Christopher Nolan: A Critical Study of the Films – Book Review

Hang on, surely we’ve had a range of books which have tackled the fascinating work of one of cinema’s most profound, and indeed divisive, modern auteurs? Well actually, you’d be surprised. Christopher Nolan: A Critical Study of the Films is treading ground we haven’t seen often in academic work, for reasons which certainly escape me, as proven by author Darren Mooney as he chronologically unpicks layer after layer of depth and analysis from Nolan’s ten pictures to date.

Darren Mooney has consistently risen to become of the most interesting and meaningful popular culture critics online, thanks chiefly to his website, The M0vie Blog, which churns out multiple thousand word reviews of cinema and television at a pace that has to be seen to be believed. After taking his excellent set of reviews about The X-Files as the basis for his first book for publisher McFarland, Opening The X-Files, Mooney rises to the challenge of a similar approach to Nolan’s work and he does not disappoint in his critical analysis.

Beginning with Following, Nolan’s little seen black and white first picture from 1998 starring film school friend and unknown actor Jeremy Theobald (who Mooney interviews for the book in depth as an extra at the end of his analysis), Mooney tracks the career of Nolan through breakout films such as Memento and particularly Batman Begins, through to his billion dollar commercial and rampant critical acclaim for The Dark Knight, all the way to his most recent picture Dunkirk in 2017. Along the way, Mooney makes the case that Nolan’s work is ripe for unpicking and is frequently misunderstood.

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Mooney is adept at not just marrying the subjects of his writing to modern popular culture trends, thanks to an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema particularly across the last twenty years, but he skilfully manages to draw out of Nolan’s work common dramatic and philosophical themes which prove Nolan is a filmmaker following similar threads across many of his pictures; even tyhjough his filmography may be diverse, anywhere from 19th century magicians to 21st century superheroes, like many of the great directors, his films are a tapestry of recurring motifs.

As a result, whether a fan of Christopher Nolan or not, you are almost certainly going to emerge from this critical study with a fresher and deeper appreciation and understanding of the subject matter, not to mention knowledge about broader cinema, television and culture given the in-depth notes section in which Darren Mooney goes down all kinds of intriguing rabbit holes further to his main chapters. For any Nolan fan, and indeed a fan of cinema, this is an essential piece of critical discourse by one of the finest writers out there today. 

Like most of Nolan’s work – unmissable.

Christopher Nolan: A Critical Study of the Films is now available.

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