Trust us, Christopher Nolan is going to join the long list of celebrated cinematic auteurs liked Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Stephen Spielberg in years to come. But first, there’s The Nolan Variations: The Movies, Mysteries and Marvels of Christopher Nolan, a compelling, in-depth study and interviews on Nolan and how he creates his riveting movies.
Written by Tom Shone who also wrote Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Summer years back, his latest is a collaboration with one of Hollywood’s current most influential filmmaker. You probably know Nolan from his Dark Knight franchise or the somewhat unconventional Leonard DiCaprio starrer, Inception but Nolan is no ordinary commercial filmmaker. The man who lived in both America and England in his younger days is as complex as his movies judging from the amount of details Shone has managed to “dig” out from Nolan after spending months with the latter.
In 2000, a little indie flick called Memento was released. The whodunit was a wildly disorienting thriller about a former insurance investigator who suffered from short-term memory. It was Nolan’s first major production and the rest they say is history. “Everybody needs that somebody who just takes a risk” says Nolan in chapter four of the book. And Steven Soderbergh happens to be the guy who got Nolan the job to helm Insomnia, his follow up to Memento and clearly the most Hitchcockian of all Nolan’s films.
Instead of doing a movie on Howard Hughes, the eccentric aviation and filmmaker billionaire, Nolan turned parts of the script to Batman Begins. Instead of diving straight into the sequel, Nolan turned to his frequent collaborator, Jonah his younger brother to adapt Christopher Priest’s 1995 novel about two duelling magicians, The Prestige to the big screen before creating more chaos in Gotham City two years later.
Nolan at this point is invincible (and still is). He is practically free to do anything and rest assured, Warner Bros will be there to foot the bill. But as the book tells us, Nolan is not a filmmaker bound by money or fame. He makes movies that are sort of a personal statement to him. Interstellar in some ways is inspired by his late dad. A boat trip taken by him and wife, Emma in the mid-nineties sow the seed for Dunkirk. For a man who has been obsessed with time, the manipulation of time and the works of Ian Fleming, audiences won’t be surprised at how Tenet was born.
The 380 pages book also tell us that Nolan frequently turned into music, classic and contemporary movies, history, science and art to further develop his themes and motifs in his movies. Composer Hans Zimmer is one that he always turned into for example scoring a film with a pipe organ for Interstellar. The captivating architecture in downtown Chicago inspired him to shoot the big chase scenes for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The 1922’s Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler and the 1933’s The Testament of Dr Mabuse are both influential on The Dark Knight.
In short, The Nolan Variations: The Movies, Mysteries and Marvels of Christopher Nolan is a tour de force. Shone never takes any shortcuts in detailing the director’s vision and thoughts despite being a personal friend of his for decades. If Tenet has your head spinning in different directions, then this book is the best, logical explanation of how the brain of Christopher Nolan works.
Review by Linus Tee
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