Musical Themes in the Dark Knight Trilogy, Part 6 of 6: The Dark Knight Rises — 8 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post! I listen to the Dark Knight themes all the time and am always in total awe – im glad to find someone who listens to music this deeply

  2. Thanks, Shaun. There’s more Zimmer to come – look for a post on Man of Steel soon after the release of the film.

  3. Thank you so much for your posts, Mark, I really enjoyed the whole series.

    The use of the ostinato in the climbing scenes is so poignant – I actually listened to the soundtrack before I watched the film, and “Why do we fall” was the track that immediately got me (despite being quite simply structured and rather “blunt”, if I played the Devil’s Advocate ;))

    Another masterful use of the “two-note” Batman-theme, which you haven’t mentioned (or maybe I’ve overlooked it), is the track “On thin ice”. I believe it appears in the film for the first time when Blake visits Bruce at Wayne Manor and tells him he knows who he is. You have the two-note theme very faint in the background (which tells us “he’s still in there somewhere”). However, there is something else added to the mix here (I will refrain from describing it all in detail, otherwise I’ll still sit here tomorrow, but it might be a great addition to one of your posts ;)), which tells us Bruce/Batman is broken in the truest sense of the word.

    It’s also quite interesting that this slightly changed theme links into the climbing scenes-theme (you hear it for the first time after Blake has left and Bruce talks to Alfred, asking him to set up appointments with Fox and his doctor). For me, the ostinato-themes are the true signature themes of the third film in a way…

    Anyway, I’m rambling away.
    Thanks again for your excellent analysis, I really enjoyed it!

    • Dear Petra,

      Thanks for your kind words. I completely agree about the music for the climbing scenes – I think they have the most emotional impact in the whole film, for it’s there that Zimmer seems to be speaking with an elemental kind of musical language that resonates with us on a deep subconscious level. I’ve always felt that the most effective music is that which is based on a very simple idea, and Zimmer capitalizes on that here.

      And you are quite right about the Bat-theme appearing in “On Thin Ice”. Funnily enough, I remember Zimmer mentioning this particular use of the theme in a short interview for the news just before the release of the film (I saw it on YouTube well after the release), but I couldn’t remember where in the film he used it. So thank you! I watched the scene where Blake first visits Bruce and, lo and behold, there it was, just as Blake says that Gordon “needs the Batman”.

      Yes, I think “broken” describes this version of the theme quite well. (In fact, in the news spot, the interviewer even suggested that Batman’s “wounded” here.) Along the same lines, there’s a vulnerability to this version of the theme – it’s up in the high register sounded with a very delicate timbre instead of down low in the forceful brass. After a few times unharmonized, Zimmer also adds slow string chords, which gives it a feeling of warmth, as though Bruce is forming a connection with Blake after learning that he too was orphaned as a child.

      Thanks again for your unerring insights. It was a real treat. 🙂

      • Thanks for your reply! (I should really warn people about the following spoilers, shouldn’t I?)

        Yes, I think you are quite right about “On thin ice” hinting at Bruce and Blake forming a connection. And to take it one step further, we more than likely have the next Batman in Blake (at least in Nolan’s vision), so we could even see the faint use of the theme with a double-meaning: One is in/coming out of retirement, the other one is on his way to become the next Batman. There’s definitely more than one Dark Knight rising here, isn’t there? 😉

        I also remembered another use of the “climbing-theme”, just looked it up again to check if I was right (here’s the recording: ): It also appears in the tunnel with Selina, leading up to the infamous scene when Bane breaks Batman’s back. Funnily enough, it is preceded by one of the themes you describe as “troubled” (the one with the C#/diminished 4th): A first hint that this isn’t going to end well?
        Then follows the climbing theme, almost identical to the 3rd version (the one when he finally manages to climb out of the pit), with one major difference: There is no resolution at the end into what you call the “heroic theme”. It just cuts out. I believe that in the film, this is where the gate crashes down and traps Batman with Bane (just on a side-note: I found it immensely effective not to have any music during the actual fight). Batman is back, yes, but he was ill prepared and not really up to the task, and he has a lot of physical, emotional and spiritual healing to do before gaining closure (and that’s why there is no musical closure either, one could argue).

        I could probably write about this for ages, but I tend to read into film music what probably no composer ever intended (or did they? 😉 ), so I better stop…

        Thanks for the interesting exchange!

        • Great insights once more, Petra. I certainly agree about Blake becoming the next Batman, as that’s how I interpret the end of the film with Blake literally rising up inside the Batcave.

          The climbing theme in the tunnel scene is very interesting. I think we might extend the meaning of the theme from literal rising in the pit to a general rise in Bruce’s confidence. In this scene, he seems to delight in out-maneuvering Bane’s men, being suspended from the ceiling, then in that wonderful strobe effect of the light from the gunfire as he avoids being shot in the darkness. Then the gate comes crashing down along with his confidence – he knows he’s not ready for a fight with Bane, and the surprise of being locked in with him seems to leave him rattled. (If he had every confidence in himself, he probably wouldn’t have been so disappointed with Selina for being duped – he would have just taken care of Bane, and that would be that!) And as you say, the music remains unresolved, only to be completed in the climbing scene, making it all the more powerful.

  4. Interesting analysis, but may I ask why you didn’t include the theme which begins the end credits for each of these movies? In Batman Begins it played when the bats appeared in the “backup” scene and when Batman prepared to go fight the League of Shadows as the toxin was covering Gotham. In The Dark Knight it played when Batman grabbed the fake Batman’s gun in the garage, when Batman shot up with Lau out of the LSI building, and when Batman pushed Dent off the ledge. In Rises, it played when Batman first appeared in the tunnel, when he and Selina escaped Bane on the rooftop, when he jumped down and saved John Blake, and when he appeared out of the explosion with the bomb. It could be called a “success” theme and usually signifies that Batman is in control of a given situation.

    • The main reason I don’t discuss one theme or another is the size of these posts. I try to keep them to a manageable size, so omissions are inevitable.

      As for the end credit music in each film, in Batman Begins, I’m supposing what you were looking for is a discussion of the percussion riff with that growling brass note that we hear at the points you mention. True, I don’t discuss that portion, but it could probably be considered an accompaniment to the “succeeding” themes. In the end credits here, just after the growling note, we actually get a number of the themes I do discuss – the Bat-accompaniment, then the Batman “Signifying” Theme, Succeeding Theme 1, another theme I don’t discuss in long notes (probably another succeeding theme – call it Succeeding Theme 5), then Succeeding Theme 3 three times in a row, then a fading out of the Bat-accompaniment into the slower portion of the credit music.

      In The Dark Knight, we get the same “succeeding” accompaniment, then a hint of Succeeding Theme 1 that merges into Succeeding Theme 4 (mentioned here in this last post). Then the Bat-accompaniment leads into Succeeding Theme 1, then an aggressive series of chords that could be considered another succeeding theme (call it Succeeding Theme 6), then into Batman “Troubled” Theme and accompaniment for five consecutive statements (scoring altered in some). Finally, there is a series repeated chords that could be another succeeding accompaniment before the music turns softer and more lyrical.

      In The Dark Knight Rises, we again get the “succeeding” accompaniment (percussion + growling brass), then a hint of the climbing ostinato before the music goes into its by now expected statement of Succeeding Theme 1, then Succeeding Theme 5, Succeeding Theme 3 three times in a row, then the Batman “Signifying” Theme with its accompaniment. Then the music style changes, still upbeat, but now with repetitions of a two-note motif that leads to a more developed version of the “Signifying” Theme (this one much like Elfman’s Batman theme) before the music becomes more lyrical.

      In short, the music that begins the end credits in each film is the same – a sort of “succeeding” accompaniment that indicates Batman’s control of the situation, as you suggest. After that, each film runs through various themes, most of theme from the set of succeeding themes, probably because Batman’s signifying or even heroic themes are so short that they would hardly take any time at all. The diversity of succeeding themes seems to me an appropriate choice since they can be strung together so well, along with the Bat-themes themselves (they’re all in D minor!).

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