For two decades, Christopher Nolan has carved out an impressive niche in Hollywood, garnering a loyal fanbase that’s willing to pretty much see anything he makes. Whenever he releases a movie, it becomes a huge cinematic event. While some of his earlier work, like Memento, Insomnia, and The Prestige leaned toward slower, quieter dramas, his latest work since Inception has involved loud soundtracks, fast-paced narratives, and tense storytelling. I think it’s high time he switched back to the former.
A “quiet” drama, of course, could take on many forms for the director. It could mean going back to basics, telling a simple yet profound story, and moving away from high-concept ideas like, you know, time inversion and entropy, and the high-stakes, adrenaline rush pace.
With Tenet, Christopher Nolan has doubled down on this trend, ratcheting up the action, the pace, and the sound. And, don’t get me wrong, I liked Tenet, but now that he’s reached a fever pitch in this style of storytelling, it feels like a good time to shift gears and do something totally different. Here’s 8 reasons why.
He’s Starting To Pigeonhole Himself
When he first broke onto the scene, Christopher Nolan was a fresh, visionary filmmaker with a keen ability to direct thoughtful, exciting new movies. However, since Inception, he’s been veering into a certain style of moviemaking and has been repeating many of the same tropes, like mind-bending concepts of time, fast-paced narratives and loud sound design.
On the one hand, I understand many of these hallmarks are his stock and trade. He’s earned his fanbase by working toward his strengths and he’s very good at what he does. But with Tenet, he might just be leaning too hard on these strengths and is in serious danger of parodying and pigeonholing himself.
That would be a sad waste of talent. Christopher Nolan is a versatile director. He’s made quieter pictures like The Prestige next to big, loud, action-packed movies like The Dark Knight. I'm fairly positive he can swap back and forth between two different styles of filmmaking. Now, more than ever, would be a great time to do it.
It Would Be An Unexpected Thing To Do
When a director sticks to certain genres and themes for a while, it’s expected that they’ll stay there. If news broke tomorrow that Christopher Nolan was making a new thriller about some element of space-time, it’s doubtful anyone would bat an eye. It's more likely they would yawn.
If Christopher Nolan wants to avoid having his audience check out, he needs to shake things up and do the unexpected. I can’t think of anything more realistically unexpected than taking on a low-budget, quiet drama (except maybe doing a comedy with Will Ferrell).
The fear, of course, is that if a filmmaker strays too far from their brand, it might turn off the built-in audience. It’s a legitimate concern, but I think Christopher Nolan has earned enough license to do pretty much whatever he wants right now (though that could wane if he does the same old thing). With that said, I think there’s a good chance his audience would be eager to see a quieter Christopher Nolan film again.
His Quiet Movies Are Some Of His Best
Like many Christopher Nolan fans, my love for his movies usually focused on the action-packed stuff, like The Dark Knight and Inception. But,over the years, I’ve almost come to appreciate his quiet films, like The Prestige, Insomnia and more.
These movies take their time to develop the characters, the plot and the mystery. They have their moments of tension, sure, but the tension doesn’t take center stage. They’re emotional, thoughtful and feel human and intimate; narrative pieces that Christopher Nolan has been abandoning more often lately for thrills, effects and camera work.
Christopher Nolan made Insomnia and The Prestige when his career was still growing. Now that he has twenty years of filmmaking under his belt, imagine what he could do with a slow, quiet drama today. I think with the right screenwriter, it would have the potential to be something special.
There’s A Precedent For Directors To Turn To Smaller Projects
Some of the best directors can tell all kinds of stories. They don’t allow one genre or technique to pigeonhole them. They’re able to go from directing a big, action-packed blockbuster to quickly turning to something slow and quiet.
Steven Spielberg, for instance, created an entire filmography around jumping back and forth between big blockbusters and smaller dramas. In the '80s, he went from directing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to directing A Color Purple. In the '90s, he simultaneously directed Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List, two radically different movies.
Of course, not every director can do this; Michael Bay tried shifting gears with Pearl Harbor and that didn’t turn out so well. But Christopher Nolan isn’t Michael Bay. He’s proven he can make the shift from spectacle to subdued. So while it might feel somewhat unexpected to suddenly turn to a drama, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary in the grand scheme of things.
People Are Starting To Hate How Loud His Movies Are
One of the unique elements of Christopher Nolan’s latest movies is the sound design. Not only does he refuse to use much ADR, he loves to crank up his score and sound. Christopher Nolan's devotion to the theater experience, by and large, drives him to gear the sound to that end. This can produce surprising (and sometimes frustrating) results, making you feel immersed in the story and occasionally concerned you might be going deaf.
While his use of sound doesn’t bother me (though I’ll admit that it’s growing tiresome), many others are really starting to hate it. People don’t like the overbearing sound design and the fact that they can’t understand what the characters are saying.
So not only should he create a tonally quiet drama, he should also create a literally quiet drama. Imagine, for instance, if Christopher Nolan made a movie like A Quiet Place that hampers down on sound entirely. People would certainly be taken aback by it, but it might win back those fans that refuse to subject themselves to more eardrum abuse.
It Would Give Him A Chance To Focus On Characters And Actor Performances
With a quiet drama, Christopher Nolan wouldn’t be able to fall back on his typical filmmaker toolkit. He’d have to fundamentally rethink how he’d want to tell the story. Without using fast-paced storytelling techniques as a crutch, he’d need to turn his attention to character development and actor performances to churn out a compelling drama. No more hiding behind a thrilling theater experience; the characters and story would have to do the heavy lifting.
Notably, this is one of his biggest weaknesses as a storyteller. Some of the recent movies that he's written himself lack solid characters, with Dunkirk and Tenet being prime examples. We know barely anything about the characters in those movies. His focus seems more on the technical aspects of filmmaking rather than the story.
That doesn’t mean Christopher Nolan has never produced a drama with greater attention to character. Insomnia and The Prestige both do a fantastic job following flawed, nuanced characters, and have particularly strong performances from actors like Robin Williams, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman.
But it’s important to note that those films weren’t originally written by Christopher Nolan (Insomnia was written by Hilary Seitz and The Prestige was adapted from a novel by Christopher Priest). If he did another small picture, it might make sense to have another screenwriter tackle the script or team up with one that’s especially good at writing characters and drama.
His Status As A Power Director Could Give Dramas A Boost
Over the past decade, superhero movies have flooded the theaters and become some of the highest-grossing movies ever. Christopher Nolan had a part to play in this radical shift at the cinema. His grounded Batman trilogy totally redefined what superhero movies could be, paving the way for those types of cinematic tales to have a greater prominence at theaters.
As a result, dramas have taken a bit of a back seat to action and adventure films. Even within the last decade, the number of people going to see dramas has declined, while action and adventure movies have boomed.
I realize there’s some hubris here. I'm not saying Christopher Nolan is a wizard that can cure all ills. Still, historically, his movies have consistently been huge blockbusters; he’s one of the rare directors that draws an audience on name recognition. With that kind of status, there’s a good chance he could give greater attention to dramas and maybe give them a renewed boost at the theater.
It Might Get Him An Oscar
Christopher Nolan fans have long wanted the director to win an Academy Award. Though he’s been nominated five times, and some of his films have won awards for things like cinematography, he’s never snagged an Oscar himself.
It’s no secret that the Academy loves quiet, character dramas. If Christopher Nolan leaned in on this and proved he could provide a fresh take on this kind of story, it might turn some heads and put him back on the Academy’s radar. Nolan might have a real shot at finally winning an Academy Award.
There's no question Christopher Nolan is a talented filmmaker. He’s experimented with various genres and high-concept ideas, and found ways to make the theater experience incredible without using heavy CGI or 3D special effects. That’s quite a feat. Now that he’s done that, it feels like now is the time to shake things up and go after a new challenge that stretches him as a filmmaker. It’s time for him to make a quiet drama. Let us know if you agree in the comments below.