How Did 'Heat' Inspire Nolan to Make Gotham a Character in 'The Dark Knight'?

'The Dark Knight'Credit: Warner Bros.
Would Christopher Nolan's Gotham be the same without inspiration from Michael Mann?

Even the best directors in the world take inspiration from one another. Take Christopher Nolan. Since Michael Mann's Heat came out, he's been citing the movie as an inspiration for the work he did in The Dark Knight

Connections have been drawn between the visuals, the interrogation scene, and even cast member William Fitchner, who is in both films. 

But the comparisons were not just visual or fun casting Easter eggs. They also had to do with the location. 

In an interview for the book The Nolan Variations, the director said, "You have to look at scale in a different way. Batman Begins had been as big as we could make it. I knew we couldn’t stuff any more in, geographically. So you have to look at the scale in a different way. What I wound up doing is looking at it differently in terms of storytelling and cinematography. One of the biggest epic films I have ever seen is Michael Mann’s Heat. That is a true Los Angeles story, just wall-to-wall within the city. Okay, we’ll make it a city story."

That was a very interesting detail to me. 

I think the best part of The Dark Knight is how it paints Gotham. We understand the heartbeat of the city. I have always felt like it was almost a 9/11 movie. We are seeing a place terrorized by an unflinching criminal who is almost impossible to predict. 

It's not about money or revenge, it's about watching the world burn. And the movie has gotten some scrutiny for having a basic Patriot Act homage spying on every cell phone in the city to stop the Joker, but I digress...

The most important detail is how Nolan wanted Gotham to be to The Dark Knight what Los Angeles was to Heat

Nolan actually screened Mann’s Heat for all his department heads before going into production.

As he said in the video, “I always felt Heat to be a remarkable demonstration of how you can create a vast universe within one city and balance a very large number of characters and their emotional journeys in an effective manner.”

I think Nolan really succeeded here. There's a really visceral energy inside his movie. It helps that we get perspectives from the citizens, cops, and even prisoners at the end to push us into shock and awe. 

Nolan is quoted in GQ as saying, "We’re going to shoot in a real city, with real streets and real buildings, because the scale of that can be massive. We are going to use IMAX cameras so we can shoot the full height of the buildings and we’re going to give you an antagonist who’s interfering with the very fabric of the city. Just from the way we shoot it, the Joker walking down the street will be a huge image. Heat was very much an influence, because Mann is a fanatic for architecture, too; he understands the grandeur of a city and how it can become a kind of epic playground."

And the icing on the top of this cake is that all the drama made the Joker an even more "huge image" inside the story. 

Take a peek at this 2016 Heat retrospective as well. Nolan moderates it, and it's fun seeing him geek out over the plot, story, and how Mann constructed the movie. 

What are your opinions on the matter? 

Do you feel like Nolan cribbed the best parts of Heat? Or were the visual and story homages so much that they took you out of the story? 

Let us know in the comments.      

Your Comment