With ‘The Dark Knight Rises,‘ you complete the story arc following ’Batman Begins’ and ’The Dark Knight.’ It deals with the consequences of what happened in those two movies, and how that has affected Bruce Wayne and Gotham….
Christopher Nolan: Yes. Our story picks up eight years later, when it seems that Batman and Commissioner Gordon have succeeded , in that the Dark Knight is no longer needed in Gotham. In that regard, Bruce Wayne has won the battle, but he is traumatized by what happened and doesn’t know how to move on from being the figure of Batman. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ very much deals with the consequences of his and other characters’ actions in the previous films. We were all very excited to bring this tale full circle; that was our chief inspiration for returning to Gotham. We also felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to fulfil expectations based on the first two movies while giving the audience something they hadn’t seen before. It was a tricky balance. Our guiding impulse in this telling of the Batman legend has always been to follow Bruce Wayne’s journey. That was something I was very keen on, as were David Goyer and my brother, Jonah (his writing team). When you look back on the films, you can see the world we’re living in reflected, but we don’t want to be specific about it. We just come at the stories from the point of view of what concerns us. What gives us fear? What gives us hope? What would require a hero of Batman’s stature to rise up in our world?
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ magnifies and resolves the main themes of the trilogy, one of which is mythmaking, and the discussion of the Batman Gotham needs.
Christopher Nolan: One of the things I’ve enjoyed about working with these characters is that they have the potential to be topical. And the reason for that is they’re not real. It’s not real life. You’re dealing with a heightened reality. You’re not dealing with Chicago or New York; you’re dealing with Gotham City. And that gives you a very interesting world to be able to play with in a very heightened way, in a very operatic way. These are larger-than-life characters, and I very much enjoyed tapping into the sort of operatic sensibility of that, and really try to push the audience and the audience’s emotions in extreme directions using the extremity of those characters. And I think naturally from that you’re aiming for a sort of mythic status. And I think, as you point out in your question, really, 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, and what Bruce Wayne is doing.
There’s a very important scene between Michael Caine’s character, Alfred, and Christian Bale’s character in ‘Batman Begins,’ where they’re on the plane and they talk about….before he’s come up with the idea, or specifically, with the symbolism of the bat. But Bruce, he talks about what he’s going to do. And Alfred, as somebody who looks after him and cares for him, the only reason he goes along with it is there’s a logic to it, and the logic which we found as we worked on the character was it had to be about symbolism. It had to be about, as you said, mythmaking, and about offering Batman as a symbol of….positively a symbol of hope for the people in a very corrupt society, that’s looking for some kind of tipping point, to come back to good. So that’s really always been at the heart of Bruce Wayne’s story, and why he gravitates towards this extremely symbolic character.
In giving up the guise of Batman for all those years, Bruce Wayne has, in a very real way, sacrificed both identities?
Christopher Nolan: We come back to find a man who is no longer on a mission, even though that had always been the goal. The reason I have always gravitated to the character of Batman is that, as often noted, he is a superhero with no super powers, apart from his wealth. His extraordinary nature has always come down to his extreme motivation and sheer dedication, which makes him a very credible individual. It’s been very rewarding to watch Christian Bale chart the progression of his role through the three films. He always had a strong commitment to finding the truth of the character, and I think you especially see that in this film, where he really embraced that Bruce is older, but not necessarily wiser. It’s a very thoughtful performance, and that’s what you consistently get from a talent like Christian.
With the success and appreciation of the first two movies, I can imagine there being added pressure for this third film?
Christopher Nolan: I think, for me, I would say that most of that pressure that you get with a sequel is trying to give the audience a reason to come back to Gotham City. You feel that at the very beginning when you‘re just going over the story. Myself, Jonah and David Goyer, at the early stage, we felt a lot of pressure. We kept asking, “Why would we do this? Do we have a story to tell?” Once we knew we had a story that we really wanted to see, that we wanted to know what happened to Bruce Wayne next, where his story was gonna go and how we were going to finish this story. Then everything else started to fall into place. I think you then have to forget that pressure and get on and try to make the best film that you can.
At the script stage, do you have specific themes you want to cover in your film?
Christopher Nolan: To be perfectly honest, we really try to resist, at the script stage, being drawn into specific themes, specific messages. Really, these films are about entertainment, they are about story and character. But what we do, is we try and be very sincere in the things that frighten us, or motivate us, or would worry about when you’re looking at, “OK, what’s the threat to the civilization that we take for granted?” And we grope at how we’re going to frighten ourselves essentially with a force of evil coming into a place. We try to be very sincere about that, and I think resonances that people find or that happen to occur with what’s going on in the real world, to me they come about really as a result of us just living in the same world that we all do and trying to construct scenarios that move us, or terrify us – in the case of a villain like Bane and what he might do to the world.
In ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ you introduce this physical and psychological match for Batman, with Tom Hardy’s ruthless Bane….
Christopher Nolan: In deciding on who the next villain would be, it was imperative that it was someone completely different from the Joker – that he be a brute force. The physical component of what Bruce Wayne does as Batman is of extraordinary importance, and we had not truly challenged that in the first two films. I really wanted to see Batman meet his match physically, as well as intellectually. Bane is raw strength with a fanatical devotion to duty, and that combination makes him unstoppable.
When you’re creating a monstrous presence like Bane in a movie, you could concentrate just on the physical or you could focus on the more psychological aspects. With Tom Hardy, I knew I would get the whole package. He is such an incredible actor; he was able to depict this beast of a man who has exceptional fighting skills, but also able to convey the soul of someone who is damaged inside as well as out. Tom is the kind of actor who relished the challenge of having to generate an entire performance with most of his face covered up. What he is able to do with just his eyes is truly amazing.
How was it filming that face-to-face fight sequence between Batman and Bane?
Christopher Nolan: This was very much a toe-to-toe, blow-to-blow physical clash, and Christian and Tom put an incredible amount of work into it. Just the demands of the costumes – one character has the lower half of his face obscured, the other the upper half – posed problems. They had trouble hearing each other because they were wearing those masks and working in very noisy environments while performing these feats It required very intense preparation. And when it came time to shoot, Christian and Tom worked extremely well together. It was frighteningly real, and quite intimidating to see these iconic, larger-than-life characters really go at it. There are plenty of other large-scale action scenes in the film, but that face-to-face confrontation between these two adversaries was something I really felt was the centrepiece of the film.
The film also introduces a particularly skilled thief named Selina Kyle – better known to the world as Catwoman. How did you crack the approach for this character in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’? And what do you think Anne Hathaway brought to the role?
Christopher Nolan: 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. We needed to find the balance between the classic image of the character and a believable person you care about. Casting Anne Hathaway in the role was the key to that. She was able to combine those facets seamlessly so they aren’t in conflict, but one is amplifying the other.
One of the products of doing a second sequel is you know you’re going to have to expand your story in one direction as you introduce characters. So, at a script stage, we wanted characters that had an inner life and be characters you invest in. And I know Anne and myself spent a lot of time talking about Selina Kyle’s back-story and were she came from, who she really was. I know that Anne went into the movie with a very fully formed idea of the characterisation. Some of the depth comes from the script, but a lot of it is in getting to lean on the actors, and rely on them to construct a very credible, psychological basis for the characters.
Like with the first two movies, there’s some stunning scenes between Bruce Wayne and Alfred? You really see the love and frustration Alfred has in Bruce?
Christopher Nolan: Alfred and Bruce have the strongest of emotional bonds, which has been tested in one way or another in each film, but in ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ it’s tested as never before. As somebody who cares deeply for Bruce, Alfred questions the decisions he’s making and the direction his life is going, and that inevitably brings about conflict. When we first explored the relationship between Alfred and Bruce in ‘Batman Begins,’ it was immediately apparent to me that I only understood Alfred’s endorsement of Bruce’s extreme action in creating the Batman persona if there would be an end to it—if there was seen to be a time when Batman had acted as a catalyst to change Gotham and then Bruce could move on from that. In ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ we’re dealing with Alfred’s frustration that Bruce has not been able to extricate himself from being Batman. Even though he has no longer been going out every night wearing the cape and cowl, he clearly has not been able to put it behind him, and Alfred feels it’s his duty to help Bruce find a way to do that. What Michael Caine has always brought to Alfred is tremendous heart. Watching Christian and Michael play out the unique relationship between these two characters has been one of the great joys of working on these films.
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