‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Anticipation Series: Discussion and Analysis of Nolan’s Gotham

Our Anticipation Series for The Dark Knight Rises concludes today with an examination of Christopher Nolan’s depiction of Gotham City. Michael from Movie Parliament has once again been kind enough to join me — forming a duo even better than the Caped Crusaders — and add his analysis to my own. Be sure to check out his site (and this link on mine) for some of the other discussion articles we’ve written as part of this series.

Tommy D’s Analysis

In his Batman series, director and co-writer Christopher Nolan understands that the need to establish a proper setting is just as crucially important as having complex characters and a captivating plot. His version of Gotham, like everything else in this rendition of the Batman franchise, gives us a tougher, bleaker, and grittier (I don’t have to try very hard to achieve my goal of using some variation of this word in every post in this series) city than we’ve ever seen before. While Tim Burton’s two Batman films definitely gave the city a dark and gothic vibe, they did not have the more coarse elements that Nolan’s city does. As such, the realism of Nolan’s Gotham contributes largely to its bleak feel.

In several ways, Nolan’s depiction of Gotham makes me think of the unnamed city in the David Fincher crime classic, Se7en (I’ll work Fincher into a film conversation wherever I can). While Fincher’s anonymous city was definitely a bit more far-fetched and cinematic– it was home to constant rain and unimaginable levels of urban decay — he, like Nolan, used the setting to give us a message about the world in general. Despite the horrors of that city and the notorious John Doe, Morgan Freeman’s character remarks that it is “still worth fighting for.” Likewise, Gotham — while more grounded yet still harsh in its depiction of urban decay — is a city full of corruption for which Bruce Wayne/Batman nevertheless feels compelled to fight. Thus, Nolan and Fincher accomplish similar things here, just through different means.

Gotham thus becomes a symbol for fighting corruption throughout the world. While Ra’s al Ghul wants to destroy the city in Batman Begins, the wiser and more noble (yet still anti-heroic) Batman wants to fight the handful of people responsible for the corruption, and ultimately leave Gotham as a better place.

Another key to the Nolan Batman films is that he seamlessly puts his storylines into a modern world and not a dated one from comics. His take on Gotham is obviously a critical part of creating this modern world. With The Dark Knight being filmed in Chicago, Nolan keeps his setting realistic enough while piping in enough corruption — also showing the issues within Gotham’s politics more so than ever before — to keep the storylines compelling here in the 21st century.

In the end, Nolan’s Gotham is haunting in many of its more realistic aspects (super-villains notwithstanding). We really get a feel for some of the city’s inner corruption in Batman Begins, with many of the city’s politicians and much of its police force in league with crime boss Carmine Falcone. This type of depth that Nolan adds to Gotham gives his films an appropriate launching pad for great characters and storylines.


Michael’s Analysis

In filming and portraying Gotham as very much a city of our world, Nolan is once again making his Batman films a reflection of modern times. The landscapes in which these villains wield their instruments of destruction, are ones that seem ripped from the world which awaits us when leave the cinema or take out the DVD. Burton’s Gotham was much more gothic and fantastical, which reflected his much more gothic and fantastical characters. Just as the design of Burton’s Gotham was a reflection of his style and sensibilities, so is Christopher Nolan’s. 

While in Batman Begins, “The Narrows” (Along with the Wayne monorail) were very much a far away construction, The Dark Knight is filmed in Chicago and has little to distinguish it from our world. This is crucial, as Nolan uses environment to reflect theme. The Dark Knight is much more of a reflection and examination of our times (Specifically terrorism and our response) and this is augmented through the recognizable environments. In Batman Begins, Nolan had much more of a focus on fear and in doing so had much more “fearful” environments such as “The Narrows”, Arkham Asylum (Which is not seen in The Dark Knight) and the Batcave (Once again, under construction during The Dark Knight).

Nolan’s Gotham is one that is much more visibly corrupt than Burton or Schumahcer’s. Nolan demonstrates much more of an interest in the political and social divisions within Gotham society, divisions which promise to be exploited and blow up in The Dark Knight Rises. For its first two acts, Batman Begins is a film which contains a hero attempting to bring down the mob. A key inspiration for The Dark Knight, thematically and aesthetically, was Michael Mann’s Heat. As noted in the prior Batman article, Nolan’s Batman is one that is very concerned and aware of and for the people of Gotham. While Gotham was very much a big part of previous cinematic interpretations of the character, it never had as much importance or examination on the big screen as it does now. Nolan’s Gotham (and I know how cheesy this sounds) is a character in the film. The people of Gotham are so important to the actions and events of the films, with them forming a crucial part of The Dark Knight’s third act. Entire essays could be written about Batman’s relationship with the people of Gotham throughout these films and how it evolves over the course of the trilogy. The people of Gotham reflect onto Batman, as does Batman to them. He is whatever Gotham needs him to be. The state of the city and the emotions of the people are what dictate Batman’s actions and always will be. 

Ultimately Nolan uses the aesthetic of Gotham to augment theme and the people of Gotham to dictate character and story. The city and its people play a role of importance in Nolan’s films that they arguably haven’t before in previous cinematic explorations of the Batman universe. In fact many fans thought so much of the city’s importance during the Nolan era, that at one point, “Gotham” was a fan favourite for many, as the title of Nolan’s third film.

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About Tommy D

Clemson and UGA alum with a market research job in LA. And I kind of like movies.

Posted on July 19, 2012, in General Movie Discussion and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I like the joint writing effort! This film was a disappointment.

  1. Pingback: Summary of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Anticipation Series « Tommy D Talks Movies

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