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The Dark Knight And Rear Window: A Comparison

Reviewing: Christopher Nolan "The Dark Knight"  |  Rating:
Aaron Taylor By Aaron Taylor on
Badge: Author | Level: 1 | Movies & Documentaries Expertise:

Successful crime writer's know how to realise their intentions of keeping the responder's mind constantly busy trying to work out ‘who dunnit', often feeling as though they are working side by side with the detective to solve the crime and find the murderer. As well as effective characterisation, character motivation, and settings, crime writers must know the conventions of their chosen sub genre and more importantly how to use and subvert these conventions to achieve their intended purpose.

To emphasis the timeless nature of crime fiction we can take a look at two film texts that exemplify how older texts can still entertain modern audiences as much as today's fast-paced modern texts do. Alfred Hitchcock's film "Rear Window" was released over half a century ago in 1954, while Christopher Nolan's movie "The Dark Knight" represents the modern day crime-fiction text, being released just last year.

"Rear Window", one of Hitchcock's greatest thrillers, is told almost entirely through his use of imagery rather than dialogue. His expert use of camera angles, shots and voyeuristic framing allows the audience to view the film mainly from the perspective of protagonist, L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies.

It is difficult to place "Rear Window" or any Hitchcockian film into a single sub-genre of crime-writing, they may fit the hard-boiled category in some instances, but to give full justice to them, one could say that Hitchcock has created his own sub-genre: the Hitchcock Thriller. Studies and analysis into his films have uncovered many conventions of the Hitchcock Thriller. The most notable include:

Framing for emotion: In "Rear Window" one of Hitchcock's main intentions is to ‘show' rather than ‘tell' the audience. He uses plenty of close-up shots to convey emotion on screen. A close-up allows the viewer to see a character's facial expression, such as when Jeff is about to fall from the window near the end of the film; it is pivotal that the audience sees his face, the terror in his eyes. This particular close-up is an example of Hitchcock's strength in characterisation. In the literal sense Jeff is afraid of falling to his death but on a more emotional level the audience sees how afraid he is to be out of his comfort zone; his apartment.

Hitchcock was a strong believer in giving the camera human qualities, making it roam around a room, giving hints on character and plot details. He employs this technique in "Rear Window", most notably at the beginning when Jeff is introduced without dialogue. The camera pans around the room, pausing on certain objects until the viewer realises that he has a broken leg and he is a photographer who has been involved in some sort of accident, as evident from the cast on his leg, the photographs mounted on the wall and the broken camera on the table.

Hitchcock purposely uses point of view editing to tell the story through visuals rather than dialogue. The basic technique is to start with a close-up of the actor, cut to what they are seeing and cut back to the actor to see how they react. It is important to show the audience what the character is seeing because it can give their reaction a completely different meaning, for example, Jeff looks at a dog and smiles, Jeff looks at Miss. Torso undressing and smiles. Although it is the same smile, the audience's interpretation of the scene changes because they have seen what the character is reacting to.

As well as these points, "Rear Window" also meets many of the principle requirements for the conventional hard-boiled crime-fiction text:

Hitchcock hastens the story when Jeff stirs up trouble by writing a note to Thorwald asking what he's done with his wife. Lisa is the femme fatale in "Rear Window" and makes the hard-boiled theme work well by representing a dysfunctional relationship between her and Jeff.

Hitchcock never intends to lead the audience into a false sense of hope; order is not completely restored at the film's conclusion, symbolised by the thermometer which is shown at the start where it reads close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, in the end it is shown again, although it has dropped a couple of degrees by this time, it is still hot. The thermometer functions as an emotional barometer, representing Jeff's circumstances, although Thorwald has been caught, Jeff has survived and his relationship with Lisa is okay, it does not mean things will remain in the good condition that they are at the end of the film.

If we move forward fifty-four years through the world of crime writer's to the year 2008 we discover the film "The Dark Knight" directed by Christopher Nolan. This most recent instalment of "Batman" fits appropriately into the hard-boiled sub-genre of crime-fiction. It meets many of the conventions but, like in "Rear Window", subverts several conventions to better serve the composer's purpose.

As with most hard-boiled crime texts, "The Dark Knight" has a metropolitan setting. The citizens of Gotham city have grown to depend on ‘Batman' who represents safety, security and order, but when things get out of control they turn on him and demand his prosecution. Nolan uses this to communicate to his audience the human need for answers and a scapegoat to blame for the problems in their world.

The detective in hard-boiled detective fiction is usually considered to be a ‘loner', this is true in "The Dark Knight", the real identity of ‘Batman', Bruce Wayne, is only known by his love interest, Rachel Dawes, a close colleague, Lucius Fox and his butler, Alfred. While ‘Batman' is a secret persona created by Bruce Wayne, he can be likened to Jeff Jefferies in the sense that Jeff is immobilised and is only known to those characters that enter his apartment. Both directors have utilised this ‘loner' convention to make their protagonists more intellectual in their way of solving the crimes.

Contrast and break down of stereotype is used intentionally by Nolan to show both the demise and rise of hope in Gotham City. Harvey Dent is initially referred to as "The White Knight" as opposed to ‘Batman' being "The Dark Knight". ‘Batman' himself refers to Dent as the "face of Gotham's bright future" this "bright future" is all but destroyed when Dent's face is severely burnt. In opposition to this loss of hope Nolan breaks the stereotype of prisoners when one of them disposes of a detonator that could blow up a boat full of people. This small glimmer of hope creates a feeling in the audience that Gotham may eventually have order restored.

"The Dark Knight" is a fast-paced film and Nolan does not want to lose his audience's attention to anything, to serve this need Nolan has decided to break from the standard film text and not use any opening credits, instead deciding to skip straight to introducing the story that is to be told.

Nolan uses foreshadowing in his quest to create a suspenseful crime fiction text. An example of this is when the Joker drops Rachel out the window of a high-rise penthouse apartment, ‘Batman' is able to save her this time but the event foreshadows Rachel's death later in the film.

While it is obvious that "The Dark Knight" conforms to most conventions of the hard-boiled sub-genre of crime fiction, there are areas where Nolan has chosen to deviate from the standard criteria in order to better suit his text and audience. For example, the idea of the femme fatale has been subverted when ‘Batman's' or Bruce Wayne's love interest, Rachel, does not place him in danger but is, instead, killed herself. Also, most hard-boiled detectives are very confident in themselves but in "The Dark Knight" Bruce Wayne starts to doubt whether he can go on even though he can hide behind the vigilante of ‘Batman', he blames himself for the murder of innocent civilians by the Joker, unlike the conventional hard-boiled detective, ‘Batman' has a conscience, as does Jeff in "Rear Window" when he questions the moral and ethical issues of peering into strangers homes for his own amusement, and as he watches Lisa put herself in danger to prove his case against Thorwald because is incapable to do so.

Through the examination and analysis of Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight", we can see how even with half a century between them, the intentions of composers of crime writing is to take the standard conventions of the crime-fiction genre and sub-genres and to use, manipulate and subvert them to fulfil their purpose, which ultimately is to engage, include and, most importantly, entertain the audience. Both composers have realised their intentions successfully; "Rear Window" still entertains audiences today despite its 1954's context as opposed to the fast paced and critically acclaimed contemporary film text "The Dark Knight".