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Elisabeth Rappe

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Elisabeth Rappe is a regular contributor to Film.com, CHUD, and The Spectator's arts blog. She spends her off-time with comic books, her pug, Elliot, video games, and Clint Eastwood movies.

Why It Doesn’t Matter If You Can’t Hear Bane

The world of online movie discussion has never been bigger or louder. If you doubt that at all, just think about the reaction to the release of the first trailer for The Dark Knight Rises. For 24 hours solid, on any site you could visit, everyone was echoing the same criticism, all believing none had said it before them: “I can’t understand Bane! What the hell is Bane saying? I’d love this trailer if I could understand Bane!”

Christopher Nolan couldn’t help but hear the din, which is reportedly echoed in the halls of Warner Bros. He’s shrugged off the criticism and refuses to alter the dialogue, though he plans to do some additional sound work. He sees Bane’s garbled voice as a challenge to viewers to keep up, and seems confident that Tom Hardy’s physical performance will convey precisely what is needed.

You can’t help but admire Nolan’s moxie. Time will tell if it’s the right choice (jump ahead to July 23, 2012, and we may be pointing to it as hubris), but I’d like to play devil’s advocate and say it is for one simple reason: Bane is a physical character. His menace should be exuded in his posture, his muscle, and every punch he throws. We shouldn’t be afraid of this character because of what he says, but because of the way he holds himself.

Somewhere out there, a Batman fan is furiously typing away at a piece (or already has — it was the holidays, I wasn’t scanning the comic blogs!) about how such a thuggish and muffled character is a betrayal of his comic book incarnation. In the comics, Bane is a supergenius, and one of the greatest minds Ra’s al Ghul (who certainly knows a thing or two about that) has ever encountered. He’s the rare villainous combination of brains and brawn, and if you took away one, he’d still be terrifying with the other.

But a muffled Bane isn’t a betrayal of that. I think it’s an asset. Gotham City and audiences will underestimate him. He looks and sounds like a dull thug, which will make his acts of lethal genius all the more shocking and upsetting. It’s a great contrast to the Joker, who can’t resist telling everyone what he’s about to do, or wisecracking as he does it. It’s an interesting and exciting challenge for actor, director, and audiences to grapple with.

Bane’s garbled dialogue is also (and even as I type it, I realize how funny it is — and maybe that’s the point) the ultimate expression of Nolan’s cherished realism: a man stuck inside a mask can’t be clearly understood.  For Bane to speak with crystal clarity is a joke. Astute audiences are going to wonder exactly how that’s possible. And I like that Nolan is shrugging and saying it isn’t. It feels like a subtle and loving jab at the ludicrousness of comic book characters in general.

And think about it — do we want an eloquent Bane? Isn’t a villain with a bottomless supply of memorable lines a laughable (if beloved) cliche at this point? Even Nolan’s Joker ended up over-quoted and over-imitated, and I’m relieved the director has taken the possibility of quotability off the table. It’s even possible he did it on purpose as a reaction to the obsessive Joker mimicking.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, we valued characters and actors who were spare with words or unintelligible when they said them. We long for the strong and silent types to return to cinema. I’m intrigued by the idea that Bane could run with that concept, and subvert the word-balloon-writ-large adaptation we expect from comic book movies. It will be a rare treat if Bane’s actions and motions speak louder than his words — and we may be so horrified by those that we’ll be very, very glad we can’t really hear what he’s
saying while performing them.


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Tags: Christopher nolan, The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy