‘TENET’ Continues Christopher Nolan’s Streak of Being Christopher Nolan


When people bring up their lists of favorite directors, you’ll generally hear the same four or five names thrown around. Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, occasionally Quentin Tarantino.

If you’re lucky, someone might throw in a Spike Lee, a Woody Allen, a James Cameron, or a Tim Burton. However, for the most part, the lists are short, uninspired, and generally correlated to that person’s favorite childhood movie (hey, nostalgia speaks to the soul, y’know).

But if we’re being objective? If we’re throwing aside the first movie that made us believe a man could fly, or the first time we saw intergalactic space battles on the big screen or the mob portrayed in such a romantic light, or whatever the hell those blue things were in Avatar?

Christopher Nolan has more than earned his spot on any list of directorial greats. Sure, classic film snobs will decry him as too modern, too recent for consideration, but that’s crap. We’re talking about a man who has made quality films for over two decades now.

The fact is, in the twenty-first century, in the era of the ultra-blockbuster and the shared superhero universe, Christopher Nolan has consistently proven himself the critical-commercial darling of the film world.

Let’s start with Memento (2000), his first big movie. This film, based on a short story conceived by his brother and writing partner Jonathan Nolan (yes, of Westworld fame) on a cross-country road trip in the late 1990s. The two transformed the story into a cinematic masterpiece – one told entirely backward.

Yes, that’s right. A reverse-chronological movie, where Guy Pearce’s character (an amnesiac trying to find out what happened to his wife) must write down notes to remember things, as each next scene takes place earlier in the chronology. A movie with strong twists, good acting, and a tight script; hallmarks of the eventual Nolan strategy.

Skipping Insomnia, we then arrive at the Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan’s three-part Batman film series that changed superhero films forever. Ditching the camp and bluster of the 1990s Batman films for a post-9/11 realist take, these films (starring Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader) redefined superheroes for a generation.

Batman Begins (2005) was a definitive origin for the character, building up the legendary superhero and his mythos for a new generation, as Batman faced off against the legendary immortal Ra’s al Ghul (played by the brilliant Liam Neeson).

It was followed three years later by the extraordinary film The Dark Knight (2008), in which Batman must face his arch-nemesis, the Joker. Heath Ledger delivered the performance of a lifetime in this latter role, earning himself an Academy Award in the process, but everybody, from Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face and Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth to Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, was worthy of praise.

Finally, the trilogy concluded with 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, in which Nolan deconstructed the very essence of his protagonist, as the World’s Greatest Detective must come out of a multiyear retirement to face the dangerous mercenary Bane (played by the incomparable Tom Hardy).

These movies changed the game, not just for the burgeoning comic book movie market, but for cinema in general. The performances, the Hans Zimmer score (he tends to pop up around Nolan films, as does Cillian Murphy), the story, the themes, and the cinematography are all examples of filmmaking at its highest aspiration.

Before he even concluded the Nolanverse Batman trilogy, as it’s so affectionately called by DC fans who miss that era, Nolan had started working on other original films. The first was a period piece, 2006’s The Prestige.

This film, starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as rival magicians in turn-of-the-century London, is a riveting look at the perils of ambition, hubris, and ego. It’s at once a brilliantly captivating and funny movie, and a deeply tragic one, featuring cinema’s greatest twist ending.

Then…then there’s 2010’s Inception. This film, a reality-bending heist film that involves thieves traveling through multiple layers of dreams in order to steal secrets, was another smashing success for the director.

The ensemble cast and incredibly intelligent screenplay served to bring Nolan’s vision to life, and it showed how, in addition to spectacle, Nolan was a brilliant filmmaker, given the ten years he spent keeping Inception on the backburner while he figured out the logistical side to production.

Not content to rest on his laurels following Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan turned to space, most notably in his 2014 film Interstellar. This groundbreaking sci-fi delight featured the collision of science and philosophy.

It ushered in the McConnaughaissance, it broke box office records, and it introduced an entire generation to the heights of the human imagination in space, not unlike what Carl Sagan’s Cosmos did in the 1980s.

Following Interstellar, Christopher Nolan again disappeared, and fans who had been following his (to that point) eight-film record of hits eagerly awaited his return. And return he did, with 2017’s Dunkirk, another period piece, this time focusing on the ‘Miracle at Dunkirk’ evacuation during the early months of the Second World War.

The movie was stressful beyond belief for viewers, even knowing it was a happy story in theory, and featured Nolan writing less dialogue and fewer single scenes, instead focusing on establishing ambiance and mood throughout.

In terms of World War II movies, it holds up in the highest caliber. As a general movie, it, like all of Nolan’s previous entries, is a top-shelf contender for its cinematography, direction, and production.

Which brings us to today, and this year’s TENET, a temporal spy film that promises to do to the espionage genre what Inception did to the heist genre a decade ago. While this film is excellent on its own merit – most reviews will indicate that – it’s rather impressive as yet another notch in Nolan’s belt.

With TENET, Cristopher Nolan has been giving us quality movies for twenty years now, never once missing. He’s broached films in every genre and has consistently pushed the envelope in terms of filmmaking.

Forget the twenty-first century, he belongs in all-time director lists.

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3 years ago

Love his films. Love the unique storylines. Make you think, plus are cool. Wish he allowed for better sound quality at times and is makes some things tougher to hear, then follow. My only critique.