Christopher Nolan and the Time Theatrics he employs

by Shoubhik Sen

Christopher Nolan can be hands down, considered to be one of the greatest in Hollywood today. People wait years for his films and he too takes a whole lot of time on his next project.
One thing that most of his works have in common, include the element of time; TIME in all kinds of manifestations. Today, we dive into how various Nolan films have “played” with time in their own way.

TIME IS SUBJECTIVE (Christopher Nolan ‘s Favorite)

DUNKIRK is the most obvious example that shows this perfectly. It shows how we as human beings perceive time depending on our surroundings and the situations we’re in.

The 3 storylines that we follow in the film cover different lengths of time, but the way they’re shown does not differentiate the events happening in 1 hour from those happening over 1 week. This is to highlight the fact that no matter what the length of time is, it passes differently for different people.
Eg. For Tom Hardy’s character, that 1 hour plane ride was as long and taxing as the 1 week spent by the soldiers at Dunkirk and 1 day spent by the civilian boats reaching Dunkirk.

MEMENTO highlights that time can be subjective even for a single person. Without deep diving much, it’d be safe to say that the film moves normally on one hand (1st act to 2nd Act) but tends to shift perspective when it moves backwards (3rd act to 2nd act). This is done to reflect the linear flow of time in the character’s mind as well as the retracing memory of the same person. Thus, time can be subjectively viewed by people, depending on how they think and act.


It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that the theory of Relativity has been explored in INTERSTELLAR. We all cried when Cooper finally got to see Murph, with the latter aging naturally but not Cooper as he was in space.
Another instance where relativity was used to melt our hearts was on Miller’ Planet, where 1 hour was equivalent to 7 Earth years. So, when Cooper spent almost 3 hours there, he had been gone for decades back on Earth.

Interstellar turned out to be accurate enough that Kipp Thorne ended up writing a book about it named “The Science of Interstellar”, along with a number of research papers being published about the science in this.

Christopher Nolan most iconic film

INCEPTION on the other hand explores this relativity at a much crazier level; in terms of Dream Levels. Time slows down in our dreams as our minds process things faster.
So, 1 second in real life will equate to 20 seconds in Yusuf’s dream (level 1) and 400 seconds i.e. 6 minutes 40 seconds in Arthur’s dream (level 2 i.e Dream within a Dream) and so on as we go deeper and deeper. It is therefore self explanatory that time will feel different to people in different dream levels.

Nolan reflected this through the score of the film; a slower and slower version of the song “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien” plays at successive dream levels respectively, to highlight the time dilation that occurs. A job done extremely well by composer Hans Zimmer.

TIME IS LIMITED (Christopher Nolan venturing into comic book films)

No one can forget the “Edge of The Seat” experiences that are the BATMAN FILMS of Christopher Nolan. The ticking clock has never been so nerve-wracking as it was in THE DARK KNIGHT. Time was of the essence when the GCPD and Batman were rushing to save Harvey Dent and were out of time by the time Rachel could be saved. Similarly, time was running out on that atom bomb that Batman carried out over the bay. All these films repeatedly make us realise that Time is NOT a luxury………it’s Limited!!


Nolan’s latest venture TENET screws up our mind but ensures that we understand 1 thing………Time is not unidirectional!!!!
However, it even establishes that time around us doesn’t change direction, it’s our Entropy that makes us perceive time in a nonlinear fashion. This film uses a “Turnstile Machine” to change the entropy of humans as well as objects. This kind of entropy reversal was seen in 2016 in waves rising up from Antarctica; however, scientists claim these particles can only be detected when coming down from space.
Thus, these particles seem to be moving backward in time (from our point of view).

Time is a multidimensional and multilayered concept. Our knowledge regarding this entity is just the tip of the iceberg. Christopher Nolan attempts to expand our minds and in turn, reveal more complex aspects of TIME.