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Why Christopher Nolan's movies are different. 5 Reasons

We uncover the secret in Christopher Nolan movies, and what makes them standout from normal other movies.


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A non-linear story

You know you're watching a Christopher Nolan film if there's a non linear story. From the mind-bending Memento, to the more subtly cryptic Interstellar, Nolan disorients his audiences with puzzles that build suspense and reward multiple viewings.

Subjective point of view.

We're immersed in the characters perspective through everything from the camera as participant, to a subjective story structure. We're often given only as much information as the characters get entering into their limited perspective of the world. And with this information concealed from us we're engaged and we're made into detectives. The underlying puzzle or mind teaser we're piecing together demonstrates Nolan's clear interest in philosophy and deeper questions of the nature of human existence. We get ambiguous endings; our questions intentionally unanswered. The purposeful lack of clarity comes from Nolan's desire to place us in his character's shoes, piecing together the truth with them.

Open-ended plots

At the same time Nolan himself claims to know the answer to each of his open-ended plots. He says that even if a film ends with ambiguity for the audience the creator must be sure of his true interpretation to avoid contradiction or lack of substance. Many characters have a split identity, divided or multiple selves, or some deep psychological problem or identity conflict. There's moral ambiguity.

Hero villain division is complex and unclear.

Heroic characters with good intentions often turn into antagonists, and sometimes the archetypal villain is given depth and made sympathetic. Nolan often gives us a cruel world, and questions how morality is to be maintained or measured in these muddy situations. Light, darkness, and contrast convey character growth, decay, and exploration. In Batman Begins, light represents truth. When Bruce Wayne uses a flashlight as he ventures into the dark Batcave to face his fears. We see conventions of film including a lonely protagonist themes of betrayal and duplicity, and a moody dark dramatic atmosphere. Nolan favors a realistic style, film over digital, and practical effects over CGI.

The opening scene from The Dark Knight Rises where Bane and his crew hijack a plane that's then dropped from the sky, was a practical effect shot in Scotland over the course of two days. The procedures natural light and real locations prevent it from feeling too much like a distant period piece, and Nolan achieved impressive effects like the spinning hallway in Inception and the ship in Interstellar through building sets rather than a green screen to give the movies a realistic feel. We can read many of his films as self-referential analogies for the creative process.

Common themes

Common themes that show up include revenge anger, guilt, sacrifice, solitude, memory and obsession. And he worked time and again with cinematographer Wally Pfister, composer Hans Zimmer, writer Jonathan Nolan (his brother), co-producer Emma Thomas (his wife), and a number of familiar faces in front of the camera. Taking all these things together we can gather that Nolan's worldview is always inquiring -- looking deeper at the human condition trusting in our deeper intuitions and subconscious, and challenging the knowledge we take for granted.

Asking larger daunting questions

Starting from a simple seeming premise and traditional action-adventure cinema entertainment, he draws us into asking larger daunting questions like, can we trust our own minds? Is there an objective truth out there? And do we even want to accept that truth if we have the chance?


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