By Tabitha Harris, Opinion Editor
Christopher Nolan is perhaps my favorite modern movie producer/director. While he doesn’t churn out films left and right, the few he creates are filled with pure artistic genius and deep storylines. Inception left me reeling and each time I re-watch it, I find something new and my mind is blown once more. The Batman Trilogy—Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises—are stellar works of art in my opinion. TDKR is my favourite of the three for a variety of reasons but mainly because of its surprising literary connection/origin. As a caution, this article will contain major spoilers about both TDKR and its literary predecessor.
In an interview with ComingSoon, a movie review network, Nolan revealed that the striking parallels between TDKR and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities—ATOTC—were intentional. He told the review that “when [he] did his draft on the script, it was all about ‘A Tale of Two Cities’”.
ATOTC has long been my favourite Dickens’ novel and if you haven’t read it, I strongly encourage you to do so. Set during the French Revolution, it tells a story of unrequited love, sacrifice, revenge, honour, and of course, revolution. Two men rape a young woman and murder her brother. Her younger sister bides her time for nearly 25 years and exacts revenge by orchestrating affairs so one of the rapists’ sons is arrested during the revolution for being an aristocrat. Unfortunately, the doctor who treated the poor girl before she died, thereby becoming a witness in the trial, now has a daughter who happens to be married to the rapist’s son. Another man who has loved the doctor’s daughter from afar and also bares a striking resemblance to the man on trial, swaps places with him and is guillotined in his stead.
Superficially, there appears to be precious little shared ground between ATOTC and TDKR. However, subtle parallels exist. First off, there is the matter of the doppelgangers. Darnay, the man on trial in ATOTC, and Carton, the man who dies in his stead, are practically twins. Similarly, Bruce Wayne and Batman are two sides of the same coin, two distinct personas but both housed in one body. At the end of TDKR, Bruce sacrifices himself for Gotham, effectively killing off Batman as well, much the way Carton sacrifices himself for Darnay.
Secondly, there is the revolution itself. An analogous premise of taking from the rich and giving back to the oppressed runs through both stories and arguably drives the action forward. In ATOTC, peasants construct a massive guillotine and thereby enact justice by beheading anyone associated with the aristocratic class, whether they have been oppressive or not. Bane follows this reasoning when he encourages the citizens of Gotham to take back what is rightfully theirs by pillaging and burning and looting the wealthy. In both situations, chaos ensues and anarchy rules the day.
When Bane reveals that Commissioner Gordon lied to Gotham about the events surrounding Harvey Dent’s death at the end of The Dark Knight, all of Gotham turns upon the police force in anger. Those who were supposed to be trusted to keep the city safe had instead lied to the very people they swore to protect. Officer Blake, who looked up to Gordon as a father, voices his disgust and disappointment to which Gordon replies, “there’s a point, far out there when the structures fail you, and the rules aren’t weapons anymore, they’re shackles letting the bad guy get ahead”.
Gordon bitterly acknowledges that when criminals learn the system and begin to use it for their own ends, the system has become corrupt and those who wish to restore peace must sometimes incite atrocities. Granted, Gordon’s words were a paltry attempt to justify his lies but they speak to an interesting problem. In ATOTC, he peasants saw the rules of the aristocracy as shackles, shackles which hampered the oppressed but enriched the wealthy. Structures had been erected but had also been abused and so needed to be torn down.
The third and most obvious link between ATOTC and TDKR is Gordon’s speech at the end of the movie. While standing over Bruce’s grave, he reads the closing words of ATOTC which I won’t quote in full but the final sentence bears repeating. Spoken by Carton as he walks the steps to the guillotine, it reads “it is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” It is a smashing ending to both TDKR and ATOTC.
Many other parallels exist and I applaud Mr. Nolan for taking the time to read ATOTC and incorporate this great work of literature into a great film.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 4th print edition.
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