Scene Is Believing: The Dark Knight

Crazy clown time- The Dark Knight’s Joker interrogation


For this month’s Scene is Believing, I thought it would be apt to (a) look back at the previous chapter in director Christopher Nolan’s unintended Batman trilogy, and (b) take a look at his favourite scene from that film, which underscores even further the influence of Michael Mann’s Heat , itself the subject of a previous Scene Is Believing.

After a sting concocted by Batman, D.A Harvey Dent, and Commissioner Gordon to draw out the Joker, Gotham’s latest embodiment of crime escalation is in custody. But the Clown Prince of Crime (or Chaos, as this incarnation prefers), is several steps “ahead of the curve”. He has orchestrated not only Dent’s kidnap, but that of Bruce Wayne’s / Batman’s childhood friend and confidante, Rachel Dawes.  After Gordon uncuffs him at the dimly lit table of the interrogation room and leaves, an electric confrontation follows between this wired freak and Batman’s barely controlled fury…

This key scene was filmed early on, so all involved had plenty of time to work on the nuances. Apart from the fight choreography, when an enraged Batman wails on Joker with his fists (and a nasty headbutt), the rest was largely unrehearsed. Heath Ledger  had a lot of freedom with his interpretation of the role. Nolan said:

“Our Joker — Heath’s interpretation of The Joker — has always been the absolute extreme of anarchy and chaos, effectively. He’s pure evil through pure anarchy. And what makes him terrifying is to not humanise him in narrative terms. Heath found all kinds of fantastic ways to humanise him in terms of simply being real and being a real person, but in narrative terms we didn’t want to humanise him, we didn’t want to show his origins, show what made him do the things he’s doing because then he becomes less threatening.”

Costume designer Lindy Hemming had made improvements to the Batsuit, basing it on real life body armour over a layer of mesh, with a more flexible neck piece. Now Nolan and his DP Wally Pfister felt it could stand closer scrutiny. At first the interrogation between Gordon and the Joker is lit only by a desk lamp. When Gordon leaves the room, a harsh buzzer sounds as the door is unlocked. Cut to the Joker looking irritated. The full harsh strip lights hum to life, to reveal Batman has been standing silently in the deep shadow behind him. Nolan pauses a beat for the audience to take this in, before Batman slams Joker’s head to the table -“not exactly” bad cop, as Joker and Gordon discussed.

The scene was filmed in the Farmiloe building in London’s Smithfield, originally a Victorian sheet lead and glass manufacturer. Now it is used by many film-makers, because of its varied interiors. Nolan described the look of production designer Nathan Cowley’s room as akin to “an abattoir” – grimy tiles, dirty safety glass and hard, grungy lighting and sharp surfaces, suitable for the ugly encounter to follow. Wally Pfister greatly overexposed the lighting. As well as showing the intimidating detail of the batsuit, seemingly sucking light from the room into Batman’s dark fury, it also shows up in sickly detail, the decayed, cracked macabre make-up of the Joker’s “mask”.

As they talk at first across the table, Nolan uses tight close-ups and over the shoulder shots, with a little drift to the camera. Heath Ledger bobs about slightly. “That way, even in a tight frame, you have this sense of strangeness,” Nolan told Jeff Boucher of LA Times Hero Complex. By contrast, Batman is like a coiled spring, who lets Joker know exactly what he thinks of him. “Don’t talk like one of them, you’re not,” Joker recriminates, sounding disappointed. In the Heat diner scene, McCauley and Hanna warily see each other as professionals, flip sides of the same coin. By the time of The Dark Knight, Batman’s extreme methods have brought all the crazies out from under the floorboards. The Joker sees Batman as his eternal nemesis, the two of them forever locked in eternal conflict. “I don’t want to kill you,” he giggles incredulously. “You complete me.”

Batman’s rage truly erupts when Joker reveals Rachel is also in danger. He drags Joker bodily across the table and beats on him. “WHERE ARE THEY?!” he yells. He then drags a chair under the door handle, preventing Gordon from breaking it up. The camera is now all hand held, close in on the violence unleashed in this cauldron. Now it’s personal.

“Tonight, you’re going to break your one rule, “Joker taunts Batman. “I’m considering it,” Batman growls, but he doesn’t get it. Joker knows he’ll only have time to save either Dent or Rachel – he’s counting on Batman feeling the guilt of letting one die. The Joker simply doesn’t give a damn. “You have nothing to threaten me with, “he giggles. “Nothing to do with all your strength.”

Batman’s impotence in the face of this is brilliantly revealed by Christian Bale’s eyes within the cowl, subtly registering his impossible dilemma. The joker deigns to tell him their locations on his own terms, because “It’s all part of the plan.” And his only plan is to upturn Batman’s (and Gotham’s) moral code. As Christopher Nolan says, “How do you fight someone who thrives on conflict?”


Originally posted 2012-08-01 06:13:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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