Most filmmakers who lay claim to a portfolio of films have recurrent themes playing out that make the movies theirs. And while that's not a bad thing, many filmmakers--yes, we're thinking Christopher Nolan--overdo it to a point where they become cliche. On that note, we're here to tell you it's a Nolan movie without telling you it's a Nolan movie. We have understood the assignment and compiled a list of tropes that are very Nolan-esque.
Time is everything
If you have watched Nolan’s films, you’ll immediately notice his obsession with time. This is perhaps the most well-known cliche. Most characters in his film obsess over time to see if they can extend, affect, or reverse it. You might have seen this in Interstellar, Inception, Dunkirk, and Tenet. That said, we would like to point out that time isn’t always a running theme in his movies. But when it is, it is front and center. Nolan believes time gives one of the most visually appealing cinematic experiences since it can be easily manipulated on screen. A simple example explaining this concept would be a bullet being fired from a gun in slow motion to mimic the effect of time being slowed down.
Nolan also uses a non-linear approach to making films. A sequential approach only becomes more predictable, and the audience sometimes loses interest in the plot itself. However, introducing multiple timelines, like he did in Dunkirk, the forward and backward dual storyline of Memento, and the multiple flashbacks in The Prestige are great examples of this concept. In fact, Nolan uses this technique so much that it has become an established cliché. No wonder Robert Pattinson “didn't vaguely understand Tenet for months” while he was filming the movie.
Music and sound
Unlike many filmmakers who opt with a subtle sound score for their movies, Nolan loves to introduce sound as an important thematic element. While amplifying sound and background ambience work in movies like Dunkirk and Inception, it seems unnecessary for a movie like Tenet. Viewers had to strain their ears to listen to the dialogues, as most of those were drowned in the loud music and sound effects. It is safe to say, Nolan likes his movies to be loud!
Practical effects over CG
Even as CGI has advanced to a level where it is being used dominantly in filmmaking, Nolan loves to do things the old fashioned way, be it shooting with stock film in the digital age or using physical effects in place of CGI. Most of his movies have real-life action sequences. A good example is the plane crashing into a hangar in Tenet. He even used miniature props to shoot scenes in movies like Dunkirk and The Dark Knight trilogy. Except for Interstellar, Nolan hasn’t exclusively relied on CGI because according to him, it takes the fun out of filmmaking.
Visually appealing movies
Nolan strongly believes and follows a visual approach. In fact, many a time, it seems like his films would work just as well if they were silent films. This is evident by the sequences in the science fiction movie Interstellar that encapsulate the beauty of outer space. The scenes are brought to life by the cinematography, and Hans Zimmer's powerful music. The scenes of invasion in Tenet are another proof of Nolan’s ability to make movies that are a treat to the eyes.
Some people love a good cliffhanger, while many strongly believe that it ruins a good movie, especially when there is no sequel that concludes what happens next. This is a recurrent element of Nolan’s films. He tends to leave things unresolved. The ending is so ambiguous that audiences walk out of the cinema hall with a bewildered expression. For example, (spoiler ahead, btw) the movie Prestige ends with a haunted image. Another instance is the famous spinning top that is cut abruptly to conclude Inception. Nobody knows what it signifies. Even the Dark Knight movie leaves audiences in a state of dismay. It looks like Nolan doesn’t like closure.
Family is everything
Parenthood and the importance of a family are recurrent themes that pervade the filmmaker's work. Cobb's longing to return home to his two kids is his dominant motivation throughout Inception. If you think about it, Cooper's relationship with Murph is the prime essence of Interstellar. Even Thomas Wayne teaching his son Bruce to persevere is a lovely visual that the director chose to highlight in The Dark Knight.
Michael Caine is everywhere
Michael Caine is cast in almost every Nolan movie. In fact, except for three of his films, the British Oscar-winning actor has appeared in his movies consistently. Nolan has worked with many actors, who he prefers to cast regularly. But Michael Caine and he share a special bond, and the actor is indisputably a valued member of Nolan’s film franchise. Nolan reveals he prefers to work with Caine because the actor is professional and ready to get the job done no matter how demanding the script is.
Male dominated casting and broody characters
A majority of Christopher Nolan's movies have a male-dominated cast. And that's not all! The characters have troubled pasts and are continually haunted by life events. This is a thematic consistency, or in other words, a cliché that has become way too common in his films to ignore. In fact, out of 11 movies the critically acclaimed director has made, none of them feature a female lead. Characters played by women are only used to further the male character's story arc. That said, Kat in Tenet and Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises were well-developed and compelling characters.
His movies don’t have a sequel
We know Nolan loves to end his movies on a cliffhanger. And bear in mind that only The Dark Knight franchise has a trilogy. So Batman fans had some closure. However, most of his projects are standalone films with an abrupt ending and no promise of a sequel. Now that is frustrating if you ask any movie buff.