The Films of Christopher Nolan Explored in a Sweeping 4‑Hour Video Essay: Memento, The Dark Knight, Interstellar & More

Cameron Beyl does not play by the rules when it comes to video essays. Instead of short, under-10 minute explo­rations we’ve come to expect from the ever-increas­ing coterie of YouTube essay­ists, Beyl, in his Direc­tors Series on Vimeo, devotes hours to explor­ing the fil­mo­gra­phies of some of cinema’s great auteurs. We’ve already intro­duced you in pre­vi­ous posts to his extend­ed hagiogra­phies of Stan­ley Kubrick, the Coen Broth­ers, David Finch­er, and Paul Thomas Ander­son.

Now comes his lat­est work, a mul­ti-part explo­ration of Christo­pher Nolan’s oeu­vre, cov­er­ing his hard­scrab­ble years all the way through his Hol­ly­wood block­busters and end­ing with Inter­stel­lar. (This writer, hav­ing thought high­er of Dunkirk than his pre­vi­ous works, will just have to wait a few years until the next chap­ter.)

In the video above, Beyl starts off with some pre­his­to­ry about Christo­pher and his broth­er Jonathan, his ear­ly years mak­ing Super 8 movies, his time spent at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don, and the very rare first films, “Taran­tel­la” and “Lar­ce­ny,” the sin­gle-gag short “Doo­dle­bug,” and how that crew–including his lead actor Jere­my Theobald and his pro­duc­er-soon-to-be-wife Emma Thomas–stayed with him through his $6000 debut fea­ture Fol­low­ing and its the­mat­ic and styl­is­tic cousin Memen­to, made for $4.5 mil­lion.

Part 2 shows Nolan nav­i­gat­ing the stu­dio sys­tem. Giv­en a chance by exec­u­tive pro­duc­ers George Clooney and Steven Soder­bergh to remake the Nor­we­gian thriller Insom­nia, he indulged in his love of Michael Mann by work­ing with Al Paci­no, who plays a char­ac­ter not unlike his role in 1995’s Heat. Then Nolan takes on a mori­bund com­ic book fran­chise and reboots it into Bat­man Begins, a move that stu­dio execs have since done over and over to rethink var­i­ous prop­er­ties with dif­fer­ent direc­tors. He ends with a less enthu­si­as­tic exam­i­na­tion of 2006’s The Pres­tige.

Part 3 takes on both The Dark Knight and Incep­tion, two huge block­busters and one that took Nolan into the pan­theon of crit­i­cal and pop­u­lar acclaim. If unde­cid­ed on Nolan, Beyl’s obse­quious tone might put one off: “Sim­ply put, the late 2000s saw Nolan oper­at­ing at the height of his pow­ers, locked in sync with the cul­tur­al zeit­geist to such a degree that his efforts were active­ly steer­ing it.” (Please have that debate in the com­ments.) How­ev­er, Beyl makes some nice com­par­isons between The Dark Knight and Heat here.

Part Four shows Nolan con­clud­ing his Bat­man tril­o­gy, fail­ing to top The Dark Knight, but then going all Kubrick with Inter­stel­lar. He’s a direc­tor who has glad­ly played with all the toys mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions have at their dis­pos­al, and he’s nev­er been afraid of being epic. Beyl leaves off, not­ing that after expand­ing into the uni­verse with Inter­stel­lar, Nolan has nowhere to turn but inward. So far that has result­ed in the his­tor­i­cal Dunkirk. But whether Nolan can return to more mod­est work has yet to be seen.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dis­cov­er the Life & Work of Stan­ley Kubrick in a Sweep­ing Three-Hour Video Essay

What Makes a Coen Broth­ers Movie a Coen Broth­ers Movie? Find Out in a 4‑Hour Video Essay of Bar­ton Fink, The Big Lebows­ki, Far­go, No Coun­try for Old Men & More

The Career of Paul Thomas Ander­son: A 5‑Part Video Essay on the Auteur of Boo­gie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love, The Mas­ter, and More

How Did David Finch­er Become the Kubrick of Our Time? A New, 3.5 Hour Series of Video Essays Explains

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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