Blink of an Eye: How Christopher Nolan Shot ‘The Dark Knight’s Pencil Scene

By  · Published on February 23rd, 2017

And what it says about The Joker below the surface.

If there’s one element that singly distinguishes Christopher Nolan’s Batman films from Tim Burton’s or Joel Schumacher’s, it’s the violence. Not only is the violence of Nolan’s trilogy the most brutal and extreme of the franchise, and not only is that violence rooted more firmly in reality than in the other films, but also violence in the hands of a such a narratively-intelligent director like Nolan becomes representative of the characters who inflict it, it is more than just a situational response or the manifestation of a mental defect; in the violence they exhibit, the characters of Nolan’s Batman films are revealing themselves, opening themselves up, and putting on display the emotional scars that have healed over into the people they are.

Furthermore, and perhaps more impressively, the way Nolan shoots these characters and their violence informs the subconscious of his audience as to who they are, what they’re capable of, and why.

Take for example probably the most memorable – and likely the quickest – act of violence in the entire trilogy: the scene in The Dark Knight when The Joker (Heath Ledger) dispatches a mobster by smashing his head onto a pencil standing business-end-up on a table. The whole act takes a split second, but from it, and the moments leading up to and coming after it, Nolan offers a glimpse of a place dialogue and action alone can’t reach – The Joker’s soul. And how the director shoots this sequence as whole is one of the most telling examples of his extraordinary skill.

In the ‘Heat’ of “The Dark Knight’

Fortunately for all of us, we have Sareesh Sudhakaran of wolfcrow to break down the scene and Nolan’s technique for us in his latest video, “Camera Angles and Movement: Christopher Nolan, ‘Pencil Trick’ Scene, The Dark Knight.” As we’ve come to expect, Sudhakaran’s analysis is insightful, educational, entertaining, and will leave you a smarter filmgoer than it found you.

With every passing year it’s becoming more and more obvious how significant a film The Dark Knight is, both on-screen and behind-the-scenes. This is one of the best looks at it I’ve come across, and whether you agree with all the points made here or not, you can’t deny Nolan is truly a director who says as much with his camera as he does his scripts.

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