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How Christopher Nolan Uses Crosscutting to Build Momentum

One of Christopher Nolan’s trademark techniques is the crosscut. Here’s a look at why, via ‘The Dark Knight,’ ‘Inception,’ and ‘Interstellar.’
The Dark Knight Christopher Nolan Crosscut
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on September 21st, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video that explores a staple of director Christopher Nolan: the crosscut.

Christopher Nolan wants to have it all. And by “all” I mean crosscut plot threads. One urgent, nail-biting sequence just isn’t enough. The man loves to splice together multiple heart-pounding story beats. Maybe one day he’ll make a whole movie that’s just one big crosscut. Oh, wait, Dunkirk exists. Ah, Nolan, you’ve thought of everything.

It’s not surprising that a director who thinks of storytelling as a puzzle would favor the crosscut. The technique allows parallel storylines to intermingle, and if assembled correctly, the magic trick can yield uniquely cinematic moments of multi-level suspense.

A great example, as cited in the video essay below, is from The Dark Knight. In this fantastic Nolan crosscut, the now villainous Harvey Dent torments Commissioner Gordon’s children, while a boat full of passengers must choose to blow up another ship in order to survive, while Batman chases after the Joker, who’s going to blow up both boats regardless of what the passengers choose.

At their best, crosscuts can generate the kind of thrilling momentum that has come to characterize much of Nolan’s filmography: a thrilling compound of stakes and urgency, as well as a mastery of juggling disparate plots without losing the thread.

And while Nolan has produced some damn fine crosscuts, there’s an example from the second act of Interstellar that just doesn’t quite come together. Luckily, because Nolan is, if nothing else, a consistent man, he’s made enough crosscuts that we can look to his previous work to suss out where Interstellar went wrong.

Watch “Christopher Nolan vs. Interstellar — The Nolan Crosscut“:

Who made this?

This breakdown comes courtesy of Lessons From The Screenplay, which is a consistently insightful video essay channel created and run by Michael Tucker. Lessons From The Screenplay focuses on analyzing movie scripts to determine exactly how films tell effective stories. You can check out Lessons From The Screenplay’s YouTube channel here. And you can follow Tucker on Twitter here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.