Tattoos & Totems

Finding Ourselves in the Films of Christopher Nolan

Who are you?

When someone asks us that specific question our first response is generally our name, nick or given, depending on what’s written on the back of our underwear. There is a reason, however, that the social tradition of the name exchange is known as an introduction; because we can’t be defined simply by whatever phonemes our friends and family aim at us when they want to get our attention, or yell at us to stop throwing popcorn into their agape and snoring mouths while I’m trying to peacefully watch a movie. So what is our identity, then, if it’s not what people call us, or what we look like, or how many girl-pushups we can do? And why does it matter? We are who we are, right? I’m me, you’re you.



Kooky talk, says Christopher Nolan, one of the best filmmakers to emerge from the masses of kids with cameras in the last fifteen years. Nolan claims, at least through the themes and philosophic questions posed throughout his films, that the most important thing we can know as human beings is who we are, if for no other reason than to have something to search and strive for; the ultimate – and possibly unattainable – search for earthly enlightenment, a form of enlightenment that we might be able to comprehend, because we aren’t presently equipped with the facilities to fathom the more grandiose questions of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Through his films we get the impression that Nolan wants to assist us on our journey, though he doesn’t dare impose his more tangible and concrete ideals about individual identity upon us, he wants us to undertake the much more important and rewarding task of discovering for ourselves who we really are.

Throughout his film career, Christopher Nolan has asked questions concerning the nature of identity, why its important for us to find out, and the consequences of ignoring the question. He has somehow managed to entertain, enlighten, and utterly befuddle his growing and adoring audience with each and every outing, from shoestring budget independent films, to a genuine Hollywood thriller with two of the best and most prolific actors of our time, to redefining the superhero genre, to mega-budget blockbuster replete with folding cities and deep, philosophical implications. Forget who we are, who the hell is this guy? And please don’t let him go anywhere.

He’s attempted to define what identity truly is, what it consists of, and to guide us on that uroboric path so that we at least have an idea of the correct questions to ask in the hope of discovering our own. His canon is chock full of stories of men searching for who they are; some find it, some don’t, but all of them are looking, save one. Following serves as a prologue to Nolan’s career. He gives us a glimpse of the questions that intrigue him, and also a glimpse into the life of a man who doesn’t care to search for his own identity, though he’s deeply fascinated with the lives of others. The film also serves as a warning, hopefully instilling in us a fear of the consequences of looking too deeply at others and not closely enough at ourselves.

Part I: Following ->