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Immersed in Movies: 'The Dark Knight Rises' from Inception

Thompson on Hollywood By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood July 19, 2012 at 7:07AM

While other directors strive to ground their superhero movies with relatable characters, Christopher Nolan has achieved something greater with "The Dark Knight Rises": he wraps up his gritty Batman trilogy with an operatic flourish and a sublime catharsis, coming full circle back to "Batman Begins."
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The Dark Knight Rises
Warner Bros. The Dark Knight Rises

While other directors strive to ground their superhero movies with relatable characters, Christopher Nolan has achieved something greater with "The Dark Knight Rises": he wraps up his gritty Batman trilogy with an operatic flourish and a sublime catharsis, coming full circle back to "Batman Begins." In fact, he makes us forget that we're watching a superhero movie at all. It's just terrific drama and mythmaking. And true to his word, Nolan enhances the experience with the added clarity and larger than life theatricality of IMAX.

"These are larger than life characters and I very much enjoyed tapping into this operatic sensibility of that," Nolan suggested at a recent press conference. "I really tried to push the audience's emotions in extreme directions using the extremities of those characters, and I think naturally from that you're aiming of course for mythic status. And there's a nice correspondence between that impulse in why you want to make the film and why audiences hopefully want to enjoy the film."

Nolan pointed to an important exchange early on in "Batman Begins" between Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne and Michael Caine's Alfred that pays off nicely in "The Dark Knight Rises." Wayne explains that he needs to find a symbol to fight injustice. "Alfred, as somebody who looks after him and cares for him, only goes along with it because there's a logic to it," Nolan insisted. "And the logic as we worked on the character had to be that symbolism -- it had to be about mythmaking and the symbol of hope and people in a very corrupt society who are looking for some kind of tipping point to come back to good. That's always been the heart of Bruce Wayne's story."

And Wayne's story is defined by two primal images: falling into a pit at the beginning of "Batman Begins" and crawling out of a pit at the midpoint of "The Dark Knight Rises." In effect, the films are mirror images: Wayne learns to overcome his fear of death in the first one; and in the last one he regains his fear to complete his journey. Yet in both films he must confront his mentor, Ra's Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), the Darth Vader of the tale, first directly and then indirectly through the brutal terrorist, Bane (Tom Hardy), who's also bent on destroying Gotham.

This article is related to: The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan, Batman, Reviews, Reviews


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.