The Dark Knight: Christopher Nolan and the bat

ROME – The global success, the death of Heath Ledger and the revolution of the cinecomic as we know it today. Presented in New York on July 14, 2008, fifteen years later The dark Knight (The Dark Knight) continues to amaze with the impressive intensity of the images told by a master of art entertainment like Christopher Nolan. One who, from I remember to Oppenheimer passing through Inception and Interstellar, with each film he has been able to significantly raise the bar of narrative solidity through innovative, unsettling, mostly dividing brain finds. The middle chapter of the trilogy of the same name, which includes Batman Begins of 2005 and The Dark Knight Rises of 2012, united everyone: critics, audiences, fans (and not) of cinecomic. Over a billion dollars in worldwide box-office success!

The Dark Knight was released in Italian cinemas on July 23, 2008

The reason? The filmic approach chosen by Nolan. Unedited for the genre – and for the Batman particularly developed over the decades between Tim Burton’s cartoony/gothic and Joel Schumacher’s kitsch – who in shifting the focus of the story from fear Of Begins to the pure and raw chaos of an escalation of uncontrollable anarchic madness, it lives on a mature breath of marked realism, or to put it in Nolan’s own words: «With The Dark Knight we wanted to tell a very broad story. A story in a city or the history of a city. If you want to take Gotham you have to give it weight, a breath, a depth: this is how you have to treat political personalities and media figures, it’s all part of the fabric that surrounds a city». Feeling the taste of Gotham, the rottenness of the streets and the empty modernism of the upper floors.

The opening credits of The Dark Knight

Not surprisingly, the impact was so impetuous de The dark Knight (You can find it streaming on KILOS) in the film industry to have represented the rebirth of the genre, as if to indicate the way in the subsequent DCEU – DC Extended Universe where Nolan figured as executive producer of Zack Snyder’s film vision spread between The man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the talked about Justice League (which you can read about here) who lived twice between 2017 and 2021, but also of the new DC course inaugurated by the Scorsesian Joker winner of the Leone d’Oro in Venezia76 (which you can read about here our review) then continued by The Batman who owe so much to Nolan’s vision, even just in having been able to conceive such an authorial breath. Let’s take a step back though.

Wally Pfister’s night photography

Because while Warner Bros had always had faith in Nolan’s vision – he was signed in 2003 in the aftermath of the success of I remember and Insomnia – so much so that he decided to completely set aside the much rumored (and fortunately never realised) Justice League: Mortal of George Miller at the foot of pre-production, believe it or not, had it been for him there would never have been any The dark Knight! Of course, the climax of Batman Begins with the Joker’s Joker he left very little room for the imagination – «The meaning of that card? Conveying the fallacy of Batman’s belief that his war on crime would be temporary» –, but Nolan didn’t think he would earn enough to justify a sequel: it will gross over 370 million dollars worldwide. There was nothing to do but keep going.

Heath Ledger is the Joker in a scene from The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger is the Joker

It was the first career sequel for Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas. With them the co-writer David S. Goyer who developed during the making of Begins a narrative outline for two sequels. The problem for Nolan was figuring out how to continue the story inaugurated in 2005 in order to keep it narratively coherent and relevant. The only certainty of The dark Knight in Nolan’s mind? Joker. A great Joker: «Distillation of fear of anarchy». Over the next three months they worked on the central points of the story: «Explore the theme of escalation and the idea that Batman’s efforts to fight common crimes would lead to an opposite escalation by criminals attracting the Joker who uses terrorism as a weapon» in order, that is, to play with political-thematic parallels in the real world with the war on terror.

“A hero. Not the hero we deserved, but the one we needed.”

High, refined intentions that Nolan and Goyer never wanted to publicly declare. They wanted it to spring spontaneously from reading the subtext of The dark Knight in order to make its audience reflect without pre-vision expectations and/or prejudices. Here Goyer entered the scene who, as a great admirer of the first Batman Burtonian – the one with a stratospheric (but not very scary) Jack Nicholson on his shields – wanted to start from that vision to make Joker extraordinarily evil. In fact, Dalla of him imagined his Joker as an unrecognizable character, similar to the fish threat at the base of The shark (which you can read about here): «No cliches, no origin stories, no actual story arcs. Just pure chaos. Total anarchy», devoid of any background character behind him – to which Nolan echoed him – «The Dark Knight could be renamed: The Rise of the Joker».

«No clichés, no origin story, no actual story arc. Just pure chaos. total anarchy»

The result? A Joker – the one staged by the late Ledger who died tragically in 2008 – which, like the narrative inertia of The dark Knight in relation to cinecomic in its entirety, it represented a real breaking point, or to put it in the wise words of Alfred’s interpreter, Michael Caine: «Jack (Nicholson) was like a clownish figure, benign and malignant, perhaps a murderous old uncle. He might be (even) funny and make you laugh. Heath (Ledger) has gone in a completely different direction from Jack: He’s like a scary psychopath. Heath is a lovely boy and his Joker will be the revelation of the film». She saw us very well. That 2009 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor posthumously was much more than a tribute, but an artistic award, true: the celebration of an immense talent with total and tragic devotion to the Method.

The Dark Knight: an incipit in the sign of Heat – The challenge

In between, however, there is the narrative miracle by Nolan and Goyer. More a police drama than a traditional cinecomic, which in sewing film puzzle pieces between supersonic chases, surprising narrative turns and even an incipit of pure heist openly inspired by the similar sequence of Heat – The challenge through sprinklings of anarchy with rhythmic continuity, you see The dark Knight reflect on chaos, corruption of the soul, the value of the law as well as key topos of the genre such as the fall of the hero (Harvey Dent is the hero Gotham deserves / Batman is the one it needs) and the weight of the cape . On his side however (and here lies the innovation offered by Nolan) The dark Knight proceeds in declining them by completely de-mythologizing the superhero component in favor of a human approach made possible by the character duplicity of its (anti) hero protagonist.

Christian Bale is Bruce Wayne/Batman

That Bruce Wayne/Batman rendered by a great Christian Bale as a man devoured by his own gift, in constant inner-existential conflict between the extraordinary life of caped crusader and the ordinary one as a common billionaire, made explicit and penetrating by Nolan and by the narrative inertia of a The dark Knight which crystallizes its pain in the concept of limit («Batman has no limits. […] But you do, sir» reads a famous dialogic exchange). The man Wayne made of flesh, fears and traumas, knows limits that the super Batman can not afford to have. The difference is made by the weight (and acceptance) of the coat. It is on this basis that Nolan unleashes the confrontation between Batman and Joker as the quintessence of the good/evil dichotomy that finally sees Harvey Dent (a great Aaron Eckhart) sacrificed as Two-Face by virtue of the «You either die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain».

Aaron Eckhart in a scene from The Dark Knight
“Either die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain”

By virtue of such a nihilistic approach, it is evident how – especially for the reference 2008 – Nolan never conceived The dark Knight and its narrative context as an expanded universe: «I really don’t think our Batman, our Gotham, are suitable for crossovers. I’m reminded of one of the first things we made clear when we started putting the story together: Is this a world where comics exist? Do superheroes already exist here?» – to then continue by revealing the real reasons behind the apparent impossibility of sharing the role of hero – «If you think about Batman Begins and the philosophy of this character trying to reinvent himself as a symbol, our position, though not stated in the film, was that superheroes simply don’t exist.».

«The Dark Knight could be renamed: The rise of the Joker»
«The Dark Knight could be renamed: The rise of the Joker»

But who knows today, in a 2023 where the cinecomic is increasingly projected into the Multiverse of multiple variants of the same character as in the case of the DCEU and the two coexisting Batmans between past and present (Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck) of The Flash – and with the path plowed by Joker and The Batman – the suffering Nolanian Gotham devoid of heroes (as well as superheroes) de The dark Knight cannot be open to industrial as well as thematic sharing. Perhaps hoping is too much but dreaming costs nothing, and in this we know, the magical power of cinema has no limits.

  • REVISIONS | The Mask of the Phantom? The best film about the Dark Knight
  • LONGFORM | Batman Returns, Tim Burton and the Black Heart of a unique sequel
  • OPINIONS | The Batman? More of an experience than a great movie

Below you can see the trailer of the film:

The Dark Knight: Christopher Nolan and the bat-revolution of the cinecomic