Where history and movies meet
Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities was the inspiration for the movie.
Warning! Spoilers throughout this page.
Speculation that the global economic recession and the Occupy Wall Street were the inspiration for the final movie in Christopher Nolans' Batman trilogy have been dismissed by both the director and his co-scenarist brother Jonathan. The script had in fact been decided on before these events. Instead the two acknowledged that the inspiration for the movie came from A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens' classic novel about the French revolution. Jonathan Nolan said that he sought ideas for inspiration by looking at old movies and books, 'good literature'. This lead him to A Tale of Two Cities, which he found to be 'the most sort-of harrowing portrait of a relatable, recognizable civilization that had completely fallen to pieces. You look at the terrors in Paris, in France, in that period and it’s hard to imagine that things could go that badly wrong. So it felt like a great source of inspiration.'
After reading his brother's 400 page screenplay, Christopher Nolan read Dickens' novel himself. 'When I did my draft of the script, it was all about A Tale of Two Cities and really just trying to follow it that because it just felt exactly the right thing for the world we were dealing with .... what Dickens does in that book in terms of having all these different characters come together in one unified story with all of these great thematic elements and all this great emotionalism and drama, it felt like exactly the term that we were looking for.'
A Tale of Two Cities is about sacrifice and redemption -so is Dark Knight Rises
A major theme of Dickens' novel is that of sacrifice and resurrection. In fact, one section of the book is entitled 'Restored to Life'. The book's hero, the once dissolute, lazy and complacent lawyer Sydney Carton, dies on the guillotine, having substituted himself for his former rival in love, Charles Darnay, whom he closely resembles. He has finally achieved redemption in dying so another may live. A similar element features strongly in the conclusion of the movie. Bruce Wayne sacrifices himself to ensure the safety of the people of Gotham and to foil Bane's evil plan to destroy the city and has,like Sydney Carton, redeemed himself. Yet the last scenes suggest that maybe he has become 'reborn' in another identity -thus becoming 'restored to life'.
Dynamic crowd scenes are a specialty of Dickens - and Nolan
Lynching of Foulon.
Another feature of A Tale of Two Cities involves Dickens' masterly handling of huge crowd scenes involving frantic turmoil and violence in Paris.. Here is an example, a description of the lynching of a reactionary government minister (Foulon) who had during a famine had allegedly suggested the starving peasants eat straw (or grass in Dickens' writing):
"... the women were a sight to chill the boldest. From such household occupations as their bare poverty yielded, from their children, from their aged and their sick crouching on the bare ground famished and naked, they ran out with streaming hair, urging one another, and themselves, to madness with the wildest cries and actions. Villain Foulon taken, my sister! Old Foulon taken, my mother! Miscreant Foulon taken, my daughter! Then, a score of others ran into the midst of these, beating their breasts, tearing their hair, and screaming, Foulon alive! Foulon who told the starving people they might eat grass! Foulon who told my old father that he might eat grass, when I had no bread to give him! Foulon who told my baby it might suck grass, when these breasts were dry with want! O mother of God, this Foulon! O Heaven our suffering! Hear me, my dead baby and my withered father: I swear on my knees, on these stones, to avenge you on Foulon! Husbands, and brothers, and young men, Give us the blood of Foulon, Give us the head of Foulon, Give us the heart of Foulon, Give us the body and soul of Foulon, Rend Foulon to pieces, and dig him into the ground, that grass may grow from him!."
The verbal sweep and emotional impact of such scenes have their cinematic counterparts in Nolan's handling of Bane's army taking control of Gotham, the football stadium scene, his entrapment of Gotham's police force underground and the police fightback on the streets of Gotham. The director has emulated Dickens' remarkable ability to stage scenes of violence and mayhem so as to evoke a visceral response in his audience. And like Dickens, Nolan does not make these scenes stand-alone spectacular items. Instead, both use them to propel the plot as well as providing a vivid context within which themes gain added significance.
Justice: the revolutionary tribunals in novel and movie
A revolutionary tribunal in the provinces.
Some of the most chilling scenes in A Tale of Two Cities are set in revolutionary tribunals, set up to dispense a form of justice on which the accused were increasingly stripped of rights such as legal representation, calling witnesses and presenting a defense to the charges. By 1794 death was the sole penalty.
This feature of the novel and the revolution is employed in Dark Knight Rises. In one particular scene Bane's tribunal meets in a crowded, dishevelled, noisy room that closely resembles contemporary images of French revolutionary tribunals, including a high lectern from which the Batman comics character the Scarecrow acts as 'judge' dispensing threats and verdicts -'Death or death by exile'. Added resonance is provided by close resemblance to the notorious show trials held in the Soviet Union under Stalin during the 1930s, in which the accused were denied denied basic rights and were openly intimidated in court.
Justice is a central theme in both novel and the movie trilogy. Is Wayne / Batman's punishment of criminals really justice in action, or is it just vigilantism? Are his retributive actions the result of a wish to help the community of Gotham, or do they arise from personal, psychological motives? Similarly Bane claims he acts on behalf of the oppressed against a greedy and corrupt ruling class, but is he really motivated, (like Batman / Wayne?) by revenge and egoism?
Incarceration in Tale of Two Cities & Dark Knight Rises
'In the Bastille' - illustration in 'Tale of two Cities'
Images and scenes of imprisonment, darkness and incarceration abound in A Tale of Two Cities. Characters spend years locked up in the Bastille, or months locked up in cells or rooms awaiting trial or execution. Some key scenes take place in darkened, confined settings - always a favorite of Dickens
Terror as public spectacle
'The Grindstone' -1870s illustration of scene from book.
In A Tale of Two Cities Dickens strongly suggests that the revolutionaries used terror and violence as a form of theatre, with the crowds of Paris as the audience. Many contemporary images and written accounts confirm the accuracy of this insight. The most familiar examples involve the hundreds of public executions witnessed and applauded by enormous crowds, whose cheers, comments, and actions (such as dipping scarves in victims' blood) became part of the public drama. Even the last words of some of those about to be guillotined could be seen as part of the horrific script of the occasion. Terror became the official policy of the Revolution once it fell under the control of ideologues like Robespierre. He claimed that such a policy was not only necessary but cleansing and even moral. Thus in 1794 he remarked that 'Terror is nought but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue.' By this time terror was being used not only against opponents of the revolution, but also against rivals amongst the revolutionaries themselves and against those judged to be insufficiently revolutionary in spirit. In the movie Bane also uses terror not only as a means of enforcing control, but also as a form of his particular brand of justice.
In A Tale of Two Cities, Madame Defarge, like Bane,is impassioned by a desire for brutal revenge. Another Bane-Defarge parallel is that both have been the victims of oppression and injustice in the past. Both pursue retribution - they are after vengeance rather than justice.