With The Dark Knight Rises being released fairly soon I recently started thinking about how many similarities there are between Christopher Nolan and Alfred Hitchcock and how it could be stated that Nolan is the Hitchcock for the modern era of society.
To begin with we must first look at their background, both of them are born in London and began their careers making low-budget British films. Nolan shooting the creepy psycho-thriller Following in his free time whilst at university and Hitch gaining a break in the then quite large British silent film movement with The Pleasure Garden. Interestingly both directors were aged 27 when their first feature films where released.
However in the case of each of them it was no until they moved to America that either truly excelled. Hitch’s break out film was the exquisite Rebecca a dark ghostly story of murder, betrayal and love. Nolan’s first film to gain real recognition Memento is still considered a cult classic; it tackled similar themes to Rebecca but was much more unique due to its non-linear narrative. Both of these films performed reasonably at the box office and received mass’s of critical acclaim. Rebecca being nominated for 11 OSCARS and Memento one, the success of these allowed each director a platform to create more films leading to a bigger audience and increased popularity.
A heavily influence on Hitchcock was his wife Alma Reville; they married in 1926 at the start of his career and she supported him throughout his life, even gaining writing credit for many of his films including Shadow of A Doubt. Hitchcock loved her dearly and when he accepted his Lifetime Achievement Academy Award he is famous for having said the following:
‘I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, and encouragement, and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen and their names are Alma Reville.’
The speech is incredibly touching and Hitchcock’s fame would probably have been far less if she had no been constantly supporting him.
Chris Nolan is similarly influenced by his wife Emma Thomas whom he met at University. Much like with Reville, Thomas has also helped her husband throughout his career being credited as producer on every film he has directed as well as being his business partner for SYNCOPY Pictures the pairs production company from which all their films are made.
Their backgrounds are of-course not the only things that the two directors have in common. The films they have made are also extremely similar in many ways. Firstly and probably most obviously is the genre of film each of the directors preferred. Hitchcock is nicknamed ‘The Master of Suspense’ and it is clear to see why as many of Hitchcock films are thrillers involving either murder (Rope), someone on the run (North by North-West) or both (Strangers on a Train). The tension Hitchcock built up within nearly every film is astounding and was almost a re-invention of how to film thrillers at the time. And it could be said Chris Nolan does the same with his films; all of Nolan’s work can be classed in the thriller genre with many people classing them as psychological thrillers as they make the audience think about what is going on rather than just enjoy the film; this is primarily done in Nolan’s work through the use of non-linear narratives (Memento) or plot twists (The Prestige), however when you look at these films from a purely storyline basis you find that they are in fact the same sort of films Hitchcock was making.
Compare Inception with the classic Hitchcock film Vertigo, both films have incredibly dark plots that twist and turn constantly with the audience unsure at times what’s real and what isn’t. Vertigo in essence is a film about a man’s obsession with a woman who dies and the same event is the catalyst for every event in Inception. Also both have fantastic endings that leave the audience with a huge ‘WTF?’ moment.
Another similarity is the cast of the films; every Chris Nolan film has a tall, dark-haired gentleman as his leading man (Christian Bale, Guy Pearce, Al Pacino) and each of these actors plays the part perfectly. Hitchcock also liked to work with the same actors the likes of James Stewart being the recurring performer. The main difference between the two being that Nolan prefers dark-haired women whereas Hitchcock famously had a view for blonde hair woman (Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman) whereas the one criticism people have for Chris Nolan is women do not play important enough roles in his films – something to which I understand but disagree with.
Another similarity is how each of the directors is an auteur and created a style that other filmmakers would try to emulate. Hitchcock is known for being one of the first ‘auteurs’ of filmmaking and nearly all his films contain traits that are often described using the adjective ‘Hitchcockian’, no-one else has ever managed to build tension through the correct mix of shots better than Hitchcock. Voyeurism is perhaps the thing that Hitchcock bought into mass-market, he was far from the first person to use point-of-view shots in a film but he was almost definitely the first director to use them effectively; if you take the point-of-view shots out of Rear Window the film has no tension. Hitchcock also liked to experiment in films right from his early days in Downhill in which a crazy guy is imposed onto a spinning record, right through to the incredible vertigo shot in Vertigo.
Nolan is similarly auteuristic and in a few years who knows we might see a film a film and be say that’s so ‘Nolanist’. Nolan’s style is much darker than Hitchcock’s but equally effective Nolan uses lighting to create scenes that are both terrifying and astound (take the interview scene from Dark Knight, or the Al Pacino trying to sleep in Insomnia), both of these are moments of that look incredible and a lot of that has to be put down to Nolan’s long time Cinematogpraher Walter Pfisters who creates a dark bleak world incredibly. Nolan is not afraid of being experimental either with some incredible shots appearing within his work alongside his re-popularising of the non-linear narrative
A final similarity, which is quite a sad one is that although both directors have many fans worldwide, neither of the two has ever won on OSCAR for their achievements on an individual. Both have directed OSCAR winning films but neither has actually been able to accept one to store on their personal mantlepeice. Hitchcock did win a Lifetime Achievement award but it truly is a travesty that he didn’t win Best Director for a film such as Rear Window, a film with unarguably some of the best direction ever. Of-course Chris Nolan is only young and has many years and films to come which will rectify this problem.
In conclusion I think it is fair to say that Chris Nolan is similar to Hitchcock in many ways and I will interested to see in fifty years if Inception is looked back on with the same fondness that people have for Hitchcocks film such as Psycho or if it is a 21st Century that will date badly. I believe Chris Nolan has a fantastic career ahead of him and am looking forward to the day when I can refer to an aspect of someone else’s work as ‘Nolanist’.