Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight Rises’ Literary Inspiration

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

With what is arguably the most famous opening line in all of literature, Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” paints a portrait of the class struggle taking place in Europe in the late 18th century. In less than two weeks, it’s a theme that Christopher Nolan is employing to bring about the conclusion of his Batman trilogy with the release of The Dark Knight Rises.

Speaking at this morning’s press conference for the film, Nolan and his brother and screenwriting partner, Jonathan, answered SuperheroHype’s question about the film’s direct and indirect allusions to Dickens’ masterpiece.

“When Jonah showed me his first draft of his screenplay, it was 400 pages long or something,” says the director. “It had all this crazy stuff in it. As part of a primer when he handed it to me, he said, ‘You’ve got to think of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ which, of course, you’ve read.’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I read the script and was a little baffled by a few things and realized that I’d never read ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. It was just one of those things that I thought I had done. Then I got it, read it and absolutely loved it and got completely what he was talking about… When I did my draft on the script, it was all about ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.”

Although The Dark Knight Rises was even during production, noted for its savvy connection to real-world sociopolitical events, Jonathan Nolan points out that the film’s exploration of class warfare is not limited to a present day struggle.

“Chris and David started developing the story in 2008 right after the second film came out,” he says. “Before the recession. Before Occupy Wall Street or any of that. Rather than being influenced by that, I was looking to old good books and good movies. Good literature for inspiration… What I always felt like we needed to do in a third film was, for lack of a better term, go there. All of these films have threatened to turn Gotham inside out and to collapse it on itself. None of them have actually achieved that until this film. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was, to me, one of the most harrowing portrait of a relatable, recognizable civilization that completely folded to pieces with the terrors in Paris in France in that period. It’s hard to imagine that things can go that badly wrong.”

Beyond the narrative’s themes of a class dichotomy, the epic scale of Dickens’ tome also matched Nolan’s vision of how to conclude his cinematic trilogy.

“It just felt exactly the right thing for the world we were dealing with,” says the director. “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.”

The Dark Knight Rises arrives in regular theaters and in IMAX on July 20th.