The Traumatic Screen (Book)

The Films of Christopher Nolan

The Traumatic Screen is a psychoanalytic study that considers the function and presentation of trauma in Christopher Nolan’s films. Using a methodological framework with references to Freud and Lacan, the author argues that Nolan’s films highlight the ways in which the cinema can provide specific insights into the nature of human consciousness.

Category: Film Studies


Christopher Nolan occupies a rare realm within the Hollywood mainstream, creating complex, original films that achieve both critical acclaim and commercial success. In The Traumatic Screen, Stuart Joy builds on contemporary applications of psychoanalytic film theory to consider the function and presentation of trauma across Nolan’s work, arguing that the complexity, thematic consistency and fragmentary nature of his films mimic the structural operation of trauma.

From 1997’s Doodlebug to 2017’s Dunkirk, Nolan’s films highlight cinema’s ability to probe the nature of human consciousness while commenting on the relationship between spectator and screen. Joy examines Nolan’s treatment of trauma – both individual and collective – through the formal construction, mise en scène and repeated themes of his films. The argument presented is based on close textual analysis and a methodological framework that incorporates the works of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. The first in-depth, overtly psychoanalytic understanding of trauma in the context of the director’s filmography, this book builds on and challenges existing scholarship in a bold new interpretation of the Nolan canon.

Stuart Joy is a senior lecturer in film and television at Solent University in Southampton, UK. His research interests include contemporary film theory and practice, media and cultural theory, film history and gender representation in film and television.


1. The Traumatic Screen: Trauma, Psychoanalysis and Cinema

2. Revisiting the Scene of the Crime: Repressing the Past in Insomnia

3. Batman Begins, Again: The Temporality of Trauma in The Dark Knight Trilogy

4. Looking for the Secret: The Intersection between Trauma and Desire in The Prestige

5. The Dream has Become Their Reality: Acting-Out and Working-Through Trauma in Inception

6. Beyond the Void: Interstellar and the Possibilities of Post-Traumatic Growth

7. Keep Calm and Carry On: Combating Collective Trauma in Dunkirk

8. Conclusion – Ending at the Beginning with Doodlebug, Following and Memento

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