Echoing Footsteps: Nolan and Dickens

Books/Comics, Cinema, Literature

It is of much interest that the Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities had a pervasive influence on, among many other films, the biggest blockbuster of last summer: The Dark Knight Rises.


You can find a link to my review of the film here, in which I draw a parallel between Nolan’s ambition and that of the silent filmmaker D.W. Griffith. In Griffith’s colossal epic Intolerance, four stories are presented to the audience connected by an eponymous theme, and split by brief shots of a woman cradling a baby. The film failed financially on Titanic proportions, sinking Griffith’s career with it, but it has become an essential part of innumerable essays and film histories. For instance, in his 1944 essay, ‘Dickens, Griffith and Film Today’, Sergei Eisenstein opens by saying:

From here, from Dickens, from the Victorian novel, stem the first shoots of American film [a]esthetic, forever linked with the name David Wark Griffith.

He also shows how Dickens influenced many of early cinema’s most ambitious directors like King Vidor, and asserts that Dickens invented the ‘dissolve’ editing transition in Two Cities.

As for Nolan, it was only after the first draft was handed to him that his screenwriting partner, his brother Jonathan, flagged up that essentially his vision of the film be on a scale worthy of Dickens. Christopher Nolan, who although possessing a degree in English Literature, promptly gave Two Cities a first reading, which he claims to have been an enormous influence on his draft. Scenes such as the chaotic attacks on the bourgeoisie, impromptu courtroom cases and Batman becoming a martyr run very similarly to the book.

What Dickens does in that book in terms of having all his characters come together in one unified story with all these thematic elements and all this great emotionalism and drama, it was exactly the tone we were looking for.


This makes The Dark Knight Rises all the more akin to a modern Intolerance, with both pining to equal the rich, multi layered narrative so attached to Charles Dickens’s name. Griffith said ‘Dickens intercuts; so will I.’ Here is the novel’s cameo in Nolan’s film:


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