Christopher Nolan Movies Are Complicated But There's 'A Secret' To Making Them

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Inception.

Christopher Nolan has easily cemented himself as one of cinema’s most prolific filmmakers of the 21st century. He’s thrilled audiences with The Dark Knight Trilogy and Insomnia, and he’s more than tested moviegoers’ psyches with The Prestige and Inception. With such a complex body of work, you can imagine that Nolan’s features aren’t always the easiest to cut. Yet longtime Nolan editor Lee Smith appears to have found a way to control the chaos.

Lee Smith recently caught up with IndieWire and admitted that Nolan’s films can present challenges in the cutting room. Nevertheless, he believes his ultimate goal as an editor is to preserve Christopher Nolan’s vision while still keeping the audience in the loop:

Chris does make very complicated films and I think my job in the whole process is to try to keep it as understandable as you can. Because there’s nothing worse than a film where the audience gets lost to the point of being disappointed. The secret that we were always trying to do with his films, Inception, Interstellar, and The Prestige, was being faithful to Chris’s original idea but never getting into a point where you’d be sitting there as an audience member feeling that you’ve been left out.

Smith says his editing process becomes fine-tuned through the test screening process, but no edit is ever made to appease viewers’ sense of clarity if it takes away from Nolan’s original vision:

Those movies are very finely tuned. Some people get them to great minute detail. Other people misunderstand them completely, but they still love them.

Christopher Nolan typically likes to balance a number of spinning plates when it comes to making movies. With each film, he seeks to tell a unique and complex tale that includes plenty of underlying themes at its core. On top of this, films like The Dark Knight, Inception and Dunkirk also include a level a spectacle that must been exciting but simultaneously tame.

It’s for these reasons and more that Nolan’s films are truly made to be seen on the big screen. The filmmaker himself has been a major advocate for the theatergoing experience for years. Most recently, he made a plea to Congress to provide support to movie theaters in the wake of the crippling blows dealt to theater chains by the coronavirus pandemic.

If Lee Smith’s work on Christopher Nolan’s films – including his Oscar-winning editing on Dunkirk – are any indication, it would seem that he has a solid grasp of Nolan’s brand of storytelling. There still, however, may be some room for him to grow, as Nolan continues to evolve as a filmmaker. Nolan’s latest feature will be the John David Washington and Robert Pattinson-led thriller Tenet, which is still slated to open on July 17.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.