Monday, July 28, 2008

Converging Lines: "The Dark Knight" Part 1

A strong, conspicuous visual motif of Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" is the bold use of converging lines of perspective.

Nolan and his cinematographer Wally Pfister photographed "The Dark Knight" much like they did for its predecessor "Batman Begins," with anamorphic lenses. This time around, however, certain sequences were shot entirely with superwide lenses in the 65mm Imax format. Given that Nolan photographs and edits his films with a classic style (allowing the actors to move about the frame in wide and medium shots, and only going in for tight closeups when absolutely necessary), these wide angle shots give the film its distinctive feel, separating the movie from its louder, messier peers.

Like other films created by smart, visually-minded directors, "The Dark Knight" uses these powerful graphic tools to invoke a visual metaphor for themes within the film. These angles aren't used solely because it 'looks cool;' the style is inherently tied to the themes and ideas of the film. In Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," for example, the converging lines of perspective gave the film a claustrophobic feel, as if the walls of the Overlook Hotel were literally collapsing onto the mind of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson). The production design (long, uninterrupted beams, corridors and hallways, etc.) and cinematographer John Alcott's choice of lenses and camera angles (short lenses, emphasizing scale and perspective) helped tell the story of a man slowly losing his mind.

"The Dark Knight" also utilized production design and cinematography to create these graphic images, and in many cases, (like "The Shining") strategically placing the point of convergence in the precise center of frame. Of course, the gorgeous streets of Chicago, particularly of La Salle Street in the financial district, helped a great deal. The interpretation of this visual style is certainly not iron-clad, and is ultimately up to the viewer to decide what it represents and how it emotionally affected them. I personally interpreted these images as a way of evoking the bizarre feeling of the pillars of society closing in on Gotham City; a looming anxiety and feeling of doom affects its heroes and villians and citizens alike, forcing them to make choices about life and death, good and evil, right and wrong.

The film is about the growing chaos and collapse of our morality, and is deeply interested in the choices we make as individuals and as member of society. Ultimately, we realize these choices start with citizens as solitary human beings (the choice to detonate the ferry bombs, the choice to assassinate Coleman Reese, the choice to help criminals to save one's family). The converging lines of the world are pointing at us. Gotham City is grandiose and complicated, but its destiny is determined by the choices of its inhabitants.

Here are a few frames from "The Dark Knight" that show off this stylistic device.

Coming in Part 2: shots of converging lines from "The Shining." Read Part 2 now.