Christopher Nolan’s the Dark Knight Speaks Volumes
How it works
In the first second of the film, the audience’s ears are met with loud, echoing, thunderous music. The Warner Bros. Pictures logo, usually golden yellow and sky blue, is cast in a somber, stormy indigo. The cacophony that slowly dwindles to ambience instills a feeling of apprehension that accompanies the audience throughout the whole movie. Nolan communicates with us that the film will be anything but light, and does it before we can think otherwise. Within a few heartbeats, Nolan has established the mood that encompasses the next one-hundred-and-fifty-two minutes.
This technique of laying the foundation appears beyond the hue of a production company’s trademark. During the bank robbery scene in the first few minutes, the bank manager tries and fails to stop the criminals. He is given a moment of courage, fearlessly facing the robbers who outnumber him, before being incapacitated moments later. The message here is more clear: the good guys don’t always win. The ability of Nolan to convey a message not through words but through an action’s outcome demonstrates his effectiveness as a director.
How it works
The utilization of foreshadowing is prevalent in The Dark Knight; it is not until someone rewatches the film do the signs stick out like a disjointed thumb. When Bruce Wayne’s butler and friend, Alfred, warns him about his limits, Wayne responds that Batman does not have any, and Alfred reminds him that he, as Bruce Wayne, does, which the latter follows with, “Well, can’t afford to know them.” His limits–or rather, one specifically–will be exploited by the Joker later in the film, and will be the causation for a chain of tragic events.
Another great example of foreshadowing in The Dark Knight comes from Harvey Dent’s “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” At this point, the audience has recognized Dent as a justice-seeking, formidable District Attorney. He and Batman have the same ends, but different means. The camera focusing on Dent slowly uttering these words gives the audience a feeling of apprehension. Unknown to them until later, the apprehension is appropriate: Dent’s spirit breaks, and with that, the morals and code he used to dearly hold himself by. These two instances of foreshadowing serve as reminders to the message Nolan established within the first few seconds: the warning of an impending storm.
In the second scene with Batman, he is sans mask and costume, stitching a wound an earlier altercation gave him. This scene taps into pathos, because the audience is given a behind-the-scenes look into a character we consider formidable and strong. However, in including this scene, Nolan shows us that Batman–or rather, Bruce Wayne–is vulnerable and has his weaknesses, too. Coming upon this revelation that Batman is, at the end of the day, human, too, increases the audience’s empathy for the character. Another brilliant instance of pathos is with the scene of the wife and son of Jim Gordon receiving the news that he has died. There’s the slow, melancholic music in the background, and again, the somber, blue hue encompassing everything that effectively reaps a feeling of devastation and distress. Nolan could’ve not included such a scene, but he did, and the wife’s anguished cries and her attempt to protect her son from the news is powerful.
The contrast between Batman and The Joker builds upon the order and good versus chaos and evil theme. On one side, you have Batman, who believes in justice and holds morals close to the heart. On the other, you have The Joker, “an agent of chaos,” who lives to see the world burn. Batman has limits–one of them being his refusal to kill anyone–and it is this limit that benefits the Joker. Batman has everything to lose, while The Joker does not … Maroni himself, an Italian mafia boss, sees this contrast: “You got rules. The Joker, he’s got no rules.” Their differences are not only in personal and social aspects, but in emotional as well. While the Joker is increasingly becoming more gleeful and amused as the minute ticks on, the Batman is becoming more distressed and troubled. In their last scene together, the Joker says, “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.” The infamous line really does highlight the differences between the two characters–one unstoppable in their pursuit of anarchy, and the other immovable in the face of great opposition. Nolan takes two different ideologies, personifies them into the Batman and the Joker, and showcases what happens when they collide in a world that was only built to handle one.
This contrast is also evident between Harvey Dent and the Joker in the beginning. Batman and Dent are both idolized by the citizens of Gotham and recognized as heroes; the only difference is the latter’s not hiding behind a disguise. However, in this case, Dent, unlike Batman, turns out to be movable–after the death of Rachel Dawes, his girlfriend, his morals are abandoned in the favor of vengeance. By creating not just one, but two heroes who come face-to-face with the Joker, Nolan demonstrates how drastically being in the face of defeat can affect two similar people. In one scenario, the hero is knocked to their feet several times, but they still get back up with their ideals attached. In the other, the hero is knocked down, and doesn’t get up. Instead, they steep to the level of the villain. It adds volumes to Nolan’s argument of that humanity does not always come out of the arena a winner.