Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Dark Knight Trilogy (Pt. 1 of 2)

The Dark Knight Trilogy of movies is probably Christopher Nolan's most widely known project.  It consists of three films: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.  Recurring stars include Christian Bale as Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and within individual films, Heath Ledger, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Anne Hathaway, Liam Neeson, Aaron Eckhart and Marion Cotillard all make appearances.

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The first of these films was released in 2005 to skeptical audiences still reeling from the last Batman movie, Batman & Robin which was pretty much universally condemned as horrible.  Batman Begins however had a different take on the much loved character and was far more realistic than any other super hero films had been up to that point, something much appreciated by audiences.  

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The Dark Knight opened in 2008 and the hype for that movie was off the charts.  Following Heath Ledger's tragic death (he played the Joker) before the release of the movie, anticipation grew even hotter.  This film was critically acclaimed as the best super hero movie ever made and spawned countless iconic phrases and looks.

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012) had a tough task following up on the former two movies, particularly The Dark Knight.  Tom Hardy acted as the primary villain, Bane.  Despite several twists and turns, an emotional ending and a dramatic story line, it is generally accepted that, though a great movie in it's own right, The Dark Knight Rises didn't quite live up to it's predecessor.

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Nevertheless, each of these movies are iconic and three of the most popular superhero movies ever.  They dragged DC Comics from the pitiful...pit...they were in at the time and changed the aesthetic of movies in the future.

As much as I would love to talk about each of these films individually, I only have scheduled two days to cover the Dark Knight Trilogy in order to finish Christopher Nolan week by his birthday (July 30th).  For that reason let's discuss some over arching themes and stuff that stretch over all three movies.

First of all, I want to connect all three movies to another movie of Nolan's we have discussed, The Prestige.  

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Curiously, both The Prestige and the Batman movies star Michael Caine and Christian Bale proving that Christopher Nolan regards them as talented actors for one thing.

As Michael Caine's Prestige character explains, there are three parts to any magic act (and therefore, as we discussed, to any movie or story).  Oh, would you look at that!  The Dark Knight Trilogy also happens to have three parts!

The three parts of a trick are:

The Pledge (for instance, showing a regular bird)
The Turn (making the bird disappear)
The Prestige (bringing the bird back!)

Let's match those up to the Batman movies and see if they fit.

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The Pledge: you introduce something to the audience.
Batman Begins: introduces Bruce Wayne as Batman to the audience, explains his backstory, his motivations, his aspirations.

The Turn: you somehow alter something from it's original state to an unexpected state.
The Dark Knight: Harvey Dent is altered from his original state of being a respected member of society into being a two-faced evil guy; because of this, Batman is altered from being a heroic vigilante to being someone the police believe is a murderer and have to chase down.

The Prestige: you bring back the original thing.
The Dark Knight Rises: Batman's innocence is revealed and he is restored to the trusted Batman Gotham had in Batman begins.  Not only that, but later Bruce Wayne returns to normal Wayne-ery when he leaves the Batman persona behind him.

So these movies are pretty similar in structure which I find pretty interesting and it makes sense since the magic tricks used in The Prestige are sort of a metaphor for story telling and film making in general.

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The trilogy also has parallels to other Nolan films.  Like Inception, Memento and Insomnia, these Batman films question the idea of a "noble lie" and the importance of truth.

At the end of The Dark Knight, Batman takes on the responsibility of Harvey Dent's death so that the people of Gotham can believe the "noble lie" that Harvey Dent their hero died a good man and that Batman is actually the bad guy.  He believes that this idealized vision of Harvey Dent will inspire the people of Gotham to carry on in his memory.  

So Batman lies to the people.  And to a certain extent, this works out really well.  This results in the Dent Act which puts away a lot of criminals and keeps Gotham pretty safe.  Is the movie trying to say that lying can be acceptable under certain circumstances?

This idea is brought up in the other movies I mentioned as well.

Image result for inceptionIn Inception, Cobb sort of tricks his wife by incepting an idea into her mind.  This is really manipulative of him, and in the end, it ends up driving his wife away from him and leading to her death.  In this case, the "noble lie" Cobb told his wife back fired and was really bad.  

Also in Inception, it's left ambiguous as to whether or not Cobb made it back to reality.  If he did stay in the dream world just so he could be with his family, isn't that just a lie he is telling himself?  But is that a bad thing?

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In Memento, Leonard constantly lies to himself by leaving false clues about his wife's killer so that when he forgets what he lied about, he will take the clues he left as facts and continue hunting the killer in order to have something to live for.  He lies to himself so he has inspiration to keep going.  Is this a bad thing?  I mean, it results in the death of innocent people so yeah?

Also in Memento, Leonard creates a huge story about this guy named Sammy in order to pretend that Leonard wasn't responsible for his wife's death even though he totally was.  He lies to himself so he won't have to deal with that grief.

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In Insomnia, Al Pacino's character is certain that someone is guilty of a crime, but is frustrated by a jury who can't see it.  He plants evidence in order to convince them of the man's guilt.  Is this okay, since it was sketchy means to attain a good end?  This film sort of does give an answer, and that is "no".  In the end, Al Pacino's character warns Hilary Swank's character "don't lose your way" and prevents her from lying to preserve Al Pacino's reputation.

Again, I'm not sure that Nolan's films intend to give us any clear answers about any of these questions.  One thing is for sure: the Dark Knight Trilogy has a lot in common with other Nolan movies when it comes to structure and themes.  What do you think?  Is the noble lie really noble?  Can you find any more parallels between the Dark Knight Trilogy and the way a magic trick is set up?

Check back in for more Nolan movie goodness!

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