Scene Breakdown: The Dark Knight part 2
Where did we leave off? Oh ya, Gotham City, interrogation room, Batman, the Joker, booya. If you haven’t read Scene Breakdown: The Dark Knight part 1, then do yourself a favor and check it out to get a background on where we are now. The two guys have just sat down and are getting to the nitty gritty. Here is the last shot we looked at.
33) We continue the back and forth of close ups with the orbiting camera moves on the Joker. He finishes his line with, “You have changed things, forever”, and we immediately cut.
34) Batman comes right back with, “Then why do you want to kill me?” and then another direct cut out.
35) The Joker instantly starts howling with laughter. Then continues another long line of dialogue with, “I don’t want to kill you.”
36) We get a reaction shot of Batman listening. This one feels like a patch for two different line reads, but also allows us a pause from looking at the Joker. It also allows us to see Batman while the Joker says the line, “What would I do without you?”, which seems an appropriate time to see Batman’s face.
37) Back to the Joker as he finishes his line, “You complete me”. The editor is again establishing the conversation style where every time a line ends we instantaneously cut to the other character. There are no pauses before or after lines, only beats within a shot. Every time it is finished we cut away and begin the next character’s line, creating a rapid fire back and forth conversation. It doesn’t feel that way because the actors are creating beats within their performance, but the editing is very blocked off.Â It makes it very, very interesting to watch. On a side note, I love the little inside joke here with the line, “You complete me” which comes from the movie As Good as it Gets starring Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker in a previous Batman movie. Just had to say that, sorry.
38) Now we pull out from the series of close ups, to more of a medium close up of Batman as he says “You’re garbage who kills for money.” We get a slight overlap of dialogue as the Joker begins his next line before the cut, but the style is the same in that the Joker begins immediately after Batman finishes his line.
39) The Joker is still in close up, and keeps leaning closer and closer to Batman throughout the shot, trying to bring him in as if he speaking to him as a friend.
40) We get another reaction shot of Batman. This time it starts with Batman’s face almost completely obscured by the back of the Joker’s head and the camera tracks the opposite direction from before, this time right to left, to reveal Batman’s eyes as the Joker says, “Like me”. Also, this is one of a couple times in this section of conversation when the 180-degree rule is broken. With the rotating camera working on both sides of the foreground character’s shoulder, there are a lot of instances where the background character is on a different side of the frame than expected. In this case, the last shot had the Joker on the left side of the frame looking right then cuts to this shot of the Batman also on the left side of the frame looking right. This method creates an oddity because things just don’t feel right, but thus supports this weird conversation with the Joker trying to bring Batman in as a collaborator.
41) Returning to the Joker’s close up, he continues preaching and ends the shot with “they will cast you out”.
42) Again in his close up reaction shot, Batman listens to the Joker finish his line, “like a leper.”
43) The Joker lays down his sales pitch for another long shot, of 11 seconds.
44) Another reaction shot of Batman as the Joker says, “I’ll show you”.
45) Another 8 seconds of the Joker talking in close up, now about the other detectives as outsiders. He is constantly trying to get Batman to identify with him as special and above everyone else.
46) With the camera back on Batman, the Joker says, “See, I’m not a monster.”
47) Half way through the word “monster”, we cut back to the Joker, now leaning back from Batman for the first time. He quickly sits forward and say, “I’m just ahead of the curve” in a very different tone, much more malicious and raspy. We hear the sound of Batman’s seat hit the ground and see a couple frames of his head darting toward the Joker.
48) From his close up, we see 10 frames of Batman spring towards the Joker and then the Joker is picked up, obscuring the frame with the back of his shirt. It is only 10 frames, but every single one is full of movement and wrenches us out of the long conversation with such force.
49) In a new medium wide shot we see Batman lifting the Joker up and over the table. The shot only lasts for 13 frames and feels faster than that. The camera is now at Batman’s head height. Just as the Joker’s legs clear the table and his body is vertical again, we cut.
50) In a new medium shot from behind the Joker, Batman is holding him up to his face. From the first frame to the last, the handheld camera is rapidly moving towards them and finishes in a medium close up similar to the ones that have mostly populated this scene. This shot is 28 frames long. After minutes of seeing very long shots, we get 3 shots in less than 2 seconds that just completely change the pacing of the scene. It is loud and violent, and gets our attention.
51) We have another medium close up almost identical to the end of the last shot, but now behind Batman. As soon as we cut to this shot, Batman says, “Where’s Dent”. I have to reiterate the trend of not giving any pause before or after cuts when a line is involved. As soon as the shot starts, the line delivery starts. The Joker sidesteps the question and starts talking about Batman’s character again, “You have all these rules, and you think they’ll save you.” As he finishes the line Batman’s shoulder jerks a bit, using motion to initiate the next cut.
52) Back to the camera angle from shot 50 as Batman continues the movement, slamming the Joker into the tile wall. This shot only last 29 frames.
53) We are now in the observation room looking at Batman from behind the detectives’ backs, seeing what they see. All the figures are dark and Batman is the only object fully exposed in the shot. This 13 frame shot is a transitional element that gets us from what is happening in the interrogation room to the dialogue in the next shot in the observational room. We could have cut straight to the next shot, but it would be more disorienting for the audience. This way we have the end of the action take place inside the interrogation room, then see that action from inside the observation room, and while we are there we can catch what the detectives are doing in the third shot. It has a subconscious way of softening the change from one room to another.
54) In the observation room, the detectives look around, nervous at Batman’s numerous violent outbursts. Gordon reassures them with, “He’s in control.”
55) We are dropped right back into the interrogation with a new close up of Batman from over the Joker’s shoulder saying, “I have one rule.” As you will notice in the next couple shots, the editor used the 2 shot transition into the observation room to reset the axis rules. We are now working with camera angles on a different side of Batman and the Joker than we were before the Joker was slammed against the wall.
56) Now we see the opposing over the shoulder shot of the Joker. He is continuing to prod Batman with, “Oh. Then that’s the rule you’ll have to break to know the truth.”
57) Snap to Batman’s close up saying, “Which is?” Through this section of the conversation the editor continues his rule of only having pauses within shots. The beginning and end of the shot are tight on lines, but there is a long breath by the Joker after Batman asks the question and before he answers. I’m sorry for saying this for the elleventy billionth time, but so far he has been such a Nazi about this cutting style I just have to keep pointing it out.
58) The Joker changes his tone again to diabolical as he says, “and tonight you are going to break your one rule.”
59) In a new profile shot of the two of them, Batman says, “I’m considering it.” It is an important line because Batman’s one rule is that he will not kill, and he is threatening that, in the Joker’s case, it may be worth breaking. I think that is why they cut to this shot rather than another close up of Batman. Because it is different than the 2 over the shoulder angles, it stands out more to us and accents the line. Personally I have a little issue with the shot, in terms of how it plays with the previous shot and the next. It is not different enough from the close ups in angle or size, so it feels odd when played in real time. That’s just me though; make your own opinion. That’s the fun of analysis. Once we cut to this profile shot, the camera moves slowly to the right and in towards them so that at the end we see more of the Joker’s face, which causes my problem with this shot in regards to how it interacts with the next shot.
60) We are back in the Joker’s over the shoulder shot, a little closer and more direct on his face then the end of the last shot. This cut works even less than the last cut for me, even though it follows the same convention in terms of line delivery. My best guess is that the line “I’m considering it” was so important to accentuate that it was worth sacrificing some cut fluidity. Every choice must boil down to what is best for the story, and at the heart of The Dark Knight is the story of Batman wrestling with this killing rule, so this line plays heavily into his personal battle. Story trumps all. Also the Joker goes against my little hard end of line cut rule, after he finishes, he takes a breath and lets out an evil little laugh as he looks down into Batman’s eyes. This little laugh initiates the following action.
61) Right after this laugh, Batman stares at the Joker for a couple frames, in close up, then begins to yank the Joker out of frame again. This shot lasts for 14 frames, 6 of which are Batman’s instigating movements coupled with a loud grunt.
62) In a slightly wider shot than the last from behind Batman, we see him tossing the Joker over his back and towards the table. Most of the shot is obscured by Batman’s back but there is enough information to follow what he is doing. It finishes just as the Joker’s body is about to hit the table, from what little we can see of him. This shot lasts 25 frames.
63) We have a matched action cut to a medium shot that is from a very similar angle to the last but with more of the Joker’s body visible as it comes to rest on the table. This shot only lasts 8 frames.
64) We have yet another medium close up shot from a similar angle. This time, what little bit of the frame is not obscured by Batman’s cape is focused on the Joker’s face as he emits a loud painful laugh. This shot is 34 frames long and ends with part of the cape streaking out of frame. This movement in the cape initiates the following cut to shot 65, and is a thing of beauty. It is such a smooth cut between two similar shots, and the cut is sold through the way in which the black cape whips around.
65) Batman begins to stomp toward the interrogation room door in a tighter medium shot. This is the fourth consecutive shot from this angle of view. When you look at these screenshots I have selected they are not the best representation of this aspect, but the cut points are much closer than they seem here. If you have an opportunity to look over this in real time a couple times, I think you will agree with me. What saves them from looking like jump cuts are the changes in frame size and composition. It seems most of the time you will see feature film action sequences covered in very wide shots from every angle, but films such as the 2 Batman movies by Nolan and the Bourne trilogy have been changing things up a bit. The combat, especially in claustrophobic one on one fights such as in this scene, are covered in a limited field of view and from handheld cameras in medium shots and close ups. It gives a very frenetic feeling to the shots and a violent disorientation that pulls you into the action very differently than the wide shot fights of many Martial Arts films. Please don’t take that as a knock to those type of films, because I love them too, it is just worth noting the difference. So far in this scene only one shot has covered any violence in a wide shot. Now, as Batman is walking away from camera he reaches out and grabs one of the chairs from the room before we cut. This shot is only 34 frames long.
66) Now in the observation room we see a race between the dark shape of Gordon and Batman to reach the door of the interrogation room. Gordon knows what Batman is about to do and wants to get into that room before it is locked from the inside. The handheld camera is following Gordon’s path but focused on Batman in the interrogation room. We cut just before Batman is about to be obscured behind the wall between the two windows. This shot is 30 frames long.
67) In a medium close up the Joker yells, “Look at you go”, as he tries to get up from the table. As he struggles, the camera starts to turn into a dutch-angled shot. It is 29 frames long.
68) Batman, in a medium wide shot, slams the chair under the door handle. This shot is 15 frames long.
69) The next 2 screenshots are from the same shot but the camera does a 90 degree pan, so I wanted you to see both points of interest. In the observation room, it starts out behind Gordon as he run through the set of doors on his way to the interrogation room door. As he turns left the camera starts panning left, quickly passing his action and moving to look through the window.
70) The camera settles on the inside of the interrogation room door, looking through the window, with Batman’s lower body walking back toward the Joker, revealing the chair propped up to lock the door. This shot is 40 frames, the longest of bunch, but combines two different shots with the pan.
71) Now we are in the hallway between the two rooms and Gordon runs into the outside of the locked door, but it won’t budge. This shot is 29 frames long.
72) In a medium close up, the Joker has sat upright and is cracking his back. He begins to say his next line, “Does Harvey…” At this point the editing style I have brought up over and over has been dropped. Audio begins overlapping shots as more and more J and L cuts get used in the shots to follow. It is a style change that goes along with change in cutting rhythm. Where a minute ago we were used to long, locked off shots in the 8 to 12 second range, now we are getting a barrage of short, handheld, moving shots in the 20 to 40 frame range.
73) In a close up profile shot, Batman charges past the camera towards the Joker.
74) Here is another 2-screenshot view of the action of one shot. We start on the Joker’s medium close up as he finishes the line, “Does Harvey know about you and his little bunny?”
75) As soon as the Joker finishes his line, Batman reaches into frame, grabs his head, and slams him into the glass window. As the Joker falls to the ground we hear Batman start his next line, “Where are…” As I sit here watching this section of shots over and over, I just have to say the sound effect of the Joker hitting the glass is intense. It keeps sticking out and sounds so painful.
76) In medium close up from the Joker’s perspective, we see Batman finish the line, “Where are they?” From off camera we hear the Joker say, “Killing is making…”
77) We cut to a medium close up of the Joker say the rest of his line, “a choice”. Now in addition to the changes in editing style and cut frequency we have a bit of a change in camera position as well. For most of the scene the shots have all been around the height of the Joker’s head, and both characters, whether the Joker and Gordon or the Joker and Batman, were at the same height. This eye level camera height gave a sense of neutrality to the character interactions from a power standpoint. Now with the Joker on the floor and Batman looming over we see a great deal of change in vertical angles. When seeing Batman, we are down with the Joker looking up, and the low angle gives Batman more dominance. When seeing the Joker, we are up at Batman’s height looking down, weakening the victim of this violence even more. This is again a very subtle quality, but all off these subtle changes add up to give a very different feel to this part of the scene. After the Joker finishes his line, Batman punches him in the face again and begins to ask again, “Where are…”
78) In the alternating close up, Batman finishes the question, “…they?” and the Joker, from off camera, begins the important line his whole twisted speech have been building up to, “Choose between…”
79) The Joker finishes the line, “one life or the other.” We immediately cut back to Batman.
80) For the first time in a while we get a beat after a line delivery. Here Batman is breathing hard and the line from the last shot is given a second to sink in. “Choose between one life or the other.” As he is starting to understand what the Joker is saying, the Joker goes further with, “Your friend…”
81) Back on the Joker he finishes, “…the district attorney, or his blushing bride-to-be.” As he finishes he begins to laugh, but as soon as the laughing begins, Batman clocks him in the face gain. We don’t cut away this time, though. We hold on the Joker as he laughs manically for almost 5 seconds, rolling over. He begins his next line, “You have nothing”. After a long sequence of shots before this being very short, this one feels even longer. It was one of those shots where the acting was so good that there is no need to cut away. It gives a good pause after all the rapid-fire cutting.
82) On Batman’s reaction shot we have the Joker finish his line, “nothing to threaten me with.” This feels like a case where they added a second “nothing” to the line by cutting together two different takes. It cuts to Batman right after the first “nothing” and there is a very different inflection on the word.
83) We immediately cut back to the Joker, who says, “Nothing to do with all your strength.” He says the line with an inciting tone yet has his hand up in a very defensive manner. Batman quickly lunges down and picks the Joker up again by his collar. There is a beautiful matched action cut to the next shot that is reminiscent of the one I really liked with the cape earlier. It is a great example of how important a couple frames can be on either side of a cut to selling it. There is a subtle jerk of the hands on Batman’s part on both sides of the cut that give an increased forcefulness to the action. I included a second screenshot of the last frame at the cut point so you have a better understanding of the action.
85) Batman finishes pulling him up in a medium close up over the shoulder shot from beneath the Joker, who begins his next line, “Don’t worry, I’m gonna tell you where they are”
86) We cut to the Joker as he accents the import part of the line, “both of them”. This is covered in the first true close up in quite a while. The tightest we have been since the sit down conversation have been more of medium close ups, so this image really pops out showing all the Joker’s crazy on his face. He paused for a beat before continuing, “And that’s the point. You’ll have to choose.”
87) We get a very quick reaction shot from Batman, who is also in his first true close up in a long while. The Joker gets the first couple words out just before we cut away, “He’s at…”
88) Back in his new close up, the Joker give Batman both of the locations. As soon as he finishes the second address, we see Batman’s shoulder jerk to the right over the last two frames.
89) We get 12 frames from Batman’s close up, of him quickly pulling the Joker towards him then flinging him down. The 2 frames of motion from the last shot really add to the cut and the way this one ties into the next. It is a burst of violence excellently depicted over this 3 shot sequence.
90) Another 12 frames now in the Joker’s close up, but this time he is much farther away from the camera, hitting the floor. The camera’s focus is still set to his closer position so the shape of the Joker on the ground is out of focus. Initially he is mostly out of frame but then half way through the shot the camera snaps to the right showing more of his body. Even though he is not moving much, the quick camera move and movements of Batman’s foreground elements gives a lot of energy to the end of this little sequence.
91) We finish the scene in the hallway between the observation room and the interrogation room. Gordon is waiting at the door as Batman opens it. Batman rushes past him as Gordon says, “Which one are you going after?” Batman yells, “Rachel”, and there is a slight pause after the name is said before they cut away.
Now there were a couple shots after this of people running around and Batman getting on his motorcycle that I left out of this. I am sure by definition on the DVD they are apart of this scene, but I felt like this is where it ended in terms of the story of it. I’m sorry again for another extremely long scene; I think it is going to be a while before I do another one of this length. I don’t know what the next breakdown is going to be but I have a couple good ideas. The next will be another feature narrative scene, but eventually I want to branch out into scripted television and even do a couple commercial breakdowns as well. We will see if something strikes my fancy in the next couple weeks. As always thank you for taking the time to read this behemoth. I hope you are getting something out of it, because I certainly am. I would highly recommend viewing this scene after the analysis and see if you pick up on any of my observation, or make some new ones of your own. I would love to hear what you have to think of it. In honor of finishing this beast after days of plodding progression, I’m gonna go mix up some liquids and watch something new. Cheers!