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The Dark Knight: Questions and Activities

The Dark Knight: Questions and Activities

1. With reference to the opening sequence of one narrative you have studied this year, explain how the opening sequence of the narrative starts the chain of cause and effect and establishes characters.

2. Explain how Harvey Dent is established as a character at the beginning of the film.

3.  Explain how the character of Bruce Wayne, and his relationship with both Rachel and Harvey Dents, is developed further using a combination of production elements (00:18:34-00:20:46)

4. Explain how The Joker is developed as a character using a combination of production elements when he meets the mob bosses (00:20:47-00:25:05). How does Nolan use stereotypical characterisation throughout this scene?

5. Explain how Nolan uses the structuring of time to compress Bruce Wayne’s journey to Hong Kong (00:27:27-00:28:23)

6. Explain how The Joker is developed as a character when he kills Gambol. How does Nolan engage the audience in this scene? (00:28:23-00:30:24)

7.  Explain how Nolan uses the structuring of time when Dent tries the mob bosses and their associates (00:37:56-00:38:56).

8. Explain how Nolan uses a combination of acting, mise-en-scene, camera movement and music to develop the character of The Joker in the video of him tormenting the Batman impersonator (00:40:43- 00:41:46)

9. Explain how multiple story lines are used to develop the narrative during the fundraising party for Harvey Dent.

10. During the party scene scene, a number of characters are developed and the relationship between characters is developed further, explain: how the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes is developed in this scene; how the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent is developed in this scene; how the character of The Joker is developed further.

11. Explain how Alfred’s monologue and a combination of production elements contributes to the development of The Joker as a character (00:51:43-00:53:02).

12. Explain how Nolan structures time at different points throughout the narrative, particularly when obtaining fingerprints from the shattered bullet (00:54:24-00:54:54) and the use of flash forwards at the end of the narrative (02:15:49-02:18:34).

13. Explain how Christopher Nolan uses a combination of production elements to engage the audience during the parade (00:57:38-01:00:42).

14. Describe how mise en scene contributes to the narrative when Gordon’s wife is informed of his death (01:00:43-01:01:13) and when Rachel dies (01:33:01-01:35:14).

15. One of the storylines in the film is that Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes might rekindle their relationship. Explain how this is established, developed and resolved in the narrative (00:18:34-00:20:46, 01:05:36-01:06:43, 01:33:01-01:35:14).

16. How is the setting of Gotham City established in the narrative? What role does it play in the narrative?

17. At the end of the film, explain how the various storylines are resolved (02:15:49-02:18:34).

18. Explain how Nolan establishes Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two Face, making references to appropriate production elements (01:35:15-01:35:52).

19. Explain how The Dark Knight uses production and/or story elements typical of the superhero genre.

20. What is reception context and how might it affect audience engagement with the narrative?

SAMPLE ANSWERS

1. With reference to the opening sequence of one narrative you have studied this year, explain how the opening sequence of the narrative starts the chain of cause and effect and establishes characters.

In the opening sequence of The Dark Knight (dir. Christopher Nolan) a combination of production elements including music, mise-en-scene, dialogue and acting are used to establish the character of The Joker. Before the audience sees The Joker on screen, Nolan starts to establish this character through the use if dialogue as his henchmen prepare to stage an audacious bank heist. The dialogue exchanged between the men helps to establish The Joker as a character before he appears onscreen. “I heard he wears make-up,” says one of the goons, hacking his way into a switchboard. “To scare people. You know…war paint.” One of the men reveals that they’re robbing a mafia bank: “A Mob bank. I guess the Joker’s as crazy as they say.” As he prepares to leave the bank, the Joker hears a voice behind him. Wounded by a gunshot the bank manager, played by William Fitchner, cries out: “Oh, criminals in this town used to believe in things. Honor. Respect. Look at you. What do you believe in, huh?” The Joker kneels down and removes the latex clown mask. Christopher Nolan uses a tight close-up of Heath Ledger’s face, accentuating the scars and grotesque make-up. The key light in this scene comes from a large window over his right shoulder. While one side of his face is clearly illuminated, the rest is in shadow. Ledger’s voice is low and sinister as he delivers his response: “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you…stranger.” This combination of lighting, mise-en-scene and acting contributes to the sinister establishment of this character in the narrative. James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer collaborated on the score for The Dark Knight, writing a leitmotif specifically for The Joker: a single note played on the violin which increases in intensity and pans rapidly from left to right, gradually joined by other discordant and distorted electronic instruments. This jarring, incessant wall of noise helps to establish The Joker as an anarchic and sinister character. Throughout this sequence, a combination of production and story elements – including acting, lighting, mise-en-scene and music – is used to establish The Joker as a sinister and anarchic character.

2. Explain how Harvey Dent is established as a character at the beginning of the film.

In the opening sequence of The Dark Knight, the character of Harvey Dent is established using a range of production elements, principally music and acting. Before he appears onscreen, we hear the sound of his voice: “Sorry I’m late, folks.” His voice is relaxed and carries a confidence despite being late for court. Harvey moves into frame and sits beside Rachel. Acting is central to establishing Harvey Dent as a character in the narrative. During this scene, he turns casually and confidently to Salvatore Maroni who suggests that he thought the District Attorney only plays golf with the mayor and quips, “Tee-off’s 1:30. More than enough time to put you away for life, Sally.” During the cross examination, Rossi pulls a carbon fiber pistol from his jacket and attempts to shoot Dent. Aaron Eckhart’s performance in these few seconds establishes his character as courageous and calm in the face of adversity. Eckhart looks down and appears slightly surprised before seizing the gun and punching Rossi in the face. The loud and exaggerated diegetic sound of his punch highlighting his strength. Nolan cuts to a reverse shot as Dent turns, expertly removes the cartridge from the pistol and confidently walks towards Maroni and says, “Carbon fiber, .28 caliber, made in China. If you wanna kill a public servant, Mr. Maroni…I recommend you buy American.” Nolan further establishes his confidence and courage as the judge orders the bailiff to remove the witness from the courtroom. “But, Your Honor, I’m not done.” The intonation of his voice conveys an admirable degree of confidence given what has transpired. Although acting and dialogue are principally responsible for establishing Dent as a courageous character, music also plays an important role: throughout the scene, when Dent arrives in the courtroom and as he’s speaking to the jury, a heroic theme performed on brass instruments and strings plays in the background. Throughout this scene both acting and the complementary use of music contribute to the character establishment of Harvey Dent.

3.  Explain how the character of Bruce Wayne, and his relationship with both Rachel and Harvey Dents, is developed further using a combination of production elements (00:18:34-00:20:46).

In the following scene, Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent meet for the first time. A number of production elements – including acting, dialogue, editing and music – are used to establish the relationship between these characters. During the conversation, when Dent asserts that the people of Gotham appointed Batman when they let “scum take control” of the city, Nolan cuts to a midshot of Wayne. As he cuts back and forth between the two characters, the camera slowly dollies in on Bruce Wayne. The heroic theme the audience has come to associate with Harvey Dent plays softly in the background. Wayne smiles slightly as he listens to Dent talk. This combination of production elements subtly conveys to the audience that Bruce Wayne immediately likes the District Attorney. This is reinforced towards the end of the conversation when Bruce Wayne says, “Well, I’m sold, Dent, and I’m gonna throw you a fundraiser…One fundraiser with my pals, you’ll never need another cent.” During this conversation, Nolan also conveys more information about the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes. Dent says that Batman “doesn’t want to do this for the rest of his life.” At this moment, Nolan lingers on a close-up of Bruce Wayne. Wayne blinks, clearly affected by what Dent is saying, and looks towards Rachel. Nolan cuts to a close-up of Rachel who returns the glance. This combination of shot size, acting and editing establishes that Bruce Wayne still has feelings for his former girlfriend.

4. Explain how The Joker is developed as a character using a combination of production elements when he meets the mob bosses (00:20:47-00:25:05). How does Nolan use stereotypical characterisation throughout this scene?

When The Joker meets the mob bosses, Christopher Nolan uses a combination of production elements to establish these characters. Before The Joker appears onscreen, he is described by Maroni as a “two-bit wackjob”. As he enters the room, editing, lighting and sound are used to make his character appear more sinister. First, the audience hears the ominous and eccentric laughter. Nolan cuts to midshots of the hardened mobsters as they look towards the door with expressions of surprise and disgust. At first, the audience doesn’t see the Joker’s face. Instead, Nolan cuts to a tracking shot as he walks into the room. Backlit by the harsh fluorescent lights, his bedraggled silhouette is menacing. Upon entering the room, The Joker’s theme – a single, distorted note played on the violin – oscillates eerily in the background. Also, it’s interesting to note that The Joker appears in the foreground, completely dominating the shot, making the mobsters themselves seem much smaller and insignificant in comparison. More than anything, Heath Ledger’s acting contributes significantly to the development of this character. “How about a magic trick? I’m gonna make this pencil disappear,” he says, savagely thrusting it through one of the henchmen’s eyes. “Ta-da! It’s–It’s gone.” After killing the man, he looks back to the mobsters with complete composure and says, “Oh, and by the way, the suit, it wasn’t cheap. You ought to know, you bought it.” These lines of dialogue, in combination with Heath Ledger’s performance, contribute to the character’s psychosis. Stereotypical characterisation helps to establish the ensemble cast of mob bosses. The establishment and development of these characters relies heavily on stereotypes. The three main mobsters – Maroni, The Chechen and Gambol – are stereotypical gangsters. Maroni is similar to the type of characters audiences are familiar with from films like The Godfather and Goodfellas. The Chechen is a stereotypical Eastern European gangster, a type of character that has become increasingly prevalent since the fall of the Soviet Union. Gambol is based on the stereotype of an African American gangster, a role epitomised by Denzel Washington in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. Because the audience recognises these characters by their appearance and patterns of speech, it is not necessary to develop their characters in detail.

5. Explain how Nolan uses the structuring of time to compress Bruce Wayne’s journey to Hong Kong (00:27:27-00:28:23).

The structuring of time is used to condense the long and tedious preparation needed to prepare for the extraction of Lau and Wayne’s journey to Hong Kong. This is achieved principally through the use of acting, dialogue and editing. After the scene during which Lucius Fox and Bruce Wayne discuss the skyhook, Nolan cuts to a scene with Alfred and Wayne finalising the plans. “Did you think of an alibi?” Bruce asks his butler. “Oh yes,” Alfred replies. Nolan cuts to a shot of Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent, dressed in formal attire prepared for the ballet. There is a large sign plastered across the front of the building: PERFORMANCE CANCELLED. Nolan cuts to a midshot of Rachel who shakes her head knowingly, then to a close-up of a newspaper article stuck to the inside of the window. The headline reads: ‘Love Boat: Billionaire Absconds With Entire Russian Ballet”. Nolan then cuts to an aerial shot of a yacht moored off the coast of Asia.

6. Explain how The Joker is developed as a character when he kills Gambol. How does Nolan engage the audience in this scene? (00:28:23-00:30:24).

As Batman prepares to capture Lau, Nolan cuts to Gambol receiving news that The Joker is dead. This scene contributes significantly to The Joker’s character development, principally using shot size, acting, dialogue and music. It also resolves the animosity established between The Joker and Gambol in an earlier scene. Nolan cuts from a close-up of The Joker’s expressionless face as he’s dumped on Gambol’s billiards table to a midshot of Gambol as he strolls towards the men who’ve come to claim the bounty. As he turns his back, Nolan cuts to a shot of The Joker’s motionless head. Cutting back to Gambol, the audience sees a sudden movement in the background as The Joker springs to life. Nolan cuts rapidly several times as The Joker seizes Gambol and holds a hunting knife to his mouth. Editing is used to convey that the men who were claiming the bounty worked for The Joker. Using two quick cuts, Nolan shows that they now have guns held to the heads of Gambol’s henchmen. Cutting back to a close-up of The Joker and Gambol, Nolan chooses to use a sustained close-up of the pair while The Joker explains how he got his scars: “You wanna know how I got these scars? My father was a drinker and a fiend. And one night, he goes off crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself. He doesn’t like that. Not one bit. So, me watching…he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it. He turns to me and he says: “Why so serious?” He comes at me with the knife. “Why so serious?” He sticks the blade in my mouth. “Let’s put a smile on that face.” And….Why so serious?” The use of a close-up contributes significantly to the intensity of The Joker’s monologue. Throughout his speech, Nolan once again uses The Joker’s theme: an incessant and distorted violin which gradually increases in intensity until The Joker kills his rival. Mise-en-scene also plays an important role throughout this scene. The key light in this scene is positioned behind The Joker’s head. Half of his face is consumed by murky shadows. The fill light in the scene reflects off his slick, sweaty forehead accentuating the grotesque poorly applied makeup. The background of the shot is dominated by brown, decrepit walls. The Dark Knight features a number of different storylines which are arise and are resolved throughout the narrative. The animosity between The Joker and Gambol is one of these. Although it doesn’t appear on screen, Gambol’s death is conveyed through a combination of music, acting, editing and dialogue. The music reaches its climax as The Joker growls, “Why so serious?” Nolan cuts to a close-up of one of the henchmen as he grimaces, then to a midshot of The Joker from behind, still shrouded in black plastic as Gambol’s body falls to the floor. The scene ends on a particularly chilling note as The Joker says, “”Now. our operation is small but there is a lot of potential for aggressive expansion. So which of you fine gentlemen would like to join our team? Oh. There’s only one spot open right now, so we’re gonna have tryouts.” The scene ends with a shot of Gambol’s men on their hands and knees looking at the broken pool cue.

7.  Explain how Nolan uses the structuring of time when Dent tries the mob bosses and their associates (00:37:56-00:38:56).

The structuring of time is used to condense the scene when Dent arrests and tries the mob bosses and their associates. Nolan cuts to a midshot of one of The Chechin as he says, “Put word out. We hire the clown. He was right. We have to fix real problem. Batman.” At that moment, Nolan cuts to a midshot of Gordon as he enters the room. Nolan condenses the arrest and trial of Gotham’s entire criminal underworld in a few shots. “Are you sure you want to embarass me in front of my friends, Lieutenant?” Moroni asks. “Oh don’t worry, they’re coming too,” Gordon replies. The camera tilts down to show a stream of uniformed police officers entering the building. The Chechan is cuffed. Nolan then cuts to three other shots of criminals being cuffed and taken into custody. The montage ends with a shot of Gordon shaking hands with someone. As this occurs, the audience hears Judge Surrillo’s voice during the subsequent trial: “Seven hundred twelve counts of extortion. Eight hundred and forty-nine counts of racketeering. Two hundred and forty-six counts of fraud. Eighty-seven counts of conspiracy murder. Five hundred and twenty-seven counts of obstruction of justice. How do the defendants plead?” Editing is used throughout this scene to take the otherwise long process of arresting and trying hundreds of criminals and condensing it into a few shots.

8. Explain how Nolan uses a combination of acting, mise-en-scene, camera movement and music to develop the character of The Joker in the video of him tormenting the Batman impersonator (00:40:43- 00:41:46).

In the scene when the Joker taunts one of the men who have been impersonating Batman, Nolan uses a combination of production elements – including acting, mise-en-scene, camera movement and music – to develop the character of The Joker further. Mise-en-scene contributes to his sadistic and psychotic personality. The footage is shot in a meat refrigerator. In the background there are several animal carcasses hanging from the ceiling, ribs torn asunder and drained of blood. The harsh fluorescent lighting and sparse concrete walls also contribute to a sense menace. When The Joker turns the camera on himself, the lighting highlights his garish, poorly applied make up and black, sunken eyes. The footage cuts out amid manic laughter, screams and shaky camera movement. This combination of acting and camera movement contributes significantly to the anarchic character of The Joker. Throughout this scene, the audience once again hears this incessenant, non-diegetic wail of The Joker’s leitmotif which reinforces this impression of the character. Although this scene is brief, a number of production elements work together to develop this character.

9. Explain how multiple story lines are used to develop the narrative during the fundraising party for Harvey Dent.

In The Dark Knight, Nolan uses editing to develop multiple storylines, cutting between a number of events unfolding simultaneously during the fundraising party for Harvey Dent. He cuts from a shot of Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes on a balcony, to a conversation between Gordon and Ramirez who says that the DNA found on the Joker card pinned to Brian Douglas belonged to Harvey Dent, Judge Surrillo and Commissioner Loeb. “The Joker’s telling us who he’s targeting,” Gordon observes. Nolan then cuts between three different scenes which are occurring simultaneously: Gordon attempts to protect commissioner Loeb, two detectives visit Judge Surrillo and The Joker attempts to capture Harvey Dent. This is an example of how editing can be used to show different storylines that are occurring at the same time.

10. During the party scene scene, a number of characters are developed and the relationship between characters is developed further, explain: how the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes is developed in this scene; how the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent is developed in this scene; how the character of The Joker is developed further.

In The Dark Knight, during the fundraising party for Harvey Dent, Nolan develops a number of characters and the relationship between characters. This is primarily achieved through the use of production elements, including camera techniques, acting, mise-en-scene and visual composition, editing, lighting and sound.

The relationship between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent is developed through a range of production elements. During the fund raising party for Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne enters and makes a speech in honour of the district attorney and what he has achieved: “I’m sorry that I’m late. I’m glad to see that you all got started without me. Now, where is Harvey? Where–? Harvey Dent, the man of the hour. Where’s Rachel Dawes? She is my oldest friend. Come here. You know, when Rachel first told me that she was dating Harvey Dent, I had one thing to say: “The guy from those God-awful campaign commercials?” “I believe in Harvey Dent.” Yeah, nice slogan, Harvey. But it caught Rachel’s attention. And then I started to pay attention to Harvey and all that he’s been doing as our new DA. And you know what? I believe in Harvey Dent. I believe that on his watch, Gotham can feel a little safer, a little more optimistic. Look at this face. This is the face of Gotham’s bright future. To Harvey Dent. Let’s hear it for him.” Acting, dialogue and music are used to convey the relationship between Dent and Wayne. As Wayne makes his speech, the heroic theme that the audience has come to associate with Dent plays in the background. Acting is also important in terms of developing this character and his relationship with Bruce Wayne. Throughout the first part of his speech, when Wayne is talking about Dent’s campaign slogan, the tone is sarcastic and belittling. Halfway through the speech, however, Christian Bale’s switch in tone highlights Wayne’s genuine admiration for Harvey Dent and what he has achieved. This is confirmed moments later in a conversation between Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes when he concedes that he “meant every word.”

The exchange of dialogue also suggests that Bruce and Rachel will rekindle their relationship, a narrative possibility established earlier in the film. The conversation between Bruce and Rachel develops the narrative possibility that they might rekindle their relationship. “You know that day that you once told me about when Gotham would no longer need Batman?” Bruce asks. “It’s coming.” At the beginning of the narrative, Bruce Wayne doesn’t want to bear the burden of being Batman and have a normal relationship with Rachel. This line of dialogue reaffirms his desire to stop being a vigilante.

The confrontation between Rachel and The Joker further establishes his psychotic and deranged character. “You look nervous. Is it the scars? You wanna know how I got them?” he asks. “Come here. Hey. Look at me. So I had a wife. She was beautiful, like you…who tells me I worry too much, who tells me I ought to smile more, who gambles and gets in deep with the sharks. Hey. One day they carve her face. And we have no money for surgeries. She can’t take it. I just wanna see her smile again. Hm? I just want her to know that I don’t care about the scars. So, I stick a razor in my mouth and do this to myself. And you know what? She can’t stand the sight of me. She leaves. Now I see the funny side. Now I’m always smiling. Got a little fight in you. I like that.” This monologue contradicts an earlier explanation of how The Joker gained his horrific scars and contributes to the mystery surrounding the character. The camera circles Heath Ledger restlessly as he delivers the monologue: first in one direction, then in the other, contributing to a sense of disequilibrium and encouraging the audience to regard his character as anarchic and unthethered. Towards the end, the camera remains static, cutting between a close-up of The Joker and Rachel. In the over-the-shoulder shot of Rachel, The Joker’s face is covered in shadow which further characterises him as sinister.

11. Explain how Alfred’s monologue and a combination of production elements contributes to the development of The Joker as a character (00:51:43-00:53:02).

After the murder of Commissioner Loeb and Judge Surrillo, Bruce Wayne and Alfred discuss The Joker. Alfred’s monologue is an important part of developing The Joker as a particularly sinister and anarchic character. Alfred notes: “ … some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just wanna watch the world burn.” As Alfred finishes his monologue, the sinister musical theme for the Joker plays softly in the background and Nolan cuts to a grainy video image of the Joker playing back and forth on one of the computer monitors. This combination of sound, music and acting contributes to the development of this character.

12. Explain how Nolan structures time at different points throughout the narrative, particularly when obtaining fingerprints from the shattered bullet (00:54:24-00:54:54) and the use of flash forwards at the end of the narrative (02:15:49-02:18:34).

At different points in The Dark Knight, Nolan uses editing to structure time, condensing otherwise been long, tedious scenes.

When Bruce Wayne travels to Hong Kong, Nolan uses a number of production elements to condense time. This sequence begins once Bruce asks Alfred whether he had thought of an “alibi”, to which Alfred simply replies, “Oh yes.” Nolan cuts to a shot of Harvey and Rachel approaching the entrance to the Russian ballet, both of who can be seen to hold expressions of disappointment upon their faces as they read a sign upon the window, stating that the performance has been cancelled. The camera then cuts to a point of view shot of Rachel reading a newspaper article that has been stuck to the window of the theatre, the title ‘Love Boat: Billionaire Absconds With Entire Russian Ballet’ is visible at the top. Nolan cuts once more to a shot of a yacht in the middle of the ocean as a plane lands on the water next to it. Alfred can be heard yelling over the roar of the plane, “I believe this is your plane, sir.” Bruce Wayne picks up his bag and jumps into the water, swimming towards the plane – this signifies the end of the scene. The next time Bruce Wayne appears in a shot he is in Hong Kong. Using a range of techniques, including editing, dialogue and mise-en-scene, Nolan condenses Bruce Wayne’s trip to Hong Kong into a quick series of shots.

The structuring of time is again used to condense what would have been an otherwise tedious process, this time during the procedure where Bruce obtains the fingerprints from the shattered bullet. The scene begins with a shot of Alfred loading bullets into an ammunition clip. It then switches to a shot of a gun going down a line, firing different bullets into bricks. This then cuts to a shot of Bruce comparing the bullet holes to that of the one he found in the apartment. After selecting the most similar brick, Nolan cuts once more to a shot of Bruce scanning the brick, piecing together the bullet through a computer program he is running, potentially identifying the fingerprints on the bullet. It is through this structuring of time – achieved chiefly using editing – that Nolan once more condenses what would have otherwise been an extremely long procedure, cutting it down into a few quick shots.

At the end of the narrative, Nolan uses several flash forwards to help resolve the narrative. At the end of the film, as Batman explains to Gordon that he will take the fall for Dent’s crimes, Nolan flashes forwards to a shot of Gordon giving a eulogy at Dent’s funeral. Then he flashes forward to a shot of Gordon standing on the roof of the police department, surrounded by other policemen, as he smashes the bat light. As this is happening, Batman’s conversation with Gordon plays over the top, as Batman can be heard telling Gordon to “condemn” him, because that’s “what needs to happen”. The dialogue continues, Nolan cutting to a shot of Alfred burning the letter from Rachel revealing that she wanted to be with Harvey, and then on to a shot of Lucius Fox as he types his name into the sonar device, destroying it. As Batman finishes this speech, Nolan cuts to a shot of Batman turning and fleeing from Gordon, drawing the film to a close.

13. Explain how Christopher Nolan uses a combination of production elements to engage the audience during the parade (00:57:38-01:00:42).

This scene opens with an aerial shot of Gotham City during the day. A parade of police officers marches down the street. The diegetic sound of a news reporter helps to set the scene: “With no word from the Batman even as they mourn Commissioner Loeb these cops have to be wondering if the Joker will make good on his threat in the obituary column of The Gotham Times to kill the mayor.” Nolan cuts to the temporary Bat Cave where Alfred and Wayne trace the fingerprint which will lead Wayne to an apartment building above the memorial parade. This scene is another example of engagement as Chrisopher Nolan plays on audience expectation of an assassination attempt. Nolan cuts several times to shots of the parade showing uniformed police officers marching through the street. In one shot, Detective Ramirez looks up suspiciously towards the surrounding buildings. Although this example of acting may seem quite insignificant in the context of the entire scene, it helps to build suspense and paranoia as the audience speculates where the assassination attempt will come from. To build tension, Nolan cuts back to Bruce Wayne as his motorcycle speeds dangerously through congested city streets. The camera tracks the motorcycle, swerving rapidly and creating a sense of urgency. Above the parade, there are two shots of armed police officers overlooking the proceedings. Nolan cuts to a midshot of Gordon who is also looking towards the skyline, a police radio clutched in one hand. As Bruce Wayne arrives at the apartment building, Nolan cuts to another shot of Gordon who has a brief exchange with one of the armed officers over the radio. “We’re tight, but frankly,there’s a lot of windows up here,” the officer replies. This dialogue is used to heighten suspense and increase paranoia as the audience, along with one of the characters they have come to identify with, speculates where the assassination attempt will come from. The camera tracks Bruce Wayne as he approaches the door to the apartment. A point-of-view shot shows the apartment number: 1502. As Mayor Garcia begins his speech, Nolan cuts to several shots of the crowd. Of particular note is the close-up of Gordon as he continues to survey the buildings. As Wayne enters the apartment, a handheld point-of-view shot shows several men bound and gagged around a pylon. The non-diegetic, incessant whine of The Joker’s theme starts to play. This use of music confirms the audience’s suspicion that The Joker is responsible for tying the men up. Nolan continues building suspense by cutting between Bruce Wayne and the speech on the street below. A shot of several uniformed police officers implying that instead of coming from the rooftops, the assassination attempt might come from within the crowd. Wayne removes the duct tape from one of the bound men. “They took our guns,” he gasps. “And our uniforms.” The music continues to rise in intensity. The editing also increases in pace as Nolan cuts between Bruce Wayne who approaches the window and the honour guard as they prepare to fire in honour of the deceased commissioner. As Wayne approaches the apartment window, the blind whips open, Nolan cuts to the snipers who spin towards the window and fire, momentarily distracted. As the bullets ricochet through the apartment, the editing becomes more frenetic. Nolan cuts to a shot of the honour brigade, revealing The Joker in a police uniform. The entire honour guard spins simultaneously towards the Mayor. In a rapid sequence of shots, Gordon tackles the major to the ground, the men fire and Gordon is shot in the back. Nolan conveys that Gordon has been killed largely through the use of non-diegetic music. Cutting to a shot of Gordon’s body, particularly mournful strings start playing in the background. Throughout this scene, Nolan uses editing, music, acting and diegetic sound to convey the narrative and engage audiences. The frenetic camera movement increases as the crowd descends into chaos, the soundtrack filled with diegetic screams and gunshots.

14. Describe how mise en scene contributes to the narrative when Gordon’s wife is informed of his death (01:00:43-01:01:13) and when Rachel dies (01:33:01-01:35:14).

In The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan uses mise en scene to convey the emotions of characters. When Gordon’s wife is informed of his ‘death’, the shot is dominated by desaturated blue tones which contribute to her sense of loss and anguish. Similarly, after Rachel Dawes dies, there is a shot of Batman standing among the wreckage of the burning warehouse. He stands in the middle of the frame, head bowed. Although there are bright orange flames towards the bottom of the frame, most of the shot features blue tones which contribute to the character’s loss. Later, when he is talking to Alfred in the penthouse about the death of Rachel, Nolan uses similar colours to convey his sadness.

15. One of the storylines in the film is that Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes might rekindle their relationship. Explain how this is established, developed and resolved in the narrative (00:18:34-00:20:46, 01:05:36-01:06:43, 01:33:01-01:35:14).

At the beginning of The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan establishes the possibility that Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes might rekindle their relationship. “Are you interested in his character or his social circle?” Alfred asks, motioning towards the computer monitor which shows District Attorney Harvey Dent walking alongside Rachel Dawes. Nolan cuts back to Bruce Wayne whose expression remains neutral and stoic. He blinks several times, looks down and says, “Who Rachel spends her time with is her business.” This fleeting moment establishes the important relationship between these two characters. Familiar with the conventions of superhero narratives, it’s possible that the two characters might reconcile their differences and rekindle their relationship. This is developed further during the restaurant scene. During this conversation, Nolan uses camera techniques, acting, editing and sound to develop the idea that Bruce Wayne and Rachel may get back together. When Harvey Dent explains that Batman “doesn’t want to do this for the rest of his life”, Nolan lingers on a close-up of Bruce Wayne. He blinks, clearly affected by what Dent is saying, and looks towards Rachel. Nolan cuts to a close-up of Rachel who returns the glance. This combination of shot size, acting and editing establishes that Bruce Wayne still has feelings for his former girlfriend. As the audience is watching, speculating about the direction of the narrative, they consider the possibility that Bruce and Rachel may rekindle their relationship towards the end of the narrative. Ultimately, this storyline is resolved when Rachel is killed midway through the narrative. Nolan shows a shot of Batman standing among the burning wreckage of the warehouse, head bowed, the blue tones used throughout this shot contributing to his sense of loss.

16. How is the setting of Gotham City established in the narrative? What role does it play in the narrative?

In The Dark Knight, the setting plays an important role in the narrative, contributing to the motivation of the film’s main character. In the film, Nolan portrays Gotham as a crime ridden city whose police are corrupt and ineffective. After witnessing the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne is motivated to clean up the city.

This crime-ridden city is established towards the beginning of the film using a number of production elements, including editing and sound. This sequence starts with an establishing shot of the city at night, the bat signal flickering in the sky. Nolan uses a brief montage, including an interview with the mayor of Gotham City, to establish the setting: “Mr. Mayor, you were elected in a campaign to clean up the city. When are you going to start?” Nolan cuts to a midshot of a uniformed police officer walking towards his car. He looks over his shoulder, towards the sky and smiles. An extreme long shot shows the silhouette of a bat against the cloudy sky. This use of acting and editing contributes significantly to Batman’s character establishment. In the next shot, two criminals look towards the sky. “No, man. I don’t like it tonight,” one of them says. “What are you, superstitious?” the other replies. “You got more chance of winning the Powerball than running into him.” This combination of editing and sound helps to establish Gotham City as a corrupt and crime-ridden metropolis that requires a vigilante like Batman.

The main storyline also revolves around Gotham City, The Joker attempting to prove that everyone is as “ugly” as him. Ultimately, after the climactic events at the end of the narrative when The Joker attempts to make the people aboard two ferries blow each other up, Batman proves that the city is “full of people ready to believe in good”.

17. At the end of the film, explain how the various storylines are resolved (02:15:49-02:18:34).

At the end of The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan uses flash forwards and a number of production elements to resolve many of the storylines in the film. After apprehending The Joker and preventing Harvey Dent from killing Gordon’s family, Nolan resolves the remaining storylines in a single scene. At the beginning of the narrative, it’s clear that Bruce Wayne doesn’t want to be Batman “for the rest of his life”. This storyline is resolved at the end of the narrative when he takes the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes. “I can do those things because I’m not a hero, not like Dent,” Batman says. “I killed those people. That’s what I can be.” As Batman says this line, his heroic leitmotif rises. “I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be,” he says. Nolan uses a number of flash forwards to resolve several storylines. He cuts to Gordon giving a eulogy for Dent. “Not the hero we deserved, but the hero we needed,” he says. “Nothing less than a knight…shining.” Nolan cuts to a shot of Gordon destroying the bat signal, then to a shot of Alfred burning the letter in which Rachel admits she loved Harvey Dent and, finally, a shot of Lucius Fox destroying the surveillance device that they created to track The Joker. Taking the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes and ensuring that The Joker was unable to corrupt the soul of Gotham City, the narrative ends with Batman – with a renewed commitment to protecting Gotham City – riding into the night. “He’s a silent guardian,” Gordon says. “A watchful protector. A dark knight.” The main storylines in the film are, therefore, resolved using a combination of the structuring of time, editing, acting and dialogue.

18. Explain how Nolan establishes Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two Face, making references to appropriate production elements (01:35:15-01:35:52).

Midway through The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent is horribly burned in an explosion. His transformation from Harvey Dent to Two Face is conveyed using a number of production elements and story elements including the structuring of time, editing, sound and acting. Nolan cuts to a tight close-up of the character laying in a hospital bed. This edit contributes significantly to the character’s emotional disequilibrium because it is positioned precisely as Harvey Dent wakes up. Nolan cuts to the scene in the middle of Dent’s gasp, making it appear more sudden and shocking, catching the audience off guard. A wider shot shows Dent, who is out of focus, clawing for the coin on a nearby tray. An extreme close up shows a shot of his father’s lucky coin. Nolan uses editing to show Harvey Dent’s thoughts. Cutting to a close up of his face, which is half covered in gauze, Nolan cuts to a shot of Rachel catching the coin. Cutting back to the extreme close-up of the coin, Harvey turns it over to reveal that one side has been burnt beyond recognition. The coin now has two sides. To underscore Dent’s pain and anguish, Nolan cuts to a close up as he screams. This is made all the more disturbing by the lack of diegetic sound. Instead, a mournful non-diegetic whine rises in the background. Again, Nolan uses editing to create a sense of disequilibrium, cutting abruptly to the next scene. Although this is the moment when Dent changes, losing his sense of morality and righteousness, the audience is still encouraged to identify with this character – the uses of point of view shots and the structure of time, as Dent imagines the moment when he threw the coin to Rachel, both encourage the audience to identify with his point of view. Acting contributes significantly to audience identification with Harvey Dent when The Joker visits him in the hospital. His rage and anger and sorrow is conveyed to the audience when he screams the name “Rachel” at The Joker. Similarly, when he captures Ramirez, the audience still identifies with him after he demands that she call Barbara Gordon. “She believe you? It’s because she trusts you just like Rachel did,” he says. Even when he holds Commissioner Gordon’s son at gunpoint, the audience still identifies with him because they have been encouraged to see his point of view throughout the narrative. “It’s not about what I want, it’s about what’s fair! You thought we could be decent men in an indecent time. But you were wrong. The world is cruel. And the only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair. His son’s got the same chance she had. Fifty-fifty.” After he plummets from the building, music again encourages the audience to identify with this character. A soft, bitter sweet piece of piano music plays softly as Batman turns Harvey’s head, revealling the unscarred side of his face. “Gotham needs his true hero,” he says.

19. Explain how The Dark Knight uses production and/or story elements typical of the superhero genre.

The Dark Knight is an example of a superhero narrative. A defining characteristic of this genre is that the narrative primarily focuses on a superhero and his or her struggle against one or more villains. Although The Dark Knight is a superhero narrative, it focuses on the character of Batman, a well established superhero. Most superheroes have a special motivation for fighting crime and in The Dark Knight, Batman’s struggle against organised crime in Gotham City is motivated by the murder of his parents when he was a child. The superhero character in such narratives also usually wears a suit or costume of some kind, in The Dark Knight, Batman asks Lucius Fox to create a new costume for him so he can ‘turn his head’. This costume ultimately becomes important, allowing him to apprehend The Joker at the end of the narrative. There are also several iconic shots of Batman throughout the film standing against the skyline of Gotham City in his costume. The character of a superhero is one of the important elements in a typical superhero narrative. The character of Batman, and his struggle against organised crime in Gotham City, plays an important role in The Dark Knight.

20. What is reception context and how might it affect audience engagement with the narrative?

Reception context, the conditions under which a narrative is viewed, also plays an important role in audience engagement. Movies are increasingly downloaded and watched on portable media players, such as iPods. Surely a viewer will have a different experience watching a film on their iPod compared to the all encompassing experience of seeing it in a cinema. Likewise, audience engagement with a film might suffer if they view a poorly recorded bootleg copy of a film.

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is another example of how reception context can influence audience engagement with the narrative. The movie had six scenes filmed on an IMAX camera. According to numerous reviews, the print screened at IMAX cinemas was more dramatic and engaging than the original.

Another aspect of the reception context that may affect the viewer’s engagement with the narrative is the fact that The Dark Knight is a sequel. The relationship between Rachel Dawes and Bruce Wayne was established in the previous film. If audiences aren’t aware of this backstory because they haven’t seen the previous film, it may affect their emotional engagement with the movie particularly when Rachel is killed midway through the narrative.

Duncan Bowles noted in his review of The Dark Knight at IMAX: “This marks the first time ever that a major feature film has been even partially shot using IMAX cameras, marking a revolutionary integration of the two film formats.’ Revolutionary is right. When the film starts you become aware that you are watching it on one hell of a screen, even with the letterboxing, then the first IMAX sequence kicks in…which had such an impact on the full auditorium that the audience all gasped, then broke into cheers and applause.”