Watch: 12 Trademarks You'll See in Pretty Much Every Christopher Nolan Film

Though Christopher Nolan has a pretty diverse filmography, there's a handful of signature characteristics in each of his films that remind you of his unique brand of filmmaking.

Whether he's filming neo-noirs, sci-fi adventures, or superhero flicks, Christopher Nolan has a way of infusing his unique flavor of cerebral cinema, complete with bleakness, complicated intellectual acrobatics, and total mind-f**kery. And while most fans know about Nolan's penchant for putting audiences through the metaphysical gauntlet (and then laughing maniacally while he watches them try to make sense of everything), what are some of the Oscar-nominee's other cinematic trademarks? ScreenPrism explores twelve of them in the video below:

Though you may not be able to pinpoint a film by Christopher Nolan as quickly and easily as you would, say, a film by Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino, you do get to peer a bit more into the depths of the director's psyche. Nolan's brand of cinema shows us what excites his intellect, what intrigues him, what confuses him. So many of his films explore the metaphysical world and its many mysterious unanswered questions—What is time? What is truth? What is fact? What does it mean to exist?  

But again, ScreenPrism does a great job of highlighting the many techniques and characteristics Nolan comes back to in order to tell his stories. So, to answer the central question of the video: "You know it's a Christopher Nolan movie if..."

  • there's a non-linear story
  • there's a subjective point of view
  • the story makes you a detective
  • there is an ambiguous ending
  • characters have a split identity
  • there is moral ambiguity
  • there is expressive lighting
  • you see characteristics of film noir
  • there are digital and practical effects
  • it's self-referential
  • it deals with common themes, like revenge, anger, and guilt
  • Wally Pfister is behind the camera (and a number of recurring cast and crew)

What are some other trademarks in Christopher Nolan's films? Let us know in the comments below.     

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


his films are amazing. Great reference for film maniacs.

July 15, 2017 at 11:43PM, Edited July 15, 11:43PM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography

Musical score

July 16, 2017 at 5:01AM


This is not a scoop, in the history of painting, artists often reused their paintings already painted to draw a new masterpiece. For example, we had known since 1922 that the "Portrait of a Woman" by the French impressionist painter Edgar Degas, painted around 1880, concealed another portrait, which appeared below the surface. To summarize, I think Christopher Nolan's films (like Kubrick or Friedkin) hide other films.I think of Memento and I think the character played by Guy Pearce (Leonard) is a comedian, a liar. He is not amnesic. Memento is a metaphor for the comedian's art. To pretend, day after day, even locked up in the room of his motel. Leonard repeats his role, he cheats the viewer (voiceover). Leonard lies. What purpose ? There may be a clue: the book his wife reads: "Chapter One Two years gone by, I finished writing the long story of how I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, the cripple, the stammerer, the fool of the family, whom none of his ambitious and bloody-minded relative consider the worth of the executing disorder, poisoning, forcing to suicide, banishing to a desert island or starving to death which one how to get rid of each other I have survived them, even my insane nephew Gaius Caligula, and was one day unexpectedly acclaimed Emperor 41 AD by the corporals and sergeants of the Palace Guard. "
It is the opening of the 1935 book by Robert Graves (1895-1985), Claudius the God and his Wife Messalina.This is a sequel to Graves' book, "I, Claudius". It has an interesting parallel with the story in the movie, which is also told / narrated by the protagonist, who has a mental handicap. This causes others to perceive him as weird, crazy and harmless, and they even abuse him for their own benefit. But nobody realizes that the pathetic protagonist is actually very bright and resourceful. In the end, he comes out victorious over many others, who are either dead or lost, proving that he is the best man despite his limitations. We find this effect in "The Prestige" or "The Following", but also in other films like "Usual Suspects" of Singer, "The Informant" and perhaps "Sev7n" of Fincher, through the character of John Doe (which is a replay of a famous Shakespeare play). As for the name of the character of "Leonard" played by Guy Pearce perhaps (and I mean "maybe") is this a reference to Leonard Thompson (1908-1935) who was the first person to have received an injection of insulin for the treatment of type 1 diabetes. But, of course, this is only a hypothesis. (NB: some tattoos are Roman numerals).
If Leonard is really amnesiac, we must quote Rossellini: "I take an individual who seems to me to have the physical aspect of the role, to allow me to carry my story to the end." And, since he is not an actor, but an amateur, I study it thoroughly, I use it, I reconstruct it, and I use his muscular skills, his tics, to make him a character, so the character that I have imagined may have to be changed on the way, but to reach the same goal ". For Leonard, prostitution seems to have always been the most accurate metaphor for reporting social relations as a whole, and no doubt that this is one of his dearest subjects. But more precisely in the scene with the young prostitute, there is for Leonard an almost prostitutional relationship that binds the film actor to the director. These are the two extreme social situations where someone can praise the temporary availability of another's body, over which he has virtually full power. By the contract that binds him to production, the actor (the prostitute of Memento) undertakes to comply with the wishes of the director (Leonard) and to take at his request such and such posture, to make such gesture, to pronounce or not to pronounce such or such sentence. In Godard's film "Vivre sa vie", the filmmaker was aware of this similarity and he already clearly stated at the time this equivalence: "To have relations with the actress of whom I was the client, and she the prostitute" . In this film, as in the other films of Godard openly dealing with prostitution, the scenes that should be sexual scenes, discovered at the occasion of the hazardous opening of a room door, are still still motion pictures, frozen postures, as if the real pleasure of the customers of these prostitutes was not the consumption of the sexual act, the movement, but a pleasure of filmmaker (Leonard), that of staging a tableau vivant with the rented body . A chapter of "Living his life" (and Memento) metaphorically tells a story of casting: a customer goes up for a pass with a young woman but, arrived in the room, asks if she can go and get another girl. The young woman walks through the other rooms, where she comes across these famous living pictures, and ends up finding a girlfriend who is free and agrees to join her. The customer is interested in the newcomer while the young prostitute is waiting. Seeing that he leaves her on the sidelines, she ends up asking: "And what am I serving now?" And understand that it will be nothing, that the customer has exclusively preferred his girlfriend. The history of the castings is full of stories of this kind where an actress chosen for a role is squeezed at the last moment for another without the director dares to assume frontally his change of choice. And this is one of the constants in Nolan's cinema: following a person to choose the "useful" person. To study it thoroughly, to appropriate it, to reconstitute it, and to use its physical and intellectual aptitudes ... to make it a character.

July 9, 2019 at 4:43AM, Edited July 9, 4:43AM