Christopher Nolan, London (2013)
30 July 1970
|Education||BA in English literature|
|Alma mater||University College London|
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter, film producer|
|Spouse(s)||Emma Thomas; 4 children|
|Relatives||Jonathan Nolan, (brother)|
Noted for his consistent utilization of themes related to the darker side of the human psyche, with a particular affinity for existential questions regarding identity, perception and memory, Nolan has been described as "one of the most innovative storytellers and image makers at work in movies today". Since his debut in 1998, Nolan has directed eight features, ranging from low budget independent films to large-scale, major studio-supported blockbusters. In total, they have grossed approximately $1.6 billion in North America and $3.5 billion worldwide.
He has received three Academy Award nominations, two of which are for Best Original Screenplay. In July 2012, Nolan became the youngest director to be honored with a hand-and-footprint ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Aesthetics
- 4 Collaborators
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Recognition
- 7 Awards and honors
- 8 Filmography
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Christopher Nolan was born in London, England to a British father of Irish descent, Brendan Nolan (an advertising copywriter), and an American mother, Christina (née Jensen; a flight attendant), thus permitting him to claim dual UK/US citizenship. Growing up, he split his time between Chicago and London. Nolan began making films at age seven, borrowing his father's Super 8 camera and shooting short movies of his action figures.
He was educated at Haileybury and Imperial Service College, an independent school on Hertford Heath in Hertfordshire, and later read English literature at University College London (UCL). He chose UCL specifically for its filmmaking facilities, which comprised a Steenbeck editing suite and 16 mm film cameras. Nolan was president of the Union's Film Society, and with longtime film producer Emma Thomas he screened 35 mm feature films during the school year and used the money earned to produce 16 mm films over the summers.
During his college years, Nolan made two short films. The first was the surreal 8 mm Tarantella (1989), which was shown on Image Union (an independent film and video showcase on the Public Broadcasting Service). The second was Larceny (1995), filmed over a weekend in black-and-white with a limited cast, crew and equipment. Funded by Nolan and shot with the society's equipment, it appeared at the Cambridge Film Festival in 1996 and is considered one of UCL's best recent shorts.
After graduation, Nolan directed corporate videos and industrial films. He also made a third short, Doodlebug (1997), a Kafkaesque story about a man chasing an insect around a flat with a shoe only to discover when killing it that it is a miniature of himself.
In 1998 Nolan directed his first feature film, Following. It depicts an unemployed young writer who trails strangers through London, hoping they will provide material for his first novel; however, he is drawn into a criminal underworld when he fails to keep his distance. The film was inspired by Nolan's experience of living in London and having his flat burgled: "There is an interesting connection between a stranger going through your possessions and the concept of following people at random through a crowd – both take you beyond the boundaries of ordinary social relations". Following was made on a modest budget of £3,000, and was shot on weekends over the course of a year. To conserve film stock, each scene in the film was rehearsed extensively to ensure that the first or second take could be used in the final edit. Nolan directed the film from his own script, photographing and editing it himself. Following won several awards during its festival run and was well received by critics; on 11 December 2012, it was released on DVD and Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection.
Nolan's second feature, Memento, premiered on 5 September 2000 at the Venice International Film Festival to critical acclaim. Based on the short story "Memento Mori" by Christopher's brother Jonathan, it follows Leonard Shelby, who has anterograde amnesia and uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man who he believes killed his wife. The film was a box-office success and received a number of accolades, including Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Memento was considered by numerous critics to be one of the best films of the first decade of the 21st century.
Nolan followed Memento with the psychological thriller Insomnia (2002), a film about two Los Angeles detectives sent to a northern Alaskan town to investigate the methodical murder of a local teenager. Insomnia is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. It was well received by critics and did moderately well at the box office, earning $113 million worldwide. After Insomnia, Nolan planned a Howard Hughes biographical film starring Jim Carrey. He had written a screenplay, but when he learned that Martin Scorsese was making a Hughes biopic (2004's The Aviator) he reluctantly tabled his script and moved on to other projects.
In early 2003, Nolan approached Warner Bros. with his ideas about a human Batman film, grounded in a "relatable" world more reminiscent of a classical drama than a comic-book fantasy. Batman Begins (2005) was released on 15 June 2005 to both critical acclaim and commercial success. The film revived the franchise, heralding a trend towards darker films which retold (or retooled) backstories. Batman Begins was the eighth-highest-grossing film of 2005 in the United States and the year's ninth-highest-grossing film worldwide. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography and three BAFTA awards.
Before returning to the Batman franchise Nolan directed, co-wrote and produced The Prestige (2006), an adaptation of the Christopher Priest novel about two rival 19th-century magicians. In 2001, when Nolan was in post-production for Insomnia, he asked his brother Jonathan to help write the script for the film. The screenplay was an intermittent, five-year collaboration between the brothers. Nolan initially intended to make the film as early as 2003, postponing the project after agreeing to make Batman Begins. The Prestige received critical acclaim (including Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction), and earned over $109 million worldwide.
Nolan returned to the Batman franchise, announcing in late July 2006 that the sequel to Batman Begins would be called The Dark Knight. Released in 2008, The Dark Knight is considered one of the best films of the 2000s and one of the best superhero films ever made. It received overwhelmingly positive reviews, and set a number of box-office records during its theatrical run. The film earned $534,858,444 in North America and $469,700,000 abroad, for a worldwide total of $1,004,558,444. It is the first feature film shot partially in the 15/70 mm IMAX format. At the 81st Academy Awards the film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning two: the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Heath Ledger.
After The Dark Knight's success, Warner Bros. signed Nolan to direct Inception. Nolan also wrote and co-produced the film, described as "a contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind". Before its release, several reports suggested that the film was too complex to appeal to a broad audience and would struggle at the box office. In an article appearing in The Wall Street Journal, industry executives noted that the commercial prospects of Inception could influence the industry as a whole. Veteran producer John Davis said, "I can promise you that heads of studios are already going into production meetings saying we need fresh ideas for summer movies, we want original concepts like Inception that are big and bold enough to carry themselves". The film was released on 16 July 2010, and was a critical and commercial success. It grossed over $800 million worldwide and was nominated for eight Oscars, winning four: Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects.
During post-production for Inception, Nolan was interviewed in These Amazing Shadows (2011), a documentary spotlighting film appreciation and preservation by the National Film Registry. He agreed to the interview after speaking with producer Doug Blush at a piano recital featuring his son and Blush's daughter. He appeared in Side by Side (2012), a documentary about the history and process of digital and photochemical film creation.
In 2012, Nolan directed his third and final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. Although he was initially hesitant about returning to the series, he agreed to come back after developing a story with his brother and David S. Goyer which he felt would end the series on a high note. The Dark Knight Rises was released on 20 July 2012 to critical acclaim; like its predecessor it performed well at the box office, becoming the thirteenth film to cross the $1-billion mark. During a midnight showing of the film at the Century16 cinema in Aurora, Colorado, a gunman opened fire inside the theater, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. Nolan released a statement to the press expressing his condolences for the victims of what he described as a senseless tragedy: "The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families".
During story discussions for The Dark Knight Rises in 2010, Goyer told Nolan of his idea to present Superman in a modern context. Impressed with Goyer's concept, Nolan pitched the idea to the studio (who hired Nolan to produce and Goyer to write, based on the financial and critical success of The Dark Knight). The title of the film was revealed to be Man of Steel; while Nolan admired Bryan Singer's work on Superman Returns for its connection to Richard Donner's version, he said the new film would have no relationship to the previous film series. Nolan offered Zack Snyder the director's chair, based on his stylized adaptations of 300 (2007) and Watchmen (2009) and his "innate aptitude for dealing with superheroes as real characters". Man of Steel grossed more than $660 million at the worldwide box office, but reviews were mixed.
On 13 June 2012 Nolan confirmed that he and Emma Thomas would be the executive producers of Wally Pfister's directorial debut, Transcendence (2014). Jack Paglen wrote the screenplay, which revolves around two computer scientists who work toward a goal of technological singularity as a radical anti-technology organization tries to prevent them from creating a world where computers can transcend the abilities of the human brain. Transcendence is scheduled to be released in theaters on 18 April 2014.
In January 2013 it was announced that Nolan would direct, write and produce his next project: a science-fiction film entitled Interstellar. The film's concept stems from a treatment written by theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, best known for his contributions to gravitation physics and astrophysics and for his LIGO project (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory). The first drafts of the script were written by Jonathan Nolan, and it was originally to be directed by Steven Spielberg. Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. are co-financing and co-distributing the project, scheduled for release on 7 November 2014. The film will depict "a heroic interstellar voyage to the farthest borders of our scientific understanding".
Julius Sevcík will direct Nolan's and Michael Stokes adaptation of Ruth Rendell's psychological thriller The Keys to the Street. The film is slated to begin production in early 2014. Nolan first adapted the novel into a screenplay sometime in the late 1990s and was developing the film as a possible project after Insomnia (the film was setup at Fox Searchlight Pictures), but he felt it was too similar to the films he had already done.
Regarded as an auteur, Nolan's visual style emphasizes urban settings, men in suits, muted colors (often monochrome), dialogue scenes framed in wide close-up with a shallow depth of field and modern locations and architecture. His films draw heavily on film noir, with Nolan noting that he identifies all his films with that genre.
He is known for his nonlinear storytelling and for merging the narrative and mise-en-scène with a psychological and philosophical subtext. He often uses editing as a way to represent the characters' psychological states, merging their subjectivity with that of the audience. For example, in Memento the fragmented sequential order of scenes is to put the audience into a similar experience of Leonard's defective ability to create new long-term memories. Regarding point of view, Nolan has said: "Whether in the pure camera blocking or even the writing, it's all about point of view. I can't cut a scene if I haven't already figured out whose point of view I'm looking at, and I can't shoot the scene in a neutral way. I've tried to use more objective camera techniques – a longer lens, flattening things out, using multi-camera – but they don't work... I don't use zoom lenses, for example, so I don't reframe using the zoom. Instead, we always move the camera physically closer and put a different focal length on. Stylistically, something that runs through my films is the shot that walks into a room behind a character, because to me, that takes me inside the way that the character enters. I think those point-of-view issues are very important."
Nolan's protagonists are usually psychologically damaged, obsessively seeking vengeance for the death of a loved one. They are often driven by philosophical beliefs, and their fate is ambiguous. In many of his films the protagonist and antagonist are mirror images of each other, a point which is made to the protagonist by the antagonist. Nolan's dialogue and writing style are cinematic, often using a number of storytelling techniques such as flashbacks, shifting points of view and unreliable narrators. Scenes are often interrupted by the unconventional editing style of cutting away quickly from the money shot (or nearly cutting off characters' dialogue) and crosscutting several scenes of parallel action to build to a climax.
Nolan often uses cinéma-vérité techniques (such as hand-held camera work) to convey realism. In an interview at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Nolan explained his emphasis on realism in The Dark Knight trilogy: "You try and get the audience to invest in cinematic reality. When I talk about reality in these films, it’s often misconstrued as a direct reality, but it's really about a cinematic reality."
Nolan prefers shooting on film to digital video, and opposes the use of digital intermediates and digital cinematography, which he feels are less reliable and offer inferior image quality to film. In particular, the director advocates for the use of higher-quality, larger-format film stock such as anamorphic 35 mm, VistaVision, 65 mm and IMAX. Nolan uses multi-camera for stunts and single-camera for all the dramatic action, from which he will then watch dailies every night; "Shooting single-camera means I've already seen every frame as it's gone through the gate because my attention isn't divided to multi-cameras." When working with actors, Nolan prefers giving them the time to perform as many takes of a given scene as they want. "I've come to realize that the lighting and camera setups, the technical things, take all the time, but running another take generally only adds a couple of minutes. ... If an actor tells me they can do something more with a scene, I give them the chance, because it's not going to cost that much time. It can't all be about the technical issues."
Nolan chooses to minimize the amount of computer-generated imagery for special effects in his films, preferring to use practical effects whenever possible, only using CGI only to enhance elements which he has photographed in camera. For instance his films Batman Begins and Inception featured 620 and 500 visual-effects shots, respectively, which is considered minor when compared with contemporary visual-effects epics which may have upwards of 1,500 to 2,000 VFX shots: "I believe in an absolute difference between animation and photography. However sophisticated your computer-generated imagery is, if it's been created from no physical elements and you haven't shot anything, it's going to feel like animation. There are usually two different goals in a visual effects movie. One is to fool the audience into seeing something seamless, and that's how I try to use it. The other is to impress the audience with the amount of money spent on the spectacle of the visual effect, and that, I have no interest in".
Nolan shoots the entirety of his films with one unit, rather than using a second unit for action sequences. In that way Nolan keeps his personality and point of view in every aspect of the film. "If I don't need to be directing the shots that go in the movie, why do I need to be there at all? The screen is the same size for every shot. The little shot of, say, a watch on someone's wrist, will occupy the same screen size as the shot of a thousand people running down the street. Everything is equally weighted and needs to be considered with equal care, I really do believe that. I don't understand the criteria for parceling things off. Many action films embrace a second unit taking on all of the action. For me, that's odd because then why did you want to do an action film?"
Nolan's work explores existential and epistemological themes such as subjective experience, memory, the nature of time, and construction of personal identity. "I'm fascinated by our subjective perception of reality, that we are all stuck in a very singular point of view, a singular perspective on what we all agree to be an objective reality, and movies are one of the ways in which we try to see things from the same point of view".
According to film theorist Todd McGowan, Nolan's works reveal the ethical and political importance of creating fictions and falsehoods. In The Fictional Christopher Nolan, McGowan argues that Nolan is the first filmmaker to devote himself entirely to the illusion of the medium, calling him a Hegelian filmmaker.
The Dark Knight trilogy explored themes of chaos, terrorism, escalation of violence, mass surveillance and class conflicts in the post-9/11 era. Some related themes in the series to existential philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, particularly his 1883 book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Batman's arc of rising (philosophically) from a man to "more than just a man" is similar to the Nietzschian Übermensch. Others have drawn parallels to the Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his philosophical glorification of a simpler, more-primitive way of life and his concept of general will.
In Inception, Nolan was inspired by lucid dreaming and dream incubation. The film's characters try to embed an idea in a person's mind without their knowledge, similar to Freud's theories that the unconscious influences one's behavior without their knowledge. Most of the film takes place in interconnected dream worlds; this creates a framework where actions in the real (or dream) worlds ripple across others. The dream is always in a state of emergence, shifting across levels as the characters navigate it. Inception, like Memento and The Prestige, uses metaleptic storytelling devices and follows Nolan's "auteur affinity of converting, moreover, converging narrative and cognitive values into and within a fictional story."
Nolan has cited Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, Nicolas Roeg, Sidney Lumet, David Lean, Ridley Scott, Terry Gilliam, and John Frankenheimer as influences. "When you think of a visual style, when you think of the visual language of a film, there tends to be a natural separation of the visual style and the narrative elements. But with the greats, whether it's Stanley Kubrick or Terrence Malick or Hitchcock, what you're seeing is an inseparable, a vital relationship between the image and the story it's telling". Other influences Nolan has cited include figurative painter Francis Bacon, graphic artist M. C. Escher and authors James Ellroy, Jim Thompson, Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Dickens and Graham Swift's Waterland.
Nolan's personal favorite films include Blade Runner (1982), Star Wars (1977), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Chinatown (1974), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In 2013, Criterion Collection released a list of Nolan's ten favorite films from its catalog, which included The Hit (1984), 12 Angry Men (1957), The Thin Red Line (1998), The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), Bad Timing (1980), Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), For All Mankind (1989), Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Mr. Arkadin (1955), and Erich von Stroheim's Greed (1924) (unavailable on Criterion).
Nolan frequently works with the same actors/actresses. The following is a chart of notable collaborators:
|The Dark Knight
|The Dark Knight Rises
|Mark Boone Junior|
Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy have been frequent collaborators since Batman Begins. Nolan has said he considers Caine to be his "good luck charm". Nolan often casts veteran actors in supporting roles, i.e. Rutger Hauer (Batman Begins), Tom Berenger (Inception), and Matthew Modine (The Dark Knight Rises). Modine said of working with Nolan: "There are no chairs on a Nolan set, he gets out of his car and goes to the set. And he stands up until lunchtime. And then he stands up until they say 'Wrap'. He's fully engaged – in every aspect of the film."
Nolan's wife, Emma Thomas, has co-produced all of his films (including Memento, in which she is credited as an associate producer). He regularly works with his younger brother, screenwriter and producer Jonathan Nolan, who describes their working relationship in the production notes for The Prestige: "I've always suspected that it has something to do with the fact that he's left-handed and I'm right-handed, because he's somehow able to look at my ideas and flip them around in a way that's just a little bit more twisted and interesting. It's great to be able to work with him like that".
Lee Smith has been Nolan's editor since Batman Begins, with Dody Dorn editing Memento and Insomnia. David Julyan composed the music for Nolan's early work, while Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard provided the music for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Zimmer scored The Dark Knight Rises, and worked with Nolan on Inception and the upcoming Interstellar. The director has worked with sound designer Richard King since The Prestige. Since Batman Begins, Nolan has collaborated with special-effects supervisor Chris Corbould, stunt coordinator Tom Struthers and visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin (from Double Negative). Production designer Nathan Crowley has worked with him since Insomnia (except for Inception). Casting director John Papsidera has worked on all of Nolan's films, except Following and Insomnia.
The director has worked with screenwriter David S. Goyer on all his comic-book adaptations. Nolan's former assistant and frequent collaborator, Jordan Goldberg, has produced every Nolan-directed film since The Prestige, and helped rework Wally Pfister's directorial debut, Transcendence. Pfister was the cinematographer for all of Nolan's films from Memento to The Dark Knight Rises. He spoke of his relationship with the director: "Mine and Chris' working relationship is defined, quite simply, by the great respect we have for each other. I've learned so much from him in terms of him pushing me to find beauty in a simpler method of photography. We're also very like-minded, we share a sense of humor, and from the beginning I trust his judgement."
Nolan is married to Emma Thomas, his longtime producer and co-founder of Syncopy Inc. The name of their production company derives from "syncope", the medical term for fainting or loss of consciousness. They have four children and live in Los Angeles. Nolan's net worth is estimated at $150 million.
Nolan does not have a cellphone or an email account; when Warner Bros. assigned him an office email account, he was unaware until some time later. "There were thousands of e-mails in this account—some from quite important people, actually ... I had them take it down, so people didn't think they were getting in touch with me." On the topic of cellphones, he has said "It's not that I'm a luddite and don't like technology; I've just never been interested. When I moved to L.A. in 1997, nobody really had cellphones, and I just never went down that path."
In 2007, Total Film named him the 32nd greatest director of all time In 2012, The Guardian ranked him # 14 on their list of "The 23 Best Film Directors in the World" The following year, Entertainment Weekly named him the 12th greatest working director, writing that "Nolan is the rare director determined to make you, the moviegoer, walk out of the theater after his film and gasp, 'I've never seen anything like that before.' His movies are full of twists and riddles, and even his popcorn fare is stuffed with enough brain candy to fill up a graduate school syllabus." (He was ranked No. 2 on the same list in 2011).
Having made some of the most influential and popular films of his time, the filmmaker has been praised by many of his contemporaries, and some have cited his work as influencing their own. Rupert Wyatt, director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), said in an interview that he thinks of Nolan as a "trailblazer ... he is to be hugely admired as a master filmmaker, but also someone who has given others behind him a stick to beat back the naysayers who never thought a modern mass audience would be willing to embrace story and character as much as spectacle". Discussing the difference between art films and big-studio films, Steven Spielberg referred to Nolan's Dark Knight series as an example of both; he has described Memento and Inception as "masterworks". Nolan has also been commended by James Cameron, Guillermo del Toro, Joseph Kosinski, Kevin Smith, Danny Boyle, Brian De Palma, Joss Whedon, Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, Duncan Jones, Damon Lindelof, Joe Carnahan, Ben Affleck, Sam Mendes, Werner Herzog, Atom Egoyan, Matthew Vaughn, Paul Thomas Anderson, Paul Greengrass, Brad Bird, Rian Johnson, and others.
A survey of 17 academics held in 2013, regarding which filmmakers had been referenced the most in essays and dissertations marked over the last five years, showed that Nolan was the second-most studied director in the UK after Quentin Tarantino and ahead of Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.
Nolan's work has also been recognised as an influence on videogames. In 2013, the official Xbox magazine named Nolan among the 100 most important people in games, writing that "videogames have started to look a bit like his films: gritty and complex".
Awards and honors
|Year||Film||Academy Award nominations||Academy Award wins||Golden Globe nominations||Golden Globe wins||BAFTA nominations||BAFTA wins|
|2008||The Dark Knight||8||2||1||1||9||1|
|2012||The Dark Knight Rises||1|
- At the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, Nolan and his brother Jonathan won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for Memento.
- In 2003, Nolan received the Sonny Bono Visionary Award from the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Festival executive director Mitch Levine said, "Nolan had in his brief time as a feature film director, redefined and advanced the very language of cinema".
- He was named an Honorary Fellow of UCL in 2006; a title given out to individuals "who have attained distinction in the arts, literature, science, business or public life".
- In 2009, the director received the Board of the Governors Award from the American Society of Cinematographers. ASC president Daryn Okada said, "Chris Nolan is infused with talent with which he masterfully uses to collaboratively create memorable motion pictures ... his quest for superlative images to tell stories has earned the admiration of our members".
- In 2011, Nolan received the Britannia Award for Artistic Excellence in Directing from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award from American Cinema Editors. That year he also received the Modern Master Award, the highest honor presented by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. "Every one of Nolan's films has set a new standard for the film community, with Inception being the latest example", said festival executive director Roger Durling; in addition, Nolan was the recipient of the inaugural VES Visionary Award from the Visual Effects Society.
- In July 2012, the director was honored with a hand-and-footprint ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.
|Year||Film||Credited as||Distribution||Box office|
|2006||The Prestige||Yes||Yes||Yes||Buena Vista Pictures
|2008||The Dark Knight||Yes||Yes||Yes||Warner Bros.||$1,004,558,444|
|2012||The Dark Knight Rises||Yes||Yes||Yes||$1,084,439,099|
|2013||Man of Steel||Yes||Yes||$662,845,518|
- Birthname: Christopher Nolan as per General Registry Office (GRO) of England and Wales' digitized records at Findmypast.co.uk:
Birth record transcript:
Civil registration event: Birth
Name: NOLAN, Christopher
Registration district: Westminster
Year of registration: 1970
Quarter of registration: Jul–Aug–Sep
Mother's maiden name: Jensen
Volume no: 5E
Page no: 2512
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