Over the past few months, I have been hard at work on a short film series known simply as Echelon. Set in a futuristic dystopia, Echelon criticises contemporary political policy regarding economy, as well as exploring the harmful impact of individuals’ decadence and, ultimately, the end justifying the means. Naturally, I’m taking influence from other films and real world events, and in this article series; titled Influences; I explore the former. This week, I’ll be looking at Christopher Nolan’s ground breaking The Dark Knight trilogy (2005 – 2012), specifically how the Caped Crusader is represented, the motivation behind this, as well as how it has influenced me in the conception of the characters in Echelon.
I have always been a massive fan of Batman; as a child I was particularly fond of Joel Schumacher’s 1997 ‘disasterpiece’ that is Batman and Robin (you know, the one with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s debatably Oscar-worthy performance as cool as ice doctor, Mr Freeze). However, I would not say I was especially connected to these characters. What they represented and the message they each carried were somewhat lost on me in my younger years, so I didn’t really go into Batman Begins (2005) expecting anything more than a kindling reminder of a near-decade forgotten world. How wrong I was.
Like I say, I adored Batman as a kid, but that was just it, I was a kid and my interests had matured to some extent by the time part one of Nolan’s trilogy was released: I was aware cooties were no longer a threat; I became familiar with swearing; and, more relevantly, I started to expect more from the movies I watched. So when I revisited my long forgotten friend, the Batman, and saw him tear through the streets of Gotham in the Tumbler, roar “Swear to me!” at lowly crooks, and just be a general badass, I began to appreciate him once again. I soon became excited about The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) in turn, and when the journey was complete, I finally realised how truly spectacular the story I just watched unfold was.
It was visually stunning, every sight and sound made me feel like I was in Gotham itself, and the euphoric sensation I felt after each viewing has definitely shaped my opinion on filmmaking. Nonetheless, in the case of Echelon, the inspiration I take from it is attributed mainly to the characters, and the authenticity of their journeys, motivations, and, well, character.
Everybody knows the origin story that drove playboy billionaire, Bruce Wayne, to become the Dark Knight we both love and fear today, but Nolan takes this even further still. The city of Gotham is a strong representation of social imbalances, be it at the hands of crime or authority, but, in The Dark Knight trilogy, Bruce/Batman strives for more than just retribution for his parents’ deaths; he’s a symbol of socio-political significance. He represents the desire and drive to do the right thing in a wrong world, whilst at the same time acting as a vessel to convey the subsequent necessity to face fear when doing so. Ultimately, the message Batman carries is to rise above all else, to stand up against evil and injustice, and to offer help when there is none else. Batman wants to change Gotham and make it better for others; a noble cause, and one that we all could learn from.
Yet every villain that chooses to square off against The Bat also present an interesting representation when exploring character motivation. Although their plans are somewhat different, they all have one thing in common: the disruption of the decadent and corrupt authority that rules over Gotham. Indeed, they have extreme views on how to achieve this, but they share a desire to see their world righted, much like our hero. What makes Batman so likeable is that he stands for good, even when the powers that be try to stop him; Batman risks everything to save Gotham. So when we’re presented with antagonists that represent similar ideological qualities, we end up liking them too and some times, this even manifests itself as something relatable to us (minus the terrorism and genocide).
Therefore, in the case of my writing, emulating such wonderful character form is something that I would also like to achieve. There’s a certain authenticity behind each character that makes them so believable and enjoyable to watch that strikes me as important. Everyone within the narrative is a product of his or her surroundings, and as a result of this their motivations aren’t questionable, but perfectly understandable. Even a character as insane as The Joker, who blows up hospitals and feeds Eastern-European crime lords to dogs, has a reason for doing what he does, and it’s a reason he fully believes in.
Herein lies the crux of my discussion: belief. If the objective of a film is to make a difference and change the way people think (which I believe art should always intend to do), then they must believe in what the characters are representing. Before this can be achieved however, one must ensure that it is clear that the characters have belief in themselves. They must feel like real people, who are passionate about what they stand for, or else they remain simply wonders of fiction. They may still be enjoyable to watch, but they will never resonate with the viewer in a powerful way if this trait is not present.
I took a number of political and social ideals on board from Nolan’s trilogy, on both a personal level and in terms of my art. Simply put, The Dark Knight has influenced the development of Echelon because, frankly, “I believe in Harvey Dent.” Apologies for that, next time we’ll talk politics.
– Joe Aldous