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Written by Scott Foundas
Let’s start down this memory lane through the Dark Knight trilogy by pointing out that in your first film, Following, there’s the curious appearance of a Batman insignia on the apartment door of the main character, the Young Man. Coincidence?
You feel these things in a way because the world isn’t intensely artificial and created by computer graphics. the more you would feel and be excited by the action. but it was total coincidence. funnily enough. which wasn’t even really definitively addressed in the comics over the years. That’s new terminology. . If I can believe in that world because I recognize it and can imagine myself walking down that street. And so even though Tim Burton’s film had done a definitive version of the character. tonally I was looking for an interpretation of that character that presented an extraordinary figure in an ordinary world. The world around Batman is plausible and not particularly stylized or exaggerated. owned this wonderful character. To me what that represented was firstly a detailed telling of the origin story. it was a very idiosyncratic Tim Burton vision. sterile quality that’s not as exciting. I suppose “relatable” is the word I would use. the sticker was already there. How did you come to Batman Begins. that’s going to be more exciting to me.” That idea didn’t exist when I came to look at Batman. So I wanted the inhabitants of Gotham to view Batman as being as outlandish and extraordinary as we do. The term “realism” is often confusing and used sort of arbitrarily. And secondly. and didn’t know what to do with it.I’d love to pretend that it was some kind of foresight and part of my great master plan. Jeremy Theobald. the streets would have the same weight and validity of the streets in any other action movie. that’s his apartment. And so the more texturing and layering that we could get into this film. I had in mind a sort of treatment of Batman that Richard Donner might have done in the late Seventies the way he did Superman. Warner Bros. what things would taste like. and this extraordinary figure may be walking around these streets. So they’d be relatable in that way. the more tactile it was. I really wanted to take on this idea of what I call the tactile quality. That’s the door to it. So just on a technical level. The overall tone of the film is realistic compared to most comic-book-derived movies. and what appealed to you about rebooting a series that had already been interpreted by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher? It’s a sign of how quickly things change in the movie business. then when this extraordinary figure of Batman comes swooping down in this theatrical costume and presenting this very theatrical aspect. You want to really understand what things would smell like in this world. For me that was about making the character more special. which result in an anodyne. and I think when he moved in. when bones start being crunched or cars start pancaking. but there was no such thing conceptually as a “reboot. who plays the Young Man. It had sort of reached a dead end with its previous iteration. in that even though outlandish events may be taking place. I wanted a world that was realistically portrayed. I got excited about the idea of filling in this interesting gap—no one had ever told the origin story of Batman.
Once you’ve cleaned one spot. you have to go all the way. showing how he builds himself using skills acquired from all these different places around the world. It’s like how in The Prestige we see the ways in which the magicians accomplish their illusions. and where all of his toys come from. the process of becoming. once you’ve peeled back the logic or reality of what it seems to be. I’m fascinated by the idea of Bruce Wayne being an ordinary man without superpowers. it’s like cleaning the dirt off something. we see how he orders it. we felt that would position Gotham as the leading international city of our world of Batman. They have a practical explanation: they’re Wayne Industries military prototypes. in all of your films. as a claustrophobic sort of otherworldly environment which is what it had always been before. and. We literally see him building himself in a way a lot of origin stories try to gloss over. And once you start down the road. So taking Bruce Wayne around the world. We wanted to get out of the notion of Gotham as a village. Very much. So in terms of where he was sourcing . there’s a great emphasis in the Dark Knight films. how things are constructed. I’ve never liked films that go part of the way there and then take an improbable leap. If Batman needs a batsuit. we spend much of the first half of Batman Begins not in Gotham at all but rather following the young Bruce Wayne on his odyssey through Asia and his training with Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Shadows. in a wider world. I’m interested in process. We wanted to show it as New York.In fact. on how things work. actually. turning himself into this larger-thanlife figure who appears to have extraordinary abilities. Following on that idea of how Bruce Wayne builds himself into Batman. Nothing is taken for granted or presented as a fait accompli.
But even later when Ra’s Al Ghul returns and is about to destroy all of Gotham. to the point where they want him to chop somebody’s head off because he has stolen something. In a way. And military dictators can be ideologically based. And in terms of their ideology.something from. I would say. Ra’s Al Ghul is almost a religious figure. Everything they say is sincere. we really tried to come up with the best solution possible and present it in the film. And at that point there’s this almost comic moment where Bruce turns to Ducard and says. But it’s a very specific. there is a logic to everything he says. It was important in Batman Begins to have Bruce go very far down this road with Ducard. You have Ra’s Al Ghul with his very clear-cut extremist ideology— Almost religious. And the scales fall from his eyes. So.” At that point. the films feel like a tour of different schools of creating social revolution. you’re surprised by how seductive the training and indoctrination can be. What we found was that. he’s looking at the world from a very honest perspective that he truly believes. And then Bane comes in as a military dictator. So with Ra’s Al Ghul. Class warfare but also in a militaristic. that process becomes a really interesting part of the entertainment of the film. With my co-writers David Goyer and my brother [Jonathan Nolan]. the anti-structure anarchist. And we applied the same thing to The Joker and Bane in the third one. “You can’t be serious. they can be religiously based. we wanted everything he said to be true in some way. paradoxically. so it becomes. dictatorial approach. especially with his rhetoric about the decadence of the capitalist West. The Joker is the anti-religious figure. And then you have the anarchy of The Joker. the people who most get under our skin. are the people who speak the truth. If you look at the three of them. He seems to have been ripped from today’s headlines. an ideology in itself. laid-out lack of ideology. because he’s not a boilerplate nefarious villain who wants to dominate the world. Ra’s Al Ghul is a fascinating character. The challenge in applying that to The Joker was to have part of the ideology be anarchic and a lack of ideology in a sense. we decided early on that the greatest villains in movies. . it’s really about ends justifying means. and in The Dark Knight Rises you come back with the followers of Ra’s Al Ghul who are trying to enact his plans by masking it as class warfare. I think truly threatening villains are the ones who have a coherent ideology behind what they’re saying. very much like in The Prestige. how he would go about it. he’s an ideological villain. or a combination thereof.
we had to make him into three people. and they seem related to an interest you have in the dual or sometimes more than dual nature of identity. the public Bruce Wayne. that maybe he has too much blood on his hands. which is certainly a central part of the character. It’s paradoxical. which is this mask he puts on . Those are dark areas that no Batman movie really ventured into before. but in order to get at the duality of Bruce Wayne. and that Batman should go away and leave Gotham alone. but it’s much more present in these films. who only Alfred and Rachel really get to see.Something you seized on is the fragmented identity of Bruce Wayne/Batman. At the end of The Dark Knight on some level he senses that maybe he’s become the villain of the story. I sat down with Christian early on and we decided there’s the private Bruce Wayne.
but Bruce Wayne as an actor is drawing on something that he really feels. It’s an act. you really start to see the idea that you have a private person who is wrestling with all kinds of demons and trying to make something productive out of that. because you’ve got this set of massively talented stars there. and revisit it. I do love actors and I feel great actors can find the depth of a characterization that adds to the richness of the film. and then the creature of Batman that he’s created to strike back at the world. and they are able to take on the truth of what if the things that happened in The Dark Knight actually happened? What if they actually did tell the lies they told in order to get at a greater truth or get at the expediency of saving a city? What’s that going to do to them over time? What is the reality of the relationship between Bruce and this servant of the Wayne family who’s been tasked with raising their only child. So we went after that kind of depth of casting. these consequences are coming to the surface.” And I know that they’re going to find the truth in that. and that is going to be . But you cast great actors and then you give them interesting things to do. and you can see that in his performance. “I’ll write you a scene where these things are coming to bear. And then as you come to explore the world of Gotham. all the characters were played by these terrific stars. “Okay. What I was doing was saying. You seem to really love actors. I felt a lot of the scale of Batman Begins should come through the casting. I know I’ve got Christian Bale and Michael Caine playing this scene together. to save them from Ra’s Al Ghul’s men. By making him into these three aspects. even if we tend not to think about large-scale action movies as showcases for great acting. But given the stakes. But there’s some truth to it which comes through. and it’s the engine that drives everything that he does. That’s something that you rarely see in films of this nature. And we got the old costume out and shot the tests and Christian just owned it in a way that was very close to the conception that we were putting together in the script. the studio was always going to need me to put together a group of actors to be screen-tested. the axe that this character is carrying with him. and revisit it again in The Dark Knight Rises.of this decadent playboy. he was able to project that very well in his test and have that underlie not only Batman but also Bruce Wayne the playboy. and once again I looked back to Richard Donner’s Superman for that because he cast Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford and Ned Beatty. There’s a darkness that the character has been infused with by tragedy at an early age. Christian said it very well when he said The Dark Knight Rises is about consequences. and I like the layers that Christian was able to put in there. I think the most interesting moment to me that Christian pulls off in Batman Begins is the scene at the party when he pretends to be drunken Bruce Wayne being rude to his guests to get them out of the place. They’re not just there for their name value. you’re able to deal with the truth of some of these extraordinary situations that the mythology of the character and your spin on it has put together. Was there some key moment during the casting where you knew that Christian Bale was right for the role? Christian was actually the first actor I met for the role. their most precious thing in the world because they have been gunned down in front of him? And what must this kid have gone through?” I am looking at these actors and saying. It’s quite bitter. and that comes through in these films in a very strong way. In terms of the potential for rage that this character has.
It’s fitting because in Batman Begins it’s after a visit to the opera that the young Bruce Wayne witnesses the death of his parents. and that gives you a great safety net. but that also has a lot of pitfalls. It’s this ability to blow things up into very large emotions that are accessible to a universal audience. it was intimidating in theory. I felt that I wasn’t getting to experience that in mainstream commercial movies at the time. I’ve had a great time with these three films. but a lot of the challenge with taking on a big film is not allowing yourself to get caught up in the way that other people do big films.devastating at times and invigorating at times. However. Because you can put a team around you of very experienced people. And it’s a very privileged position that you’re in as a filmmaker with your audience. And the theatricality of opera and the larger-than-life quality of the presentation of it. it is possible to make large-scale films very much in the way that . really enjoying that relationship with the audience. What were the technical and physical challenges of doing these films? They’re much bigger than anything you had done up to that point in your career. You’re experiencing emotions in a very intense operatic way. has always sat underneath my understanding of how to make these heightened realities work. but also the emotions it generates. and it’s going to take the drama to operatic heights. Why am I working in this genre for the audience? What does it allow me to do as a filmmaker that I couldn’t do in a more everyday universe? The answer is this operatic quality. so I really wanted to enjoy that as a filmmaker. and extremes of emotion where you really feel something because they found the truth of a situation. Yeah. absolutely. Was that intimidating? Well.
it’s just a superior form. You seem drawn to IMAX in a way that a lot of people seem drawn to 3D at the moment. we were comfortable setting much more of the film just in Gotham.” With the team I had. with an exploding monastery and sliding down the cliff and all that. but you don’t want to get completely railroaded into the big movie thing out of fear and inexperience. because having been all over the world for Batman Begins and having a very big scale. in just the way we shoot The Joker walking down the street with a machine gun. really take them on a hell of a roller-coaster ride. And the thing I learned is that no matter how big the film became. we’re all looking to try and open up the screen for the audience. despite the enormous scale. and seeing The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX 70mm you can’t escape the feeling that you’re seeing a film made on film. I recently saw a 70mm print of The Master and I realized that. there’ll be some days where you’ll only get one setup in the morning. with a hypernatural clarity that trumps the quite artificial images of most 3D movies. how this is going to feel big enough when it’s in the can. to me is overwhelming in a very positive way. You’re able to create an overwhelming immersive experience for the audience. and it looks the way a movie should look. your brain is performing an unnatural optical function. I think you’ve put your finger on it. So you learn to relax with it a little bit. and it’s possible to maintain some of the spontaneity and creativity you have on set. But IMAX feels like the more dynamic format. “If we’re putting huge characters and huge conflict on screen. the scale will naturally be there. we have about 430 effects shots .you make your smaller films. In The Dark Knight Rises. and so I find myself unable to forget that I’m watching a movie. That will be a huge image. by the time we get to The Dark Knight we had the confidence to say. “Oh. “I’ll never work that way. To me. You talked about wanting to have a very tactile world. You have to adjust your methods. other than my own films. people would always complain it was too small. because frankly it’s too boring. but integrated in a way that you don’t feel that digital quality in the way you do with most movies that make heavy use of digital technology. There’s literally a feeling in your head that’s a little bit different than what you’re used to feeling. it’s the first photochemically finished film I’ve seen in many years. and making this kind of urban crime drama. I would have conversations with my line producer and he’d say. we were able to keep things much lighter on their feet. throw the audience into the movie in a way that they forget they’re watching a film. and it’s creatively stultifying. For the studio. As blockbuster filmmakers. Not all of it. and there’s a feeling in your head that it’s hard. There’s a strong analog quality to your films in general and the Dark Knight films in particular. it was never enough. So when we came to do The Dark Knight. The clarity of IMAX. The issue for me with 3D is that even though it’s immersive with its stereoscopic illusion. albeit with hundreds of CGI shots. and trust your instincts about scale. You also used the IMAX format extensively on The Dark Knight and even more on The Dark Knight Rises. and the size of the screen.” and I just said. And for me that’s a bit of a barrier.” That was a big part of investing in that sort of tableau style of photography which I hadn’t really done before. in more claustrophobic situations. converging your eyes where you’re not focusing them.
and then you know that you’re not retreading what you’ve done. when he turns the Joker card over. who would that antagonist be?” seen through the prism of Batman Begins. which to me is irrational because as a director you’re not responsible for loading a camera. The novelty of digital is part of it. You can hire whoever you need to and shoot how you want to shoot. I wanted to see how we could translate The Joker into that world. I’ve gone out of my way to screen film prints of The Dark Knight Rises for other filmmakers. That was the jumping-off point. So The Dark Knight is very much a story about a city. very simply. that this could be a trilogy without repeating or cannibalizing itself? I think it was in the months after the first film was released. And the nature of The Joker’s antagonism was so utterly different to what happened in Batman Begins and was so different to Batman’s relationship with Gotham in particular. industrial economics favor change. I’ve never done a film with more than 500 effects shots. For that reason. there’s a fear of being left behind. you’re expanding it. But I talk to a lot of young filmmakers who want to shoot on film and see the value in it. it’s simply the best way to make a film.500 that we timed photochemically. and why more people haven’t done it I could not tell you. because no one prints dailies anymore—they’re not seeing the potential of film—whereas I’ve been seeing it every day I’ve been working for the past 10 years.000. and we can see whether it matches. “Okay. I found myself wondering. For some filmmakers. So it actually felt like a different genre. and there’s more money in change. That allows me to keep working photochemically and to make the digital effects guys print out their negatives so we actually cut the effect with its background plate on film. whether or not it’s better. a sort of crime drama. . At what point did you start to think that there was more than one story to tell here. whereas Batman Begins is more of an adventure story. At the end of Batman Begins. so the idea that the tail wags the dog and then you finish the film in the digital realm is illogical.out of 3. but I think. We make the 430 shots fit in with the remaining 2. For me. These films have about a third or a quarter the number of CG shots of any other film on that scale.
from the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the football stadium through to the end. so it’s very subject to interpretation and misinterpretation. on the news. because it’s not intended to be politically specific. Absolutely. And it made me feel good about where we had positioned the film. I’ve never used a second unit director. Because to me. Like: “What if all the banks go bust?” “What if the stock market is worth nothing?” These questions are terrifying. “Look. we were constantly being presented with what-if scenarios. It was interesting to see the spectrum of reactions to The Dark Knight Rises. and we were taking the view that we should be writing about what’s most frightening. We were sitting there in a world where. they shouldn’t be in the film in the first place. this sort of thing has happened in countries all over the world. and then you get into the philosophical question: if an energy or a movement can be co-opted for evil. but I think the similarities come from Occupy being a response to the banking crisis in 2008. but I went into Batman Begins saying to the studio. What was surprising to me is how many pundits would write about their political interpretation of the film and not understand that any one political interpretation necessarily involved ignoring huge chunks of the film. and if we got into trouble then I’d hire five units or whatever it took. with some arguing that it was a sort of a neoconservative or very right-wing film and others seeing it as being a radical leftist film. We came to the idea of how in America we take for granted a stability to our class and social structure that has never been sustained elsewhere in the world. But we stuck to our schedule rigidly and were allowed to carry on with the one unit. we’d hire a splinter unit for a day or something and splinter off a couple of shots. Occasionally.When you were starting to write The Dark Knight Rises. You’re off the conventional political spectrum. why not here? And why not now? So a lot of the ideas underlying the film come from a situation in which the economy was in crisis and therefore even on the news questions are being asked—unthinkable questions about what might happen in society. And I’ve taken that approach on all of my films. were you thinking about what was going on with the economy and movements like Occupy Wall Street. if they’re not important enough for me to shoot them. The last hour of The Dark Knight Rises. is an hour of film that takes us through a lot of .” So the promise I made to them was that I would stay on schedule and budget. in effect shooting every frame yourself? Yeah. And one of the things the film seems to be talking about is how easily the political rhetoric of one extreme can be co-opted by the complete opposite extreme. where you’re actually trying to pull the shackles off everyday life and go to a more frightening place where anything is possible. It would be absurd to try to make a politically specific film about this subject matter. I don’t understand how to peel things away from my script and say these aren’t important enough for me to shoot them. Is it true that you don’t use a second unit director. In other words. and we were actually shooting at the time that it arose. then is that a critique of the movement itself? All of these different interpretations are possible. in terms of the depiction of society on the brink of a kind of second American Revolution? We were writing years before Occupy Wall Street.
which I love doing. In The Dark Knight Rises. The scope and scale of the action is built from smaller pieces that snowball together so you’re cross-cutting. We experimented with this in The Dark Knight. but it feels like one long sustained set piece. where the action is not based on clean and clear set pieces the way Batman Begins was. I’ve been amazed and delighted how people have accepted the extremity of where things go. but to me it’s the most invigorating way of approaching the action film. to have parallel strands of tension rising and rising and then coming together. . and it’s quite exhilarating to watch. and not releasing that until the very last frame. It’s a risky strategy because you risk exhausting your audience. but we pushed it much further in this film.different locations and action. what I call this sort of snowballing approach to action and events. We tried with all three films. It’s an approach I applied with Inception as well. It has this gradual build in intensity and careful linking of everything that happens. from the moment the music and sound drop and the little boy starts singing “The Star-Spangled Banner. On paper it sounds like a movie Hollywood wouldn’t dream of making—and it speaks to the fact that you have a lot of faith in the intelligence of the audience and their ability to embrace things in movies that might not fit into cookiecutter molds. but in the most extreme way with The Dark Knight Rises. so you’re building and building tension continuously over a long sustained part of the film. and trying to find a rhythm in conjunction with the music and the sound effects.” it’s kind of like the gloves are coming off. One could say that of Inception.
. and that was very important to us. for that mission to succeed. Do you envision revisiting Gotham? For me. where the only way that I could find to make a credible characterization of a guy transforming himself into Batman is if it was as a necessary symbol. maybe a five-year plan that would be enforced for symbolically encouraging the good of Gotham to take back their city. which is that Batman is a symbol. faith in pure cinema. He’s a symbol. He can be anybody. To me. I think it’s interesting. and the open-ended nature of the film is simply a very important thematic idea that we wanted to get into the movie. then people will understand what they need to understand and will feel the intensity of the experience that I’m trying to give them. without Batman perhaps. I’ve often characterized it as faith in the audience. but with these new characters like Catwoman and the young cop played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. that if I get it right and put the pieces together. but for me it all comes back to the scene between Bruce Wayne and Alfred in the private jet in Batman Begins. and he saw himself as a catalyst for change and therefore it was a temporary process. but it is also faith in the movies. I have faith in that process. and as I say. it has to end. If you can avail yourself of the appropriate cinematic device to make the audience feel something. so this is the ending for me. he’s more than that. then cinema is an incredibly powerful communicator. and the symbol lives on. The Dark Knight Rises leaves the door open at the end for a possible continuation of the Gotham saga. Not every Batman fan will necessarily agree with that interpretation of the philosophy of the character. The Dark Knight Rises is specifically and definitely the end of the Batman story as I wanted to tell it. the open-ended elements are all to do with the thematic idea that Batman was not important as a man.Well.
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