In Nolan We Trust

Courtesy Warner Bros

I’m very heartened by a few of the things I’ve been seeing in the form of trailers. The Hunger Games looks like it’s being faithful to its excellent source material, Men In Black 3 is promising a return to some of the original deadpan and quirky humor that made the first film so much fun (we’ll see if it delivers), and of course The Hobbit. Singing Dwarves. ‘Nuff said, Peter Jackson, shut up and take my money.

In the midst of all this, The Dark Knight Rises. As much as the trailer featured a smoldering Anne Hathaway, eerie chanting, a glimpse of Gotham during peacetime and the goddamn Batwing, most geeks just want to talk about Bane. Specifically, his voice.

Word round the nerdy campfire is that he was particularly muffled during the seven minute prologue sequence some audiences saw in IMAX theatres before Mission Impossible 4. And while his line to Batman in the trailer is clear – if you’re paying attention – people want director Christopher Nolan to fix Bane’s voice in post. The Hollywood Reporter, however, tells us Nolan will do no such thing.

This is hardly surprising to me. Chris Nolan gave us Memento and Inception. I won’t go into too much detail about Nolan’s earlier work as I’m saving that for the last ICFN of 2011, and my original review of Inception is still available. And remember that cage match I had between Inception and Ocean’s Eleven? Good times. But I’m wandering off-topic. My point is, even in work like The Prestige, Nolan as a writer & director does not make decisions lightly. Let’s consider, for a moment, why he’d choose Bane and go so far as to make these apparent design choices.

Remember how in The Dark Knight, the Joker rarely attempts to deal with Batman in a direct physical confrontation? He uses assault rifles and rocket launchers, goons and attack dogs, head games and innocent people. He never really seems interested in outright killing Batman, opting instead to try and dismantle the man’s faith and motivations. Physicality was about the last thing on anybody’s mind other than the notion that Batman would paste the Joker about seven different ways if it weren’t for his one rule.

Bane, on the other hand, is an extremely physical character. Rather than being divorced from his mind and his will, his body is an extension of it. He’s entirely single-minded and very driven, much like Batman. The substances pumped into him, via head-tubes in the comics and his mask in this upcoming film, allow his body to match the speed and power of his mind. Batman will always be limited by what his body can do and how much punishment it can take. Bane exceeds those limits, and he can and will push Batman past them.

Enter Christopher Nolan. What do you do after you pit Batman against an entirely cerebral opponent? You up the stakes, of course, by making his next foe not only cunning and ruthless but also a powerhouse. You don’t want to tip your hand too soon, though. You have to maintain the mystery. You can’t let the ending of your saga be a foregone conclusion. Maybe Bane will kill Batman. Maybe he’s not the same Bane from the comics for a very specific reason, one that ties into your first Batman film and one of the aspects of a fascinating character born out of the animated series. How do you keep people from taking too many guesses?

Remember, theatricality and deception can be powerful tools.

In addition to encouraging audience members to keep up with you rather than simply pandering to them, conveying Bane’s voice in a realistically muffled way adds a layer of obfuscation to Nolan’s work. It not only makes the character more mysterious and menacing, it gives the public at large and the cynical critics of the Internet in particular something to consider, gripe about and worry over. It distracts them from bigger questions. It waters their enthusiasm. It keeps them off-balance.

I’m not saying Nolan specifically made this choice on purpose to mess with people on the Internet, but at this point, I can’t put it past him. He’s enjoyed so much success so far and done it in such a cerebral way that people can’t help themselves. They’ll go to great lengths to seek out, analyze and ultimately downplay even the tiniest aspects of his work. Nobody can be this brilliant, you see. Nobody can outsmart the Internet. Nobody’s allowed to be this successful without creating a bomb. Remember that bit in the original Spider-Man where Osborn tells Peter that people love seeing a hero fall almost as much as they like seeing them succeed? Nolan’s a hero to many. To set him up for a fall this way can be cathartic. It would mean that everybody is fallible, and if he falls, other film-makers can rise to take his place, even from the relative obscurity of the Internet.

I say let Bane be a bit muffled, a little hard to understand. Make the audience work to fully understand every aspect of the work in front of them. It made Memento and Inception such brilliant works, after all, why not apply the same mentality to a comic book movie? Likewise, if you know the Internet’s going to be going through your work, even a two-minute trailer, with a fine-toothed comb looking for nits to pick, why not give them a cause for concern? Let them blow up over something relatively insignificant rather than ruminate on plot and motivational points. Because, let’s face it, even if Bane ends up losing a word or two to idiots in the cinemas who are too busy stuffing their faces with overpriced popcorn to pay attention, when they inevitably buy the Blu-ray combo pack they’ll just turn the subtitles on. Problem solved.

Looking back over what I just wrote, I might be coming off as a Nolan fanboy and my argument may be dismissed on those grounds. So be it. Such dismissals don’t address what I’m trying to say, which is that Bane is going to be an effective villain, an excellent counterpoint to the Joker, and I for one am really looking forward to discerning every word that comes out of that mask. Incidentally, you notice how the tubes are arranged in such a way to resemble skeletal hands prying his mouth open? I dig that.

Let me hear your thoughts on this. I’m curious. Do you still think Nolan is worthy of our trust? Is he pulling a fast one on the Internet so he can blow them out of the water in 2012?

1 Comment

  1. These days the internet is another way of saying “they”. Why would Nolan care what they say? Any artist on Nolan’s level is discriminating about the feedback they receive; he will listen to the feedback he finds most useful in proportion. He’s consistantly found a good balance between challenging and stimulating his audience, and in challenging anyone you meet resistance. The movie will make the money it’s going to make, receive the reviews it will receive and Nolan will learn the lessons is going to learn. Not liking a character’s voice is trivial feedback compared to the sheer number narrative and technical choices a movie has to make, and will be considered in kind.

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