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How Christopher Nolan uses family in his films
Inception
Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy in Inception (2010)

“I’m coming back.”

Those three words exchanged between father and daughter propel director Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” through a journey spanning space, time, heartbreak and redemption.

Despite moments like this, Nolan’s style has been criticized as humorless and cold or “all brain and no heart” since his first major film was released in 2000.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, says IMAX CEO and Nolan film buff Greg Foster.

“Absolutely family is thematically at the core of who and what Chris is not only personally but professionally,” Foster said. “The guy puts family first in everything he does.”

Take a look at Nolan’s filmography and Foster’s argument holds up -- the majority of the films in Nolan’s canon of a dozen or so movies are heavily driven by family relationships and issues.

The latest example of this is “Interstellar,” which hit theaters Nov. 5 and has earned more than $300 million worldwide in the weeks since its release. There’s a lot at stake in Nolan’s latest effort -- economic and environmental hardship, innovation at a standstill and the survival of the human race. The movie also speaks to the importance of exploration in a time when NASA faces big budget cutbacks and decommissioned its shuttle program.

But “Interstellar” is more than that. At its heart, “Interstellar” is about Cooper, a father (played by Matthew McConaughey) who has to cope with leaving his children behind while also ensuring their future by finding an inhabitable planet to colonize. In the process, Cooper risks his own life to get back to his kids.

Movieguide critic and Christian Film and Television Commission Chairman Ted Baehr gave “Interstellar” and Nolan high praise, not only for the way Nolan’s films tackle family issues, but also because Nolan works with his brother and wife in production.

“Thank God for Christopher Nolan,” Baehr said. “He’s not the type of director who’s vicious or violent. He’s a responsible and respectful filmmaker and his dedication to family are translated into his work.”

The family themes in “Interstellar” are par for the course in Nolan’s movies. Here’s a look at how Nolan’s other films focus on family:

1. The Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012)

The theme of family runs deep in each film in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. In the first, “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) comes to grips with the death of his parents, especially his father, Thomas, who gives the audience the thread that will link the three movies together: “Why do we fall, Bruce? To pick ourselves back up again.”

With the death of his childhood friend and love interest Rachel Dawes in “The Dark Knight,” Wayne descends completely into a miserable, years-long solitude that puts strain on Wayne’s last remaining familial relationship with Alfred in “The Dark Knight Rises.” The moment Alfred (Michael Caine) decides he would rather leave than watch Wayne risk his own life would tug at the heart of any parent.

“(Leaving) means losing someone that I have cared for since I first heard his cries echo through this house,” Alfred tells his ward. “But it might also mean saving your life. And that is more important.”

2. The Prestige (2006)

The tale of two magicians in turn-of-the-century London, “The Prestige” shows the void left when family is torn apart.

Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) spar professionally with each other for years after an accident during a magic act leaves both men changed forever. Angier’s wife is killed in an underwater trick when she can’t escape from knots Borden tied.

While Angier furthers his career and mourns his wife, he also plots revenge against Borden who starts a family of his own.

“I saw happiness,” Angier says after seeing Borden with his wife and infant daughter in the street. “Happiness that should’ve been mine.”

3. Inception (2010)

In Nolan’s mind-bending trip through human dreams, Dominick Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a criminal on the run amid false accusations that he murdered his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard). Saving his own life means living a second, subconscious one haunted by a remembered version of Mal before she died.

When a businessman hires Cobb for one final job against a competitor, Cobb’s motivation isn’t just about a clean record and being able to return to the U.S., it’s an obsession with seeing his children’s faces again.

“Those kids, your grandchildren, they’re waiting for their father to come back home,” DiCaprio’s Cobb says to his father-in-law (Michael Caine). “That’s their reality.”

4. Memento (2000)

One of Nolan’s early films, “Memento” is about Leonard (Guy Pearce), a man who suffers from short-term memory loss since the death of his wife during a home invasion.

Besides building a plot around Leonard hunting down his wife’s killer while trying to remember how far he’s gotten, the film is peppered with good moments from a healthy marriage and somehow endears the audience to a woman who is on screen less than 10 minutes in the entire movie.

While Leonard knows no amount of revenge can bring his wife back, the memory of his marriage -- literally the only ones he has left -- drives him toward the film’s chilling twist ending.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” bartender Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) asks.

“My wife,” Leonard replies.

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com, Twitter: ChandraMJohnson