The 10 Best Christopher Nolan Scenes

The Family Videos in Interstellar

It’s only been a few years since Nolan’s last film, the sci-fi epic Interstellar, but the film hasn’t had quite the hold on people as Inception or The Dark Knight did upon their initial release. While Interstellar may be a tad overlong, it does feature one of the most baldly emotional and heart-rending scenes in the career of a director often typified as cold, calculated, and bloodless. Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper and his crew are exploring a planet in another galaxy to gauge its ability to maintain human life, with the grave knowledge that each hour on this mysterious planet is the equivalent of seven years passing on Earth. So even though their trip to this planet is short, when Cooper and the crew returns, they learn that 23 years have elapsed on Earth. This hits hardest for Cooper when he watches a series of home movies made by his daughter Murph (played by Jessica Chastain as an adult), seeing her age, mature, and harden in the span of a few minutes. It’s one of the most devastating scenes in Nolan’s career, thanks in no small part to McConaughey’s committed and raw work.

The Final Scene in The Prestige

Aside from Memento, Christopher Nolan’s 2006 adaptation of The Prestige is easily his twistiest film. (Dunkirk is not likely to change that.) From the early going, when Michael Caine’s impresario explains the three stages of a magic trick, it’s clear that Nolan has something up his sleeve (#sorrynotsorry). After twist upon twist is revealed, the last scene reveals the final gut-punch: Hugh Jackman’s determined magician Robert Angier has been thwarted by his rival Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), because Angier never realized that Borden was two twin brothers who would switch between being the magician and his backstage assistant. Neither man’s hands are clean, but the film intimates that Angier’s obsession with providing wonder to an audience pushed him too far beyond moral or ethical redemption. Memento’s final scene is still tops for revealing a shocking twist, but The Prestige isn’t too far behind.

The Opening Scene of The Dark Knight Rises

Outside of Nolan’s first film, Following, his weakest film is arguably The Dark Knight Rises, which is both ambitious and overly bloated. The good news, at least, is that the movie opens with its best, most ominous scene. As was the case with The Dark Knight, Nolan shot part of the 2012 finale with IMAX cameras, including the prologue where we meet Batman’s newest foe, the beefy, masked villain known as Bane. Tom Hardy’s muffled, lilting accent as Bane was instantly odd and off-putting (intentionally and otherwise), but the practicality of the scene – where Bane escapes federal custody while he’s on a plane flying high over a hilly landscape – still amazes. Even the best superhero movies use CGI effects, but when Nolan shows one plane flying above another here, the latter one being vivisected to extract Bane, it’s plainly clear how much he relies on practical, in-the-moment effects. On a true IMAX screen, the impact of the scene is jaw-dropping. If only the rest of the film could echo the start.

The Fog Chase in Insomnia

Insomnia is one of the more forgotten films in Christopher Nolan’s career. For Warner Bros. Pictures, it functioned as a test of Nolan’s chops before they decided to revive Batman with him at the helm. But this tightly wound detective thriller is worth checking out again, if only for a stellar performance from Al Pacino as an exhausted detective on the hunt for a killer played by an against-type and unnerving Robin Williams (also excellent). Williams’ character gets to turn the tables after the chase highlighted here, where Pacino’s character and his partner search for the suspect in a massive, impenetrable fog, culminating in the former cop shooting and killing the latter, possibly not by accident. Insomnia is a more straightforward film than Memento, but with the same cinematographer and editor (Wally Pfister and Dody Dorn, respectively), Nolan is able to capture an intentionally confusing mood to clarify why Pacino would kill his partner in this genuinely eerie sequence.

Batman and Rachel in the Tumbler in Batman Begins

Nolan’s take on the Caped Crusader is mostly very different from the quadrilogy begun in 1989 with Tim Burton at the helm. Batman Begins presents a radically different origin for Bruce Wayne, aside from the memorable moment where the young man sees his parents killed by a mugger. One moment that gets tweaked a great deal from other superhero films, including the original Batman, is when our hero, in costume, comes to the rescue of his love interest. While Christian Bale’s Batman does get to save his longtime friend Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), she’s too addled on a hallucinogenic drug administered by the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) to see anything other than a terrifying specter. Batman’s escape from the authorities and his desperate attempt to give Rachel an antidote adds to the thrill of seeing his Bat-Tumbler, a much larger vehicle than the traditional Batmobile. In these moments, Nolan feels like he’s getting fully comfortable with the superhero ethos.

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