Erin Dodd

04.A01. Film

A Short Film Analysis of The Dark Knight

by Marvelousroland

I have chosen to analyse The Dark Knight (2008) directed by Christopher Nolan. My chosen scene begins at 01:22:06 and ends at 01:27:00. I chose to analyse this scene as it contains many interesting points of mise-en-scene, creating a scene that some may see as diverting from the stereotypical action genre, using aspects such as camera angles to create contrasting expectations. In this analysis, I will be looking at the aspects of setting and decor, lighting, sound and the use of the camera and how each of these notions influences the audience.

The setting within this sequence is an interrogation room and office in the basement of Gotham police station. It is a naturalistic, interior location similar to that of many police dramas and films; dingy, grimy and isolated. The interrogation room has white marked walls, a dirty floor, two way mirrors and fluorescent lights. The only objects in the room are a metal table, two chairs and a lamp. It is a very minimalistic setting, allowing the audience to focus solely on the action and speech that take place. The office is a direct contrast to this; it is cluttered with desks, filing cabinets and papers. Police officers have filled the room, showing their intrigue into the interrogation of the Joker. The textures within both rooms are very harsh, reinforcing the setting as a harsh, official environment. The colours also reinforce this idea, consisting of blacks, greys and browns – a colour scheme seen throughout the film, echoing the colour schemes used in many police dramas and modern attempts at film noir. However the white walls of the interrogation room contrast with other settings, allowing everything to be seen. This could signify that all that is said within that room is truth, or at least appears to be. The colour of the room also contrasts with the characters of Batman (Christian Bale) and the Joker (Heath Ledger), the main characters within this sequence. Batman wears a very black armoured suit whilst the Joker wears his trademark purple and green suit. Both of these costumes stand out against the background of the white walls, demonstrating their comic book origins.

The lighting within the setting allows the audience to connect with the action. The lighting is all electrical, using lamps and fluorescent ceiling lights. The sequence within the interrogation room begins in darkness, with one ceiling light and a lamp lighting the room. At 01:22:13, the audience see Commissioner Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) face half in shadow, signifying that he is hiding something from both the audience and the Joker. In contrast to this the Joker’s face is fully seen, yet altered in the dim lamp light, creating a rather harrowing image; this contrast demonstrates that the Joker is not lying. When Batman enters (01:23:43), the full ceiling of fluorescent lights is lit, allowing the audience to see his presence. It also allows them to see the action and small details within the scene, such as the Joker’s facial expressions and Batman’s sudden change in mood. The full lighting is contrasted by the lighting of the office which remains in lamplight throughout; this could signify that the people within this office are left in the dark as to what is really going on within the interrogation room, signifying their importance within the scene.

Sound is used in a different way, showing the genre of the film or adding depth to a scene. Non-diegetic sound is used to heighten the tension of the sequence and show the changes in mood. At 01:24:47, soft music begins to play, this could show Batman’s train of thought after the Joker’s line, “Don’t talk like one of them, you’re not! Even if you’d like to be.” But it could also show the change in conversation, to idea of civilised society is nothing but a bad joke (01:25:07). This non-diegetic music becomes increasingly loud, but it slows down, insinuating there will be a sudden change in the pace of the scene, ending at 01:25:59, when Batman draws the Joker over the table. The music then becomes a drum beat, like a ticking clock, indicating that time is running out. After the Joker confesses that there are two people missing (01:25:55), this music changes to a high, piercing note. This note is typical of action and also horror films, creating tension between the audience and the action. However this is contrasted with the noises of the Joker, the cracking of his back and his clown-like laugh echo above this non-diegetic sound, highlighting his comical nature even in the face of violence.

The shot composition of this sequence is also important. The open framing of the scene allows the characters to move in and out as they wish, all except the Joker, who seems to be the highest influence of the space. This creates an uneasy atmosphere for the audience as they are unable to identify who controls the situation. There is a voyeuristic nature surrounding this scene, as police officers listen in and watch from outside the interrogation room. However the fact that one of the voyeuristic two-way mirrors is smashed could signify a link between the interrogation room and the office, opening the frame. Yet this link is restricted by Batman placing a chair against the door. This suggests that the frame is controlled, by both Gordon’s security door and Batman’s placement of the chair.

Nolan’s use of camera distance helps the audience perceive the relationships between characters within the situation. Long shots are used to set the scene within the interrogation room, showing Gordon enter the room (01:22:15) and the Joker sitting handcuffed at the table (01:22:18). Medium close-ups are used to show the Joker’s reactions and speech to Gordon, to show that he is not joking. A medium close-up is also used when the full lights are switched on, showing the Joker wince at the sudden change of lighting and Batman standing behind him. This allows the audience to see one step ahead of the action. A long shot is used to demonstrate Batman’s physical dominance, when he punches the Joker’s hand into the table (01:23:51). As the conversation between the two characters continues medium shot/reverse shots are used to allow the audience to read each character’s reaction. This is coupled with a pan around these characters, slowly taking the audience past the back of both Batman and the Joker. This also enhances their experience of the conversation, allowing them to see every point of it. Tracking shots follow the action, the audience become involved following Batman’s every step and punch. This cuts to a reaction shot of the police officers and Gordon, allowing the audience to see that Batman is out of line, letting his emotions take away his self-control. This use of camera distance creates a links between the audience and the action, permitting them to engage with it.

Camera angles are used to influence the audience further, showing the preferred point of view of the scene. Straight angles are used throughout at the eye level of the audience, allowing them to integrate themselves within the scene. High angles are used to demonstrate the physical power held by the characters of Gordon and Batman. Throughout the scene, Batman is viewed from a slightly higher angle than the Joker, telling the audience that he appears to be dominant. The Joker is viewed as inferior, through the use of low angles. The main example of this is when Batman is beating the Joker for answers (01:26:47 – 01:26:59). The audience is positioned on Batman’s right, with his punching hand, limiting the field of vision, looking down upon the Joker, and then switched to a reaction shot of Batman’s face, following the movements of the Joker. These camera angles conflict with the actions and motives of the characters. Batman appears physically dominant, yet the Joker is mentally in control. He dominates the scene, causing Batman to play his game and lose his temper. There is one camera angle that seems out of place within this sequence. At 01:26:11, a tilted camera shot shows the Joker about to rise from the table. This is the only shot like this within the scene, causing the audience to feel disorientated. However, this shot could be seen as at the climax of the action within the scene. Batman has finally lost his temper, causing him to act violently, just as the Joker wanted him to.

Nolan appears to use this sequence to demonstrate the Joker’s intelligence and power with words. Using camera angles that have differing connotations to the action taking place and non-diegetic sound that heightens the tension, Nolan manages to influence the audience to feel the same confusion that Batman and Gordon are feeling. The dominance of character is shifted, showing the audience that both characters are equally matched, creating an intriguing inversion of connotations which causes them to rethink their point of view.

Image © Marvelousroland

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