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The Playlist Interview: Christopher Nolan Talks The Writing Process, Batman As A Sociopath & Finding His Darth Vader [Part 2]

by Rodrigo Perez
December 6, 2012 4:47 PM
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Christopher Nolan is a hard man to track down, but after some patience and persistence, we were lucky enough to sit down with the (to name just a few) "Memento," "Prestige" and "Inception" director at length to discuss "The Dark Knight Rises," his debut feature film "Following" and much more about his lauded Batman trilogy. You can read all that right here in part one of our talk, and continue with us as we dug deeper with Nolan into the mythology of his Batman films and his process for putting the pieces of his entire series together, all of which we've presented in a part two below.

This week sees "The Dark Knight Rises," the closing chapter in his Gotham-based trilogy, arrive on home video, and whether you've seen it already or are waiting to pop it into your DVD or Blu-ray player, Nolan's thoughts are a solid primer before you re-discover the film or enjoy it for the first time. So below, the second and final part of our interview with the director, including his thoughts on the psychological and aesthetic underpinnings of the series.

"The engine of anarchy and chaos shapes things because 'The Dark Knight' is a very, very unconventional story."

Could you walk us through the writing process with David Goyer and your brother Jonathan [Jonah]?
The films were each a little bit different. On “Batman Begins” David and I sat down and talked a lot about the history of the character. I talked to him about the film and he came up with a story and very quickly wrote the first draft because he had to go off to direct the [“Blade: Trinity”] film. So he managed to squeeze it in.

I then took that draft and rewrote it and involved my brother in that process as well. I would talk to him about what I was doing and get him to look at particular scenes. You know Jonathan contributed a lot to [“Batman Begins”] as well, although he's not credited on the film. So when it came to “The Dark Knight” what I decided was to do it in a similar process. David and I came up with the story together and we handed that story to Jonah. He spent a very long time wrestling with that first draft of that movie which was extremely difficult. I then came on and wrote with him, sometimes on my own, sometimes with him and we tossed drafts back and forth. “The Dark Knight Rises” was the same process. Though Jonah was busy at that point and so I wound up doing more on my own. But, because he's my brother he's always at the end of the phone so he could squeeze in a little bit more.

It probably helps that he's your younger brother too.
Exactly. I can always call him up and say, “You've got to help with this or that.” The contributions of both of them are immeasurable. David from his knowledge of the comics, he's just a great storyteller.

So how did David appear to you as the right choice to help co-conceive the Batman story?
I had met him before and liked him and I just talked to him about Batman, he just had a great handle on these sort of big-picture emotions. Jonah and his writing is so precise in capturing the nature in “The Dark Knight” and how that engine of anarchy and chaos would shape the story because “The Dark Knight” is a very, very unconventional story. It really shouldn't work, but it does. It does because of the veracity of the engine kind of driving it. There’s a point in the film where it just relentlessly does the same thing again and again and again.

Right after Rachel Dawes [played by Maggie Gyllenhaal] is killed.
Yes. Really from that point on you're not in any kind of pretty or comfortable story shape. You're into a very different and daring story. I told Jonah and David that draft couldn't possibly work and said “I'd have to rewrite it.” And eventually realized that it just needed to be the way Jonah had written it. It was the right thing for this story. The Joker’s never going to conform to conventional story structure, he just isn't. In fact, in some ways, it was a pleasure in “The Dark Knight Rises” to get back to characters who could conform, and we could do something a little more classical in the shape of the story, which felt necessary for the ending [of the series]. That's more how “Batman Begins” works, it's more shaped. “The Dark Knight” is a more anarchic film.

Sure, because of the villain's ideology.
Precisely. It doesn’t have rules, it doesn't obey the traditional screenwriting rules and what have you.

The interrogation scene seems crucial because The Joker tells Batman their ideologies are essentially the same, and it seems like he goes ballistic because the comment cuts to his core.
He's out of control, definitely. The point in which he has him up against the wall, Batman's still in control, but once his anger gets the better of him... That's why he makes the mistake he makes, essentially.

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  • jim calocci | December 8, 2012 5:39 PMReply

    thanks for the insight
    it was a kick to read
    I believe you've inspired many
    to enjoy story telling,indeed

  • Greg | December 8, 2012 2:06 PMReply

    Nice that he makes a point of praising David S. Goyer, too--always glad when directors appreciate their writing collaborators.

  • Aeon | December 7, 2012 4:00 PMReply

    Great interview. Hard to find good ones with Nolan. I think he's fantastic. Can't wait to see what he does next.

  • SFlare | December 7, 2012 3:45 AMReply

    @NINA Spielberg?...@CHRIS Sure, maybe reading movie blogs gives me a skewed picture. But i guess the blogosphere is a minority.

  • Nina | December 6, 2012 9:48 PMReply

    this is why i love Christopher Nolan he's a genius yes but he also a very humble human being unlike some hollywood assholes like bay, cameron, lucas or spielberg.

  • SFlare | December 6, 2012 8:05 PMReply

    I think he should take his time with his next project. He's become ubiquitous. It's fueled his unpopularity. Although these posts have been positive, surprisingly. Anyway, a break will do him a lot of good, and it's give people a chance to miss him again. Hopefully a project less geared to the type of audience that hates him.

  • Tom | December 7, 2012 1:06 PM

    Classic case of some greasy fingered Marvel nut who thinks his opinion is shared by the rest of the world.

  • Chris138 | December 6, 2012 8:49 PM

    Fueled his unpopularity? He seems plenty popular to me, unless you're someone like Rex Reed or David Denby who have some vendetta against him. Those who can't stand Nolan are a minority. A vocal minority, sure, but still a small portion of moviegoers.

  • DG | December 6, 2012 7:33 PMReply

    Great interview. Man I really hope he returns to Prestige type of territory for his next movie. I feel like he's probably fibbing a bit saying he doesn't know what his next project is but that's ok, after Rises I think it'd be really cool for him to film something more under the radar and just have it kind of appear, if such a thing were even possible...

  • 5678 | December 6, 2012 7:30 PMReply

    How does The Dark Knight not obey traditional screenwriting rules? It pretty much exactly does. Three distinct acts, clear climax and coda. I'm sure it hits the plot points on all the right pages, no less

  • Alan | December 8, 2012 3:57 AM

    Also, the character who undergoes the biggest arc - Harvey Dent - is a plot device.

  • Wash | December 7, 2012 8:03 AM

    The protagonist defeats the main antagonist, and then there's an additional 30 minutes of movie where the protagonist fights another antagonist, who was earlier a protagonist. After Luke got his hand cut off by Vader in Empire, we didn't then go off and watch him fight Han Solo for 20 minutes, did we?

  • Rohan | December 6, 2012 7:18 PMReply

    Good questions. I enjoyed reading this twice actually.

  • Danielf | December 6, 2012 5:46 PMReply

    Well done, Playlist. You can tell he enjoyed your thoughtful questions. The Dark Knight has risen, now let's see what Sir Nolan can come up with next. I can't wait.

  • ben | December 6, 2012 5:20 PMReply

    Good questions.

  • Joss | December 6, 2012 5:20 PMReply

    Great interview. I'll miss Nolan's Batman movies, but I'm excited to see what he moves on to next.

  • TheoC | December 6, 2012 5:06 PMReply

    This is great stuff, not just because it's the elusive Nolan. because you're asking the right stuff.

    Nice work.

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