The Dark Knight Rises Pre-Cog Story Map or “How I would write the Dark Knight Rises screenplay”
In anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises opening in theaters on July 20, I’ve been analyzing Christopher Nolan’s films, especially the first two chapters in his Batman trilogy, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I’ve found myself buried so deep into Nolan’s complex story structures that it’s been impossible for me to watch the trailers and not start mapping the story in my head. It’s been keeping me up at night. Even before this latest one, The Dark Knight Rises – Official Trailer #3 [HD], I started to write a Full Story Map for The Dark Knight Rises, sight unseen, based solely on the limited clips and information available on the web.
There’s a lot of speculation online as to the story, but no one has attempted to break down the entire film.
Hey, go ahead and think of it as the “Everest of Story Analysis.”
Or, just a movie nerd wasting his time.
It’s totally up to you. I’ll wait, if you’d like.
Okay, okay, I’ll admit, maybe there’s a bit of wish-fulfillment here. I wouldn’t hate to answer my phone and hear a dapper British voice on the other end, asking me if I “might fancy a jolly good writing assignment?” Close out the biggest movie franchise in the world, giving my take on an iconic character I’ve been obsessed with since I was a kid, under the direction of a film genius? Not a half-bad gig for a screenwriter.
In essence, I’m writing the The Dark Knight Rises screenplay as I would write it, or, perhaps more accurately, I’m predicting how Christopher Nolan will write it, which is no small feat, considering that all of his films utilize complex story structures. I may even go so far as to say that the only unifying thread in all of his films is his complete unwillingness to use a linear narrative structure. Like perhaps no other filmmaker, save Quentin Tarantino, Nolan builds stories using a fractured narrative.
Nolan may be well-known as a master visual stylist, but it’s his storytelling craft (along with frequent collaborators Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer) that really sets him apart, and that begins in the outline that forms the basis of a tightly-crafted screenplay.
I don’t know the guy, but I’m pretty sure that Nolan doesn’t write “on the fly.” You don’t write an Inception or The Prestige without an outline — they are absolute beasts of structure (trust me, we’ve been wrestling with those maps for months). So, instead of reverse-engineering the Story Map after a film has been released, like I’ve done with so many Story Maps for produced films, then why not break it down before we see the movie?
How close can I get? How much of a “pre-cog” vision can I accomplish? How long before you skip this lengthy introduction and just scroll down to download the frakkin’ Story Map? (A true fanboy would stick it out.)
I’ve given myself rules. My source material consists of:
- The three existing trailers for The Dark Knight Rises – the teaser, the full trailer and trailer #3.
- The 6-minute prologue footage shown in iMax theaters (the CIA plane sequence).
- Interviews with Christopher Nolan and other key players.
- Batman comic books, including but not limited to the Bane saga covered in Knightfall. Nolan has borrowed from Batman books in the past, like The Long Halloween, Year One, The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke. Will Knightfall or Son of the Demon be used for inspiration? There’s only 70+ years of comic book lore to consider… no problem!
- Previous Christopher Nolan films, primarily his Batman films but also his other films, to reference his signature storytelling devices.
- The imdb listing for The Dark Knight Rises, most notably the cast list.
The Cardinal Rule: If the screenplay or a bootleg copy of the film get leaked online, I will not look at either one. I want to see the film on opening day like everyone else… having discussed, analyzed and made so many predictions and theories that it becomes the most hyped film event since Phantom Menace, thus can’t possibly live up to my expectations.
If the film ruins my life and Nolan rapes my adulthood, I want it to be on my terms, dammit!
Besides, according to my sources, the screenplay is literally under lock and key. I’ve been told that only a single hard copy exists and only a short list of VIPs are allowed to read it in a locked room, alone, with a time limit. Even Christian Bale was subjected to this same secrecy, as reported in the L.A. Times…
“I remember when I first read the script, of course it was all top secret,” Bale said during a break in the shoot. “I went round by Chris’ house, was shut in the room with the script — not allowed to leave with it — and it hit me that this was the last one. What Chris couldn’t believe was how slow I read because I go back and re-read until I have it all in my mind. I was in there six or seven hours. It was dark when I came out. And I was smiling.”
On to the story. Here’s some major elements we know:
- The film takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight.
- The film opens with Bane being transferred by CIA Agents and rescued by his commandos, taking Dr. Leonid Pavel as a prisoner.
- New characters include Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman, John Blake, a Gotham Police Officer, and Miranda Tate, a mysterious character that some postulate may turn out to be Talia Al Ghul, the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul.
- Returning characters include Alfred Pennyworth, Lucius Fox, James Gordon and Ducard/Ra’s Al Ghul (who was alleged to have died in the climax of Batman Begins, but we never actually saw a body, probably because it would have been incinerated in the massive explosion. But we know Liam Neeson is in the cast list, so did Ducard live or does he appear in flashback?).
- The Nolan-verse: Nolan grounds his Batman films in the “real world,” albeit a heightened, comic book real world. Thus far, there is no magic, creatures or uber-fantastic science fiction elements such as time travel, even when these supernatural elements often appear in the comic books. For example, in the comics, Ra’s Al Ghul is known to have been reanimated from death using a Lazarus Pit. The Joker had impossibly white skin and a massive, clown-like mouth, but Nolan chose to interpret The Joker as a normal man with scars at the corners of his mouth, thus giving the appearance of a clown when painted. Dr. Jonathan Crane was not “The Scarecrow” in Batman Begins—he just happened to use a scarecrow mask to terrorize his patients in his twisted experiments.
- Ra’s Al Ghul: Thus far, we can’t convincingly say that Ra’s Al Ghul is one man. He may be more of a title, possibly given to multiple individuals, through the generations. Thus, perhaps neither Ducard (Liam Neeson) or “Ra’s Al Ghul” (Ken Watanabe) were the only Ra’s Al Ghul, but one (or both?) assumed the mantle of Ra’s at some point in time. I believe that this mantle will be assumed by a new character in The Dark Knight Rises.
With that said, my basic assumption is that Nolan will not begin using supernatural elements this late in his saga. But, as with any of this, I could be wrong.
- Is Bane an agent of The League of Shadows or a lone terrorist a la The Joker?
- What exactly does Bane want with Dr. Pavel?
- Why does Bane wear the mask? (In the comics, he needs the gas known as “venom” to live.)
- Will Bruce Wayne be exposed to the public as Batman?
- Will Bruce Wayne sacrifice his life to save Gotham City?
- Will any other characters die? Gordon…Lucius Fox…Alfred?
- What has happened in eight years? Heck, why set the film eight years later?
- The upscale party set piece featured in the trailers – is this Bruce’s party or one he attends? Why is he the only one not wearing a mask? (other than the dramatic irony of Batman not wearing a mask?) Did he rebuild Wayne Manor?
- Is the mysterious Miranda actually Talia Al Ghul, a member of the League of Shadows?
- Does she get pregnant with Bruce’s child? (a la Son of the Demon graphic novel)
- Does Batman need to kill Bane to defeat him? (breaking his vow to never kill)
- Will Catwoman and John Blake take up the mantle of Gotham’s protectors after Batman dies/retires?
There’s tons more questions raised by the trailers, but it’s time to get into the map.
A caveat: If, come opening day, my predictions below turn out to be utter rubbish, feel free to hurl me into a Lazarus Pit of your own creation, be it real or metaphorical. Or, if I am revealed to be a Pre-Cog Story Genius (the more likely scenario), then feel free to praise my skills all over The Internets.
Good Luck and Happy Writing,
Agreed! Such fun to theorize about what will happen in the summer’s most anticipated movie. (Although The Avengers rocked, and the biggest opening ever? So TDKR has some competish.)
I think Bruce Wayne will die in the end, how about you?
John Blake taking over for Batman as a crimefighter (a la Nightwing) is a longshot — doesn’t sound like Nolan’s style, and I remember an interview where Bale said they’d never have a Robin and this is too close to that.
JGL as Nightwing is a little too much for me to handle, too. The “Nolanverse” is ending this summer, the way the Nolans and Goyer want it to end. No need for spinoffs.
I think this is a delightful enterprise: attempting to map the story of a film that you have never seen, based on the trailers and other tools you know about “The Dark Knight” saga and Christopher Nolan. Perhaps when you teach screenwriting, this can be a “final exam”, after your students have gone through learning about your Story Maps: give them a trailer for a movie that hasn´t come out yet, and have them break it down.
I think part of the pleasure of the upcoming “Dark Knight Rises” is that there ARE so many questions surrounding it, about it. Thank you for giving more possibilities, more things to consider, before the opening in July. I look forward to learning how much of your story map “released here in May” harmonizes with Nolan and his crew later this summer.
Thanks, B. Good idea about the “final exam.” It’s a tough assignment, as you said, so many different directions one can go. Personally, I don’t think Bruce will die in the end but who knows? Nolan is unafraid to go to dark places, and that insures that Bale and this cast won’t be returning for any other movies not under his watch.
I’m sure WB and DC are already thinking about the inevitable Batman “reboot” since that’s the “franchise business” they’re in these days, but I really hope it doesn’t happen. Or, if it does, don’t tell the origin story again, or worse, don’t rewrite the origin story a la the upcoming ‘Amazing Spiderman.’ The 3D in the theater in the Spidey trailer looked amazing, but the story looks awful, IMHO. If I see it, it will only be for the visuals and reference for future analysis and discussions.