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Christopher Nolan Talks The Politics & Influences Of 'The Dark Knight Rises' & More From the Film's Press Tour

by Oliver Lyttelton
July 24, 2012 10:00 AM
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"The Dark Knight Rises" is finally in theaters, and has been inspiring furious debate all weekend and into this week. But what there's relatively little of, compared to most major blockbusters, is thoughts on the film, and its production, from the filmmakers and cast themselves. Christopher Nolan is relatively press-shy (he doesn't do online press at all, outside press conferences), and compared to the onslaught of interviews that most tentpoles unleash, "The Dark Knight Rises" knew it was a sure thing, and didn't feel the need to chuck out the same sound bites endlessly.

Nevertheless, there have been pretty of tidbits from Nolan, his brother and co-writer Jonathan, the crew, and the cast, including Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine, over the weeks and months leading up to the film's release. And now that we've had our say on the film, we've delved into the various interviews to bring you some of the most interesting bits of information about the genesis and production of "The Dark Knight Rises." Read on for more.

Jonathan Nolan's major inspiration for the script was Charles Dickens' "A Tale Of Two Cities."
The influences on the Bat-trilogy have never been especially obvious until you see the film, with touchstones like "Heat" and "The Wire" banded around for "The Dark Knight." Writer Jonathan Nolan went even further back, finding inspiration that even predated the current recession, but proved entirely prescient. Nolan told JoBlo, "Chris and David started developing the story in 2008 right after the second film came out.  Before the recession. Before Occupy Wall Street or any of that. Rather than being influenced by that, I was looking to old good books and good movies. Good literature for inspiration... What I always felt like we needed to do in a third film was, for lack of a better term, go there. All of these films have threatened to turn Gotham inside out and to collapse it on itself. None of them have actually achieved that until this film. 'A Tale of Two Cities' was, to me, one of the most harrowing portrait of a relatable, recognizable civilization that completely folded to pieces with the terrors in Paris in France in that period. It's hard to imagine that things can go that badly wrong."

When it came time to show his big brother the script, he suggested he read Dickens as the primer. "When Jonah showed me his first draft of his screenplay," Chris Nolan says, "it was 400 pages long or something.  It had all this crazy stuff in it. As part of a primer when he handed it to me, he said, 'You've got to think of 'A Tale of Two Cities' which, of course, you've read.' I said, 'Absolutely.' I read the script and was a little baffled by a few things and realized that I'd never read 'A Tale of Two Cities'. It was just one of those things that I thought I had done. Then I got it, read it and absolutely loved it and got completely what he was talking about... When I did my draft on the script, it was all about 'A Tale of Two Cities.' "

Wally Pfister says Sidney Lumet and "The Battle Of Algiers" are among the film's influences.
So Dickens is in the mix, but what other movies influenced the final Nolan Bat-flick? Well, according to DoP Wally Pfister in The Guardian, there were a pair of equally epic, but very different, dramas that he and Nolan watched before filming got underway. "Chris and I always watch other films to get inspiration," Pfister says. "They don't have a direct influence necessarily, you just pull things out. This time, I chose Sidney Lumet's 1981 film 'Prince Of The City,' because of how dark it was. One of the films Chris had chosen was 'The Battle Of Algiers'; we watched the battle sequences and talked about the overall scale of it. In 'The Dark Knight,' the story with the Joker was confined to his antics with the underworld bosses in Gotham. But with Bane, Chris has taken the antics to a larger scale. It's not just a city under siege, but a pretty major-scale takeover. You see the full-on national ramifications of a crazy fucker like Bane."

Nolan always felt that the Joker should never be even referred to.
Obviously, the death of Heath Ledger before the release of "The Dark Knight" meant that there was no possibility of him reprising his role. But Nolan never considered re-casting, or even making a passing reference to the character. The director told EW, "I felt very strongly that the Joker was off-limits. I don’t want to trivialize a tragedy like that by explaining it away in some fashion. I made the choice, immediately, that talking about the Joker was off the table. It’s just the way I feel about it, based on my relationship with Heath."

The theme of the film harks back to "Batman Begins", about Batman as a symbol.
It's been clear since the start of the trilogy that Nolan is just as interested in the symbolism of a hero as in the man who performs the heroic act, and that pays off in a big way in the closing installment. Nolan told EW: "It all comes back to 'Batman Begins' and the scene between Bruce and Alfred on the plane, when Bruce explains what he's going to do. It's not about beating up criminals one by one. It's about being a symbol. Bruce sees himself as a catalyst for change and only ever thinks of this as short term thing... Batman is the most interesting figure for dealing with the theme of the ends justifying the means. It's something I've always been interested in."

The director found his entry to Catwoman as an old-school femme fatale.
From the off, Nolan says he wanted to include Catwoman, but initially struggled to find a way in to the character. Eventually, looking away from the superhero genre helped him in, saying in the production notes, "We felt very strongly that we should have Catwoman in this film, but we always look for an organic way of grounding the characters in our world. Selina is a cat burglar, a grifter, a classic movie femme fatale, really. That was my way in, and we drew the iconic figure of Catwoman from that.” And she provides a refereshing figure for Batman himself to play off, as Anne Hathaway explains: "I think Bruce owes Selina a big thank you because he was leading a pretty lonely life until she came in and got his blood pumping and reminded him that there are fun people out there in the world. One of the things that fans have always enjoyed about Bruce and Selina is the playful side of their relationship. They may operate very differently, but they actually have a lot in common: they like to keep certain things hidden; they’re usually several steps ahead of everyone else in the room; and they prefer to dress in black.”

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  • tristan eldritch | July 24, 2012 2:13 PMReply

    "Have you made a film that's supposed to be criticizing the Occupy Wall Street movement?' – well, obviously, that's not true... If the populist movement is manipulated by somebody who is evil, that surely is a criticism of the evil person."

    This is disingenuous. Bane blows up a football stadium, and shots a scientist before their eyes, and yet the people of Gotham still happily follow him. They are shown to be a stupid and destructive mob, who rush to loot and terrorize the rich, and cheer on a sadistic kangaroo court. The people of Gotham are never shown to oppose the obviously psychopathic Bane - only the traditional authoritarian forces, Batman and the police, do this. At the very least, this suggests an extremely negative vision of the people, and of the potential consequences of public unrest and revolutionary spirit. In The Dark Knight, Batman used invasive surveillance technology to save Gotham from the menace of the Joker - and his heroism in this regard is eventually recognized and celebrated in DKR - this would seem less like examining the issue of privacy, and more like simplified cheer-leading for the efficacy of police-state surveillance.

  • Fanboys make me sad | July 28, 2012 2:08 PM

    @Buntu: "anti-Nolan brigade" - seriously? You fanboys are pathetic. There are plenty of critics, commenters etc. (myself included) who like the movies but can see that there is a blatant right-wing bent running through them. The trilogy is undeniably right wing. When Nolan says that wasn't his intention he's either lying or he's an idiot. A great film-maker maybe, but an in terms of politics and semiotics, an idiot.

    As a fanboy I'd expect you to at least realize how often the inherent right-wing themes of the batman concept cropped up, and were explored in depth, in the comics. See for example everything featuring Anarky. Nolan's films don't contain any critical examination of the muddle of aristocratic and right-wing ideology that informs the main character's actions.

    When you point to the fact that Gothamites are hiding as evidence that this isn't right-wing propaganda, you miss the point completely. Portraying the "good" Gothamites as cowering sheeple, devoid of agency, waiting for a strong leader to come and lead the forces of authority (cops) to save them, is as right-wing as you can get.

    What's idiotic about the reaction to this film is everything written and uttered by pathetic fanboys who feel they have to defend a director backed by a massive studio with a marketing machine in its corner.

  • Zack | July 25, 2012 9:58 AM

    I'm kind of with Buntu. The only real hint of mass civilian collusion with Bane that we see is that one shot of a mob during Bane's speech, and they're just walking down the street looking disgruntled. They clearly didn't all join his army, or it wouldn't be noticeably smaller than the police force.

  • buntu | July 25, 2012 9:31 AM

    Bullshit. There's the suggestion that the underclasses and criminals rally behind Bane, but the ordinary Gotham citizens are too afraid to stand up to him. Empty streets, the comment that Gordon made about Modine sending his wife to open the door, etc. It's made clear most Gothamites are hiding. This anti-Nolan brigade are really tying themselves in knots trying to smear him as some sort of Rush Limbaugh-esque right-wing loon. It's idiotic.

  • James | July 24, 2012 10:55 AMReply

    I love this! Thanks for putting it together.

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