Nolan’s Films Are A Symphony of Sight and Sound 
Nolan’s Films Are A Symphony of Sight and Sound 

Right from Batman Begins in 2005 until this day with Oppenheimer – Nolan’s clout has been consistent with cinema lovers globally

Having witnessed the rise of Christopher Nolan over the years, film after film has been a fascinating journey on its own. His unfailing box office success and soaring critical acclaim are testimony to his incredible filmmaking sensibilities. Right from Batman Begins in 2005 until this day with Oppenheimer – Nolan’s clout has been consistent with cinema lovers globally. His collaborations with film score composer and music producer Hans Zimmer have been terrific in all their films and together, they have elevated the emotional impact of the films, always immersing viewers in richly textured worlds and heightening the intensity of crucial moments.  


Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.


For any film, music is always one of its most important components, setting the plot’s emotion, intensity, and overall impact. Whether it was the Joker’s entry in The Dark Knight, the Mombasa theme from Inception, Dunkirk, or the themes from Interstellar, With Nolan, I think the way that he works with music in his movies is incredibly unique.His first collaboration with a new composer, Swedish musician Ludwig Goransson was Tenet and the most recent is Oppenheimer which  is truly a cinematic brilliance.  


Looking back at Batman Begins,  Nolan’s first superhero feature, it had composers James Newton Howard and Zimmer, whose soundtrack for the film later served as an impressive background score for The  Dark Knight and Nolan’s famous trilogy.  His 2014 film Interstellar has rightly carved a niche for itself in the history of cinema. Its tracks ‘Interstellar’ by  Zimmer along with ‘Cornfield Chase’ are a tribute to this cult classic and have been reproduced by fans multiple times. The music has a brilliant piano riff performed over ambient strings. 


I remember the time of Inception, which is today regarded as one of Nolan’s most iconic contributions to the history of cinema. It has “Time” by Zimmer (regarded as one of Zimmer’s greatest works), an emotional tune which begins with a string riff and gradually reduces to a quiet piano repeat. However, Memento, a film that in many ways developed Nolan’s own style, had David Julyan as its composer. Capturing various highs and lows, the cinematic score had just the right usage of strings.  



Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy including The Dark Knight Rises offered a background score by Zimmer. “Rise,” one of the most loved pieces, continues to be a favourite amongst audiences when we speak of the best  Nolan film musicals. Zimmer used booming drums and strings to hit the emotions just right. Similarly, in The Dark Knight, superhero enthusiasts experienced Zimmer’s unique style for the film with “Why So Serious?” Remembering that, one can’t miss The Prestige yet another of Nolan’s masterpieces with a powerful score by Julyan. 


In the year 2017, Dunkirk, a World War II film, won the Academy Award for best sound and editing, which was yet again Zimmer’s collaboration with Nolan. Zimmer contributed to the film with powerful music in pieces such as “Supermarine” or the “End Titles.” 


Zimmer is my all-time favourite. But I have to hand it to Goransson for understanding Nolan’s complex narratives and adding to his vision of creating a dynamic score in Oppenheimer where the music seamlessly blends different musical genres and experiments with unconventional tones. 



Göransson found inspiration from the visual effects of atoms splitting in the film; Nolan wanted him to live that feeling so as to help him replicate that captivating and spellbinding quality in his music. 


Hence the first meeting happened at IMAX with the VFX team and Nolan, where he invited Goransson to come see the splitting of the atom and that’s where he inspired the composer to get into the scheme of things. 


Next, Nolan asked Goransson to keep the violin as the main backbone of the score and I understand why. That’s because it’s the only instrument that can suddenly make you feel both romance and something neurotic and bone-chilling at one and the same time. 


Nolan’s films have been significantly responsible for creating some of the most iconic music albums over the decades. A crucial part of his storytelling process; speaking of the music in his films, he once said, “People have asked if I would ever make a musical and I’m like, ‘They’re all musicals.”  


Having an uncompromising vision of the kind of cinema he intends to make, there have been a series of great works from Nolan ever since his 1998 debut feature, Following. While the music in Nolan’s films has always been appreciated by fans and critics alike, Zimmer revealed in the ‘ReelBlend’ podcast that Nolan made Interstellar around the music. “It goes back to Chris Nolan and Interstellar.  Chris asked me to write this piece of music before he’d even written the script. So, I play it to him without looking at him. You can see the couch behind me; he was sitting on the couch,” Zimmer said. 


Beyond the musical score, Nolan also emphasises the importance of sound design in his films. He believes that the score and sound effects should work together seamlessly to create an immersive auditory experience. By closely collaborating with sound designers, Nolan ensured that the sound design and Oppenheimer’s score enhanced each other, resulting in a cohesive and powerful sonic landscape. 



The whole orchestra did 21 tempo changes in just one take and if one pays attention to the scene where Cillian Murphy mentions ‘Can you hear the music?’, you’ll begin to notice the dramatic rise and fall of the tempo throughout the score. And, the part where the bomb goes off during the final testing is truly nerve-racking. 


As a music composer-singer myself, I’ve always drawn inspiration from Nolan and the music in his films, which as we speak, are masterpieces on their own. Having grown up watching his cinema for decades now, Oppenheimer yet again was a joyful experience for more reasons than one. 


Author Bio: Amaal Mallik is a renowned music composer and singer who work in the Hindi film industry as well as an independent artiste. The 33-year-old is a third generation musician who had made his Bollywood debut by composing three songs for Salman Khan’s 2014 film Jai Ho. His other notable works as a composer include movies like Kapoor & Sons, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Kabir Singh, etc.  


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