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Christopher Nolan: Mystery Maker

Originally published September 3, 2010

If you would have asked me six years ago if Christopher Nolan was going to be the most talked about director of the day, I would have laughed in your face.

I mean, this was a cult British director who crafted head trips with a bullet lodged into them. He’s an unbelievably ballsy writer and visceral director who attempted to rewrite the rules of cinematic form. In other words, Nolan was born and made to be a cult director.

But Nolan evolved.

The cult and critical success of his stunning second feature, “Memento,” showed him that the studio system could accommodate his vision and in a gutsy move, he convinced Warner Brothers to hand over the reigns of a new Batman film from the God-awful blockbuster hospital that Joel Schumacher put the franchise in.

I don’t need to tell you that it was a good decision.

“Batman Begins” was a certified hit and it led to “The Dark Knight,” one of the most critically lauded, slightly overrated films of our time.

“The Dark Knight” was the film of 2008, and I was forced to admit that Nolan was a bona fide crowd-pleasing auteur.

When he announced that he was working on a brand new sci-fi film mysteriously entitled “Inception,” it was impossible to ignore.

I don’t care if you loved “Toy Story 3,” or you suffered a debilitating head injury and thought “Killers” was pretty good, but “Inception” was the movie that captured the imagination.

Unexpectedly, conversations about the nature of the dream state, the healing power of letting go and Joseph Gordon-Levitt kissing Ellen Page in an impeccable suit became the norm.

I’m not really here to debate the variety of themes and ideas that form the backbone of Nolan’s newest film, but rather the way that a film this labyrinthine and elaborate managed to capture both the attention of the art-as-film buff as well as the average everyday moviegoer.

How did “Inception” become 2010’s cinematic “Hey Ya!?”

Memory is a powerful thing.

“The Dark Knight” was one of the highest grossing films of all time.

Not only did acting heavy hitters like Christian Bale and Michael Cane deliver in it, but the late Heath Ledger delivered a career performance that surpasses unforgettable and becomes legendary.

The film was buoyed by Nolan’s taste for visceral action and gorgeous urban cityscapes.

It wouldn’t have mattered if Nolan had made a 90 minute movie of himself standing in front of a brick wall, people would have seen it after watching the film that redefined what a comic book movie could be.

Although nostalgia for “The Dark Knight” alone would have been good enough to put butts in seats, the factor that took “Inception” from being a blockbuster to being a topic of water cooler debate everywhere is that it is a film that is simultaneously simpler and more complex than it appears.

Without getting too much into the plot of the film, “Inception” presents a complicated plot that follows a relatively straight forward structure.

It’s not a hard film to grasp on first viewing, but it manages to appear so. Through multiple crossing realities, Nolan weaves a story that is simple to follow, once viewers grasp the easily understandable rules.

Also there’s the ending. Without spoiling anything, Nolan presents a question that calls the nature of the rest of the film into question and became the topic of intense debate.

As both a cop-out and to make this column a spoiler-free zone, it is an unanswerable question, with Nolan not giving enough information either way to solve the mystery of his character’s dreams.

By cashing in on goodwill and mysteries that demand reverent attention Nolan crafted a masterpiece for film over-watchers everywhere. And I, for one, couldn’t be happier.