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The Nolanverse: A Christopher Nolan Retrospective – Part 3/3

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Watch the whole series below:

  1. Inception (2010)

With a marketing strategy that gave away little to nothing about the film’s actual plot – even the trailer didn’t reveal too much – Inception hit cinemas like an explosion. With its extraordinary special effects, a mind-warping storyline and an incredible central performance from its lead, Leonardo DiCaprio, it raised filmgoing stakes and paved the way for an almost entirely new subgenre, or at least one that had been long forgotten: the intelligent blockbuster.

DiCaprio plays Cobb, a specialist thief who uses high-tech dream-sharing technology to enter the dreams of a target, and extract valuable information to sell to the highest buyer. His only problem is that he’s also been framed for a murder: if he takes one step from the plane onto United States soil, he’ll immediately be arrested, keeping him from his children forever. But he’s then approached by Saito, played by Ken Watanabe, who gives him his most difficult assignment yet: to break into the mind of a rival energy corporation, and instead of taking something away, to implant an idea: inception. If he completes this task, he’ll be able to see his family again. From the very first scene, Inception is a mind-melting exercise in pulling the rug from beneath you, where an understated jump cut from older versions of DiCaprio and Watanabe’s characters shifts to them as younger men, mid-conversation, is just a taste of what is to come.

Despite its constant cross-cutting between four different narratives, Nolan’s dream-within-a-dream structure never once buckles under the enormous weight of its complexity: although we go deeper and deeper into the director’s labyrinth, we never lose grip of the thread. Inception’s ending will bug audiences for decades to come, and has confirmed the filmmaker as someone who’ll give us exactly what we want, but not all the time.

Something you might not know about Inception:

When it was aired on Japanese TV, there was accompanying text in the upper-left corner of the screen to help viewers keep track of what dream level they were watching.

  1. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

With The Dark Knight having changed the paradigms of superhero movies, and with Inception raising expectations of his next project to insanely new heights, Nolan made sure that his third Batman outing would come to define what is achievable in the modern blockbuster era. The Dark Knight Rises would be his biggest film yet – that is, until Interstellar is released – and would feature Christian Bale’s final performance donning the iconic cowl and cape.

A new villain is out to terrorise Gotham: Bane, played magnificently by Tom Hardy, is a terrifying, towering bulk of evil whose motives remain unclear – all Bruce Wayne can see is that Bane is building toward something big. The events that follow Bane’s arrival are most certainly big; after he’s levelled the bridges to the city, cutting Gotham off from the outside world, he holds the entire populace to ransom under threat of a nuclear device. If it all sounds much more far-fetched than the storyline of The Dark Knight, that’s because it is – the movie combines the tones of its two predecessors, aiding its more fanciful narrative points with a fantasy-like scope, such as Wayne’s incarceration in an underground prison like that of an epic, while the city-set cat-and-mouse crime chase is grounded in realism in order for them to hit home, especially the scene where Bane infiltrates the stock market.

Since its release, The Dark Knight Rises has attracted negativity in terms of its numerous plot holes. But the fact is, the movie holds up brilliantly well despite some leaps of faith from the viewer in terms of narrative logic, and remains a powerful, heavily symbolic work of art that functions in the guise of a blockbuster – despite its main character being out of commission for a large chunk of the movie. But it all works toward perhaps Nolan’s most bombastic, largest – and quite possibly best – climax in his oeuvre. Flying Bat pods spiral over buildings whilst being chased by missiles; while in the same movie, Batman realises a complex ideal: the fear that he overcame in Batman Begins returns to fuel his desire to save his city.

Despite the larger set pieces, Nolan gets to play with naturalistic, extremely simple techniques, and work them to maximum effect. Take the dance scene at Miranda Tate’s charity ball, for instance, where the camera slowly orbits Wayne and Kyle in mid close-up. The movie is punctuated with these quiet moments, meaning that even when it’s being loud, it still has the capacity to instil another kind of awe. And that seems to be the intent of his newest film, where a brave group of astronauts venture into outer space to find humanity a new home…

Something you might not know about The Dark Knight Rises:

The film is loosely based on Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the closing lines of which are read by Gary Oldman near the end.

  1. Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar looks set to broaden Christopher Nolan’s universe beyond superheroes, dreamscapes, and even Earth itself. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a space pilot and engineer who must leave his family behind in order to travel through a newly discovered wormhole and find a planet to become humanity’s new home.

Nolan has stated that it’s impossible to talk about Interstellar without talking about 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film’s closest visual comparison. Like Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, it’s difficult to imagine Nolan getting any bigger than this. And from what we’ve seen, it looks like the director is operating at the height of his powers. So there’ll definitely be no more shooting films at the weekends for him!

Something you might not know about Interstellar:

There is no green-screen used in the film. Shots of space from inside spaceships were images projected onto a white screen, so that the actors had something real to react to.

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