Fans know that the Batman character dates to 1939's “Detective Comics” No. 27. But the literary inspiration for this summer's “The Dark Knight Rises” goes back even further — about 80 years further.
At a recent news conference discussing the film, director Christopher Nolan said the final film in his Batman trilogy draws inspiration from the Charles Dickens classic novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” His brother, Jonathan Nolan, shared writing credits on the extensive screenplay with the director.
“When (Jonathan Nolan) showed me his first draft of his screenplay — and it was 400 pages long or something and had all this crazy stuff in it — when he handed it to me, he was like, ‘You've got to think of “A Tale of Two Cities,” which of course you've read.' I said, ‘Oh yeah, absolutely.' I read the script and was a little baffled by a few things and then realized I had never read ‘A Tale of Two Cities.'”
Christopher Nolan's next stop: to immerse himself in the classic novel.
“So I then got the book, read it, absolutely loved it, got completely what he was talking about,” Christopher Nolan said. “Then when I did my draft of the script, it was all about ‘A Tale of Two Cities' and really just trying to follow that, because it just felt exactly the right thing for the world we were dealing with, and what Dickens does in that book in terms of having all of these different characters come together in one unified story with all of these great thematic elements and all of this great emotionalism and drama.”
Jonathan Nolan said he looked at the Dickens novel as an exploration of what can happen when a society is turned inside out.
“Chris and David (Goyer) started developing the story in 2008, right after the second film came out,” Jonathan Nolan said. “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 portraits 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.”
Facing what frightens
Christopher Nolan said the filmmakers had to be honest about the things that frighten them about society. Those things then had to be applied to a specific fictional universe, Batman's Gotham City, and in this case, a new villain for the films adapted from the comics. Bane, as played by Tom Hardy, opposes the Batman in “The Dark Knight Rises.”
“To be perfectly honest, we really try to resist, at the script stage, being drawn into specific themes, specific messages,” Christopher Nolan said. “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.”
Christian Bale, on board for his final movie as Batman, secretly billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, agreed that Nolan's Bat-films have captured the spirit of the moment.
“I think Chris has an ability to make his movies very topical, and like Bob Kane's creation of Batman in 1939, which I think was an answer to the uselessness that people felt against the huge tragedy of World War II, I think Chris has returned Batman to that,” Bale said.
“Also, I've done a few big-scale films that carried just a pure entertainment aspect to them — the roller coaster ride and that was it — which, respectfully, I don't think they did what Chris has managed to do. This is more than just entertainment, if you choose to see that.”