Eight times nominated for the Oscars but never awarded, the British director finally breaks the glass ceiling. On Sunday, he won the trophy for best director and the even more prestigious one for best film. In the running thirteen times, the portrait of the founding father of the atomic bomb dominates the prize list of these 96th Oscars with seven trophies.

In doing so, he shattered the double hopes of Justine Triet and Anatomy of a Fall. In these two categories, his rivals were Maestro by Bradley Cooper, Poor Creatures by Yorgos Lanthimos, Killers Of The Flower Moon by Martin Scorsese.

“Cinema is a little over a hundred years old. And we don’t know how far this journey will take us. But I am happy to be part of it,” underlined the British director who thanked his wife Emma Thomas “producer of our films and our children”.

After his first black and white film made with $6,000, Following, in 1998, the British-American director conquered Hollywood by signing “auteur blockbusters”, seeing his budgets grow with each film.

Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception, the Batman trilogy, Interstellar, Dunkirk… Nolan has worked in all genres: thriller, science fiction, war film and even superhero film without superpowers. He has managed the biggest stars: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Damon.

Nolan also and above all experimented with forms of narrative, playing on temporality and space. From Memento, told backwards, to Tenet and its “temporal reversal”. “In my previous films, I especially liked to deconstruct the narrative,” he confided in 2014 to Le Figaro, at the time of the release of Interstellar. This is the first time that the question of time is at the heart of the story. If there’s a villain in Interstellar, it’s time, which is the essence of the human condition. I am fascinated by aging, the most democratic thing in the world. We all have the same relationship with time and yet everyone feels it as an injustice. »

By taking on the tragic story of Robert Oppenheimer, “the father of the atomic bomb”, the director of Inception and Interstellar seems to be moving away from the obsessions of his cinema (time, destiny, ethics). It is not so. After Dunkirk, which featured Operation Dynamo, in Oppenheimer he once again tackles a significant episode of the Second World War, the Manhattan Project. “I am especially interested in unusual stories,” Nolan explained to Le Figaro in July 2023, when the film was released. World War II was a moment of crisis when societies had to respond to extreme threat and danger. I grew up hearing about Operation Dynamo.

A paradoxical and extraordinary episode on the relationship between soldiers and civilians. Oppenheimer is above all the story of an individual and the way in which his desires, his whims can be exalted. I first heard of Oppenheimer through pop culture when I was a teenager in 1980s England. The nuclear threat was on everyone’s minds. Sting had a song called Russians in which he referred to “Oppenheimer’s deadly toys.” While researching, I discovered more dramatic, Shakespearean aspects to his decline. Reading the biography by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, Robert Oppenheimer, Triumph and Tragedy of a Genius (Le Cherche Midi), reinforced my approach. For a filmmaker, this amplitude between the rise and fall is very rich dramatic material.

Nolan plays an old-fashioned filmmaker whose model could be Stanley Kubrick – 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of his favorite films. Through him, the Academy celebrates theatrical cinema, a historic studio (Universal), a director who is both innovative and classic, a fan of 70 mm film. Streaming platforms (Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon) only made up the numbers. Swan song or lasting revival of the 7th art, it is too early to say.