BRRRAAAWWRWRRMRM! This, in a word, is the cinematic impact of filmmaker Christopher Nolan, a director more interested in the sheer size and spectacle of cinema than the coherent sense of story or character. Having made eleven films in his 23-year career as a director, including his culturally iconic Dark Knight trilogy and the pertinent science-fiction showcase Inception, the question is, has Christopher Nolan ever even made a masterpiece?
Despite having made three feature films before his first adventure with DC’s gothic Batman, it wasn’t until Nolan forayed into the superhero genre that he would become the subject of fan forums across the internet. Back in 2005, his vision for the future of the caped crusader was certainly revolutionary, though it also fell neatly in with the demands of a cultural zeitgeist, who, after the release of X-Men in 2000 and action-staple The Bourne Identity two years later, were after something a little grittier.
Facing Batman up against the surreal and psychologically twisted Scarecrow set a precedent for Christopher Nolan’s future intentions in cinema, interested not in throwaway films of futile conviction, but instead, stories that carried authentic weight; or crucially films that appeared to do such.
Under the guise of true ‘emotional’ filmmaking, Christopher Nolan attacks his films like a teenager writes a student film, filling the scene with poor dialogue, stereotypical characters and a semblance of sentimentality. In reality, though Nolan tries to humanise the characters of Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight, Inception’s Cobb and Cooper of Interstellar, they are each flimsy caricatures; moody, gruff, emotional men with little characterisation beyond this.
Try as he might to create compelling lead characters with genuine depth and complexity, it seems as though he is simply unable, stumbling through a character arc to ‘just get to the action already’. The closest he has come from achieving such a feat is undoubtedly the character of Leonard in Memento, Nolan’s second feature film that many still cite as his magnum opus. Whilst the film is undoubtedly impressive, and likely the closest film the director may have to a ‘masterpiece’, it also pivots on a central conceit that doesn’t allow Leonard’s character to flourish.
In fact, it is Christopher Nolan’s embrace of a showcase, spectacle and concept over everything else that has helped to establish himself as one of the most culturally pertinent filmmakers working in Hollywood today. His latest film, 2020’s mid-pandemic science-fiction epic Tenet, is living proof of such a theory, with the film suffering from a total lack of characterisation for its (for some reason) nameless protagonist whilst throwing enough visuals at the screen in the hope you won’t notice.
Though, alongside the likes of filmmakers such as Denis Villeneuve and M. Night Shyamalan, the sole embrace of the cinematic spectacle is no meagre feat, in fact, it’s a niche reserved only for the most idiosyncratic filmmakers in the industry. With a clear talent and passion for cinematic, visual storytelling, there is little doubt that Christopher Nolan will one day make his masterpiece, he may just need to focus a little more on his screenwriting instead of salivating over special effects.