Christopher Edward Nolan (/ˈnoʊlən/; born 30 July 1970) is an English-American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He is one of the highest-grossing directors in history, and among the most successful and acclaimed filmmakers of the 21st century.
Having made his directorial debut with Following (1998), Nolan gained considerable attention for his second feature, Memento (2000). The acclaim of these independent films gave Nolan the opportunity to make the big-budget thriller Insomnia (2002), and the mystery drama The Prestige (2006). He found further popular and critical success with the The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005–2012), Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014). His nine films have grossed over US$4.2 billion worldwide and garnered a total of 26 Oscar nominations and seven awards. Nolan has co-written several of his films with his younger brother, Jonathan Nolan, and runs the production company Syncopy Inc. with his wife Emma Thomas.
Nolan's films are rooted in philosophical, sociological and ethical concepts, exploring human morality, the construction of time, and the malleable nature of memory and personal identity. His body of work is permeated by metafictive elements, temporal shifts, solipsistic perspectives, nonlinear storytelling, practical special effects, and analogous relationships between visual language and narrative elements.
Nolan was born in Westminster, London, and grew up in Highgate. 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 mmTarantella (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.
1993–2003: Early career and breakthrough
After earning his bachelor's degree in English literature in 1993, Nolan worked as a script reader, camera operator, and director of corporate videosand industrial films. In 1995, he began work on the short film Larceny, which was filmed over a weekend in black and white with limited equipment and a small cast and crew. Funded by Nolan and shot with the UCLU Film society's equipment, it appeared at the Cambridge Film Festival in 1996 and is considered one of UCL's best shorts. He filmed a third short, Doodlebug (1997), about a man seemingly chasing an insect with his shoe, only to discover that it is a miniature of himself. Nolan and Thomas made their first attempt at a feature in the mid-90s with a project called Larry Mahoney, which was scrapped and never released. During this period in his career, Nolan had little or no success getting his projects off the ground; he later recalled the "stack of rejection letters" that greeted his early forays into making films, adding "there's a very limited pool of finance in the UK. To be honest, it's a very clubby kind of place ... Never had any support whatsoever from the British film industry."