist when constructing the story. Much like a magic trick, out initial expectations are set up at the beginning, in which we see a climactic moment from the back-half of the film; but it’s significance does not become clear until later. As the film progresses the audience almost forgets about the opening scene, becoming engrossed by the beautiful misdirection on display as each act unfolds.
Interstellar is often quoted as one of, if not the most, visually impressive film in Nolan’s catalogue. Not only is the cinematography and camera work wonderfully expressive from scene to scene, but the combination with visual effects is executed masterfully and tastefully, striking perfect balance between the two. While the film is great on the ground, once our characters are up in space the movie truly takes off, literally and figuratively. The film contains groundbreaking visual effects in the case of the black hole simulation which was based off a completely legitimate mathematical formula for how black holes bend light and space. The result was the first truly accurate simulation of a black hole ever seen on film. And is a testament to Nolan’s dedication to accuracy and reality in his filmmaking.
FIB Film Team Member
Christopher Nolan is a director who puts much thought into his films, much more beyond what people would imagine. He has created masterpieces such as Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014), Dunkirk (2017) and The Dark Knight (2008), to name a few. Nolan has a hands on approach and likes to achieve a sense of realism throughout his movies. He does this through his direct involvement in all aspects of creating the story’s world, such as the building of expansive sets. An example of this is the turning hallway that he had built for the film Inception. He also likes to get thorough perspectives to make it seem like his movies could be achieved in real life in the past, present or distant future. He does this through his fact checking with scientists in Interstellar to make sure that most of the scientific jargon and formulas within the movie are physically possible. I don’t believe Christopher Nolan’s movies would have the same effect if he had not put so much extra consideration in the small minute details of his films.
FIB Film Team Leader
Christopher Nolan is a brilliant director who explores different aspects of a film in a much more in-depth and thorough manner than a casual viewer can imagine. Incredible use of film techniques and aspects such as immersive story telling, technical hands on skill, and entrancing sound design.
Story telling is a straight forward technique used in films which has sort of been etched in stone in the way that certain rules must be followed, a three act structure for instance. Creating a timeline in a movie isn’t anything new, however the way Nolan chooses to tell his stories in each film completely revitalises the way we perceive movies and stories of these movies, creating and maintaining much more suspense and interest than a linear storyline would. The way his films cut between multiple different perspectives and/or timelines in movies such as inception and interstellar, creating a vast journey for the audience to embark on, meeting together in some big twist or point of revealing the outcome which feels incredibly rewarding after being sucked into such an immersive storyline.
I was completely blown away finding out about how the set of Interstellar was created, knowing the effort that the entire crew went through to build such a beautiful set definitely gave me a lot more appreciation for Nolan’s directing & films. Nolan’s reluctance to completely rely on VFX or CGI is what makes him such a creative genius, where most directors would turn to technology, Nolan continuously find a way to bring his ideas to life with incredible set production, like the rotating hallway made for Inception or the set & structures created for Interstellar. Rewatching those scenes I was completely blown away by the choreography and the product of those shots.
While watching a film directed by Christopher Nolan, what stands out to me the most is the sound design. Sound design Is an element in film which stands out as it’s overpowering and isn’t hidden. Whatever you’re hearing, is the work that has been put in. Nolan’s diegetic sound design is really impressive, The Dark Knight is a great example of this, but also exposes the amazing scores that are specifically created for Nolan’s Films. His work with Hans Zimmer to create incredible film scores that are atmospheric and so accurately convey emotion and tone in Nolan’s films is astonishing.
All these amazingly detailed elements and film techniques that are used In Nolans movies surely make him a lead example and role model for young film makers around the world.
Rocio Merino Hernandez
FIB Film Team Member
His personal style its based on a several main characteristics:Talking about his visual style, Nolan often emphasises urban styles, modern locations and architecture as we can see on Inception. Surreal painting given life its another of his imagery and cinematic choices. He also rather to use real filming locations over studio work. We also have to highlight the experimentation with the metafictive elements and the use of ‘film noir’.
Another characteristic that define his style is the nonlinear storytelling. Using non chronological narrative structures, Nolan gives an extra intellectual aspect to his movies, making the viewer’s to think about what they’re watching and forcing them to be focus on the story to understanding.
About his writing style, we could enhance the different timelines and time frames interacting its one the big component of his method. With storytelling techniques like flashbacks (Memento) or unreliable narrators the director makes the thrillers even more complicated to understand and follow.
Christopher Nolan’s themes explores ethical, existential and psychological aspects of the human being. With examples like distortion of memory (Memento) or motivated by tragedy (Inception), Nolan uses the personal identity of his protagonist to make the perception of reality more subjective. But the most recurring theme in his movies and the one which makes him different is the concept of time
The excellent cast which form part on his movies make them even better.