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The thematic richness of Christopher Nolan’s films can help your storytelling

Christopher Nolan’s films are loaded with philosophy.

Christopher Nolan is one of today’s most influential directors. His films are deep meditations on life, humanity and our sense of self. His new movie, Oppenheimerwill address the complicated legacy of the men who built and dropped the atomic bomb.

I found this amazing video online that takes a closer look at Nolan’s filmography through the lens of philosopher Kierkegaard, subjectivism and its connection to our self-concept.

Watch this video from Like Stories of Old and let’s talk about it afterwards.

Exploring the thematic richness of Christopher Nolan’s films

Before digging into Nolan, let’s define subjectivism, which is the teaching that there is no external or objective truth because all knowledge is based on personal experience.

When you watch Nolan movies Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Interstellar, Dunkirk, and Principle, you see that he often has to deal with characters who live through singular moments. And they decide what to believe about the world because of them. These beliefs range from the world being a dream, to the cruel world, to the existence of real heroes.

Nolan’s films struggle with the concept of objective reality. That there is one truth we all live by. His characters are constantly in search of self-defining knowledge and constantly push back against a higher truth imposed upon them.

In a movie like Memento, we can see the truth being pushed onto Leonard Shelby by outsiders trying to manipulate him. In Creation, Dom Cobb creates dream worlds, and to navigate them he must learn about others to steal their ideas. Thus, its reality is subjective to them. In Dunkirk, we follow soldiers in different situations. Are they working for a greater moral good? Does this mean they will succeed?

‘Interstellar’Credit: Primordial

These great questions and the nature of knowledge recur throughout his work. Nolan seems to say that no matter when we live or what situation we find ourselves in, we are imprisoned in our own opinions. We can only consider how to live and how to behave given what we have learned in the past. When Nolan has characters who lie, as in Interstellarwe see people with good intentions taken advantage of again and again, because as scientists their realities are based on truth.

What I love about Nolan is that he forces his characters to then confront who they are, as the world they’ve grown accustomed to changes in front of them. They see the world subjectively, filtered through their perception and consciousness. It’s how they adapt that determines whether they survive. Whether it’s a cop far from home who must learn a new city and reconcile old crimes. Or a magician who begins to believe magic might be real – or at least he can’t explain what’s in front of him.

These complicated thematic elements are what make the Nolan films so deep.

Let me know your interpretations of his work in the comments.