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Christopher Nolan and the theme of religion within his films


As one of contemporary cinema’s leading voices, director Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker known for taking audiences to wild, spectacular places using stories glazed with religious and existential influence. With a sparkling filmography including the likes of Inception, The Dark Knight, Interstellar and Tenet, Nolan has established himself as a pop culture favourite capable of showing audiences a spectacular brand of cinema that few other directors can achieve. 

His most recent film, Tenet, was a wild time-bending heist film that was reminiscent of classic James Bond with a modern science fiction twist, starring the likes of Robert Pattinson, John David Washington and Michael Caine. Nolan has made no secret of his 007 influences either, voicing his interest in the future of the franchise, telling Empire magazine in 2010: “I’ve been plundering ruthlessly from the Bond movies in everything I’ve done, forever. They’re a huge influence on me”.  

Dividing audiences upon its release, Tenet received mixed reviews with some magnetised to its sheer creative audacity, and others put off by its needless complexity. After a year to mull over its influence, it’s clear that Nolan’s film is simply another interesting experiment from his continually interesting career that refuses to follow the rules of the status quo as he surges towards originality. 

In a discussion with Writers Bloc, Nolan discussed the influence of Christianity in his films, looking at Tenet in particular, with the director commenting: “Christianity is a cultural influence as it is for so many people growing up in western culture”. Detailing how he wished to suffuse a religious element into the film’s unnamed lead character, played by John David Washington, Nolan noted: “John David [Washington] and I talked about this character having an aspect of, not in any way specific to religion or Christianity but almost in spiritual terms meaning having faith and the title of the film has that aspect to it”. 

Working with the actor to formulate the final character, Nolan added that he was looking for “an aspect of selflessness”, noting that this is often a trait left out from other popular spy films. As the director continues, he adds: “We were looking for an aspect of selflessness to the character that in previous spy fiction…you have these very cynical hard-bitten protagonists and it’s a little bit at odds with the concept of somebody who, in story terms, is willing to give up their life for their fellow human being”. 

Looking at the main character in a slightly different light to other similar action films, Nolan asserts that he was looking for “some degree of spirituality to the character”, with John David Washington finding this through a “generosity of spirit”. 

Also starring Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clémence Poésy, Himesh Patel and Michael Caine, Tenet remains an iconic film of science fiction filmmaking.