With the release of Interstellar, Christopher Nolan has proven once again that he’ll go down as one of this generation’s great directors. At a box office crowded with sequels and reboots, Nolan dares to be original and still manages to produce one blockbuster success after another. Even a figure as iconic as Batman became Christopher Nolan’s Batman, and the director shaped how the superhero will be viewed for decades to come. Nolan’s films have produced a legion of fervent fans, and that’s let us produce a list of some facts you might not know about his work.
10. The Killing Joke Was a Major Inspiration for The Dark Knight
Alan Moore is best known for his graphic novel Watchmen, which was included in Time’s list of the best 100 novels of all time. He’s also the author of The Killing Joke, a graphic novel that provides an origin story for the Joker. The Killing Joke, like The Dark Knight, depicts an unreliable Joker who tells multiple versions of his past and explores his complicated relationship with Batman.
Christopher Nolan addressed The Killing Joke’s influence on Heath Ledger’s Joker in an interview with Variety: “…The Joker is an anarchist. He’s dedicated to chaos. He should really have no purpose but I think the underlying belief that Alan Moore got across very clearly is that on some level The Joker wants to pull everybody down to his level and show that he’s not an unusual monster and that everyone else can be debased and corrupted like he is.”
9. Memento is Based on a Short Story Called “Memento Mori” by Christopher Nolan’s Brother
“Memento Mori,” by Jonathan Nolan, reads as a prequel of sorts to Memento. It tells the story of a man named Earl who suffers from “backwards amnesia.” Every 10 minutes his memory resets, and he’s left with only the memories he had prior to the incident that left him brain damaged. At the beginning of “Memento Mori,” Earl wakes up in a mental hospital and later escapes.
This implies that Leonard from Memento was also in a mental hospital and escaped prior to the events of the film. A moment late in the movie would seem to support this: As Leonard is remembering Sammy Jankis, a man he once knew who shared his condition, he imagines Sammy sitting in a mental hospital. But then, for a split second, Sammy is replaced by Leonard.
8. The Entire Score of Inception is a Single Manipulated Beat From “Non, je ne Regrette Rien”
The song, composed by Charles Dumont and recorded by Edith Piaf in 1960, serves as a warning to wake up from the dream state in Inception. In an interview with The New York Times, composer Hans Zimmer explained how he got a French scientist to extract a single note from the original recording of the song. Then he slowed it way, way down to varying degrees to create the movie’s epic score.
So when the dreamers hear those rumbling tones in the dream world, they’re actually hearing a single note from the song playing out around their waking bodies. Like the dreamers, the music has to deal with the progressive stretching and lengthening of time as they plunge deeper and deeper into the dream world. “Everybody thinks the dream is the important part,” Zimmer said. “For me, the time was the important part: the idea that, in a peculiar way, Chris had made a time-travel movie that actually worked.”
7. Christopher Nolan Loves Hiding Meaning in Characters Names
The initials of the two main characters played by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in The Prestige spell ABRA (Alfred Borden and Robert Angier), as in the magical word “abracadabra.” And in Inception the first letter of each of the main characters’ names — Dom, Robert, Eames, Arthur and Ariadne, Mal, Saito — spells “dreams.” We see what you did there, Chris.
6. Steven Spielberg Was Originally Going to Direct Interstellar
In 2006, /Film reported that Steven Spielberg was developing a “space time travel film” he planned to direct. The film would tell the story of a group of explorers who travel through a wormhole and into another dimension. The idea traced back to a treatment by Caltech theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, known for his contributions to gravitational physics and astrophysics. Thorne claimed that wormholes exist and could be used to achieve time travel. Spielberg got the idea for the film after he attended a Caltech workshop with Thorne and other scientists. Jonathan Nolan was hired to write the screenplay for Spielberg, and Christopher stepped in to direct when Spielberg backed out. Given their respective approaches to film making, Spielberg’s Interstellar could have looked very different indeed.
5. Each Member of the Team in Inception Symbolizes a Role in Movie Development
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Nolan explained that the role each member of the dream team in Inception plays has a movie equivalent. The Architect would be the production designer, the Forger would be the actor, the Point Man would be the producer, the Extractor would be the director and the Mark would be the audience. “In trying to write a team-based creative process, I wrote the one I know,” Nolan said.
4. A Song Sung by a Choirboy in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises Has Symbolic Meaning
A choirboy sings mournfully after the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents in Batman Begins. In an interview with Empire, Hans Zimmer explains that this symbolizes Bruce Wayne’s inability to move forward after his parents’ deaths. Zimmer said, “If you listen really carefully in the first film, there’s this little choir boy at one point, and what the choir boy does, through electronic trickery and too much time spent in the studio, his note actually freezes and goes on for about four minutes. I know that’s really dodgy symbolism, but we literally froze him in time.”
This theme doesn’t return until the very end of The Dark Knight Rises, as Batman flies over the sea toward a new future. The little boy sings one last time as Bruce Wayne unshackles himself from his tragic past.
3. Nolan’s First Feature Film Had a Budget of $6,000
Following is a con man/murder drama made on a teensy-tiny budget. To put it in perspective, Memento cost $4.5 million while The Dark Knight had a budget of a cool $185 million. Nolan said in an interview with the A.V. Club, “Following was a film that I made knowing I couldn’t get any money for it, knowing that I was going to have to pay for it myself. I wasn’t a wealthy person. Everyone involved in the film was, you know, working full-time and trying to get by in London, which is difficult and expensive. But we figured out that if you shot in 16mm black and white, which made the lighting much easier to set up, we could shoot 15 minutes of footage every week, and pay for that, and keep going one day a week as we earned money through our various jobs.”
2. Several Cast Members of Following Have Cameos In Batman Begins
Jeremy Theobold, the male lead in Following, plays a Wayne Enterprises water board technician who points out that the water pressure is spiking toward the end of the film. Lucy Russell, Following’s female lead, defends Batman to other guests during a dinner Bruce Wayne attends at a restaurant. John Nolan, Christopher’s uncle and the policeman in Following, plays a Wayne Enterprises board member who’s loyal to Bruce’s father and tells Bruce that “the apple has fallen very far from the tree” at his birthday party.
1. Inception Took Nolan 10 Years to Write
In an interview with Deadline, Nolan explained how the idea for Inception had burned in him for a long time before he was able to get it right. His great breakthrough was realizing the emotional center of the story: Dom’s love for his wife and his determination to get home to his children.
He pointed out the value of not giving up on one’s ideas: “I certainly have other ideas I’ve not been able to crack that I see great potential in, sitting in the back of a drawer. You never quite know what you’re going to come back to and figure out how to make it work. You never quite know where that desire to finish something, or return to something in a fresh way, is going to come from. Every time I finished a film and went back and looked at it, I had changed as a person. The script was different to me. And, eventually, who I was as a writer, as a filmmaker, and what the script needed to be, all these things coincided.”