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It’s hard to compare Christopher Nolan to any other filmmaker. He has such control over his storytelling methods, and tells such a signature type of narrative, that he’s isolated in the industry. But his work on movies like Interstellar, Insomnia, The Prestige and Inception have earned Nolan comparisons to the late Stanley Kubrick. Can you see it?
Recently, Matthew Modine guested on our ReelBlend podcast, and we started down a conversation comparing Christopher Nolan to Stanley Kubrick. Modine was one of the precious few actors able to work with both men (on Full Metal Jacket, and then on The Dark Knight Rises), and when asked if the directors had any traits in common, Modine said:
People ask me that a lot about [that]. ‘Is Christopher Nolan the new Stanley Kubrick?’ And I say, ‘I don't think that Christopher Nolan's trying to be the new Stanley Kubrick. I think he's trying to be the next Christopher Nolan.’ Stanley wasn't trying to be anybody else. And the brilliant thing that Stanley did was, having moved from New York and then spent time in Los Angeles and then eventually ending up in England was that it gave him a safe distance from outside influence. One of the things I talk about in my diary is the importance being [able] to learn… the most important journey for an artist is to find your own voice, to find your own way. So many artists talk about that in different ways. Poets write about the path least taken, that we all have to find our own way. … You can be inspired by another director’s work, and other cinematographers, and the art direction, or the music that a director puts into a film or the team that he assembles on the film, but you have to find your own way.
Without question, Christopher Nolan succeeded in finding his own way. Despite doing three Batman films, Nolan has carved out a niche in the industry as telling personal, individual stories on a massive scale. He writes (or co-writes) his own screenplays, and develops a project from idea phase to theatrical opening. And it’s this approach to his material that lines Nolan up to Stanley Kubrick, at least in the eyes of Matthew Modine.
The Full Metal Jacket star continued:
If they have something in common, Christopher Nolan is trying to find his own way, his own path. just as Alan Parker found his own path to do – who I worked with on Birdie. Or Robert Altman was continually trying to find his own way of telling stories. And it’s kind of improvisational. I think that he was the most like a jazz musician of directors that I worked with, you know, the way that he cast his films, the way that he directed actors on the film. What Stanley found a way to do was to be one of the most efficient producers that I've ever had the pleasure of working with. … To be able to have that kind of freedom, that's what Kubrick would create. He created his own studio system in order to be able to find his own voice and tell his own stories.
The comparison comes about because these two filmmakers have carved out their paths in an industry that constantly forces strong voices into dull templates. Barry Jenkins doing a Lion King continuation, or Olivia Wilde taking on a Spider-Woman film. Might they work? Of course. But we follow those filmmakers because of their approach to material, and support the cottage industries that THEY have become.
Matthew Modine was speaking with us on behalf of the 4K release of Stanley Kubrick’s anti-war drama Full Metal Jacket, which is available for purchase right now.