Monday 9 August 2010

Christopher Nolan's Parting Shots

If there's one thing Christopher Nolan knows well, it's how to finish a film. Not in the sense that his ability to sit through the whole of a motion picture is exemplary, even I can do that. What I mean is that nearly all his films have great endings.

Instead of wrapping everything up neatly in the final act before adding a cosy epilogue just so you know the story's definitely over, Nolan uses his final scenes to take the plot somewhere else entirely. A showboating Shyamalanesque twist is one thing, but Nolan's denouements are so much more than that - either extending the story beyond its own boundaries to the point where it feels like the credits are intruding on the rest of the film, or squirting the whole thing back up its own bottom, forcing you to reappraise everything you've just seen.

So here are six great Christopher Nolan films with six great endings, plus the coffee-flavoured chocolate in the packet of Revels that is Insomnia, which buggers up an otherwise perfectly good hypothesis.

*** Obvious statement: CONTAINS SPOILERS, duh. Including a
little one for Inception, but nothing too fun-destroying.***

It's only in the film's final minute that we discover what the whole plot's been leading up to, and it's a far more devious and sinister double reverse counterbluff than we thought it was. In the final shot the bad guy literally disappears into the crowd and you can't quite believe that's how it's going to end. But it is.

In a film so back to front, upside down and inside out, Memento's ending isn't even anything as simple as the beginning of the story - in the chronologically re-edited version this shot comes over half an hour in. But it's in this scene that our absent-minded hero does the unthinkable to himself, setting up the action for the preceding two hours and leading up to the very first (literal) shots. And that final line: genius.

As if being a distinctly average thriller and, ironically, a good cure for insomnia wasn't enough, Insomnia is the only one of Nolan's films not to follow the pattern that forms the entire basis of my incisive observations. There will obviously be repercussions from the events of the last scene, but they're pedestrian in comparison to, say, Memento's mind-squootling finale. Bad Nolan.

Batman Begins
It was always Batman Begins' job to set up a sequel, and after seeing what Nolan did with a lesser villain like The Scarecrow, to tease The Joker as the next bat-villain was only ever going to cause uncontrollable fanboy tumescence for three long years. No superhero origin film would be complete without a final shot of a man in tights zooming towards camera, and Batman Begins does its duty in a classic shot that, as you can see, doesn't work as a still at all.
And take note, Marvel - this is how you tee up the next chapter: before the credits.

The Prestige
The final reveal through a room full of drowned Hugh Jackmans reveals the terrifying extent of his character's desperation to be a better magician than Christian Bale's, and is so disturbing that you almost forgive the clich├ęd scene that precedes it in which Bale shoots Jackman and then explains the whole plot to him in the exact amount of time it takes for him to cark it. Almost.

The Dark Knight
Commissioner Gordon unwillingly sends the entire police force after Batman when he sacrifices himself for the good of Gotham by taking the rap for Harvey Dent's dastardly deeds, and the dark knight goes on the lam for what looks like four more years of geek frustration. In the space of a couple of minutes you realise this superhero is even more heroic than you thought, and you just want to give him a hug. And a Strepsil.

Everything's wrapped up, Ellen Page has stopped asking silly questions and you can finally stop frowning like Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island. And then, just as you're reaching for your coat and accidentally tipping the remains of your popcorn over your neighbour, Nolan drops that final shot on you. What a bastard.

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  1. bollocks!!---cool.... : )

  2. Nice post! I like Insomnia though...agreed that it is not up there with the others on your list but it was still a good thriller. The Dark Knight's ending was good, when it did finally end. Was I the only one that kept thinking "This must be the end now surely?" It was like 'Return of the King' all over again!
    Marge x

  3. It did drag on, but in its defence it had approximately sixteen fewer endings than Return Of The King, so we'll let it off.

  4. That picture at the top of the article. For people of my age, it's hard not to see this:

  5. I like how you emphasised your dismissal of Insomnia by choosing a shit-resolution image.

  6. Congratulations on spotting the completely intentional hidden layers of meaning.

  7. That Inception ending made me violent against the nearest sentient thing. Poor Danielle...

  8. .semit eerht ti gniees ni erusaelp taerg koot I .tnillirb si otnemeM

  9. Also, in defense of Nolan/Insomnia -

    (which I've only seen a couple of times ages ago, mind you)

    It was a remake. The original Insomnia was a Norwegian(?) movie with Stellan Skaarsgard in the Pacino role. Haven't seen it, but I have it in my queue.

    Nolan is one of (well contemporarily anyways) my favorite directors. Insomnia was kind of a cover song for him, and though being my least favorite film of his yet - it still makes me want to revisit it to see if there's anything I missed.

    Loved him since Memento, blew my mind when he landed Batman Begins. The dude is solid.

  10. The above post was not meant in any way meant to be a knock against Nolan's Insomnia remake. I liked it well enough, enough to see a second time in the theatre - just wasn't engaging for me as Memento or Following. Good movie though. Easily Robin Williams' best role ever.

    I love Skaarsgard too, need to see the original evenetually.