Who Is Christopher Nolan?
Born on July 30, 1970, in London, England, Christopher Nolan received attention for his early films, Following (1998) and Memento (2000). After directing Insomnia, Nolan’s next film was Batman Begins, a re-launch of the comic-book franchise that became a worldwide hit. The film’s sequel, The Dark Knight, broke box office records, and Nolan’s heady sci-fi thriller, Inception, became another blockbuster two years later. In 2012, he produced the third film of his Batman saga, The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan followed with the space odyssey Interstellar in 2014 and the World War II film Dunkirk in 2017.
Early Years and Training
Born on July 30, 1970, in London, England, Christopher Nolan started creating films as a child, making his first short at the age of 7. Nolan traveled between Chicago and London while growing up—his mother was from America and his father was from Britain—and eventually went on to attend University College London, where he studied English literature and joined the school’s film society. He created shorts like Tarantula, Larceny and Doodlebug before releasing longer-form work.
Nolan’s major film debut, Following, was a black-and-white, small-budget work about a lonely writer who’s obsessed with following strangers and then partners with a burglar. The film’s unconventional, non-linear narrative scheme helped garner interest in Nolan’s work and propelled him to his next film, Memento. The noir-ish indie feature starred Guy Pearce as an amnesiac man who relies on Polaroids and copious note-taking while seeking vengeance. Nolan adapted the work from a story written by his brother Jonathan Nolan, and the film received two Oscar nominations for its editing and screenplay.
Nolan continued presenting psychological thrillers with the remake Insomnia, starring Al Pacino as a police officer in Alaska handling a murder investigation while contending with a lingering guilt. The director’s career then traveled into the stratosphere, when he agreed to helm the re-launch of the comic book hero Batman with the 2005 film Batman Begins, starring Christian Bale as the titular character. The movie went on to earn more than $372 million worldwide. Nolan next released 2006’s The Prestige, a well-received story about dueling magicians starring Bale, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson.
‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Inception’
In July, 2008, Nolan’s Batman sequel, The Dark Knight, opened and set the record as having the highest weekend gross in the United States, at $158 million; Knight went on to become one of the top five highest-grossing films in America. While the production also received an avalanche of acclaim, including several Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, sadness marked the proceedings. Heath Ledger, who starred as the villain the Joker, died from an accidental prescription drug overdose before the film was released. Ledger won a Golden Globe and Oscar posthumously for his work, and Nolan accepted the Globe award on Ledger’s behalf.
Two summers later, Nolan returned to the box office with Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the leader of a group of dream-traveling mercenaries. The film was another critically lauded blockbuster for the director, and won four Academy Awards for its technical wizardry. Nolan followed Inception with the third blockbuster film in the Batman franchise, 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, this time starring Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Marion Cotillard (who was also in Inception) as Miranda Tate.
Nolan was the sole screenwriter for Following and Inception. Excluding Insomnia, he has shared writing credits for his other films with Jonathan Nolan, among others.
‘Interstellar’ and ‘Dunkirk’
In the autumn of 2014, Nolan returned to the big screen with Interstellar, a nearly three-hour sci-fi epic that follows the journey of a team of astronauts seeking a new world for the inhabitants of a besieged Earth. The visually arresting, existential film stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine, among others.
In 2017, the acclaimed director brought another epic to the big screen, the World War II film Dunkirk. Built around three storylines offering different perspectives on a dramatic turn of events in 1940, Dunkirk earned mostly rave reviews for its portrayals of the tensions and terrors of war, picking up Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director, as well as an Academy Award nod for Best Director.
Nolan’s movies are known for their intellectualism, psychological depth and unorthodox storytelling. Both Following and Memento had non-chronological narrative structures, with Memento receiving much of its attention for unfolding episodically in backwards time. And Inception has stories that exist within other stories, as the characters explore the realm of a person’s highly layered unconscious mind.
The director’s work has also focused on male protagonists who try to come to grips with their past while working through complex challenges of the present day. Women in his films have been written as allies, heroes and/or romantic interests, some of whom become casualties as well.
Nolan imbues vivid artistic sensibilities into films that are positioned as mainstream entertainment, as seen with the imagery and cinematic choices that abound in the Batman series, Inception and Interstellar, with scenes resembling surreal paintings given life. Nolan’s choices have significantly influenced filmmaking, proving that complexity can exist in the commercial.
Nolan has dual citizenship within the United States and Great Britain, and is married to Emma Thomas, who has worked as a producer on all of his feature films. The couple has four children.