Mis en Scene Analysis

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Mis en Scene Analysis

  1. 1. 1 Leigh Ann Vorhees Dr. Collier English 425 1 March 2010 Non-Diegetic Sound and Over-the-Shoulder Shots in The Dark Knight The Dark Knight tells the story of Batman (Christian Bale), a superhero trying to rid the streets of Gotham from evil. Batman’s true identity, known only to a few people in the film, is the rich Bruce Wayne. Throughout the movie, Batman tries to stop the notorious villain the Joker (Heath Ledger) from terrorizing the city. In the process, the Joker creates another villain, turning newly appointed District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) into Two-Face. About halfway through the film, Harvey Dent and his girlfriend, Rachel Dawes (who happens to be Batman’s best friend), are kidnapped, and everyone believes the Joker is behind it. The Joker is subsequently captured by Gotham City Police, most notably Commissioner Jim Gordon, one of the few people who know Batman’s true identity. Commissioner Gordon talks to the Joker first in the interrogation room, but then leaves the rest of the interrogation to Batman. This scene uses a combination of close-up and over-the-shoulder shots along with non-diegetic sound, to emphasize themes of darkness and chaos, as well as unexpected character development between the Joker and Batman. During the brief encounter of Commissioner Gordon and the Joker, we have a transformation of medium shots to close-ups. At the beginning of the scene, Commissioner Gordon enters the interrogation room where the Joker is waiting. When we first see the characters, we see them from a personal distance, or a medium shot. The
  2. 2. 2 longer the camera lingers on them, the closer the camera zooms in on their face. By the end of Commissioner Gordon’s interview with the Joker, we are completely zoomed in on only the Commissioner’s face. Through this close-up, we understand what Commissioner Gordon is feeling: we experience his anxiety as we see his neck pulsate and his nostrils flare. We are now at an uncomfortably close distance to Commissioner Gordon, yet it is with this close-up that we identify with him most. During this time we also continue to zoom in on the Joker. We are also uncomfortably close to him; we see his make-up and scars close up, and become nervous because we are right up in the face of the villain. Next, the scene lights up and the Joker’s head is slammed into the table. Here we have our first non-diegetic sound, although it is the quietest in the scene. As his head is slammed into the table, the sound echoes for a few beats, and it is obvious that the characters did not hear the echoing. We then see the Joker wincing in pain, and for the first time, we see the Joker as a victim. Next is a long shot of Batman with his back to us punching the Joker’s hand as it lies on the table. We cut to Batman’s face as his hand slams down on the Joker’s. Next, Batman sits down across from the Joker, and now begins a series of over-the-shoulder shots that last the rest of the scene. There is a close- up on the Joker, and on the left side of the screen we see the blurry outline of Batman’s head and shoulder. We are first peering over Batman’s right shoulder, and next, we are peering over his left. Throughout these two shots, we now see how chipped the Joker’s make-up really is. This signifies the struggles he’s already been through so far in the movie, and we almost sympathize with him because, for the first time, he looks somewhat pathetic. When we see Batman from the Joker’s perspective, we see all of the
  3. 3. 3 Joker from behind. We are slowly but surely making our way in a circle around the table, peering over the character’s shoulders and essentially feeling like we’re a part of the conversation. Director Christopher Nolan allows us to feel connections to the characters through this technique; he could have us standing on the other side of the glass watching in on the interaction with Commissioner Gordon and the rest of the police crew, but he doesn’t. By allowing us into the room and even into their intimate conversation, we feel apart of it all. Throughout Batman and the Joker’s conversation, the Joker is trying to convince Batman that they really are alike. The Joker speaks most of the time, and through all of the close-ups we get a better understanding of his character. We understand more clearly his goal of causing chaos, the absurdity of his character, and how he really is psychotic. Batman hardly ever speaks; all we see of him is his black mask and seemingly black eyes. Here is another reversal of roles: the Joker is opening up, while Batman now seems mysterious. Batman is determined to prove that he is nothing like the villainous Joker; however, this scene begs to differ. Suddenly, Batman jerks the Joker across the table by his vest. The camera follows the Joker across the table and suddenly we are right up next to the Joker staring at Batman. Batman then swings the Joker into the wall next to him; again, the camera swings along with the Joker and we follow their movement to the wall. With these swift movements, we identify with both characters: the Joker still seems like the victim as he is thrown against the wall, and yet we understand that what Batman is doing is still somewhat heroic. Now, we are behind the Joker’s shoulder. On the left side of the screen is the Joker’s head, and in front of us is Batman’s face. We go back and forth with the
  4. 4. 4 conversation, from the Joker’s right shoulder to Batman’s left. Even though Batman is holding the Joker up against a wall, we are still involved in the conversation through over-the-shoulder shots. Suddenly, the camera switches to a close-up of a side angle of Batman and the Joker. Here, Batman learns that someone else aside from Harvey Dent is missing. By showing both characters in the frame at the same time, we get to see both of their reactions to the development. After the Joker begins to talk about Rachel Dawes, Batman flips the Joker down onto the table. Here, the non-diegetic music begins to take off; an even longer echoing sound is now heard, and a monotonous buzzing sound begins to grow louder. We, along with Batman, now know that the Joker has also taken Rachel Dawes hostage. The buzzing sound gets louder and louder, and our anxiety begins to build. The Joker emphasizes his control of the chaotic situation, and continues to prove his craziness, by lying on the table and laughing, while Batman runs to barricade the door so Commissioner Gordon can’t come in and stop him from doing anything to the Joker. The monotonous buzzing sound continues, symbolizing Batman’s descent into a world of anxiety, anger, and darkness. A disorienting shot of the Joker is then quickly shown; as he says, “Look at you go!” to Batman’s running to barricade the door (metaphorically symbolizing Batman’s descent into darkness and, ultimately, relating himself even more to the Joker), we see the Joker lying what appears to be crookedly on the table. This disorienting shot symbolizes the chaotic nature that the scene has taken. The camera follows Batman as he slams the Joker’s head into the glass wall; we hear the glass shatter and see a quick shot of the broken glass before we are taken to Batman shouting at the Joker, “Where are they?” Here is where the roles between
  5. 5. 5 Batman and the Joker are really reversed. Throughout the movie, it is apparent that Batman is the hero while the Joker is the villain. However, throughout the rest of the scene Batman seems to be more of a bad guy while the Joker is victimized until the very end. The camera shows Batman from a low angle, which leads us to see Batman as menacing, frightening, and ultimately villain-like. The Joker is seen from above, which makes him look innocent, helpless, and victimized. We watch Batman’s fist as it swings and hits the Joker in the face; throughout the whole thing we are situated at elbow level with Batman, which helps us identify with Batman in a disturbing way. Through this, we feel like we are punching the Joker in the face. Next, in what is a very menacing part of the scene, we see the Joker, still from above, lying on the ground laughing after being punched by Batman. The left side of the screen is Batman’s hands, still ready to punch the Joker. Batman’s signature gloves, which are black with spikes, now seem somewhat evil. We begin to feel for the Joker for just a moment; he’s on the ground looking helpless, having been beaten up by Batman, while Batman still stands there ready to fight more. However, we don’t feel for the Joker for very long because he continues to emphasize the fact that he is crazy and not a normal villain: instead of cowering and showing that he has just been beaten up, he just lies on the floor laughing while continually threatening Batman. We also begin to remember that he has taken Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes hostage, and that Batman’s goal here is to find out from the Joker where they are; the only means of getting the information needed to save Harvey and Rachel’s life is to physically threaten the Joker. It is through this knowledge that we are back on Batman’s side. Next, we find out where Harvey and Rachel are through an over-the-shoulder shot of the Joker’s face. To end the scene,
  6. 6. 6 Batman throws the Joker to the ground and rushes out of the room. From the time of Batman’s descent into what can be thought of as the theme of darkness, a monotonous “buzzing” sound is heard. It was heard briefly at the beginning of the scene, but it blended in with physical acts of violence against the Joker. However, the non-diegetic music does more than just adds sound to the scene: it intensifies the scene from its quietest moments to the end of the scene when it is loudest. As we learn more information from the Joker at the same time Batman does, the sound intensifies, as does our anxiety with the situation at hand. Through the non-diegetic sound, our blood is pumping and we identify with the characters: we understand that Batman is trying to save lives, and we understand the chaos and darkness that lives in the Joker. This scene in The Dark Knight is a pivotal scene in the movie, not only plot-wise, but also structure-wise. This is the first scene where we see a connection between the Joker and Batman: the Joker is trying to convince Batman throughout the scene that they really are alike, even though Batman doesn’t want to admit it. When the Joker tells Batman, “You complete me,” Batman tries to defend himself but still sees the Joker’s side of the argument. The non-diegetic sound not only emphasizes the violent acts playing out on the screen, but also helps to develop anxiety in the audience. Through the use of non-diegetic sound and the use of close-up and over-the-shoulder shots, we see the themes of darkness and chaos playing out in the movie, especially through the Joker and Batman. These aspects of the film also develop these two characters in surprising ways; our views of these characters are not exactly changed through this scene, but are definitely different. We begin to wonder whether or not Batman really is like the Joker, and we wonder just how crazy and chaotic the Joker really is.

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