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

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

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.”

When Hathaway auditioned for Nolan , she didn’t know she was auditioning for the role of Selina Kyle
Anne Hathaway was up against an impressive list of actresses for the role of Catwoman, including Keira Knightley, Jessica Biel and Kate Mara. But when she first sat down with Nolan, she didn’t know Catwoman was on the cards. “I found out during a sit-down with Chris which was about a two hour meeting,” she said. “I found out at the end of the first hour that it was going to be Selina Kyle, Catwoman, which surprised me, I didn’t think he was going to go there.” Hathaway told MTV that Michelle Pfeiffer‘s role was so iconic that she assumed Nolan would try and go another way. “I don’t know why, but I was so convinced that it wasn’t going to be her. I had another character in mind so when he told me I had to shift gears immediately,” she laughed. She also revealed that the character that she thought Nolan wanted her for was Harley Quinn.

Gordon-Levitt, meanwhile, was brought in by Nolan early on, before the script was finished.
Having replaced James Franco in “Inception,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to have become a firm favorite of Christopher Nolan, being given a prime role in “The Dark Knight Rises.” And according to the actor, he was brought on very early in the process, invited to dinner by Nolan and Emma Thomas while the script was still being completed. The actor told MTV of the part: “It’s hard to believe. What I love about John Blake is that he’s an idealist amongst cynics. Gotham has become a cynical place, people are going with the status-quo. The fat cats are getting fatter and he’s this rookie cop who is like, ‘Wait a minute’ and asking questions. And questioning authority doesn’t always get you the best reception, especially when you’re new.” And Nolan adds “I think Gordon looks at [Blake] and see’s himself twenty years before. There’s something very moving about that. It lets you contrast these sort of wise, old souls — these guys who have become burdened and jaded by the events of the past film — with this youthful idealism, these breaths of fresh air.”

The inspiration for Bane’s voice comes from a gypsy bare-knuckle fighter called Bartley Gorman.
Bane’s voice — a rather plummy, upper class English boom — has been seen as one of the most distinctive aspects of Tom Hardy‘s performance as Bane since it was first revealed. Hardy was in fact, inspired by an Irish bare-knuckle fighter (who incidentally, Shane Meadows and Paddy Considine have long been planning a biopic of, entitled “King Of The Gypsies“). “I know that he’s Latino-based, Bane,” Hardy told EW. “And Chris’ take on Bane is always, like any Batman character is slightly [different], not on the nose. So what I wanted to do was honor the fans in one way, and then at the same time bring something new into it. So I came with trying to find the body of a very physical man, and the voice of an older man, and we found this Romani gypsy called Bartley Gorman, [a] bare-knuckled fighter that we based upon.”

Bane’s mask was moulded specifically to him, and was fiendishly tight.
The already-iconic Bane mask had to feel like something that he’d worn every day for years to keep him alive, and its creators was impressed by the way Hardy wore it. Costume effects supervisor Graham Churchyard explains in the production notes: “To us, the Bane mask had to fit like a prosthetic; however, unlike a prosthetic, it had to look like it was engineered out of metal. We were able to take Tom’s computer cast and 3D model each rigid piece to the contours of his head so it was tight to his face, with no gaps.” Meanwhile, designer Lindy Hemming adds, “It was gripping Tom’s head like a vice. With his assistance and patience, we made it as tight as it could ever have been. There was a magnetic removal panel on the front, so everything you see has a series of magnets underneath it, and everything beneath that has a rubber seal that pressed into Tom’s skin and was held on by tension. The fact that he tolerated it, let alone acted with it, was astounding.”

Catwoman’s Bat-pod stunt rider had to be especially recruited.
On the first film, stunt motorcyclist Jean-Pierre Goy was deemed the only person who was capable of driving the Bat-pod, but with Catwoman donning the vehicle this time around, Anne Hathaway remembers in the production notes, “I was standing there with Chris, looking at the Bat-Pod, and he was telling me about Jean-Pierre and how he’s the only person in the world who can drive it. And I turned to him and said, ‘Can he look like a woman?’” As a result, they went to motocross racer Jolene Van Vugt, who was the first woman ever to backflip a dirt bike, and she says, “When they asked me if I thought I could ride it, I said, ‘You give me the opportunity, and I guarantee I can do it.’ The biggest hurdle was getting used to the body position because of the way you have to lean forward. It was just a matter of finding my balance and building up my comfort level, but within a few hours I was racing around, having fun.”

Batman uses a different fighting style in this film to take down Bane.
The realistic fight style of Batman in the two films to date has been derived from a form of self-defence called the Keysei Fighting Method. But this time, with his most intimidating physical opponent so far, he had to change things up, according to Buster Reeves, who was fight co-ordinator on the movie, as well as doubling for Tom Hardy (having been Bale’s stunt double in the first two films). “This time they wanted me purely as an outside eye to make sure the fights were exactly as Chris Nolan wanted them to look,” Reeves told The Guardian. “It’s not the same fighting style as the last two, he wanted to go in a whole different direction. Because Bane’s his biggest adversary yet, Chris wanted Batman to evolve his fighting style. We’ve added a bit of Jeet Kun Do, some Silat [an Indonesian martial art], a bit of Thai boxing. Bane’s a big brute, and it takes about 15 shots to deliver what he can do in one blow, so Batman had to be less aggressive, more clever. I had to think about how he could be a bit like Muhammad Ali, hit and not get hit. Mike Tyson versus Floyd Mayweather was what I had in mind.”

Surprisingly, Nolan has never done a reshoot on one of his films.
Recently, films like “World War Z” have made headlines for extensive reshoots, and almost every movie over a certain budget will schedule some time for pick-ups or reshoots in case something needs fixing. But not Christopher Nolan, who says he writes deliberately so he won’t need to. “I’ve never done a re-shoot, knock on wood,” he told the DGA earlier in the year. “It all comes down to editing, just craft, just hammering it with my editor every day, trying radical cuts, pulling things out, abandoning bits of exposition, saying, ‘OK, does the audience really need to understand this? What if they don’t?’ I always overwrite the exposition in my scripts so that I’ve got multiple ways to get a point across. If you tell the audience something three times they won’t understand it, but if you tell them only once, they will. It’s an odd thing. So a lot of cutting for time is, for me, cutting for clarity. It’s finding where you can just pull dialogue out that you have overwritten, so you can find that one simple way an audience can get the right point.”

The director doesn’t believe he’s making a particular political message with the film.
After the examination of privacy and its links to George W. Bush‘s war on terror in “The Dark Knight,” the new film sees Batman dip his toe into political waters again, already receiving attacks from both sides of the aisle. Nolan likes that it inspires debate, but claims the film itself has no particular viewpoint, telling Rolling Stone

“I’ve had as many conversations with people who have seen the film the other way round. We throw a lot of things against the wall to see if it sticks. We put a lot of interesting questions in the air, but that’s simply a backdrop for the story. What we’re really trying to do is show the cracks of society, show the conflicts that somebody would try to wedge open. We’re going to get wildly different interpretations of what the film is supporting and not supporting, but it’s not doing any of those things. It’s just telling a story. If you’re saying, ‘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. You could also say the conditions the evil person is exploiting are problematic and should be addressed… I’ve got all sorts of opinions, but this isn’t what we’re doing here,” he explained. “I love when people get interested in the politics of it, when they see something in it that moves them in some way. But I’m not being disingenuous when I say that we write from a place of ‘What’s the worst thing our villain Bane can do? What are we most afraid of?’ He’s going to come in and turn our world upside down. That has happened to other societies throughout history, many times, so why not here? Why not Gotham? We want something that moves people and gets under the skin.”

Nolan doesn’t have a cellphone, or use email, because he likes talking in person.
The director famously admitted a few years back that he’s never owned a cellphone, and he says that he finds he’s never really needed them. “It’s not that I’m a Luddite and don’t like technology,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve just never been interested. When I moved to L.A. in 1997, nobody really had cell phones, and I just never went down that path. And I’m in a slightly unique position because when I’m working — and I’ve been working pretty much continuously for the last 10 years — I’m never more than five feet from somebody who has a phone… A lot of the things people amuse themselves with really are just toys for grown-ups, and it eats your time and pulls your concentration.” He did have an email address set up for him by Warner Bros at one stage, but by the time he checked it, he says, “There were thousands of emails in this account — some from quite important people, actually. I had them take it down, so people didn’t think they were getting in touch with me.” So, if you’ve been waiting for a reply from Nolan for the last decade or so, don’t take it personally…

There is a map that gives you the exact geography of Gotham City.
Gotham City’s been as much a character across the trilogy as Batman, but the geography’s sometimes been a bit unclear, in part because of the sheer number of cities it was filmed in across the three films — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, even London. Fortunately, “The Dark Knight Manual,” a tie-in book, has printed an exact map of the city, which you can see over at EW. You know, for the next time you’re planning a trip.

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Comments

tristan eldritch

"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.

James

I love this! Thanks for putting it together.

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