Christopher Nolan & Emma Thomas—The Dark Knight Rises, Batman Begins—7/8/12 & 5/3/05

Together, writer-director Christopher Nolan and producer Emma Thomas have crafted the acclaimed thrillers Following; Memento; Insomnia; The Prestige; Inception; the Batman films Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises; and three children. In 2005, their latest baby was Batman Begins, which Nolan and Thomas—then nine-months pregnant with their third child—discussed at the L.A. press junket for the film. I spoke with Nolan again in 2012, during the Beverly Hills press junket for The Dark Knight Rises.

Part One (July 8, 2012):

Groucho: This film [The Dark Knight Rises] amplifies and resolves the main themes of the trilogy, one of which is mythmaking, and the discussion of the Batman Gotham needs. Chris, can you talk a little bit about your mythmaking, making Batman relevant to the post-9/11 world...?

Christopher Nolan: One of the things I've enjoyed about working with these characters is they are, as Christian [Bale] says: they've got a potential to be topical. And the reason for that is they're not real. It's not real life. You're dealing with a heightened reality. You're not dealing with, y'know, Chicago or New York; you're dealing with Gotham. And that gives you a very interesting world to be able to play with in a very heightened way, a very operatic way. These are larger-than-life characters, and I very much enjoyed tapping into the sort of operatic sensibility of that, and really try to push the audience and the audience's emotions in extreme directions using the extremity of those characters, and I think naturally from that you’re aiming for a sort of mythic status. And I think, as you point out in your question, really, there’s a nice correspondence between that impulse in why you want to make the film and why audiences hopefully want to enjoy the film, and what Bruce Wayne's doing. There's a very important scene between Michael Caine's character, Alfred, and Christian's character in Batman Begins, where they're on the plane and they talk about—before he's come up with the idea, or specifically, with the symbolism of the bat—he talks about what he's going to do. And Alfred, as somebody who looks after him and cares for him, the only reason he goes along with it is there's a logic to it, and the logic which we found as we worked on the character was it had to be about symbolism; it had to be about, as you said, mythmaking, and about offering Batman as a symbol of—positively a symbol of hope for the people in a very corrupt society that's looking for some kind of tipping point, to come back to good. So that’s really always been at the heart of Bruce Wayne’s story, and why he gravitates towards this extremely symbolic character.

Part Two (February 3, 2005):

Groucho: This film [Batman Begins] has a lot of relevance to the post 9/11 world, with the fear-toxin anthrax and the terrorism and response to that. How did you hit on that angle, and how helpful is Batman as a model of response to human devastation?

Christopher Nolan: I think we hit on it as a model simply through drawing from the history of the comics and relating thematically to what's most interesting about Batman, which to me was the idea of fear and the use of his symbolism of his greatest fear to turn fear against his opponents. Everything really stems from that. There really wasn't any conscious attempt to reflect the world we live in. I just think that—myself and David Goyer, in writing the script—you know, we all live in the same world, and we're influenced by the same things. But certainly, everything came very much from the comics and mythology of the comics. As far as Batman as a model of response, I mean, I—he's a very dangerous model of response, but that's partly the point of the story. I think that if one were to see the film for a second time or be watching a particular way, there are quite a few drawbacks that are presented to his approach and his response. But that's what's interesting about him as a character. He is flawed. He has very dark impulses, and whilst he's channeling those into something heroic—and there is a great deal of positivity and heroism relating to that—there is a price to be paid for it.

G: The climax with the last bad guy is a very ambiguous moment in that way.

CN: Yeah.

G: How do you read that as—how much of his anger is really under control by the end of this film?

CN: Well, I think that it's harnessed, you know. And that is a form of control. It doesn't mean it's not there, and it doesn't mean that it's suppressed, but it's channeled and it's harnessed. And that, to me, is what keeps him as a character frightening to his opponents and to all of us to some extent....

G: Readers linger on comic book frames, but obviously movies are about motion.

CN: Yes.

G: What was your visual agenda for the film, and how much was discovered in the editing room?

CN: Well, you're always discovering a lot in the editing room. Particularly with action, you have to overshoot a lot, and you have to shoot an enormous amount of material because those type of sequences very much have to be discovered in the editing and manipulated in the editing. But for the rest of it, my shooting style was really identical to what it's been on previous films, actually. I don't think there was any accommodation. And for me, one of the trickier things was to have the guts, really, to build colossal sets and then not shoot them—you know, and just shoot the scene the way I felt it should be shot. But, you know, everybody was okay with that. (He and Emma laugh.) It worked out....

G: Thank you.

CN: Thank you.

[For the complete Batman Begins L.A. junket roundtable interview transcript, click here.]

[For Groucho's review of Batman Begins, click here.]

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