Why The Dark Knight Rises is the best film of the year

“You’ve given these people everything.”

“Not everything. Not yet.”

-The best exchange of The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR).

TDKR is a film people have been waiting for for four years. A film that many people lost sleep (including myself) fantasizing about. A film that had controversy and violence around it in Aurora, Colorado. A film that has been praised and ripped apart by many people. A film this divisive shouldn’t be titled “Best Film of the Year”, right? And yet it’s a film that deserves such a title.

I’ve seen TDKR 5 times now. That’s 13 hours and 45 minutes that most would say that I wasted away. But why did I see it more than once when I hated it the first time (I travelled to another city to watch it in IMAX)? Because TDKR is a film that connects with one’s spirit, not with one’s mind. I over analyzed what I was watching in IMAX the first time, and only upon repeat viewings did I praise it for what it is. It’s the most emotional film Christopher Nolan has directed, the frames saturated in nostalgia and feeling at times. People have criticized its various plot holes for being unrealistic and impossible. I say to them: So what? Look past all the plot stuff, the HOW of things, and soak in the Story for what it is and you see the brilliance, the magic and the beauty of The Dark Knight Rises.

Nolan decided to set the story 8 years after The Dark Knight (TDK), a genius move. We’ve spent half that time waiting for it anyway. And he’s illustrated how things have changed in those 8 years: the cops are so complacent and lazy, Bruce is sustaining his long term injuries (which in a lesser film he would have brushed off and continued fighting crime), Wayne Industries is run into the ground, and so no one sees “a storm” coming, in the form of the masked man, Bane.

Bane is such a cool and colorful character, and this has been a recurring motif within the The Dark Knight Trilogy (populate the scenery with colorful individuals) and this one has them in spades. Bane’s voice has been described as many things, and I’ve been practicing my impression for a long time (my sister keeps laughing at me when I try). He certainly has the best lines in the movie, preaching them as gospel for Gotham. Whenever he appears on screen, suddenly you see this towering mass of sinew and tension fill the frame, augmenting the freakiness of the mask. Speaking of which, how does Bane eat food? Does he inject an IV of nuclear Nutella to fuel his unceasing rampage?

For me, where TDKR really scores is in Bruce Wayne’s arc through the movie. What I’ve realized is this is Bruce’s story at the end of the day, and when Rachel died, so did a part of him. Christian Bale’s performance echoes the torture that his soul has endured because of the guilt of not being able to save her. The question Nolan puts forth to us is: What if Batman consumed Bruce Wayne entirely? Bruce always had to balance between his identities, and the trilogy really carries the erosion of that balance  all the way. Rachel was Bruce’s moral compass, his link to that identity, and when she died, most of Bruce died with her and only Batman remained. In the first act of TDKR, we see how he doesn’t fear death and how he doesn’t behave rationally when it comes to sizing up Bane. Bale’s face conveys the fatigue that his mask has put on him for all these years and his voice sounds weary as well. This is why Batman’s fall feels inevitable in the movie, it isn’t shocking, just like in the comics. Alfred was always right about Bruce wanting to fail; he’s lost everything that gave him a purpose: Rachel and the people of Gotham. He is alone in this world, save for Alfred (who he takes for granted), and he doesn’t see any other end to his story. When Bruce is sentenced to the pit, not only does his body rise up, but also his true self emerges from within.

The naive

The wiser

The wisest

We were given two female superheroes this summer: Black Widow and Selina Kyle (no one really calls her Catwoman right?) and I think Selina is the more fun woman to watch (Johansson had that whole red mark ledger thing weighing The Avengers down). I recently read a few articles on TDKR, one of which claims that Nolan’s female characters either represent innocent naivete or selfish betrayal, and Selina falls in the former category. The Batman-Kyle chemistry is one of the best in recent times, because its the kind of banter that Hollywood films of the ’40s had (especially Howard Hawks’). Now, any banter in 21st century Hollywood seen as foreplay and is hindered by the sex, but not this one. On the other hand, Marion Cotillard’s character was a dead giveaway for her climactic twist because it’s MARION COTILLARD. Remember, people, she played the villain in Inception as well? Clearly, she’s up to no good, and Nolan doesn’t trick us at all. Random thought, my favorite TDKR tracks are “Imagine The Fire”, “The Fire Rises” and “Why Do We Fall”.

TDKR has some near classic lines that my friends and I have been using amongst ourselves for a while now. You can also use them too to look hip and cool amongst your friends:

  • If your friends ask you if you’ve gone all the way with your girlfriend, calmly reply, “Not everything. Not yet.”
  • If you see a group of girls looking at you and giggling amongst themselves in a bar, coolly walk up to them and say, “Speak of the devil and he shall appear.”
  • When you experience a power cut in your house at night with your girl, and she’s kind of creeped out because you guys were watching a horror movie, put your arm around her and whisper, “Now is not the time for fear, that comes later. I was born in the darkness, molded by it.  I didn’t see the light until I was a man and by then it was only blinding!”
  •  At a friend’s uprising, tweet stuff against the despotic dictator like, “You have been supplied with a false idol to stop you from tearing down this corrupt city”. Or “The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure. Courts will be convened, spoils will be enjoyed. Blood will be shed. The police will survive as they learn to survive true justice.”

Christopher Nolan is a skilled craftsman, but he has still not mastered the art of directing action. His idea of action is to manipulate the audience with Zimmery music and seemingly “epic” shots, but they all feel manufactured and restrained. There’s no FUCK YEAH reactions to his action, just Meh. In my head, all of his action scenes are a blur, complemented by the music, by when I think back to, say, The Bourne Ultimatum, the progression of action is clear because I know where each player is in the sequence. Nolan really does try hard to make you grab your seat with his action, but he makes the same mistakes every time of disorienting the viewer with his editing. But he knows how to evoke that buzzing feeling you get when you connect with a moment in a movie, in happiness or sorrow or nostalgia or euphoria. Every single one of the five times I saw TDKR, I felt the same way about the scene where Bruce gets out of the Pit (although it seemed pretty easy save for one big jump). It felt like a mix of joy, goose bumps, nostalgia and epicness. It’s a feeling that I only get at the cinema. The scene is a staple of Hollywood emotion, the scene where the hero has to overcome the obstacle, we all know that. And yet, as Zimmer’s score crescendoes, as the other prisoners chant for Bruce and the bats come out of nowhere from the side of the pit and he’s on the edge of the ledge, you can’t feel anything but blood rush to your head as you’re with Bruce, chanting in your head for him all the way. (Note: Over the course of the trilogy, Nolan slowly brought out a superhero that fights crime in the dark to a point where he staged the climax of TDKR in broad daylight. Another note: Nolan seemingly conveys big ideas in a concise manner, which people have criticized, but which I find admirable simply because it’s tough to do.)

Kind of long way up…isn’t it?
Deshi Deshi Basara Basara!

Another article I read (I have to store these to link them to you guys) got me thinking about the way Nolan chooses to end TDKR. We see Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Blake escort the some kids on a bus to the bridge as an exodus in case the nuclear bomb blew up, but the cops have already rigged it with explosives to prevent people from crossing it so that the nuclear bomb didn’t go off (tricky, I know). This scene parallels the boat standoff in The Dark Knight, here the Joker places bombs on two boats and sets it up so that one boat can blow the other up before midnight. In The Dark Knight, the citizens of Gotham did the more moral thing by choosing not to participate in the Joker’s “game”, but in TDKR, the people of Gotham actually turn the other way and submit to Bane’s rules. The result of this action in TDKR fuels Blake’s decision to quit the force. Now, here’s the interesting thing: this ending is actually much bleaker than its shown to be, because now Blake doesn’t trust the people of Gotham to do the right thing when the situation calls for it, and yet Bruce always believed that the people of Gotham deserved another chance when opposed by The League of Shadows. And now, Blake has access to the Mantle of the Bat. It reminds me of the Knightquest arc in Knightfall, where Azrael takes over the Mantle of the Bat, but becomes a much more brutal force within Gotham, not bound by Batman’s code. That would be an interesting sequel to watch, where Blake believes that Gotham really has fallen and that its people aren’t worth saving, and stages a Bane-like plan himself, but Bruce comes back to stop him. Only, and this is still just spitballing, maybe even Bruce understands that there’s a time that comes for everything to end, and Batman might only be resisting the natural course of things. Think about it, Warner Bros.

Okay, so that’s the source material for TDKR. Big leap right?

So, why is TDKR the Best Film Of The Year? Because it’s the best mix of art, awe, and commerce that you will see this year and there is nothing more inspiring that you’ll see this year. Because in all our hearts lie that tiny kernel of imagination where we’re dressed up in Kevlar and graphite, armed with Batarangs, spinning along a Batpod. Because Batman is in everyone of us, and is that side of us that pushes us towards right and not wrong. Because it is utterly divisive because of its plot holes and yet redeems itself through bringing out our goose bumps. Because at the end of the day, we all need someone to look up to, and Nolan has given us our 21st century role model.

To conclude, here are some links to better writing about “The Best Film Of The Year”:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2012/07/the_dark_knight_rises_a_hero_a.html

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&ved=0CCcQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Febiri.blogspot.com%2F2012%2F07%2Fyou-must-become-terrible-thought-nolan.html&ei=XsVgUIGEF8jKrAfMiIDoCQ&usg=AFQjCNEpC7KWCv3lNdHJnyM8Zn7xSsRiKw&sig2=yDhOSRdD-Q1F29VIP0a95Q

http://entertainment.time.com/2012/07/16/times-review-of-the-dark-knight-rises-to-the-depths-to-the-heights/

And on Nolan’s style of filmmaking, a fantastic piece by David Bordwell.

Dear Mr. Anderson,

I cannot explain how big a fan I am of your work. Maybe if you took the size of the Universe you could come close. I stand in awe of how amazing your writing is, the way you create characters so fluidly, and how each of your films are clearly YOURS, no one else’s. Hollywood today is filled to the brim with unoriginal work, work that is assembly line shit and mind numbingly fuck all. But you, you take your time in crafting art, in making pure cinema. I am 17 years old, and you are my idol.

The most surprising thing I’ve found about your work is your stylistic shift in the early 2000s. After you made two huge ensemble films, you shifted your focus to just a couple of characters in a film. Most directors stick to what they’re good at, but you constantly surprise me by tackling new paths to take your stories. I recently saw a video that articulated how Punch-Drunk Love is a subtle parallel to the original 1978 Superman, did you do that on purpose?

I really want to meet you before I die. The fact that you directed your first short film at 17 inspires me to do the same, so I’ve written a short film that pays homage to you and your work. Your films are the kind of films I want to make: meaningful stories told in a stylistic manner. Recently, I was debating with myself whether you or Tarantino were better storytellers and I realized I gravitated more to you because Tarantino makes the same kind of movie with every story he tells. Django Unchained is, for me, a Tarantino movie set in the 19th century while The Master is a Paul Thomas Anderson film, not a P.T. Anderson film.

But its in your theories on filmmaking and writing that inspire me the most. You’ve said that writing is exclusively important to you, and this has motivated me to write more and explore characters and make writing a habitual part of my life. Your writing is joyously literary and fruity, not aiming to be realistic, but to elevate your characters into your scripted universe. Though I try to write everyday, its not easy, but that’s when I turn to one of your interviews and get back into it again.

Recently, my father watched The Master and hated it, called it an absolute disaster even. Your films are divisive in the public arena, not exclusively on one end of the spectrum. A divisive film has done its job, in my opinion, for it forces opinions to collide. Kevin Smith said he would keep a DVD of Magnolia on his desk just to remind him how pretentious and indulgent filmmakers can be, but when did Kevin Smith make a meaningful film?

How do you bring out the best out of every actor you work with? From John C. Reilly to Adam Sandler, you make sure every actor that works with you delivers Oscar worthy performances. Is it something you say to them before each take, or just another trick in your magic box?

I’ll never stop obsessing over your work, just as long as you keep evolving cinematically. You are a rockstar.

A devoted fan,

Nikhil

Refreshing naturalism…

I saw this video and I was blown away. In 3.27 minutes, I had gone on a short trip to Hampi, a place I had never been to before. It felt so real, the journey with Vinoth, the narrator, as he explains his attachment to Hampi and conveys his awe as best he can. This video was shot by a friend of a friend, Anoodha Kunnath, and she’s captured such natural moments on camera that requires split-second attentiveness. It isn’t easy, which is why I appreciated it all the more. Some of the visuals are picture-perfect, especially towards the end.

Another reason why this video is so awesome is because of the voice over by Vinoth. He weaves in his personal tale and his tale of passion as we follow him along the hollowed pillars and the weathered rock. I could instantly connect with his ambition because I’m an urban guy. The music also set me in the mood for hanging out around history. It has the perfect blend of personality, looks and emotion.

Vinoth Chander, Anoodha Kunnath, Anisha Crasto, you are talented individuals. Keep exploring your passions to give us stunning results.

Please vote for this video so that it gets the acclaim it deserves.

1)Click on https://www.facebook.com/FordIndia/app_328014060621461

2)Go to the ‘VIDEO’ tab (where the purple arrows point)

3) Hit like on the video called ‘TRAVELING LENS’

Only the FB like on the particular page in point 2 is counted as a vote.

Thank you!!!

My Brief Flirtation with ‘Cloud Atlas’

She’s that mysterious woman hidden by the shadows and neon light at the corner of a party, drink in hand, eyes looking at you disinterested. She’s clothed in pink silk and when she moves, it’s like her dress tells you the hint of a story. You’re surrounded on all sides by other people, but you’re not interested in any of them because at that moment, you want to know more about this woman. You want to spend the whole night on the balcony, glasses in hand, unearthing what makes her who she is, finding out why that initial glimpse provoked you into believing that she’s so alluring. That’s Cloud Atlas.

I first encountered Cloud Atlas while on holiday in Yercaud. I was there with my family for a couple of days, chilling out and relaxing. In my relaxed state of mind, I wandered over to the hotel library, which was pretty useless and obviously targeted at certain age groups when the glimpse of pink attracted my eyes to it. Intrigued, I picked it up and went through the process of checking the synopsis out and reading the praise it had received.

Something close to what I saw on the front

Something close to what I saw on the back

And so, I took it back to my room, determined to read it soon. When I logged on to my computer and googled it, I discovered that Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski Brothers (they made a little known trilogy with the title ‘Matrix’ in them) were adapting it into an epic movie. I thought to myself: this had to be FATE (because I’m a student of cinema and I found this book and they’re making….you get what I’m saying?)! It couldn’t be anything else, it meant I had to start reading it. And so I did, which resulted in the most enriching experience I have had with a book till date.

Cloud Atlas jumps across different stories in different timelines, but they’re all strangely connected (from what I remember, the pianist in Europe find Adam Ewing’s journal in the bookcase and Luisa Rey’s friend is connected to the pianist). The timelines are cut mid sentence and the layout of the book is like a Mobius strip ( a term I got from Doc Jensen ranting about LOST) that revisits the same story lines and presumably concludes them.

Mitchell populates his prose with wit, humor and a whole dollop of awesomeness as he weaves his intricate tale. I haven’t even got halfway through the book, because I had to leave the book behind at the hotel before we left. One of the worst decisions ever made. I should have just stolen it against my better judgement. It’s like biting into a strawberry for the first time. It’s all over the place in a mind blowing way.

And now the movie adaptation running at 160 minutes is making the rounds at festivals and people seem to be raving about it. I’ve purposely avoided any reviews or trailers, waiting to be able to finish talking to that woman. My dad saw one of these reviews from Toronto and asked me about it. I had tried persuading him to buy the digital Kindle version, but to no avail. I saw my chance and took it and downloaded the $4.32 kindle edition. 3 seconds later, the woman was back, staring me in the face. I didn’t start reading immediately obviously, because I wanted to get in that state of mind where you have to savor each word that your eyes see. Enjoy every moment, not like how I was with Harry Potter, whose prose had the flair of a pig scribbling the alphabet. I’m still waiting to get there, for when I do, nothing, not my job, not my online courses, not cinema, nothing will come in the way of me spending time with Cloud Atlas, for I truly believe it’s one of those books that has to be read before you die simply for its whimsical nature. Just look at the Amazon reviews if you don’t believe me, millions of people feel this way. And from what I’ve read so far, the stories aren’t UNIQUE. It’s the way he deals with them that is.

To Cloud Atlas, the woman who will steal your heart in a split-second. I’ll talk more about her as soon as my conversation is over, which I hope doesn’t happen quickly.

Shades of Cinema

The Guardian recently published its list of the 23 best film directors in the world today: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/sep/01/best-film-directors-world-2012 Take a look at it and you’ll notice something odd: all the people on that list are from America (12) and Europe (11) (an intentionally equal mix?). Really? The best film directors in the world today are focused here (?):

What happened to every other country?

This kind of narrowness on a global scale worries me. The list left out the South Korean masters ( like Chan-wook Park, Kim-ki Duk, Bong-Joon ho), Spaniards (Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo Del Toro) and even the Chinese (dammit there’s over 2 billion people in that country, and not a film director worthy to be on the list?). I’m not saying that I know a whole lot about international cinema, even my worldview is extremely limited. But the reason why our worldviews are so limited is because we keep talking about films from that narrow worldview. It’s a never ending cycle, and directors that get noticed by the international community are those whose films get distributors in the US and Europe for the most part. I wonder if we’ll see an Indian director on that list someday (I’ve actually seen films from 12 of those directors on the list and heard about the rest).
But, let’s forget this misrepresentation of international cinema for a second and question the Guardian’s idea of creating such a list. Can one really ever say who the greatest living film director is, if not all time? I don’t think so, it’s a flawed question to ask. It’s like asking who the greatest painters are or who the greatest authors are. No one can ever give a definitive answer, because no one would have seen all the movies in  the world, and even if they did, they would be biased towards a certain type of movie. But then, you can use measures like box office statistics and critical opinion to gauge what has been seen as successful through the eyes of the majority. In that sense, Paul Thomas Anderson loses out commercially, while Joss Whedon and Christopher Nolan, the men responsible for the greatest superhero movies of all time, seem to have the healthiest mix of the two. So then why is Anderson considered the greatest film director in the world?

From what I believe, cinema has a spectrum along with any movie can be placed. There are two classifications: clinical films, and emotional films. Clinical films are those that are generally much more technically refined, with excellent cinematography and music and composition and great performances, but the characters in these films don’t connect with the audience. Examples: Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, Steve McQueen and Nicholas Winding Refn films. The audience is just an observer in the tale that plays out in front of them. Emotional films on the other hand are all about the story and the characters, but the technique is secondary. Examples: The Wrestler, The Blind Side, and The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. An extraordinary film provides the audience with a potent mix of these two extremes to end up in the middle of the scale.

The line is supposed to be straight.

I’m not favoring one end over another, I’m just saying that critics tend to prefer clinical films more because they are cooler to watch. Clinical films tend to have more accomplished and flowery writing, but that kind of writing further distances audiences from the movie because they appreciate the flow of words, not the situation that plays out in front of them. I guess that’s a part of the grandeur of such movies. That’s why I believe the Guardian’s question is itself flawed. When the viewing of cinema is so subjective, it’s quite impossible to make such definitive statements.