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Directors Who Matter - Christopher Nolan

By ANTHONY C. FERRANTE     January 13, 2006


Director Christopher Nolan poses on arrivals at the premiere of Batman Begins copyright Sue Schneider
© 2005 Sue Schneider

Age: 35

Most Recent Film: Batman Begins

Best Film: Memento

Most Underrated Film: Insomnia

Did You Know: He's red and green colorblind.

Why He Matters: He's a filmmaker who knows how to take art-house concepts and make mainstream movies out of them. Who else would you want to direct a Batman prequel?

Pressure is something Christopher Nolan is used to, but after helming the art-house hit Memento and the taut thriller Insomnia, the stakes were decidedly higher with Batman Begins, which charts the previously untold tale of the Dark Knight's mysterious origins.

"I think you feel a lot of pressure with every film you do, because each film is a year of your life," says Nolan. "There is nothing harder than spending a couple of years doing a small film and desperately trying to get anybody to take a look at it. At least with this film, having spent two and half years of my life doing it, it's going to go out there on a grand scale and have a chance."

Doing something different with Batman is what appealed to Nolan and he took the tact of setting it in the quasi-real world (or as much as possible, considering the hero dresses up as a bat) and treating the character as a fallible human as opposed to an unstoppable superhero.

"I have always been a big fan of the character and am more of a moviegoer than a comic book guy," says Nolan. "There is always something about the character of Batman that is very elemental. There is a great, powerful myth to the character and romantic element...that draws from a lot of literary sources."

Nonetheless, Nolan (who co-wrote the script with Blade scribe David Goyer) was also quite cognizant he had to live up to expectations of comic book and Batman film franchise fans alike.

"There is a balance to be faithful to the key mythic elements, but there's also the requirement and responsibility on us to bring something new to the character and something fresh," says Nolan. "David and I spent a couple of months sitting down, hammering out story elements of what should be in this film. Fortunately, David is incredibly knowledgeable about comic books. I'm not, or certainly wasn't at the time. I was able to throw things out, and I was able to shoot things down, and vice versa with David. Coming at it from two different angles, one movie-based [and] one more comic book-based, it was a good balance. That's how we were able to deal with the challenge to please or satisfy the very knowledgeable fans from the comics, but also make a film that had a more universal appeal."

In some ways, Batman Begins is the movie equivalent of a comic book reboot. Gone is the back story that the Joker killed Bruce Wayne's parents (see Burton's original Batman film for that slight revisionist take). In its place is a complex tale of a man forced to find his inner bat in order to combat the guilt he feels due to the death of his parents.

"Batman is a resilient character who has sustained all kinds of different interpretations over the years," says Nolan. "The way I looked at it -- the evolutionary process through the history of the comics -- a lot of different things have been tried. The Joker supplanting the guys who killed Bruce's parents did not resonate to me. It's far more useful in our story in dealing with the idea of a more random act of violence the clear reasons in our film that cannot be avenged."

Since Nolan is part of the last generation who grew up shooting and cutting their first shorts and student films on Super 8 and 16mm film, he feels he was very fortunate to have had that experience. He believes it's helped him enormously as a working director.

"With Super 8 as a kid, I could physically edit and splice the tape together, and it gives you a great organic understanding of the media you're working in," says Nolan. "As video technology has advanced, it's become a more powerful tool, and something I certainly avail myself to whenever possible, particular in terms of editing. I think it would be a lot more difficult for me growing up with video and computer based editing from the beginning. When you're editing a sequence of shots with a strip of film, it forces you to make a decision, and if you're not used to making a decision, you never commit to anything. I think it's difficult for new filmmakers to commit to a shot and commit to the story element you're trying to film because of this."

And while you might think doing a big budget franchise movie would send Nolan straight back into the indie world, he admits it wasn't as daunting as one might expect it to be.

"When you do a massive film -- and I've been saying it for years, but I can say it with more authority now -- there really isn't any difference between doing a big film or a small film," says Nolan. "For me, it really is the same process. I think in terms of doing a lot of different types of things. I've certainly enjoyed doing a film on this scale, and I would love to do it again at some point. I would like to do films of all sizes and all sorts. The scale of the film is really only paramount by the demands of the story."

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