Christopher Nolan – Auteur Theory

Christopher Nolan – Auteur Theory

An auteur is a director who manages to leave a personal stamp on their work, through both the visual expression of their ideas and techniques and the motifs which cross their many films. This essay will identify Christopher Nolan as an film auteur and identify his codes and conventions of his films. These codes and conventions mark authorship within Nolan’s films and these are the examples;

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Christopher Nolan has been known as the man who revisited the iconic superheroes like Batman in a more realistic approach. His films include (Following, 1998), (Memento, 2000), (Insomnia, 2002), (The Prestige, 2006) and (Inception, 2010). But he is mostly famous for The Dark Knight Trilogy which includes (Batman Begins, 2005), (The Dark Knight, 2008) and (The Dark Knight Rises).

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Defining an auteur is based around their stamp on films. It depends on the recurring elements or techniques involved in more than one film. Someone could only be an auteur if he or she took the conventional system seriously but simultaneously brought to it a personal mode of expression consistently apparent in the resulting films. (Schleussner, 2011: 114). Even though it has been argued that a film is to be a hard case of teamwork. But I can argue that a film can be made specifically from one person’s vision. “The auteur theory, in so far as it privileges one area of cinema over others, and the director over other factors in the process of production”. (Cooke, 2007: 411). I would argue that Nolan is a true auteur because he also writes his films as well as directing them. He has written all of his films with the exception of Insomnia.

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Nolan has been known to also write and produce the films he directs. He has no second directing unit in his film, as he prefers to direct everything from his own vision. From that alone, it makes me realize of how much of a true auteur Nolan actually is. He is technically involved in all of the aspects of his films.

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One of the key signatures that are featured in most of his films is the use of the non-linear narrative.  This occurs in Following, Memento, The Prestige and Batman Begins. Each of these films starts at the present and then goes back to the past. He used it for his low budget films like Following and Memento to give a test to see if it succeeds. I can argue it has as it has continued using it for his big budget films such as Batman Begins. “Positions the director as an auteur involved in serious filmmaking, able to apply call approach to the material as in his earlier, low-budget efforts” (Molloy, 2010: 5). This is a technique that has appeared in most of his films.  And from that, it makes me realize that Christopher Nolan is in fact an auteur.
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A big technique that is featured in all of Nolan’s films is the use of troubled protagonists. The reason this theme appears in all of Nolan’s films is because that is the key towards the story. So they can then overcome it at the end of the film. The reason of how Nolan approaches this theme in such a unique way is that the protagonist is like a lone figure who gives up on society. The protagonists are driven by revenge.  “In both Following and The Prestige we encounter protagonists who let themselves be shaped by their preserve relationships with other.” (Kania, 2009: 8). This signature is undoubtedly the main one that makes me realize that Christopher Nolan is an auteur. As he has vulnerability, the characters who have become powerful at the end film.

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Another major theme that Christopher Nolan has been known to use is the theme of betrayal. This theme has appeared in most of the film’s by Nolan. In Following Cobb betrays Bill by framing him to the police for The Blonde’s murder. In Memento, Leonard betrays himself by accidentally killing his wife and then blaming some stranger. In Insomnia Will betrays his partner by accidently killing him. This theme has been heavily appeared in the films, because mainly for the purpose of the story. What I mean by this is that the theme of betraying someone is part of the plot and reflects heavily throughout the entire film. Nolan uses these themes to pay homage to the noir films. I know that he is an auteur as he uses this theme numerously and uses it to give the noir feel towards the film.
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Nolan as an director has also been known as to collaborate frequently with actors. The most well-known actor he is known to collaborate with is in fact, Michael Caine. (IMDB (2013) Michael Caine (nm0000323/). Christopher Nolan has collaborated with Michael Caine over five films. This states that Michael Caine’s presence in his films is a major trademark that makes Nolan an auteur. Another important point to add is that Michael Caine has never been cast as the lead; he has always been the supporting character. Mainly, this is to add his presence for character emotion. For example, in (Batman Begins, 2005), there is a scene where he tells Bruce Wayne, that he will never give up on him. This establishes that he is a father figure and creates a realism effect towards the audience. He has been known as the mentor to the protagonist. Another example would be in Inception where he guides Cobb played by Leonardo DiCaprio. It is revealed that he taught him as he says “I never taught you to be a thief”. “Christopher Nolan’s CGI spectacular mind crime, unconscious heist, paranoia inflected sci-fi Inception (2010)” (Hayward, 2013: 318).  This links with the fact that Christopher Nolan creates realism very effectively. That the protagonist needs a guide and Nolan uses Michael Caine as a guide for the lead protagonist.

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Another known person that has collaborated with Christopher Nolan is the iconic music score composer Hans Zimmer. The music seems to be dark and ambient. This is to establish the realistic environment of the film. When he collaborates with Zimmer I can usually tell by the ambient atmospheric elements with the big budget blockbuster score. “Film’s extraordinary power to imitate reality has made realism a central feature of cinema aesthetics”. (Lapsley and Westlake, 2006: 156). Christopher Nolan has been known as creating a realistic dark film and The Dark Knight Trilogy is the perfect example. It includes both an ambient score to establish the realism of the film. He world often work with Hans Zimmer to establish a highly popular original soundtrack that would not only dominate the film but would also dominate itself. The score is not orchestral, it is more incidental. So each scene is suspenseful and puts it in the center of Nolan’s films.

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Overall, in my opinion, Christopher Nolan is at an most recognizable an auteur. In each of his films, he always portrays the mark of authorship be creating a realistic environment through music and characters. He casts regularly Michael Caine as the mentor of the lead character. It helps brings emotional depth towards his films. He collaborates with Hans Zimmer to create an ambient score to give a realistic environment in his films.  He also has his unique style of gritty realism whether it is a neo noir like Memento or a superhero film like The Dark Knight, The man is also responsible for introducing the iconic character known as the superhero Batman and by making him a realistic superhero. From those points, I personally consider him a true film auteur.

  1. Schweinitz, J. and Schleussner, L. (2011). Film and Stereotype A Challenge For Cinema And Theory: Columbia University Press, New York, Chichester, West Sussex


  1. Kania, A. (2009). Memento,  2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN: Routledge


  1. Molloy, C. (2010). Memento, Edinburgh University Press Ltd,  22 George Square, Edinburgh


  1. Cooke, P. (2007).  The Cinema Book (The Third Edition) – BFI British Film Institute, 21 Stephen St, London, W1T 1LN.
  2. Hayward, S.  (2013). Cinema Studies The Key Concepts (Fourth Edition) – 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN Routledge


  1. Lapsley, R. and Westlake, M. (2006). Film Theory An Introduction (Second Edition) – Manchester University Press, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9NR, UK

Christopher Nolan IMDB (date accessed 12th December 2013).

Michael Caine IMDB (accessed 14th December 2013).

  1. Nolan, C. (1998). Following. [DVD]
  2. Nolan, C. (2000). Memento. [DVD] US:
  3. Nolan, C. (2002). Insomnia. [DVD] US: Warner Bros
  4. Nolan, C. (2005). Batman Begins. [DVD] US: Warner Bros
  5. Nolan, C. (2006). The Prestige. [DVD] US: Warner Bros
  6. Nolan, C. (2008). The Dark Knight. [DVD] US: Warner Bros
  7. Nolan, C. (2010). Inception. [DVD] US: Warner Bros
  8. Nolan, C. (2012). The Dark Knight Rises. [DVD] US: Warner Bros


One thought on “Christopher Nolan – Auteur Theory

  1. Pingback: Auteur: Christopher Nolan – Ethan Penfold

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