- 1. Early life
Christopher Nolan is a British-American film director, producer, and screenwriter. His films have grossed more than US$5 billion worldwide, and have garnered 11 Academy Awards from 36 nominations.
Born and raised in London, Nolan developed an interest in filmmaking from a young age. After studying English literature at University College London, he made his feature debut with Following (1998). Nolan gained international recognition with his second film, Memento (2000), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He transitioned from independent to studio filmmaking with Insomnia (2002), and found further critical and commercial success with The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005–2012), The Prestige (2006), and Inception (2010), which received eight Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. This was followed by Interstellar (2014), Dunkirk (2017), and Tenet (2020). He earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Director for his work on Dunkirk.
Nolan's films are typically rooted in epistemological and metaphysical themes, exploring human morality, the construction of time, and the malleable nature of memory and personal identity. His work is permeated by mathematically inspired images and concepts, unconventional narrative structures, practical special effects, experimental soundscapes, large-format film photography, and materialistic perspectives. He has co-written several of his films with his brother Jonathan, and runs the production company Syncopy Inc. with his wife Emma Thomas.
Nolan has received many awards and honours. Time named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2015, and in 2019, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to film.
Nolan was born in Westminster, London, and grew up in Highgate. He was raised a Catholic. His father, Brendan James Nolan, was a British advertising executive who worked as a creative director. His mother, Christina (née Jensen), was an American flight attendant who would later work as an English teacher. Nolan's childhood was split between London and Evanston, Illinois, and he has both British and US citizenship. He has an elder brother, Matthew, and a younger brother, Jonathan, also a filmmaker. Growing up, Nolan was particularly influenced by the work of Ridley Scott, and the science fiction films 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Star Wars (1977). He began making films at age seven, borrowing his father's Super 8 camera and shooting short films with his action figures. These films included a stop motion animation homage to Star Wars called Space Wars. He cast his brother Jonathan and built sets from "clay, flour, egg boxes and toilet rolls." His uncle, who worked at NASA building guidance systems for the Apollo rockets, sent him some launch footage: "I re-filmed them off the screen and cut them in, thinking no-one would notice", Nolan later remarked. From the age of eleven, he aspired to be a professional filmmaker. Between 1981 and 1983, Nolan enrolled at Barrow Hills, a Catholic prep school in Weybridge, Surrey, run by Josephite priests. In his teenage years, Nolan started making films with Adrien and Roko Belic. Nolan and Roko co–directed the surreal 8 mm Tarantella (1989), which was shown on Image Union, an independent film and video showcase on the Public Broadcasting Service.
Nolan was educated at Haileybury and Imperial Service College, an independent school in Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire, and later read English literature at University College London (UCL). Opting out of a traditional film education, he pursued "a degree in something unrelated ... because it gives a different take on things." He chose UCL specifically for its filmmaking facilities, which comprised a Steenbeck editing suite and 16 mm film cameras. Nolan was president of the Union's Film Society, and with Emma Thomas (his girlfriend and future wife) he screened 35 mm feature films during the school year and used the money earned to produce 16 mm films over the summers.