By Isaac Butler
I just want to quickly double down on a point I made yesterday about how important the frame of a piece is to the audience's acceptance of narrative illogic. Yesterday, I saw the new Batman film. I was not a fan. I don't want to belabor this point, actually. I have no desire to ruin the fun of the many friends of mine who enjoyed it. And I didn't hate it. And I didn't find it hateful. And there's good stuff in there (it actually gets Catwoman right, for example).
But in amongst all the stuff are a lot of things that make no sense. Actually, most of the movie doesn't make a whole lot of rational sense. Most of what the characters do is done to support the plot, but the plot also has some really really huge holes in it. Again, i don't want to belabor this point, although if people wanna argue it in the comments, I'll get into it there.
I'm pretty sure that there are all sorts of things in The Dark Knight that similarly wouldn't make sense if I stopped and thought about it, but I was so swept up by TDK that up until the prison boat scene, I didn't really question it. Similarly with Louie, the frame that CK has created both supports the illogic of the show and actively takes advantage of it.
I think, therefore, one of the reasons why I so disliked-- and didn't buy-- The Dark Knight Rises has to do with some of its framing. First, one of the things we always learned in directing school is that one of the most important tasks of a director is to ensure the audience that they are in good hands. Even when you are tricking them or keeping them off balance, you want the audience to know that someone is in control so that they can relax and actually view the thing you're seeing. In literature, of course, we talk about the "contract with the reader" and establishing it quickly at the outset and violating that contract only with good purpose.
The Dark Knight Rises fails to do this. In fact, it puts its worst foot forward. The opener on the plane with Aiden Gillen might be the weakest (on both a writing and filmmaking level) five minutes of Christopher Nolan's career. And I say this as a booster of and apologist for Nolan's work. Each beat rings falser and weirder than the one before it, from Gillen introducing himself as "CIA" to no one thinking that the dude with the super-amplified voice might be Bane to Bane's voice sounding the same whether the hood is on or off and not appearing to come from anywhere to the utter incomprehensibility of the action sequence. Gillen's performance is also very bizarre. Like many actors who are exquisite at playing a blank slate, he's awful when he has to go large.
This is too bad because there's a lot of great stuff in the first act of the film that comes immediately afterward. There's lots of problems with that section too, but there's so much panache and things of genuine interest that I ended up forgiving them, but the problem is the broken first few minutes really primed me as a viewer to look for things that weren't working and by the New York Stock Exchange section, they had mounted up enough that I stopped engaging with the film.
Beyond that, the film's overt claims to realism undercut it's ability to get this stuff past me as well. The first film is so heavily embued with allegory and Joseph Campbell and montages that that stuff didn't bother me. The second film has such a larger than life presense in the Joker and takes place in a Gotham that's so extremely cartoonish in its Gothamness that whatever problems there were didn't bother me. The third film is set more firmly in our world than the other two. In the third, Gotham is squarely New York City. The day to day realities of the city are overtly more aligned with the day to day realities of NYC. By setting it in a more real world it becomes harder to overlook the stuff in it that doesn't feel real.