They say that in life there is no such thing as a sure thing. Well whoever said that would have been laughed out of the room by execs at Warner Bros. Whoever said that had obviously never seen the hype surrounding Christopher Nolan’s follow up to The Dark Knight. Whoever said that hadn’t experienced a film that was always guaranteed to make over $1 billion at the box-office. Well, as long as it wasn’t sick all over the audience or get banned at any rate…
“Whoa. Déjà vu” says Neo as he sees the same black cat walk by twice. Trinity turns to him in alarm and makes him affirm his statement. “A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.”
In The Matrix a déjà vu event is an apparently random occurrence. An unintentional side effect of a wider manipulation in the system. Essentially, whenever the powers that be are tinkering in their favour there are going to be times when people accidentally see two events in immediate conjunction. This it seems, within The Matrix is unavoidable.
Déjà vu is a somewhat tenuous phenomenon, rooted as it is in the fallible and easily influenced memories of fallible and easily influenced humans. Explanations of it are often supported by the fact that the sense of “recollection” the second time round is stronger in most cases than the circumstances surrounding the previous experience.
But such discrepancies are not just a personal part of the human experience or a scientific curio to be picked over and analysed. No. Our fallible memories and recollections of experience are extremely important when it comes to everyday life. To social interactions, to our hopes, our fears, our confidence, our actions, our beliefs and most importantly of all for a hopeless cinephile like myself; our films.
Two weeks ago when I stumbled out of a 11.30PM screening of The Dark Knight Rises into a dark and predictably damp Leicester Square my mind was a mess of excitement, doubts and tiredness. What was it that I just saw? Was it the best thing ever? Was it the second coming? Of course such questions were easily answered with a certain and resounding no, but many others remained. How did it compare to the imposing figure of its predecessor, The Dark Knight? Was Bane even a patch on The Joker? Did it actually make sense? But worst of all, for the first time in my life I thought to myself; has Christopher Nolan dropped the ball?
Many shared my doubts and questions and yet instead of mulling over them after their viewing they immediately took a double take in more than one sense of the phrase. Critical adulation soon gave way to uneasiness, Our instincts and expectations somewhat confused by the sheer scale and (it must be said) gaping flaws of it all. This uneasiness prompted repeat viewings amid a tenuous favourable consensus.
Name a film that has done absolutely brilliantly at the box-office and you’re naming a film that people didn’t just see, but a film that they saw again and again. People returned to Titanic repeatedly (and may I say with a dash of misjudgement and a whole heap of patience) to marvel at the spectacle and to rewatch Jack and Rose’s relationship play out in full knowledge of it’s tragic end (hop on the door Jack. Why not?). Similarly James Cameron’s most recent effort (and highest grossing film of all time) Avatar was a triumph of ‘immersion’ (triumph of course denoting box-office receipts here – how else would it be measured?). People apparently wanted to ‘return to Pandora’ and paid right through the nose for the privilege as the short lived honeymoon period of the ‘3D revolution’ gradually slipped into its irritatingly persistent twilight.
Most relevantly however one only needs to look back two years to Inception. It was a film so jarring to our easy going blockbuster sensibilities that a hell of a lot of people left only to head right on back to try and figure out what the hell just happened. The strength in that case was that it happened in typically barnstorming fashion. Sure, it fried some brains but it was just so damn entertaining while it did so. Like an electric chair with fireworks on, a whole swathe of confused people were willing to risk another £10 for a ride on the baffling rollercoaster.
These one and all are obviously cases of repeat viewing. The Dark Knight Rises has also kept people coming back for more. But what’s special about the film is that short of being a complete washout they were always going to. Whatever you thought of it the first time you left, you couldn’t quite believe it.
The thing with déjà vu is you double take in the second instance. When everyone left The Dark Knight Rises people were already comparing their viewing experience to something. It seemed like we’d seen it all before, and in the case of myself, done better in The Dark Knight. The final instalment was a film so far removed from its own terms that it simply became a cog in a hugely successful and efficacious franchise. That it was a somewhat less remarkable one than expected caused expectations (somewhat inflated by critics in the days running up to the film) and the reality to clash in a jarring fashion. The repeat viewer either returns because they are amazed, confused but intrigued or so invested that whatever happens they need to get a thorough opinion on proceedings. The Dark Knight Rises seems to have covered all the bases.
The film could have realistically played out in two ways. It could have been a masterpiece. A breathtaking conclusion that cast into shade all before it. Alternately it could have been a bit too ambitious, a bit too reliant on set pieces and have plot holes you can drive a whole fleet of Batman’s Tumblers through. In the former case sheer awesomeness would have compelled people back, in the latter everyone would have left, blinked a bit and gone in again to see if it was them who were at fault and not the film itself. How often does the consumer doubt themselves that much in today’s society? Not often. Not at all often.
The Dark Knight Rises is going to be and was always going to be a tremendous success. Irrespective of the films quality (barring a complete and utter failure). In Field of Dreams Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella hears a voice which tells him “if you build it, they will come”. ‘Christopher Nolan’s epic conclusion to his Batman trilogy’ is a case in point of this. The pilgrims were already converted. For Warner Bros all that was left was to build them an idol to flock around.