Noted for the innovative structure of both his noirish, cerebral debut film Following (1998) and its follow-up, the equally unconventional and heady Memento (2000), London-born filmmaker Christopher Nolan has shown a unique talent for creating involving films containing concepts based on abstract breaks with conventional behavior and idealism. Dubbed meta-noir by critics at a loss for words to describe its psychologically demanding, high-concept yet low-key journey into the mind of a man seeking revenge but lacking the ability to create new memories, Memento became the basis of lively discussion and debate among critics and audiences hungering for something thoughtful among a flurry of countless computer-generated pseudo-thrills and all-too-familiar gross-out comedies.
Born in 1970 and making 8 mm films from the age of seven, Nolan studied English Literature at University College London, graduating to 16 mm through borrowing equipment from the college's film department to make short films in his spare time. Influenced early on by such books as Graham Swift's Waterland, Nolan became intrigued with the concept of juggling parallel timelines. Noting that this concept was much more prevalent and common in print than on film, he began to expand on the idea, eventually combining it with his fascination with the concept of breaking down personal barriers after his London flat was burglarized and he curiously speculated on the burglar's impression of himself and his life. Taking the concept of an unemployed writer who becomes obsessed with learning about strangers by following them and breaking into their apartments to study their lives, Nolan crafted Following. Nominated for numerous film festival awards and winning (among others) the Black and White Award at the Slamdance film festival, he began to look forward to his next production; even going so far as to ask the audience to donate money towards the production of Memento at the 1999 Hong Kong Film Festival.
Inspired by a story his brother had written and told him about during a cross-country trip, Nolan began the laborious project of drafting a screenplay and gathering the resources for the film's production. Wanting to give the viewer an experience that was more than they could absorb in a single viewing, he spent the next few years refining the complexities of the screenplay to create what he felt would be an involving and demanding experience that audiences would want to revisit after their initial viewing.
Nolan's next project became a remake of the tense Norwegian thriller Insomnia (1997). As with Memento, Insomnia achieved an authentic noir feel while simultaneously offering a handful of excellent performances, this time from first-rate actors like Al Pacino, Martin Donovan, and Maura Tierney.
His 2005 Batman Begins was one of the few comic-book adaptations of the era to please both a large audience, hardcore fans of the comic, and film critics. Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Liam Neeson, the movie was a worldwide smash at the box office, making Nolan one of the few young filmmakers to have popular and critical success in equal measure.
Before going to work on the inevitable sequel, The Dark Knight (co-scripted with his brother, Jonathan Nolan), Nolan directed The Prestige, a story about magicians also written by Jonathan Nolan, whose short story had inspired the script for Chris's breakout film Memento. For The Prestige, Nolan cast many of the same people he worked with in Batman Begins. Though The Prestige did serviceable business at the box office and drew a fair share of critical reviews, it was the The Dark Knight that truly established Nolan as one of his generation's most formidable filmmaking talents. Uncompromsingly brooding, unapologetically epic, and featuring a positively stunning performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker, the juggernaut sequel sent comic book fans around the world into an absolute frenzy, and had a major impact on feature comic adaptations for years to follow. Sadly, Ledger would not live to enjoy the praise he so richly deserved for his penultimate film performance, as he died of an accidental overdose in his SoHo apartment in January of 2008 -- mere months before the film's summer debut.
Taking a break before diving back into the Batman universe with the final chapter in the trilogy, Nolan next teamed with Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, and rising British star Tom Hardy for the mind-bending 2008 thriller Inception, which followed a thief with the power to enter people's dreams as he attempted to plant an idea in the head of a powerful businessman. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, Inception won four, and stirred much debate among fans thanks to itsdeeply philosophical nature and ambiguous ending. With the success of Inception, anticipation for 2012's The Dark Knight Rises quickly spiked to an all-time high despite the notable absence of Ledger's Joker. Though the announcement that Inception veteran Hardy would be stepping into the role of villain Bane gave fans hope for another memorable foe, some amount of controversy erupted when the first clips debuted in 2011, revealing that Hardy's voice was difficult to decipher due to the actor's thick accent combined with the character's mask. By the time the full trailer premiered early in 2012 those fears were largely laid to rest, and the hype train was back on track.