Chris Nolan Talks 'TDKR' Ending & More in FSLC In-Depth Interview
Earlier this week, the Film Society of Lincoln Center hosted "A Conversation with Christopher Nolan", moderated by Scott Foundas, who talked in-depth with the filmmaker at the Walter Reade Theater in the Lincoln Center. In addition to a number of excellent quotes and highlights from that discussion, Foundas has also put up the entire discussion with Nolan online on Film Comment, and it covers many fascinating topics. Numerous readers have emailed me, urging that we mention some of his more intriguing quotes, like those about the ending of The Dark Knight Rises and Batman's origins. A few of the best quotes below.
It's a massive and impressive interview, worth reading in its entirety, so I suggest visiting Film Comment to see it. Here are a few of the quotes that intrigued me, starting Nolan's interest in Batman to begin with:
"I had in mind a sort of treatment of Batman that Richard Donner might have done in the late Seventies the way he did Superman. To me what that represented was firstly a detailed telling of the origin story, which wasn’t even really definitively addressed in the comics over the years, funnily enough. And secondly, tonally I was looking for an interpretation of that character that presented an extraordinary figure in an ordinary world. So I wanted the inhabitants of Gotham to view Batman as being as outlandish and extraordinary as we do."
Nolan talks about the theatricality of his movies, and how he interacts with the audience, using IMAX:
"Yeah, absolutely. And the theatricality of opera and the larger-than-life quality of the presentation of it, but also the emotions it generates, has always sat underneath my understanding of how to make these heightened realities work. Why am I working in this genre for the audience? What does it allow me to do as a filmmaker that I couldn’t do in a more everyday universe? The answer is this operatic quality. It’s this ability to blow things up into very large emotions that are accessible to a universal audience. And it’s a very privileged position that you’re in as a filmmaker with your audience. I felt that I wasn’t getting to experience that in mainstream commercial movies at the time, so I really wanted to enjoy that as a filmmaker. I’ve had a great time with these three films, really enjoying that relationship with the audience."
"I think you’ve put your finger on it. As blockbuster filmmakers, we’re all looking to try and open up the screen for the audience, throw the audience into the movie in a way that they forget they’re watching a film. The clarity of IMAX, and the size of the screen, to me is overwhelming in a very positive way. You’re able to create an overwhelming immersive experience for the audience, really take them on a hell of a roller-coaster ride. The issue for me with 3D is that even though it’s immersive with its stereoscopic illusion, your brain is performing an unnatural optical function, converging your eyes where you’re not focusing them, and there’s a feeling in your head that it’s hard. There’s literally a feeling in your head that’s a little bit different than what you’re used to feeling, and so I find myself unable to forget that I’m watching a movie. And for me that’s a bit of a barrier."
He takes a moment to mention Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master in 70mm, praising the format still:
"I recently saw a 70mm print of The Master and I realized that, other than my own films, it’s the first photochemically finished film I’ve seen in many years, and it looks the way a movie should look. To me, it’s just a superior form. In The Dark Knight Rises, we have about 430 effects shots out of 3,000, so the idea that the tail wags the dog and then you finish the film in the digital realm is illogical. We make the 430 shots fit in with the remaining 2,500 that we timed photochemically. For that reason, I’ve never done a film with more than 500 effects shots. These films have about a third or a quarter the number of CG shots of any other film on that scale. That allows me to keep working photochemically and to make the digital effects guys print out their negatives so we actually cut the effect with its background plate on film, and we can see whether it matches."
Discussing how they build intensity in The Dark Knight Rises after "The Star-Spangled Banner" scene:
"We tried with all three films, but in the most extreme way with The Dark Knight Rises, what I call this sort of snowballing approach to action and events. We experimented with this in The Dark Knight, where the action is not based on clean and clear set pieces the way Batman Begins was, but we pushed it much further in this film. The scope and scale of the action is built from smaller pieces that snowball together so you’re cross-cutting, which I love doing, and trying to find a rhythm in conjunction with the music and the sound effects, so you’re building and building tension continuously over a long sustained part of the film, and not releasing that until the very last frame. It’s a risky strategy because you risk exhausting your audience, but to me it’s the most invigorating way of approaching the action film. It’s an approach I applied with Inception as well, to have parallel strands of tension rising and rising and then coming together. In The Dark Knight Rises, from the moment the music and sound drop and the little boy starts singing 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' it’s kind of like the gloves are coming off. I’ve been amazed and delighted how people have accepted the extremity of where things go."
And finally, Nolan discussing the very end of TDKR and the end of Nolan's Batman saga as we know it:
"For me, The Dark Knight Rises is specifically and definitely the end of the Batman story as I wanted to tell it, and the open-ended nature of the film is simply a very important thematic idea that we wanted to get into the movie, which is that Batman is a symbol. He can be anybody, and that was very important to us. Not every Batman fan will necessarily agree with that interpretation of the philosophy of the character, but for me it all comes back to the scene between Bruce Wayne and Alfred in the private jet in Batman Begins, where the only way that I could find to make a credible characterization of a guy transforming himself into Batman is if it was as a necessary symbol, and he saw himself as a catalyst for change and therefore it was a temporary process, maybe a five-year plan that would be enforced for symbolically encouraging the good of Gotham to take back their city. To me, for that mission to succeed, it has to end, so this is the ending for me, and as I say, the open-ended elements are all to do with the thematic idea that Batman was not important as a man, he’s more than that. He’s a symbol, and the symbol lives on."
Ah, lots of mysteries, and big answers, to the many questions asked about the ending of The Dark Knight Rises and continuation of Batman. However, it is safe to say that Nolan definitely won't be doing another Batman movie -- for a while at least. So what about a Bond movie in the meantime, Mr. Nolan? During the Conversation with Christopher Nolan, there were a few discussions that IndieWire recorded at the event, and one of them touched a bit on Nolan's love of and influence by Agent 007, James Bond. Via Indiewire:
"The globe trotting elements of Batman Begins mostly came from the Bond films. One of the first films I remember seeing was The Spy Who Loved Me and at a certain point the Bond films fixed in my head as a great example of scope and scale in large scale images. That idea of getting you to other places, of getting you along for a ride if you can believe in it -- in The Spy Who Loved Me the Lotus Esprit turns into a submarine and its totally convincing, and it works and you go 'Wow that's incredible.' In The Dark Knight Rises we had to do a flying vehicle for Batman, which is very daunting, but that's the challenge. It's trying to take the audience for that ride, and that was sort of my job cinematically. To speak specifically to things that had been done: if you look at what Tim Burton did, a world was created which Batman fits into it. It's this great sort of Gothic vision that's very consistent with the character of Batman. What I felt I hadn't seen was the Gotham in the comics: Gotham as an ordinary world, a world which we could live in. And so when Gotham sees Batman he's as extraordinary as he would be in our world. So (what Tim did) is place an extraordinary character in an extraordinary world. Part of the fun making the film for me was explaining these elements in real terms: Why is he wearing this costume? What does it mean? How does he get the costume? Is it just him and Alfred and the Batcave? And we started to enjoy coming up with the answers to these questions."
Lots of juicy Batman and Chris Nolan material to chew over, especially as The Dark Knight Rises arrives on Blu-ray next week. Both of these interview pieces have a lot more from Christopher Nolan, so I recommend clicking to Film Comment and/or Indiewire for more entertaining reading. Nolan is a fascinating guy and always has amazing things to say in interviews. Thanks to Scott Foundas for asking such thought-provoking questions that resulted in wonderfully in-depth answers. Now I can't wait to get my hands on the Blu-Ray to rewatch The Dark Knight Rises and examine these kind of intricate details a bit more closely.