Christopher Nolan’s lady troubles: Why ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ may be Anne Hathaway’s biggest challenge

Mar 22nd, 2011

Earlier this year, when it was revealed that Anne Hathaway had been cast as Catwoman in Christopher Nolan’s hugely anticipated “The Dark Knight Rises,” fans were apprehensive. Had the announcement been made immediately after Hathaway’s career affirming turn in “Rachel Getting Married” (2008), folks might have been a little more accepting. But one over-eager Oscar hosting stint and a string of unremarkable performances later, many are doubting the actress’s ability to do justice to the iconic character.

While Hathaway may not possess (or, has yet to demonstrate) the seductive cool required to tackle Catwoman (this appears to be the main complaint being levied against her), I’m sure she will be plenty convincing as the anti-heroine’s socialite alter-ego, Selina Kyle.

In fact, I don’t think the character will be Hathaway’s biggest obstacle at all…I believe the director will. Over the course of seven excellent films, Christopher Nolan just hasn’t shown much creative regard for his female characters.

Consider Nolan’s peripheral treatment of distressed damsel Rachel Dawes in his first two Batman installments. The descion to replace original Dawes actress Katie Holmes (“Batman Begins,” 2005) with Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Dark Knight,” 2008) was the subject of some ridicule, but little concern. Fans couldn’t have really cared less if she returned at all.

This was mostly because the character was never developed any further than “Batman’s object of desire.” Dawes’s existence as a by-the-numbers love interest would have been almost tolerable had she not been constantly dropped into situations where the audience was expected to care about her fate. Over the course of two films, the amount of time Batman spent rescuing Dawes was wildly disproportionate to the amount of time Dawes spent actually speaking.

For a more recent example, let’s look at Ellen Page’s portrayal of dream architect Ariadne in last year’s summer blockbuster, “Inception.” While early trailers and plot synopsis outlined Ariadne as dream thief Dom Cobb’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) reluctant partner in crime, the resulting film found her character to be far less essential to the overall story.

Which is not to say Page didn’t have a function in “Inception.” She did, and it was a very important one. Yet, despite her invaluable insight into Cobb’s subconscious and her pivotal contribution to his team, she was treated as little more than a marginal accomplice while the far less significant male characters played by Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were much better defined through their interactions and origins.

While other characters quipped at one another, had clearly articulated motives or spoke in a way which implied history and experience, Page was left to drably react to impossible environments. One could argue that Cobb’s late, tormented wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) was one of the films most memorable characters. But keep in mind that her most meaningful developments were mostly presented through Cobb’s voice-over narration.

Perhaps Nolan’s most depressing female fumble can be found is handling of Ellie Burr (played by Hilary Swank) in the loose remake of the Norwegian film “Insomnia” (2002). One would be hard pressed to find a role more ripe for personalization (Swank’s base character formula here is roughly the same as police chief Marge Gunderson’s in “Fargo” and FBI hopeful Clarice Starling’s in “Silence Of The Lambs”). Yet, in Nolan’s hands, Burr is reduced to a simple minded stake-raiser in Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Walter Finch’s (Robin Williams) heated game of psychological chess.

The closest Nolan has come to crafting a truly memorable female character was the manipulative Natalie in his breakout film, “Memento” (2001). However, save for one emotionally charged exchange between Natalie and amnesiac Leonard (Guy Pearce) near the end of the film, Natalie still lacks the nuance of “Memento’s” more vividly defined men.

When it comes to creating psychologically wounded alpha-males, Nolan is arguably the best in the business. But the director has yet to imbue his female characters with the same emotional depth or complexity. The marginalization of women in film is hardly an issue exclusive to Nolan’s filmography, but it’s difficult not to expect better from one of cinema’s great modern talents. Fingers crossed that Nolan’s teaming with Hathaway will break the trend.


Jaymie Baxley is a Fayetteville, North Carolina based journalist. He is currently a staff writer for local arts and culture publication, “The Fayetteville Feed.” Jaymie is also a student concentrating on his Bachelors in Mass Communications/Journalism. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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