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Posts Tagged 'Aaron Eckhart'

Thoughts on Inception or, Christopher Nolan and Cobb salad

I’m not going to write a conventional review of Inception; I think the movie is stunning, and I strongly encourage everybody to go see it. That’s about as much of a “review” as I want to write; what I’d rather do is discuss what thoughts were provoked by it.

I will say this once:

DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN INCEPTION, SINCE A VERY THOROUGH DISCUSSION OF SPOILERS IS TO FOLLOW. I WILL ALSO BE TALKING ABOUT THE PRISONERUSUAL SUSPECTS, SHUTTER ISLAND, THE PRESTIGE, MEMENTO, FOLLOWING, INSOMNIA, BATMAN BEGINS, AND THE DARK KNIGHT, SO READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

We clear?

I’ve seen Inception three times now; I saw it at the midnight showing last Friday morning, again Friday night, and again Tuesday morning. It’s one of those movies where you want to take people to see it and be there with them while they experience it for the first time. I think maybe The Usual Suspects was the first movie like that for me; I took different people to see that, all because I wanted to be there when they saw the falling coffee cup and realized what it meant. Christopher Nolan has become the the guy who makes that kind of movie for me these days; Memento and The Prestige were both movies I happily did repeated viewings of with different people, and two summers ago, as reported to some extent here, I did the same thing with The Dark Knight.

Now, one of these things — The Dark Knight — is not like the other, at least at first glance. Suspects, MementoThe Prestige — these are just all “twist ending” movies, right? The whole point of the movie is the ending you aren’t expecting, and there’s not really anything to them beyond that? Well, there are those who might argue that, sure. The question becomes, how do these movies stand up to repeated viewings? I have never bothered with The Blair Witch Project since the one time I saw it in theatres, because that’s the kind of movie that, for my money, really is just a magic trick that would probably show its strings upon seeing it again. The twists of Suspects, Memento, and The Prestige are such that you have a fundamentally different sense of what the story is actually about the second time around, and it’s a question of whether or not that different story is interesting. Is the story of Verbal Kint/Keyser Soze (depending on how you look at the story) conning Agent Kujan as interesting as the story of Agent Kujan trying to figure out what happened at the pier? Is the story of Leonard Shelby setting himself up to murder John Gammell, both as revenge for being used by him and as a way to give himself closure, however briefly, over the death of his wife, as interesting as the story of Leonard trying to solve a murder mystery in an incapacitated state? Is the story of three magicians essentially living out large-scale versions of their own tricks in pursuit of their craft as interesting as the story of the rivalry between two magicians leading to a mysterious death?

And for me, the answer has always been, unequivocally, yes. Verbal/Keyser becomes a fascinating character on subsequent viewings — little gestures and facial expressions take on new meaning, and while you realize that he’s taking Kujan on something of a ride, you also come to the conclusion that some of it has to be true. It’s particularly unsettling if you conclude, as I do, that he’s telling the truth about having killed his own family. The ways in which both John Gammell and Natalie manipulate Leonard to their own ends, but also in which Leonard consistently manipulates himself, suggest that what Leonard really is in his damaged state is a loaded gun, and it’s just a question of who’s going to get to pull the trigger. One of the rewards of multiple viewings of The Prestige is understanding exactly why Borden figures out the goldfish bowl trick so quickly and why Angier doesn’t get it, to say nothing of seeing just how clever Christian Bale’s performance actually is, and that he very clearly differentiates between the two twins.

Particularly given my experience with Memento and The Prestige, I did my best to stay as ignorant as possible about Inception from the time I heard it announced until when I walked into the theatre for the first time — but it didn’t escape me that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was named “Cobb,” the same name given to the antagonist in Following. What would it come to mean, if anything? Would “Cobb” be nothing more than Nolan’s “Spota”? Or was there more to it?

The opening shot of Cobb sprawled and sputtering on the beach suggested even more of a connection to Following, since a very similar image plays an important role in the opening of that film as well (and as it works out, in both movies you don’t find out what these images actually mean until much later). About an hour into seeing it the first time, I started to become convinced that where the story was leading us to was the revelation that Mal was right, that she had escaped the dreamworld by throwing herself off the building and Cobb was still stuck, and that all of her manifestations were actually her entering Cobb’s dream to try to rescue him. Perhaps she was a “forger” as well, and that was why Saito echoed her line about a “leap of faith”. I prepared myself for this ending, expecting a montage of clips at the end that would replay some of Mal’s appearances with additional “behind the scenes” information presented, showing how they meant something else than what we, the audience, thought they meant at the time. I figured that even though I had figured it out, Nolan would be able to present it in a way that would make it work and that would be up to par with the rest of his work.

Can I tell you that I was really happy to be wrong, and that I was completely unprepared for the last five minutes of the film, much less the cut to black on the spinning, but wobbling, top? The “twist,” insofar as there was one, was really about Cobb’s soul and less about plot mechanics or where amongst the various levels of reality he actually was, and the final bit of ambiguity — the top’s losing stability, so it has to fall, right? Or does it? — is just enough to leave the audience with closure on Cobb’s emotional journey (the real story in the first place) even if you can argue until the cows come home whether or not he’s in the “real” world. It’s like the origami unicorn at the end of Blade Runner, except that by the time audiences could see a cut of Blade Runner where the origami unicorn meant what Ridley Scott intended it to mean, they were already prepared for it to mean that. I’m not sure anybody was expecting the top.

An assertion that some reviews I’ve read have made is that, with DiCaprio in the leading role, there are uncomfortable similarities with Shutter Island. I don’t disagree necessarily that there are parallels, but I also think the claim is misleading. With Shutter Island, I knew from reading the reviews that Teddy Daniels would turn out to be crazy; the only question I had watching it was just how this would unfold. Dom Cobb’s issues have to do with his dead wife, much as with Teddy Daniels, and Shutter Island makes you question the “reality” of what you’re seeing, but that’s just about the extent of the similarities. Cobb isn’t crazy, and there are far more levels of reality-bending at play in Inception than in Shutter Island. Shutter Island really is a “twist ending” thriller, whereas Inception is an emotional and psychological drama playing out in the framework of a caper movie. If you go into Inception expecting it to be Shutter Island meets Dark City, you will be expecting a much different movie than what you actually get.

Something the two definitely have in common, however, is that Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a knockout performance in the lead role. I hadn’t been all that interested in him before a couple of years ago — I noticed Russell Crowe in The Quick and the Dead but really couldn’t care less about Leo; Romeo + Juliet and Titanic were neither fantastic nor offensive performances, as far as I was concerned; I remember Gabriel Byrne a lot more than I remember him in The Man in the Iron Mask, and I hated hated hated The Beach. Then I saw The Departed, Blood Diamond, Shutter Island, and Body of Lies in reasonably rapid succession, and realized he had developed into a fantastic adult dramatic actor. As a friend of mine put it, he’s no longer an ingenue. He captures Cobb’s guilt and regret and makes them compelling, while still being able to sell us a “master extractor” at the top of his game.

I might suggest that DiCaprio is somewhat unconventional for Christopher Nolan as a leading man; Hugh Jackman and Aaron Eckhart are both classically good-looking man’s men; Guy Pearce, Christian Bale, and even Jeremy Theobald (at least in spots) all have kind of a drawn, chiseled quality the way he photographs them — not necessarily meaning that they’re ripped (although certainly Pearce, Bale, and Hugh Jackman are), but rather that there’s a particular air of cultivated masculinity about each of them, especially in the face. DiCaprio doesn’t really fit into either category (although Cillian Murphy’s Fischer fits in with Pearce and Bale), and he definitely doesn’t have the rippling muscles that Nolan takes pains to show us with Pearce, Bale, and Jackman. He starts to assume an air of something like the latter category when he’s “Mr. Charles” in level 2 of the dreamworld, but it’s clear that it’s an act, or a “gambit” as the movie explains. In any event, even if DiCaprio isn’t exactly doughy, he is more of a physical Everyman than Nolan has given us before (except maybe with Al Pacino, although even then, c’mon, it’s Al Pacino).

Thematically, Inception is very much a development of what Nolan has done before; as I’ve noted in earlier musings, there are recurring motifs in his work, and they’re all here. Fischer’s need to resolve his feelings of letting his father down mirrors Bruce Wayne’s struggle in Batman Begins. Domestic tragedy, time being messed with, people leading multiple lives with multiple identities (or even multiple people sharing an identity), the overwhelming desire to simply go home to one’s family, a hidden place where one is hiding the truth from everybody, often including themselves — and, curiously enough, agonizing leg injuries have started to pop up, starting with Angier falling through the trapdoor in The Prestige, Batman dropping Maroni in The Dark Knight, and now Mal shooting Arthur in the kneecap. In fact, in a lot of ways, Inception is a reworking of some of Memento‘s story, with even a repeated visual quote (the view of the wife lying down but shot so that she’s oriented vertically, since she’d be parallel to the person whose point of view is providing the shot), except that it’s the wife with the damaged mind, and Cobb is aware of his own role in Mal’s death, making revenge a non-starter, and the Cobbs have children, whereas Leonard and his wife did not — giving Cobb something else to live for, a meaning to his life beyond Mal’s death that Leonard didn’t have. Leonard describes his condition “like waking, like you just woke up”, and goes to great lengths at one point in the movie to construct a scenario where he will wake up and think he’s still in his own home — essentially the same idea as Inception‘s “dream within a dream”. Not only that, but John Gammell’s constant insistence that Leonard doesn’t know what reality is, that he’s “wandering around, playing detective” prefigures Mal’s speech to Cobb that “you don’t believe in one reality anymore”. Of course, a key difference here is that Mal’s wrong… right?

There are also interesting similarities to Following, too, beyond the name “Cobb”. Both movies are about a long con, but one can also draw lines of connection between Inception‘s Cobb and Ariadne, at least at the outset, and Following‘s Cobb and the Young Man. In both cases, Cobb is the master taking the apprentice under his wing, and the first dreamshare training sequence with Ariadne, with Cobb explaining how people populate their dreams with their subconscious, has a curious parallel to Cobb in Following breaking into the first apartment with the Young Man, and explaining how people’s things in their apartment reflect who they are. Cobb tells Ariadne that if they design a safe, the dreamer will automatically fill it with their secrets; Cobb tells the Young Man that “everybody has a box… that’s sort of an unconscious collection… [that] tells something very intimate about the people.”

It also seems to me that the concept of a “totem”, something by which one keeps track of reality, is everywhere in Nolan’s films, even if he hasn’t named it before. In Memento Leonard has his “system,” his photos and his tattoos. In Batman Begins there are the arrowhead and his father’s stethoscope. In The Prestige it is Borden’s ball. In The Dark Knight it’s Harvey’s coin. They also appear to have varying degrees of efficacy — Leonard’s “system” doesn’t work at all, for example, but Borden, at least one of him, seems to keep it together pretty well. (By the way, on the third viewing I noticed that Ariadne is madly fiddling with her totem on the plane at the end, as the camera pans from Arthur across to her. It’s a nice touch.)

Something else that strikes me about Inception is that it is a surprisingly low-tech movie. The technological conceit of dreamsharing is pulled off through compounds fed into the bloodstream via tubes in the arms leading from a gadget in a suitcase, rather than slick-looking headpieces that jack into the brain. There is one computer in the whole film, a rather chunky looking laptop; we only see two cell phones, and they’re barely used at all. Beyond that, tech isn’t really a factor, like at all. Professor Miles writes in what look like Moleskine notebooks, for heavens’ sakes.

To be honest, I argue that Inception isn’t even science fiction, any more than The Prestige is. Philip K. Dick’s definition of science fiction is that the technology, or what he called the “conceptual dislocation” of the world in the story from the real world, must “result [in] a new society… generated in the author’s mind” (From a 1981 letter printed as the preface to “Paycheck and Other Classic Stories”, PKD). There’s not really anything of the kind in Inception; you have a particular technological conceit that facilitates the story (Cobb dealing with Mal’s death) but is not itself what the story is about. Dick’s stories are usually all about how the “conceptual dislocation” creates a new world, with that “conceptual dislocation” being what drives the story forward. PKD’s version of the story would ask the question, “What would the world be like if this were possible?” and use Cobb’s emotional journey as the way of answering that question (if we’d even get Cobb’s emotional journey — Cobb would probably be named Wheaton or something like that and be an unhappy minor bureaucratic functionary who just happened to accidentally press the button on the machine at the wrong time); Nolan, by contrast, uses Cobb’s emotional journey to drive the story forward in Inception, not the technology. We don’t really see how this technology changes the world. The same applies to the The Prestige, at least Nolan’s film of it.

A criticism I hear of Nolan that baffles me is that his work is technically brilliant but cold and emotionally uninvolving. I just don’t get that at all. I find his movies highly emotionally involving; I fail to understand how anybody could see the vertical-lying-down shot of the wife in either Memento or Inception, or Angier’s attempt to drown himself in the sink in The Prestige, or the memory of Thomas Wayne with young Bruce and the stethoscope, or Harvey Dent waking up in the hospital and finding the scarred coin, and be left cold. Perhaps those are losses that one must be able to reasonably fear sharing themselves in order to be able to relate. I suspect that the familial losses experienced in Nolan’s movies are the very ones by which he himself would be devastated; certainly there is an allusion to his own personal situation in Inception when Cobb says that he and Mal “were working together” (Nolan’s wife, Emma Thomas, is also his producer), and we see another co-worker couple destroyed by their professional association in The Dark Knight (Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes). I wonder if there will be one down the road where the protagonist loses his child (present, but handled rather indirectly, in Insomnia).

So what’s the deal with the name “Cobb,” anyway? In Following Cobb is a smartly-dressed, violent thief who is ultimately long-conning the unnamed protagonist, and who disappears at the end leaving no trace of his existence. He’s nothing like Inception‘s Cobb… well, except for the part about the smartly-dressed thief pulling a long con, and I guess Inception‘s Cobb is violent at times, although only either in the context of a dream or when his life is in danger. Maybe Nolan is pulling some pieces from his early work and reforging them based on the artist he is now. Maybe “Cobb” is just a name; maybe it’s a reference to The Prisoner, a work that strikes me as likely having had an influence on Nolan (particularly since he was supposed to do a big-screen adaptation up until about a year ago). Cobb was a character in “Arrival,” the very first episode, a colleague of Number Six’s who had been brought to the Village only to commit suicide. At the end of the episode, it is revealed that his death was faked, and he was working with the Village all along. Anyway, it’s hard to say. Maybe it’s just one more thing to talk about endlessly.

So far, Nolan seems to going onward and upward. He’s the most exciting and interesting Hollywood filmmaker working right now, as far as I’m concerned, and while I can’t wait to see what he does next with Batman, there’s part of me that is even more interested to see what his next original story is like. (Although — I’ve said it before, but while I like the work Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard have done with him, I really hope he finds a way to work with David Julyan again as the composer.) Is he the next Kubrick? You know, I really don’t care — so far I’m plenty happy with him just being Nolan.

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Something I don’t usually do…

I’ve kept my comments here restricted to a few general categories — more to the point, there are a few things I’ve avoided talking about. I don’t talk about politics here (although perhaps some stances are indirectly discernible), I don’t generally blog about what I do at work (mostly because that would generate an even smaller number of readers; I work a desk job, and there’s not much to say), I don’t say much (with some exceptions) about my personal life, and I don’t for the most part do things like movie reviews.

Well, this isn’t going to be a movie review, exactly, but it’s going to be about movies, and it’s going to deal with, in large part, a movie you had a statistical likelihood of seeing this last weekend if you bothered darkening the door of your local movie theatre at all between midnight last Thursday and Sunday evening. (No, shocked as you may be, I’m not talking about Mamma Mia!)

I’ve been a Batman guy for a loooooooooong time. There was a little Brave and the Bold digest my mom brought me home once when I was probably about five and home sick; it collected this neat little Batman vs. Deadman story which was drawn by Neal Adams — “You Can’t Hide From a Deadman,” originally printed in Brave and the Bold #86, Oct/Nov 1969 — and I was hooked ever since. It was still a few years yet before I started reading comics regularly, but I remember coming in on the tail end of Batman: Year 2, reading Ten Nights of the Beast, The Killing Joke, and A Death in the Family when they were first printed (The Dark Knight Returns I came to about three years late or so just ’cause it looked kinda ugly to this ten year old when I first saw it on the shelves — let’s face it, I was just too young to get it), and I was definitely at the movie theatre on 23 June 1989 for the first night the Burton/Keaton Batman was playing, which I saw three times that summer while it was still in the theatres. A tick over nineteen years later, maybe not much has changed.

I’ve also been a Christopher Nolan guy for a good bit. I saw Memento three times when it was in theatres, and keep in mind that meant, at least for the first couple of times I saw it, driving about half an hour to the arthouse which was playing it. I talked it up to whomever would listen, took friends to see it, bought David Julyan’s score CD, bought the DVD (both versions), and so on. I bought (and quite liked) Following when it came out on DVD, and while for various reasons had to miss Insomnia when it was in theatres, I’ve enjoyed it on DVD since (but, truthfully, it remains the one I’ve seen the least number of times — maybe that’s nothing to lose sleep over?).

For me, getting to know a director’s work is getting to know what kinds of themes interest them, what kinds of images they consistently use, what they like to do with structure, which actors they re-use, who scores their movies, what kind of pattern they’re continuing (or establishing) with new works, and so on. To put it another way, a director is always infinitely more interesting to me when there is something more I can get out of one of their movies by placing it in the context of the rest of their work.

Which brings me to The Dark Knight. There are major spoilers to follow from The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Memento, Following, Insomnia, and The Prestige, so do read at your own risk.

I’ve seen it twice now; I was lucky enough to get in on the viral marketing IMAX ticket giveaway, only because I live in a market where two hours after the site went live there were still tickets available (although only just — I was 164/170), and thus saw it 50.5 hours before most of the rest of the world had a chance. I also saw it again (in IMAX, natch) last Friday night. I’ll get the easy stuff out of the way first: some movies are overhyped. A couple of well-edited trailers, a flashy marketing campaign, and a couple of glowing early reviews can all add up to a disappointing experience in the actual cinema because in the end, it’s “just a movie” and doesn’t cure cancer. The Dark Knight is not this movie — it is every bit as good as you’ve heard, and gets better on repeat viewings. Everybody brings their A-game, be they in front of the camera or behind the camera, be they in a big role or a small role, and they craft a crime epic for the ages along the lines of Heat or The Departed or L. A. Confidential. This isn’t Tim Burton’s self-aware, dark-but-comic freakshow; this isn’t Joel Schumacher tweaking your nose. And — I say this as somebody who saw Iron Man twice and who thinks it was absolutely terrific — this also definitely isn’t Jon Favreau’s bright, flashy, action-adventure story in which A Flawed But Ultimately Good Man Learns Something While Wearing A Costume. The Dark Knight takes the idea of a “comic book movie” and elevates it to a whole new genre and a whole new level of filmmaking; you’ll either like that or you won’t (I’ve read some reviews that say it’s pointless to try to elevate source material which is absurd to the core to the level of Hamlet), but if your reasons for not liking a movie like this have to do with the title character being dressed as a bat rather than wearing a shirt and tie, that’s really your problem, and not that of the filmmakers.

One thing about the story – two years ago, when the title was revealed and Nolan said it was “quite important to the film” (http://www.batman-on-film.com/batmovienewsarchives48.html), I immediately understood it to be a double entendre with “the dark night”. Putting that together with the recasting of Rachel Dawes rather than creating a new character (seeming to point to the need for somebody in whom we were already invested emotionally), I believed from that moment on that Rachel was going to be dead as a doornail by the end of the film. Sure enough. If the rumors are true that Rachel was originally supposed to be Harvey Dent in Batman Begins until there was a studio note saying “We need a chick in the pic, stat”, then that was a great way for Nolan to take it and run with it.

Okay — I haven’t said anything new there. You’ve probably read a dozen reviews which have said something similar, so I’ll move on now to what I really want to write about.

The Dark Knight keys off of several important ideas set up in Batman Begins; definitely that of “escalation,” established in the closing conversation in BB between Gordon and Batman, but also very much the repeated line, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me” as well as the notion that Batman isn’t just Bruce Wayne in a mask; it is in fact who Bruce Wayne actually is.

And as bleak as people are saying it is, the two important things with which you’re left at the end of the movie are a) nobody on either boat pressed the button and b) Batman did not let the Joker fall to his death — a correction of a huge misunderstanding on Tim Burton’s part nineteen years ago, and a clear indicator that Batman has decided that “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you” is no longer a clear enough line in the moral sand, not when your enemy has no rules whatsoever.

All well and good. However, looking at it through the lens of Nolan’s other work, bigger themes start to emerge. Much has been made of how much Nolan likes to play with time, but that’s really window dressing, a story-telling tool rather than a theme (and it’s telling how, as he has matured as a filmmaker, he’s done it less and less). Identity, on the other hand, has been a key question in his movies from the get-go; Following and The Prestige study characters who deliberately take on other identities but then find that they can’t just simply go back to normal when they’re done. The narrator of Following turns himself into somebody who seems slick and clever and affluent, emulating Cobb as much as he can at Cobb’s own encouragement, but in doing so he makes it impossible to prove that Cobb ever existed and/or that he’s not, in fact, Cobb — which was, of course, “all part of the plan” in the first place. Angier and Borden in The Prestige both are leading double lives (I’ve always thought it was particularly clever of Nolan to cast as his leads actors most famous for playing superheroes, and that it added a fascinating subtext to the film), and must maintain the “act” at all costs, to the extent that their lives are quite dependent on it. In trying to figure out each other’s magic tricks, Angier and Borden are actually solving the problem of who the other person actually is.

Memento‘s Leonard Shelby, on the other hand, is an examination of how our natural identities depend on how we experience time and form memories — if we can’t, we’re slaves to external sources of information, never able to trust our own instincts about who we are. As a result, Leonard can never stop mourning the death of his wife, because his own perception of time (or lack thereof) can never provide any distance from it. It will always have just happened for him.

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight bring many of these concepts together. Bruce Wayne, as depicted by Nolan, his brother Jonathan, and David Goyer, has assumed at least one identity (if not two, counting the “playboy Bruce” persona) which changes him and those with whom he interacts permanently. At the same time, the whole reason he does so is because, to a certain extent, he can never get past the trauma of losing his parents, because the one way he knows to heal, revenge, has been taken from him — and he realizes it won’t necessarily do what he hopes for anyway. One way or the other, he’s permanently emotionally stuck, much like Leonard Shelby, and this drives him to take on the dual persona (which is itself an interesting inversion of Bale’s character/characters in The Prestige, Borden — two men having to lead one life). To apply Memento‘s questions, then — can Bruce trust his own sense of who he is? Is the Batsuit really a message he sends to criminals, or a message he’s sending to himself, much like Leonard Shelby’s tattoos? To apply The Prestige‘s questions, can he stop being Batman without causing himself, to say nothing of others, harm?

Several of the films deal with familial loss; Memento and The Prestige both with the loss of a wife under circumstances which are left ambiguous, Batman Begins obviously having the murder of parents as a pivotal point (but also has Ra’s Al Ghul talking about taking vengeance for a murdered wife), and The Dark Knight has the murder of Harvey Dent’s fiancée as a major engine of the plot (while also showing Gordon’s wife mourning his death in the line of duty). All of these cases are motivators for vengeance, but in The Prestige in particular it’s clear that Angier’s lust for revenge eventually wanes, and he continues out of the sheer momentum of hatred — “I don’t care about my wife, I care about his secret,” he spits out halfway through the movie. Looking forward, perhaps we can surmise that Bruce Wayne eventually faces the danger of being Batman just to be Batman, with no particular purpose driving him.

One can draw a line of connection between Dormer’s corruption in the name of catching the bad guys in Insomnia to what Gordon and Batman choose to do at the end of The Dark Knight; if it can be proven Dormer planted evidence even once, then it calls all of the convictions to which he’s contributed into question. In TDK, if Harvey’s spree as Two-Face is made public, their efforts to fight the mob will have been entirely in vain. Bending the rules to make the criminals pay is a slippery slope in Nolan’s universe, one with very real consequences. Even if everything ostensibly turns out all right, somebody will have to pay the piper — and sometimes it’s the wrong person.

(By the way, Nolan has mentioned that Aaron Eckhart was looked at for Memento. I think one can look at Eckhart’s Two-Face for a glimpse of what he might have been like as Leonard Shelby. I think that was a career-defining performance for Guy Pearce, so I wouldn’t have it any other way, but Eckhart would have been really interesting in the role. Different from what we got, but definitely interesting.)

In terms of recurring visual motifs — there is always a “lair” in Nolan’s film, a location where the main character’s dark secrets are hidden and their true identity may be found. This goes all the way back to Following, where The Young Man takes Cobb to his apartment under the ruse that it’s somebody else’s (and of course Cobb knows what’s going on immediately). In Memento it is the basement of the abandoned building where Jimmy Gantz’s body and Leonard’s real clothes have been left. In Insomnia it is Finch’s cabin. In Batman Begins and The Dark Knight it is the Batcave (or its temporary replacement). In The Prestige it is the theatre basement where all of Angier’s “prestige materials” are kept. More often than not it involves “going down” someplace; I will leave others more qualified to speak about Jungian psychology to discuss the implications of the “descent” into the place where one keeps secrets, potentially even from oneself.

Breaking of legs is something which has shown up twice in a row now — Angier falls through a trapdoor and the cushion has been removed, shattering the entire limb from the looks of the brace he’s put in, and Batman drops Sal Maroni from a height which is just enough to break his ankle (although Nolan is far more subtle about showing Maroni with a cane later than he is with Angier). Being a year and a half out from a broken ankle myself and still recovering to some degree, both of those moments make me squirm each time.

Casting is an interesting point — Nolan doesn’t quite seem to have the “stock company” of David Mamet or, to a lesser degree, of David Lynch or Tim Burton, but three films in a row now have starred Christian Bale and Michael Caine. To some extent, Bale, Guy Pearce, and maybe Following‘s Jeremy Theobald, too have a visual continuity I can’t quite explain — distinctive faces which wear woundedness well, maybe. Bale and Pearce definitely have a carved-out-of-wood quality — and I don’t mean that in a bad way — to their facial and bodily structures (harder to say with Theobald). Hugh Jackman and Aaron Eckhart are somewhat the opposite — classically good-looking men who you want to like and have be the ostensible good guys (which, naturally, is what makes their characters more interesting when they turn). Mark Boone Junior has had significant supporting roles a couple of times, Theobald showed up in a bit role in Batman Begins, and Larry Holden is quite the chameleon, going from L. A. lowlife Jimmy Gantz in Memento to the dapper D. A. Finch in Batman Begins (as well as having a bit in Insomnia). He gets really interesting performances out of people, be it well-established character actors like Joe Pantoliano or Andy Serkis or people harder to define, such as David Bowie — who, by the way, I really wished would have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nod for Tesla. He was onscreen for all of ten minutes, maybe, but he owned every frame in which he appeared. I’d love for Nolan to find a reason to cast Carrie-Anne Moss again — her appearance in Memento is still the most interesting thing she’s ever done, in black vinyl or out of it, as far as I’m concerned. (Probably, since she’s being cast in “mom” roles now — at all of 40! — she would be out of the running for a future cinematic appearance of Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Maybe she could play Selina’s mother, Cougarwoman?) Gary Oldman disappears so completely into the role of Gordon that it’s hard to tell if Nolan is actually giving him any direction or if he’s just getting out of the way.

So — back to The Dark Knight for a moment. What’s ahead? Where can a third Batman movie potentially go Or, to put it another way, what in the world do they do to top this one? And I think the answer is, they need to not bother trying. They need to go in the opposite direction and do something smaller, grittier, more – dare I say it – intimate. Maybe even something which feels more like a stage play than a movie – I don’t know, something more like Memento (and maybe even with David Julyan scoring rather than the Zimmer/Howard team, good as it is). They’ve set it up well to go in that direction – Batman is on the run (although presumably Bruce Wayne is not, since his being outed was prevented), his relationship with Lucius is strained (if not severed entirely) so that he won’t be able to just go to him with gadget requests anymore, and so on. Somehow he’ll have to repair what the events of The Dark Knight have broken, but that’s going to require operating on a smaller scale for awhile, I expect. Robin could work within this thematic framework, but it seems unlikely they’d go that way. Presumably in a third movie we’d be able to return to Wayne Manor, which itself could thematically represent some sort of shift back to the status quo.

In terms of what this means for a villain – hard to say. I would say that the Riddler could work on the thematic level – possibly something like Saw, only, y’know, worth watching. I’d be really surprised if the people at the helm wanted to revisit the character. Hard to say. I wonder if maybe somebody like Talia wouldn’t work, perhaps continuing her father’s efforts? It would certainly tie into what’s come before, and with Batman as a reluctant outlaw, there would be the element of temptation for him to join her on several levels. Catwoman could be done easily within the rules of Nolan’s universe, but I doubt Warner Bros. wants to go anywhere near that character for awhile.

(Here’s an idea – what about a Gotham Central TV series set in the Nolanverse between TDK and film #3 — The Dark Knight Returns??? — ? If Batman is having to be in hiding to some extent, then he can just be a vague, undefined presence to some extent who doesn’t have to directly appear.)

(Which reminds me – having watched the Gotham Knight DVD a few times now, too, I’ll say that presumably, Anna Ramirez was used instead of Renee Montoya because the powers that be didn’t want Renee Montoya to wind up as a dirty cop. That said, “Crossfire” now makes less sense as a result, not more – unless the point was to make her fall be even tougher for those who figured she was just a generic Montoya stand-in. Also, the Goyer segment doesn’t exactly jive with what we see of Crane at the beginning of The Dark Knight, but at the same time, Gotham Knight appears to also forget that Wayne Manor burned down during Batman Begins, so it’s not an exact match anyway.)

(I will also note that I think the Joker could be recast. Likely? No. Possible? Yes. Nolan would just have to do what he did this time, which is find the best actor for the job.)

(Okay, enough with the parentheticals.)

(I mean it.)

Maybe the biggest clue is in the final scene. It’s clear that Nolan and co. regard the Batman/Gordon relationship as the moral foundation of the particular stories they’re telling. That may seem obvious, but I think it’s very much underscored in the last scene of TDK, which is a clear counterpoint to the last scene of BB. For example –- Gordon telling Batman “thank you” and him replying, “You don’t have to thank me” seems to be very much a reference to the last line of BB, and in general both scenes function to wrap up the moral point of the preceding story and establish what the guiding principle will be for the next one. Given that, as much as escalation was the driving force of TDK, can we surmise that Gotham learning to accept the hero they need will be the plot engine of the third film?

Enough for now. I have plenty to say about all of this, but this is already quite long. I’ll come back to it another day, maybe.


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