The Nolan Effect: How Christopher Nolan Redefined Contemporary Cinema

With only a few days before Oppenheimer releases in theaters, it's time we take a look at Christopher Nolan's stellar career.

With only a few days left before Oppenheimer’s premiere, the world is getting ready to witness the birth of the atomic bomb in IMAX. The trailers, teasers, and cast interviews give this entire 3 hour long thriller epic a quality of fiction that’s hard to believe that it actually happened. An epic of one man’s brilliance, hubris and relentless drive changed how we view war forever, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, unleashing mass hysteria and making the rest of the world since 1945 remain in fear of the atomic bomb and the resulting nuclear annihilation.

All this seems unfilmable, or at least difficult to portray accurately on our silver screens but for the master auteur director Christopher Nolan, this was nothing more than another medal to add to his large and vast collection of films that transcend the genres themselves. Christopher Nolan is a man who aims to combine the experimental with the mainstream and provide a blockbuster film experience that would appease to not only the midnight art-house film community but also to the mainstream communities, hence making his films be a large love letter to the powers of cinema, to the film cameras as well as his own imagination.


Nolan has described his filmmaking process as a combination of intuition and geometry, claiming that “I draw a lot of diagrams when I work. I do a lot of thinking about etchings by Escher, for instance. That frees me, finding a mathematical model or a scientific model. I’ll draw pictures and diagrams that illustrate the movement or the rhythm that I’m after.” Caltech physicist Kip Thorne compared Nolan’s intuition to forward thinking scientists, saying the filmmaker grasped things that non-scientists rarely ever can. His films contain a lot of practical effects, as he prefers them over computer-generated imagery, and an example of this is when he crashed an actual plane into a building in his last film, Tenet (2020). While also being a proponent of theatrical exhibition, Nolan is an avid supporter for the cinema and theater itself compared to any streaming services such as HBO Max (which caused Nolan and Warner Bros. to split as they shifted their entire film slate of 2021 to HBO Max, to which Nolan responded that “some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service.”

However, despite the rift, Christopher Nolan is not one to compromise on his vision and his willingness to continuously experiment in his films, making sure the films are nothing below an unforgettable for his audiences.


Nolan is also known to turn genres over their head and put his own spin on them. He changed the Batman mythos and the entire superhero movie genre for decades to come with the Dark Knight trilogy because of its extreme realism, grit, thematic density, beautiful cinematography, something that no superhero film had done before and every superhero since then has tried to replicate (unsuccessfully) the magic that the Dark Knight trilogy made so amazing. Nolan flipped the heist film on its head through Inception, where its characters, instead of breaking into a bank, break into dreams to steal information. Tenet, his last film, was a pastiche of all the James Bond films, down to a world threatening Russian villain and a sharp-dressed suave main character who’s also a spy, however by involving the complexities of physics and time travels, Nolan turned his James Bond pastiche into a film that transcends many of a film’s design, whether it’s the sound/music design, which was a palindrome in the film (it sounds the same backwards as it does forwards), or the large number of twists and practical effects, crafting a masterpiece, as is his custom.

Regarded far and wide as a auteur filmmaker, Nolan’s usage of experimental techniques are also reflected in his thematic sense of his movies, as his movies and characters are morally complex and nothing is strictly right or wrong in his films. His movies are the subject of extensive social and political commentary. His characters are often confronted with feelings of existential, ethical and epistemological themes such as subjective experience, distortion of memory, human morality, the nature of time, causality, and the construction of personal identity while he also has a large number of frequent collaborators, in both cast and production, such as his wife, Emma Thomas who has co-produced all of his films, while he also regularly works with Jonathan Nolan, his brother. Famous actors such as Christian Bale, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy have been some of Nolan’s most frequent collaborators while Hans Zimmer has joined Nolan in much of his movies to create the atmospheric and ambient music.


Oppenheimer is another upcoming form of subverting the film genres and many reviewers regard it his career’s magnum opus, as he turns a biography into a 3 hour long, epic thriller film, once again bringing out his big guns of beautiful cinematography (the first film to be shot fully on IMAX, including its black and white scenes) as well as the extensive use of practical effects for creating the atomic explosion (he used hundreds of dynamite to create as accurate of a replica as one can of an atomic bomb using practical effects).

Of course, despite it all, the simple name of Christopher Nolan as a director of a film is enough to get people in the seats, and we’re sure you’ll be watching Oppenheimer as well, but with Barbie coming out, the real question stands that which film would you be watching first.