5 Major Defining Tropes of Christopher Nolan’s Films
2. Twist Endings
“Are you watching closely?”
One of the things Nolan is most known for is his use of twist endings. Take a quick look at his works and you will see that almost all of his movies have some form of a twist at or near the end. Nolan likes to subvert audience expectations and keep them on their toes by crafting a simple story in a complicated way. By the time the audience grows comfortable with the formula, the end pulls the rug out from underneath their feet and the preceding events are cast in a whole new light. Following is given a double twist in that we find out that not only has Cobb been manipulating The Young Man to clear him of any accusations of murder, but that he is actually working for The Bald Guy to kill the Blonde as well. In Memento, we are led to believe that Leonard has correctly mapped out the clues to the identity of his wife’s killer, but the twist is that he has actually been giving himself false clues to fool himself into believing they are the truth as a means to give his life purpose. There is also the revelation that he has been mixing up his past life with that of Sammy Jenkis.
The Prestige is full of twists and turns around every corner, but the big revelation at the end concerns Borden and his disappearing man trick. Throughout the entire film Angier is obsessed with how Borden performs the trick with such a minimalist approach, going to extreme lengths to create his own version using Tesla’s cloning machine. In the end, it is revealed that Borden and his assistant Fallon are actually twin brothers who take turns playing Borden at all times in order to completely sell the act. This highlights the difference between how both approach their obsessions, with Angier taking the more flashy and fantastical approach and the Bordens being more pragmatic and minimalist.
Inception doesn’t have a single twist so much as a series of twists that constantly change the plan of the characters. The opening heist alone has multiple revelations that serves to school the audience on the rules of dream sharing before explicitly telling them later on. As more twists to the story get piled on, the stakes continue to raise. Fischer’s subconscious is militarized, so they have to race to finish the job. On top of that, the threat of death brings about the revelation that, since they are too heavily sedated, if they die they will fall into Limbo where they will most likely lose sight of reality and be lost in their mind forever. Things keep going wrong, and the stakes continue to rise, until Cobb must confront his guilt to see the job through. We find out that Cobb himself is directly responsible for Mal’s death, having put the idea in her head that her world isn’t real, which led to her killing herself in the real world. The final twist of Inception is that there really isn’t one, as it leaves the ending vague enough that you can’t be sure that Cobb has really made it home or not.
Nolan was even able to employ his trademark twists into his Batman movies. Batman Begins has the twist that Bruce’s mentor Henri Ducard is actually the real Ra’s Al Ghul, and the one we thought was Ra’s was actually a decoy. The Dark Knight doesn’t have any twists in the traditional sense, but the ending with Batman choosing to take the blame for Harvey’s crimes was certainly an ending that no one saw coming. The Dark Knight Rises is definitely the most twisty plot, with the origin of Bane given the most mystery and revealed in small doses. By the time Batman confronts Bane for the second time, we think we have Bane’s character pinned. However, it is suddenly revealed that Bane is not the child of Ra’s Al Ghul, Miranda Tate is. She escaped the pit and Bane was her protector who helped her escape. All the flashbacks are cast in a new light, Bane’s motivation is changed, and Miranda becomes the main villain. The twists don’t end there though, as just when it looks like Nolan actually killed Batman in a mushroom cloud, it is revealed that he survived and is living a happy life with Selina Kyle.
Judging from his consistent use of twist endings in his films, Nolan likes the idea of deceiving audiences and shocking them with revelations. Whether it is a twist that comes out of nowhere or a turn of events that you did not see coming, Nolan strives to entertain audiences through keeping them mystified.