The Peri- and Post-Batman Eras: The Prestige, Inception, Interstellar, and Dunkirk

Welcome back to The Christopher Nolan Chronicle.  Before we dive into today’s article, the editors would like to share some unfortunate news.  Due to unforeseen budget cuts, the Chronicle will be forced to close upon the publication of this article.  It has been a pleasure evaluating the works of Christopher Nolan, and at last – after this final post – we will be able to answer, once and for all, our burning question: Was Christopher Nolan better before or after he directed the Batman films?

First, let’s start with The Prestige.

The Prestige, 2006

The Prestige is, in many ways, a quintessentially Nolan film.  It features several twists that make you question what you’ve just seen, and it has many of the cast members we often see recurring in Nolan features.  The Prestige tells the story of two magicians entangled in a years-long, intense rivalry in which they each hope to assert their magical supremacy.  The battle is fraught with obsession, lies, jealousy, and – for one of our magicians – dangerous and deadly consequences.

As usual, we’ve checked in with our friend Dylan to find out what he thought about The Prestige:

A film about illusion crafted by the master of cinematic illusion himself. The Prestige is a criminally underseen masterpiece of Christopher Nolan’s, as it was sandwiched between two Batman films, and I’m glad it’s gotten more attention as time has passed. It’s mesmerizing to see Nolan’s parallel between magician and filmmaker, as his film is designed to create a similar sense of awe and puzzlement as a magic trick itself. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are exceptional in their roles, hammering home the profound themes of rivalry, obsession, and toxic ambition. On the surface, the film is exhilarating and engaging, but as you peel back the layers, you realize how deeply tragic it is, and its final moments are bound to send goosebumps up the arm. To me, The Prestige was Nolan’s greatest illusion yet, and perfectly encompasses everything he does so well, from his attention to detail, non-linear storytelling, impeccable design, masterclass performances, and compelling dialogue. It could’ve been a mess in the wrong director’s hands, but Nolan shuffles every card in the deck perfectly. Abracadabra.

We rated it 8.5 / 10 | Dylan rated it: 10 / 10

Inception, 2010

Inception is arguably the most visually-interesting film Nolan has ever created.  Despite this film coming out now ten years ago, the visual effects and CGI hold up very well.  It is another film in which we see the story beats Nolan likes to include in many of his movies, namely here we have an ambiguous ending that makes us question the main character’s motivations throughout the entirety of the film’s events.  Interestingly, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in this movie has a last name of Cobb, the same last name as the sneaky burglar our protagonist teams up with in Following.  Does that mean anything?  Who knows.  But it’s something.

Let’s see what Dylan thought about Nolan’s mind-bending dreamscape:

Inception is first and foremost a visual masterclass. The sheer enormity of it all is hypnotizing. Every set piece is stunning, particularly the spinning hallway that leaves me astounded every time. I do think the film feels a tad excessive in its exposition and explanation, but given how intelligent the writing and unique the concepts are, the wordiness is almost welcome. No single actor overshadows the other, as they work cohesively as an ensemble, embracing the nature of the mission being a team effort. For a film as bloated as Inception, it’s surprising how quick the runtime flies by, with Hans Zimmer’s killer score fueling the pacing and tension building of the entire piece. There’s no other film like it, and if I had to name one single work to describe Nolan’s style and brilliance in a nutshell, this is the most Nolan of them all.

We rated it: 9 / 10 | Dylan rated it: 9 / 10

And now we move on to the Post-Batman Era.

Interstellar, 2014

Now we move into the Post-Batman Era.  First up, Nolan’s space opera starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway.  Interstellar‘s story chronicles the adventures of a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

Dylan wrote about Nolan’s out of this world drama:

Interstellar is Nolan’s biggest endeavor to date, but his style and “outside the box” thinking really caters the conceptual side of the film nicely. I do acknowledge some of the issues with the third act, but some convoluted plot holes aren’t enough to undermine just how powerful Interstellar is on both a visual and emotional level. It’s by far Nolan’s most sentimental, and the scene where Coop looks through his video messages, watching life literally pass him by before his very eyes is the only Nolan moment that makes me openly sob, let alone shed a tear. The sheer ambition of Interstellar is what reels me in every time. The size of it, the scale of it, the gorgeous Hoyte van Hoytema cinematography, paired with Hans Zimmer’s beautifully daunting organ score. I’m frustrated at myself for never seeing this in a theatre. One of the most impressive science-fiction epics of our generation, and Nolan’s most endearing despite its imperfections.

We rated it: 7.5 / 10 | Dylan rated it: 9 / 10

Dunkirk, 2017

The latest film Christopher Nolan has directed, excluding his 2020 outing, TENET, is the World War II epic, Dunkirk.  This movie tells the amazing true story of the evacuation of Allied soldiers from Belgium, Britain, Canada, and France.  These soldiers were cut off and surrounded by the German army from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk between May 26th and June 4th, 1940.  Dunkirk earned Nolan three Academy Awards in technical achievements and another 5 Oscar nominations.

Dylan’s review of Dunkirk is too long to re-publish here, but suffice it to say, his four-paragraph review is full of high praise for Nolan’s achievements in this film.

We rated it: 7.5 / 10 | Dylan Rated it: 9 / 10

That’s a Wrap!

We now know that the Pre-Batman Era of Nolan’s filmography started off quite strong, with an average rating for his first three features coming in at 8.16 / 10. We also know that the Batman Era came in with an average rating of  7.67 / 10.  And now, we’ve determined that the Peri-Batman Era (The Prestige and Inception) scored an average 8.75 and the Post-Batman Era (Interstellar and Dunkirk) scored an average 7.5 / 10.

The Final Question

So, the question remains, was Christopher Nolan better before or after he directed the Batman films?  Well, that remains to be seen.  Given that the Pre-Batman Era has a comparable score to that of the Peri-Batman Era and the Post-Batman Era has a comparable score to the actual Batman Era, it seems like Nolan is a generally consistent filmmaker.

So now, we turn the question over to you all.  What do you think?  What era was the best for our father who art in cinema?  Do you have a favorite era?  Let us know in the comments and on social!

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