Was The Dark Knight Trilogy ‘Emotionless?’
That’s the question many people are pondering right now. Director Christopher Nolan arguably has made some of the best films of all time. He has been praised by critics and audiences alike for virtually every film he has directed. However, Nolan has opened up a question for everyone to ponder now about the movies he makes. “I’ve had people writing about my films as being emotionless, yet I have screened those same movies and people have been in floods of tears at the end,” Nolan told Playboy in a recent interview. If his films are emotionless, that means for many Batman fans, the emotional journey they took beginning in 2005 with Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins simply did not exist.
For Nolan and actor Christian Bale, the main point of The Dark Knight films was the emotions of the character. Bale’s Bruce Wayne suffered through the death of his parents and sought to find meaning in his life. He did not think there was much Gotham had left to offer. So, he decided to travel the world for seven years. He lived outside of Gotham and experienced what life was like in different countries and culture. He hoped to gain a perspective as to why people do evil deeds for their own selfish or sick reasons. Eventually, Wayne’s journey led him to Ra’s al Ghul and The League of Shadows, where he was trained to be an assassin. However, he chose to abandon them once he figured out that was the exact goal of his training.
Wayne and Ra’s al Ghul eventually fight one another as al Ghul seeks to destroy Gotham because of the inherent corruption in everything within the city. Wayne still believes there is a chance for his city to turn around and for people to be better than they currently are. That’s the crux of the first film. It’s about hope and that a man can turn something negative into a positive. There’s a great deal of emotion in many of the scenes between Wayne and his faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth., played by Michael Caine. At different points, Wayne wonders if he can continue on believing in himself and the crusade he started to fight crime in Gotham. It’s Pennyworth who is there for him. Yet, it’s in The Dark Knight where his entire mission is tested by the introduction of an anarchist who self-identifies as The Joker.
As The Joker cuts through the film similar to the shark from Jaws, Nolan noted once, he changes the lives of every single person throughout the movie. He ends up killing the childhood friend of Wayne, Rachel, who he loved quite a lot. He also loses a promising ally, Harvey Dent, who turns evil because of The Joker’s influence and into Two-Face. Wayne’s entire life and those of his friends and allies are changed for the worst by The Joker and he questions the very nature of his life’s mission. Wayne is a very emotional creature. Loss seems to be something he cannot escape and it continues forward as he has to deal with added trauma to his life such as the death of Rachel.
The fall of everything for Wayne is a tragic story and impacts even Pennyworth, his surrogate father figure. When he has the chance to rise again in the aptly titled The Dark Knight Rises, it’s where Wayne finally reclaims the mission of the Bat mantle and is successful in putting an end to the last war with Bane, played by Tom Hardy. He is eventually able to escape the burden of the Wayne name and live a life of love and happiness elsewhere, something later on Pennyworth comes to recognize when he encounters Wayne outside of Gotham.
The idea of tragedy Nolan employs throughout his three films is a powerful and emotional experience he puts his audience through. He allows them to encounter the despair and sadness Wayne goes through and the eventual rise back to hope and positivity he experiences at the end of his crusade. He once had it in the beginning but it began to dissipate over time. He recaptures it after his last battle and with the love of his life, Selina Kyle, played by Anne Hathaway.
In each of his films, Nolan rises to the occasion to provide an emotional narrative that allows his audience to get inside the head of his main protagonists such as Bruce Wayne. The very notion any of his films could be emotionless seems completely contradictory to the thesis he espouses with each of his movies about hope. That creates an emotional experience for audiences everywhere. It allows us to identify with the lead character and understand life outside of ourselves.
About the author: Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, addiction and recovery and the entertainment industry.