LOS ANGELES—All film directors have different approaches to their craft. Some feel most comfortable with making epic films that fuse storytelling with the latest technology. Others stay with smaller movies that don’t require working too closely with studio executives who might drown their filmmaking efforts in “notes”.
Then there is Christopher Nolan, the director of the much-anticipated The Dark Knight Rises. He carved out a reputation as an independent film director when he parlayed a $5-million investment into more than $25 million at the box office for the film Memento, an audacious movie that told its story from back to front. He followed up with the mid-range–budgeted and B.C.-shot Insomnia before moving to the big-kids’ table with Batman Begins. The 2005 movie was “disappointing” at the box office, failing to pass 1989’s Batman. However, Nolan stayed on for The Dark Knight and that 2008 film quickly moved into the all-time top 10 at the international box office, making more than a billion dollars.
Nolan went on to shoot another blockbuster, Inception, before considering how he could finish his Batman story. In a Los Angeles hotel room, he says that there was the inevitable pressure of making a better movie than the one that had been both a box-office smash and a critical success.
“There is a pressure that you get with a sequel to a [successful] sequel. We had to find a reason for the audience to come back to Gotham City. At the early stages, my writing partners and I felt a lot of pressure. We kept saying, ‘Why are we doing this? Do we have a story to tell?’ Once we knew that we had a story that we wanted to see and that we wanted to know what happened to Bruce Wayne, [we asked] where the story was going and how we were going to finish the story. Then everything else was good, and you get on and do the best you can with the movie.”
Unless you have been locked in The Avengers screenings for the past two months, you are probably aware that Christian Bale will be back to play the duel role of Batman and Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises, which opens next Friday (July 20). Wayne has been a recluse for eight years, blaming himself for the death of the woman he loved. Batman, too, has disappeared, but the citizens of Gotham, convinced he killed their hero, Harvey Dent, are happy to see him gone.
Nolan says that the success of his series is owed in part to having somewhat realistic characters that audiences genuinely care about. Although there may be an almost operatic feel to the backdrop, the characters bring a certain rationale to their decisions.
“This is not real life. You are dealing with heightened reality. These are larger-than-life characters, and I very much enjoy tacking into the operatic sensibility of that and pushing the audience emotions into extreme direction using those characters. But there is also a logic to what they do. There is an important scene in Batman Begins where Alfred [Bruce Wayne’s butler, played by Michael Caine] and Bruce are talking on a plane and Bruce explains to him what he plans to do. As we were working out the character, we could see Bruce wasn’t happy with the way things were going in Gotham and decided to offer himself as a symbol of hope in a corrupt society. That [logic] has always been at the heart of Bruce Wayne’s story.”
He is also adamant that despite his attraction to the characters and the story, this is his last Batman movie. “I told the studio I would do a third movie, but they would like us to do this forever. However, they understand that my interest was in coming back one more time to finish the story, because I wanted to tell one major story with three major parts, and that is why we are here and the reason why we are done.”
Watch the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises.