What will Christopher Nolan do next? Considering that Christopher Nolan’s name seems to have been permanently glued to the lips of every movie executive, film critic and fan boy in the world for at least the last five years, it comes as quite a surprise to learn that he has only directed eight feature films. We seem to be under the impression that he should have ‘done’ more in order to get to where he is now. But, when we take a closer look at the nature of these eight films, it’s plain to see that Nolan is a director of quality rather than quantity.
He kicked things off in 1998 with crime thriller Following, the tale of a writer who follows strangers for inspiration; then came Memento, a disquieting fragmentary exploration of vengeance, memory and the human mind starring Guy Pearce. After Memento, Nolan did not direct another feature for five years – but, in 2005, he unleashed Batman Begins, a film which would herald the most successful franchise reboot in cinema history. He followed that up with The Prestige, the story of two rival magicians, and an examination of the nature of illusion. After that came the one we were all waiting for (but didn’t know it); The Dark Knight.
The second installment of Nolan’s crack at the Batman franchise was to shake the blockbuster-loving mainstream movie audience out of their stupor. It was to win two Oscars (one awarded posthumously to Heath Ledger, in honour of his extraordinary performance as the Joker), but most importantly, it was to finally convince the old men in suits that ‘comic book movies’ could also be seriously good cinema. After The Dark Knight, it seems that Nolan was given carte blanche. In 2010 we were treated to Inception, a return to Nolan’s favourite setting for cinematic exploration; the human mind. Incredibly ambitious as it was, Nolan managed to pull off his action sci-fi dream study (and one struggles to come up with the name of any other director who could have done it with as much style and enthusiasm).
2012 heralds the third and final chapter of Nolan’s Batman; The Dark Knight Rises. Anticipation for this film ran at an all time high and the director once again left us with our jaws dropped as the credits rolled. But, with his most successful series drawn to a close, questions are already being asked about where Nolan will be heading next. In all likelihood, he will continue to produce quality films of a dark, subjective and psychological nature. However, now that we have seen what he can do with Batman (i.e., rescue it from, and perhaps even rectify, all the damage done by Val Kilmer and co. during the eighties and nineties), it would certainly be interesting to experience his take on other major movie franchises that have gone downhill (or that were never ‘all that’ to begin with).
We were all a little bit freaked out by Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull; the aliens, the psychic Communists, Shia LeBeouf swinging through the jungle monkey-style – not to mention nuking the fridge – there’s only so much craziness a film fan can take, even from Spielberg. What if Nolan had got his hands on it instead? We would probably have been served with a dark exploration of McCarthyism coupled with an underground black market in stolen artifacts. Instead of aliens: government informers; instead of jungle-swinging: a chase through gritty, rain-soaked streets, and instead of nuking a fridge in a fake plastic town – the possible nuking of an actual city?
Or, how about this; after all that build-up, and all those terrifying trailers and all that general hysteria that surfaced during the run-up to the release of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, viewers were disappointed to find themselves leaving cinemas, not shaking in their shoes, but scratching their heads and falling into plot-holes. The Alien franchise has been done to death (and then brought back to life, cloned, and done some more) but if there’s one director who would be capable of actually pulling the plug and starting over again almost from scratch, it’s probably Christopher Nolan.
Even Inception, with its mind-bogglingly complex narrative structure and teasing finale, managed to leave us with the clear and definite feeling that we had just been on a superbly intelligent thrill-ride of epic proportions (albeit one that made us question our own reality to no small degree). Nolan’s Alien reboot would leave us sweating, shaking, and certain in the knowledge that, in the grand scheme of things, our puny mortal lives mean absolutely nothing.
This is all completely academic, of course – Nolan is the sort of filmmaker who would never allow himself to be pigeonholed into spending the rest of his career cleaning up other directors’ mess. Just because he happened to be a bit of a Batman geek, and decided to run with it, doesn’t mean that he will be forever consigned to the franchise pile. He has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, with films like Memento, The Prestige, and Inception, that he has more than enough of his own ideas to establish himself as an auteur in his own right. Even when he makes what could be termed a blockbuster, such as The Dark Knight, he makes it his way, without letting Hollywood drag him too much into the light. Whatever direction Christopher Nolan decides to take next, we can be sure he’ll be the one to choose it.