Looking beyond words

From an early age I have been fascinated with the depth and complexity of the Batman story. This intrigue has continued and grown stronger thanks to Christopher Nolans’ The Dark Knight Trilogy.  The way Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan have told this story has redefined the super hero genre and has made an impact on film making as a whole.


In this assignment I wish to look at the screenplay of each instalment of the trilogy individually, and investigate the similarities between all three using Voyant and Bookworm in tandem so I could shed light on what I have discovered.

One of the wonderful things about studying the Nolan Batman movies is the sheer wealth of information in the screenplays. I have found them to be very descriptive of the story, what the filmmaker was trying to convey in the movies and this shines through very well in the movies, so let’s see how the story fares the investigation.


Firstly I wished to have a look at Batman Begins.  I did not interfere this time with Voyant’s text visualisation processing, I have left stop words in the visualisation but the striking thing I found in the visualisation was even though Batman Begins is about the origins of Batman, the focus seems to be on the Wayne family, youth  and Bruce himself. The movie suggests the opposite that we are watching Bruce transform into Batman however from a textual point of view, the movie seems to be more about familial relationships and less about the League of Shadows destroying Gotham and Batman becoming. In fact, if we take this visualisation as a true representation of the movie, we see that Commissioner Gordon, Ducard, and Rachel play bigger parts and are more relevant to the story than Batman is. This can be detrimental to understanding the movie however, as the text has to be within a context. The movie is about Bruce becoming the Batman and overcoming his parent’s death, the reality of crime and corruption in Gotham to which the police are either helpless or involved.

So, from the outset we can see how useful Voyant is, but also how where it falls short.

The second movie I had a look at is The Dark Knight. This is the second movie in the trilogy. This movie deals with denser and heavier subject matter and was released in 2008 at the very start of the furor over privacy laws and online safety. This time however I edited out the stop words to get a clearer picture of a fairly dense script.


We can see from this visualisation that “Clown” (referencing the Joker), Gotham and Mask are very prominent here. Indeed the movie is primarily about the Joker trying to cause chaos around Gotham and taunt the Batman (who is referenced more so in this movie than Batman begins). One word that caught my eye because of its individuality is “Watchful”, this is significant, even though it doesn’t make much of an impact on the visualisation but the subject matter of this film is very much about Batman keeping his watchful eye over Gotham, even if it means he is invading the privacy of its citizens, it’s for the greater good. At the time the movie was being produced, there was an uproar form the public about online surveillance which made its mark on this movie. We can see by this how real life events can influence how a fictional story is told.

I wished to gain a deeper understanding of why surveillance was subject matter for this movie, so I turned to Bookworm to see what I could find.

surveillchart We can see here that use of the term “Surveillance” has increased in frequency over the last 15 years, many TV shows and Movies have used the term in growing numbers, is this a reflection of what has been occurring in our society? Most likely, as film and television have always been a good reflection of our society.

The final movie in the trilogy is The Dark Knight Rises, which dealt with even darker subject matter.


From this visualisation we see a lot of references to Harvey Dent which we didn’t see from the Dark Knight visualisation, which is odd. This for me is a major issue with Voyant, even though it is looking through the text to get keywords, it cannot get the feel or tone of a scene, which is important in movies where symbolism is integral to the whole story. Nevertheless, We see here that Harvey Dent(Two/Face) plays a huge part, even though the character dies in the previous movie.

The striking thing here is the lack of mention from Batman, it’s as if this movie is not a Batman movie whatsoever but some sort of espionage noir movie. Uses of the word black, knight, CIA, Militia, Dark and victims would allude to this. Again, this is where Voyant can’t show the movies true meaning. When you watch the movie, Batman’s symbolism hits an all-time high. We see the C.I.A. referenced here also, which is significant as the opening scene depicted an “Extraordinary Rendition” of several terror suspects in Scotland. At the time of filming the rendition scandal was breaking on news agencies the world over.  Again, we see how real-world events can influence a fictional story and upon finding this information, I thought I would turn yet again to Bookworm and see if there was any actual correlation in the time frame that the movie was produced and sure enough, there it was.

extraordinaryRenditionBetween 2005 and 2010 the U.S. Government was investigated for conducting “Extraordinary Rendition” which is the act of abducting terror suspects, flying them to the U.S. or Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for further investigation. This was deemed a highly illegal practice and the U.S. received much scorn for this.

Bane (Who also does not get a mention) is the main antagonist in the movie. He separates and cuts off Gotham from the rest of the world with the intention of destroying it by weaponising a nuclear reactor (None of this is mentioned in the visualisation ) and orders his militia (who are clearly mentioned in the visualisation) to subdue and terrorize the local population. Batman is injured by Bane and imprisoned, forcing the citizens of Gotham to pick up the slack left by Batman and rise up against Bane. The citizens of Gotham use the Bat symbol as a symbol of their uprising, which is significant as Batman was previously cast out for the alleged death of Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne overcomes his injuries and imposed exile by Bane to return to Gotham, again, using symbolism to call out Bane for the final battle. I feel that text visualisation cannot capture these events which are integral to the story.

From this standpoint, we can see where Voyant is very useful, how we can see things we have missed or cannot see clearly from watching. However, the tool cannot show symbolism, cannot convey feeling or quantify the mood and intensity of the movie.

I found Bookworm to be a very valuable asset to have as it generally gave gravitas to the correlations I had made between the story and the real world.

The major problem I have had with Voyant in particular is how much it’s disconnected to the story, it looks at words more than context, which is very inconvenient when trying to find the “hidden” story. I wished to find out more about some of my favourite movies, I feel I did not find out any more than what I had already known, but I do feel that I did gain a deeper understanding of why some of the themes in the movies are chosen in relation to real world events thanks to Bookworm.  Had I had never seen or heard about the Dark Knight trilogy, and used solely used Voyant to find out what the movies were about, I would have been at a loss and led to believe the movies were about something completely different than the subject matter.  Or, if I were to look at It another way, maybe the movies are about what I have discovered. There are very clearly themes of espionage, family and loss that are in the movie and also shine through here on Voyant, but within the context of the story being told there is a discord between what Voyant is telling me versus what the movie is showing me.

Nolan is a highly cerebral filmmaker, the themes he utilizes in his films are very dense and heavy with many forms of subject matter so maybe The Dark Knight Trilogy is no different.


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