Anatomy of a Scene – The Climb

My love for The Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan is based on how realism blends with the superhero themes that make it a compelling series of movie. Not only is the acting, cinematography, and directions of these films brilliant but you enjoy the deeper themes and meaning behind the storylines. Some of these scenes including the one I am highlighting from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ have not only great symbolism but larger lessons for our own lives on how we react to adversity and the challenges that life throws at us. Even when you are not Batman, a superhero with genius level intellect and almost superhuman physical strength, we can relate to Batman because he is fallible, and he has his weaknesses like we all do.

The brilliance of this particular scene from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is it shows Batman or Bruce Wayne at one of his lowest lows. He is an older man, not as physically imposing or as intimidating as he used to be, and he has lost almost everyone who meant to something to him. This scene comes in the 2nd half of the film and is located in a pit which has a double meaning to it. From the depths of this pit, we wonder if Batman will be able to rise and become who he is meant to be in order to face his adversaries head on.

‘The Climb’ scene from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is the best scene in the The Dark Knight trilogy in my opinion. Between Hans Zimmer’s music to the dialogue to the feeling of suspense to the ultimate payoff, it is an incredibly powerful scene that will stick with you even years later when you have forgotten other parts of the movie. I would like to breakdown the scene’s setting and what is happening along with giving some background as to what is significant about the events of the scene.

The beginning of the scene begins with the Bruce training physically in order to be strong enough to leave the pit where he is a prisoner like other similarly forsaken men. He is confident in his abilities even after having fractured a few of his back vertebrae after getting ‘broken’ by Bane, a masked villain who seems to be immune from Batman’s stealth and fighting tactics. After being sent to ‘the worst hell on Earth’ according to Bane, Batman slowly recovers from his injuries with help from the prison doctor and the blind seer who give him the history of the prison. It is Bane’s prison and he has sent many men there to die as no one has ever escaped except for Bane, which is only a rumor at this point. Bruce tells the prison doctor that he is not ‘meant to die in here’ even though to the doctor, it makes little difference where Bruce dies since no one has ever made the leap to freedom to survive and leave.

Even with Bruce’s back healing and seeing the urgency of Gotham City being under lockdown by being threatened with a nuclear weapon and his armed henchmen, Bruce has to spend a few months doing pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups and any other activity in order to physically be ready to escape. “Survival is the spirit” says the blind seer who used to care for Bane when he was in the prison. Bruce is ready physically according to him and he says his soul is ready, but he fails a few different times and re-injures himself while trying to make this leap to freedom.

It is more than just your body being ready to jump but it is also about the spirit, which revolves around mental toughness. The blind seer reminds Bruce that he cannot make the leap if he does not fear death. Bruce is not afraid of death in general but is afraid of dying in a pit prison for which there is no escape while his home city burns and suffers. Bruce is angry at Bane and wants vengeance but before he is able to leave, he must conquer the ultimate fear of death by facing it head on.

The blind seer tells him again that he has to “Make the climb…” Bruce asks incredulously, “How?” having tried multiple times with a rope attached to him to prevent him from falling to death from the top area of the pit. The blind seer reminds him that he must jump “without the rope” which acts as a safety harness, “Then fear will find you again…” In order to conquer the fear of death and dying in the pit, Bruce must leap to freedom with nothing holding him back, not a rope nor his fears such as of bats.

Bruce only brings with him ‘supplies’ for his journey back to Gotham remaining ever hopeful he will survive this leap to freedom with no rope to hold him back or keep him from suffering the deadly consequences. Bane’s prisoners start chanting from their cells ‘Deshi Bashara’ over and over again and louder as Bruce gets ready to climb out of the pit. Bruce asks the Doctor, “what does it mean?” and the Doctor replies, “Rise.” Bruce’s father, before his death, asked his son, “Why do we fall?” and after all this time as Batman and the trials and tribulations he has experienced as a caped crusader, he finally knows the only answer in his life is to “Rise.”

Looking on and as the blind seer hears the ‘Deshi Bashara’ chants get louder and louder, Bruce begins his climb out of the pit without the rope. As Bruce gets towards the final jump out from the top ledge of the pit to climb out, the music starts to crescendo and the bats that he has feared all of his life since his parents’ death fly out of the top edge of the pit and surround him as he gets ready to jump.

Realizing he no longer has the constant fear of them, he realizes he is Batman risen again and can make the full jump with confidence that he will make it. Seeing daylight above him and having faith in his ability to rise up to save his city, Bruce holds on to the other ledge successfully making about a 3-meter jump to avoid death and live to fight another day. Having seen daylight and the sun fully for the first time in months, Bruce is aghast that he made it but his determination to save Gotham steadies himself for the long journey ahead.

Because Bruce Wayne is Batman, he remembers to save Bane’s prisoners, most likely innocent men captured in the fight asked the supervillain and throws them down the long ropes so that they too can climb out to freedom with his help. It’s the small details like that which make Nolan’s Batman trilogy the best of all Batman films. Bruce’s Batman persona does not forget the men who helped him heal his back, train himself physically, and offer the wisdom to face death head on in order to face Bane again and save the city. This very pit that Bruce rises from is directly inspired by the comic books themselves as it is similar to the ‘Lazarus Pit’ where men can be regenerated and made immortal again by the pit’s healing powers.

There is also references made to Ra’s Al-Ghul who appears to Bruce in a vision speaking about the ‘many forms of immortality’ that exist and how he may still be around through Bane’s control of the League of Shadows or otherwise. “There is a prison in a more ancient part of the world, a pit where men are thrown to suffer and die, but sometimes a man rises from the darkness. Sometimes, the pit sends something back.”

Bruce was able to get back because he rose from the darkness of his own despair from being broken in terms of mind and body but was able to risk it all in order to save his city. He faced his fears head on and was able to have enough confidence in his abilities to leap to freedom and be ‘sent back’ to Gotham to avenge those suffered under Bane’s tyranny. Bruce is a hero as well because he is selfless and thinks about others before himself such as those men in the pit he freed and giving them real hope rather than just a glimmer of sunlight by handing them down the rope so they could be free too from Bane’s cruelties.

This brilliant scene can have a deeper meaning for us all because during our lives, we will all be down in the metaphorical pit being unable to escape our own fears, doubts, and phobias. However, we must always face our fears and rise out of the pit of despair to give ourselves the best chance to succeed. Whether its feeding your family, learning a new skill to be employed, or winning a championship in an intensive physically or mentally challenging activity, we must face our fear head on and realize it is better to have thrust ourselves into these challenges head on than staying down in the pit of our own worries.

During our lives, we must cut the proverbial rope of convenience, comfort, and easy living to truly develop ourselves and our abilities. Life is not without risk including sickness and death, but we must continue to fight on and continue to escape the self-made pits that lie within each and every one of us. Motivating yourself to fight against these problems and letting go of your fears will make you a stronger person. Whenever life gets you down, remember to fight on and use this movie scene as a motivation for you to continue on. You will be down in the pit as Bruce was during this film, but it does not mean that you are doomed to stay there. With taking on your fears, living life how you want it to be lived, and overcoming challenges and obstacles, you too will make the leap to freedom in mind, body, and soul.

‘Collateral’ – Film Review and Analysis

It’s not often the case that a Hollywood film can go beyond its’ genre to relay a deeper message about the human condition and why people are the way they are. ‘Collateral’ (2004) is one of those movies that is able to achieve just that by making the audience member such as myself care about the characters as well as appreciate the deeper meanings beyond the dialogue and the setting.

While there are numerous crime thriller films out there, ‘Collateral’ is able to go above and beyond the clichés and be original in its’ own right. Part of this is due to the fact that Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx give outstanding performances for their respective characters along with the rest of the credit that should be given to director Michael Mann who relishes being a director for crime noir dramas that are set in Los Angeles. While ‘Collateral’ was not an Oscar award winning film unfortunately, its’ characters, the setting, the action sequences, the directing, and the overall message that the plot sends to the audience make it a unique and reputable movie that deserves a viewing or two.

Without going into too much detail, the plot of ‘Collateral’ stars two men who come from very different circumstances and live very different lives. However, the Cosmos align to have them meet for the first time at night in Los Angeles. “Vincent” played by Tom Cruise, has just arrived in Los Angeles from the airport and is looking for someone to take him around the city. What better way to see L.A. than to do so by taxi so Vincent goes to the nearest taxi stand to seek one out for a ride. That’s where the plot of the film begins as Max, played by Jamie Foxx, accepts Vincent as a new passenger after ignoring his presence initially. Vincent, dressed in a gray suit with gray hair could be just like any other businessman in Los Angeles but he’s not what he appears to be. Max starts to realize this as the night goes on but not until after he drops off Vincent at his first but not his last destination.

Vincent is more than just the new guy in town here for business. He’s a contract killer and a hitman who is in Los Angeles for one night only in order to carry out a series of hits. After bearing witness to the first of Vincent’s murders, Max is forced into being Vincent’s chauffeur for the rest of the night as he has four more contract hits to carry out for his boss, “Felix”, played brilliant by actor Javier Bardem. Vincent’s goal for the night is to carry out the rest of the contract hits successfully and then get a flight out of Los Angeles as the sun rises after his boss pays him handsomely for his ‘work’. Max’s goal for the rest of the night is to get out of this situation alive without getting killed by Vincent or being seen by the police as an accomplice of Vincent who is dragging him along as he commit these vicious murders in cold blood.

Mixed up in all of this madness is “Annie”, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, who is a prosecutor in the U.S. Justice Department who works out of their office in Los Angeles. She ends up being the first passenger of the evening in Max’s cab before the fates intertwine and Vincent comes along to change Max’s life forever. The only good part of Max’s night is when he meets Annie and they hit it off enough to the point where he is able to get her phone number but it is uncertain whether or not he will have the confidence to call her and make plans.

Unfortunately, Vincent, the contract killer, has Annie in his sights as one of his five targets setting off a series of events that put Max and Vincent on a tense collision course. On top of all of this, you have members of both the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department noticing what Vincent and Max have been up to which causes more violence and bloodshed to occur. “LAPD Detective Ray Fanning and FBI Investigator Frank Pedrosa” (played by Mark Ruffalo, and played by Bruce McGill) are the ones leading the investigation into these random but coordinated killings popping up all over Los Angeles in the dead of night orchestrated by Vincent with Max as his unwilling accomplice.

There’s no character in this film that isn’t in danger or who may come into harms way and that is partly what makes the title of the film fitting as called ‘Collateral’ because everybody in this movie feels the damage caused by Vincent in some way. Max has feelings for Annie so he wants to do the most he can to protect her before she become apart of the ‘collateral’ damage that is being inflicted by Vincent.

Michael Mann, the director of ‘Heat’ (1995) previously and of this film ‘Collateral’, does an excellent job of making the setting of Los Angeles feel like its’ own character that sets the tone for the movie as well as provide an analogy for what the characters of Max and Vincent are like. Los Angeles is a sprawling urban city of more than four million people and has highways, tunnels, and bridges that loop and wind through the various neighborhoods that can only be connected by car.

For Max, Los Angeles is the only home he’s ever known but for Vincent, it’s a sprawling, disconnected mess of alienated people who don’t know or care about each other even if the collective Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of their city is more than most countries on the planet. Vincent regales Max about a story of someone who dies on the Los Angeles Metro one day and nobody else on the transit system notices for many hours, which proves his supposed point about the city’s culture of alienation. Similar to L.A., Max and Vincent are disconnected from other people in their own ways. Max is shy and reticent with new people he meets and doesn’t go after what he wants while Vincent is a sociopathic killer who doesn’t have much regard for people in general.

There’s one excellent scene in this film where Vincent and Max chide and prod each other as to why they are who they are. Vincent wants Max to call Annie, the girl whose number he got earlier in the evening, because “Life is short. One day it’s gone…” Max doesn’t reply regardless of what Vincent’s opinion is of his dating life. Later on in the scene, they both see a lone grey wolf walking through the streets of Los Angeles presumably searching for food or for some sort of purpose. In so many ways, this is symbolic of who Vincent and Max both are.

Vincent knows his purpose is to kill people because it’s what he ‘does for a living’ but this job alienates him from his humanity and causes him to be a lone wolf. Max is unsure of his purpose in life and wants desperately to be more than a simple taxi driver. He has dreams to start his own limo company one day but never takes the first step to making that dream come true and actually become a reality.

Even though they are two different men from very different circumstances, they are able to see what they should become if they weren’t so set in their ways. Max is a compassionate person who cares for others but is stuck without a purpose and isn’t able to take control of his life. Vincent is a sociopath who can’t relate to other human beings but knows what his one true purpose in life is and this allows him to feel some control over his existence, which he deems as being ‘meaningless’ in the long run.

Even with the fact that they detest each other, they begin to understand the flaws in their own character and how they could be different if they gave themselves a chance. Max could be more spontaneous and avoid having a repetitive life if he chose to be something more than a taxi driver. There’s no changing that Vincent is a cold-blooded killer but you start to see the circumstances that created his monstrous self. He never knew his mother, and his father was an alcoholic who beat him mercilessly and let young Vincent to grow up in foster homes. Max, nor the audience, can show much sympathy for Vincent’s plight but you start to realize that he is not just a simple-minded killing machine.

While life may be meaningless for Vincent, he still thinks that Max should live it to the fullest and ‘carpe diem’ before it’s too late for him. Max gets Vincent to ask himself why he is a sociopathic killer and gets him to reveal a little about his troubled family as well as to why he is a nihilist. In response, Vincent gets Max to ask why he never did anything to make the Limo Company to become a reality. He implores him to think deeply about making his dream come true because someday it may never come to pass if you don’t do anything to make it happen in the first place.

‘Collateral’ is a great crime thriller that is extremely well written, has great acting, and is directed and choreographed superbly by Michael Mann and his team. Beyond that, ‘Collateral’ is a film that makes you question certain things about life and the limits that we put on ourselves. The nihilism and disconnectedness of both Los Angeles and the main characters of Max and Vincent is both surreal and powerful. This is not your typical Hollywood drama and that’s a good thing. This movie is not a blockbuster and feels more like an independent film that came in way under budget.

‘Collateral’ is a gripping take on two men who are forced together by fate to go through a night together that will change them forever. I highly recommend this movie based on the excellent writing, acting, directing, and the strong storyline that keeps the viewer interested. Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise do an excellent job and have great chemistry together, which is what makes ‘Collateral’ really shine, and have longevity as a unique film over a decade later. If you get the chance sometime, you should really see this movie.

The Ripple Effect

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Which chocolate will you decide to choose?

Throughout the course of our lives, actions and events occur that we don’t see coming or have little control over. While these small events and actions seem unimportant at the time, their results continue to spread and manifest in changing things about yourself, and your path in life. This is known as the ‘Ripple Effect’, and is often overlooked by certain people who refuse to recognize that actions have consequences and what we say or do now has lasting effects on who we will become in the future.

The most famous example signifying the ‘Ripple Effect’ is when drops of water or other objects, fall into a larger pool of water causing ‘ripples’ to manifest themselves while affecting the initial state and changing its physical makeup. Similar in overall meaning to the ‘Ripple Effect’ is the ‘Butterfly Effect’ and also the ‘Domino Effect’ often cited in sociological terminology.

The older you get, the more you realize that certain things in life are going to be outside your control. Some people refuse to recognize this fact and try to direct and manage everything in life to prevent any surprises, twists, or turns that will come your way. However, this approach is a recipe for disaster because it is a fact that we cannot control everything that happens to us and that it is pointless to try to do so.

I don’t want to turn this into a “Predestination v. Free Will” debate because that is too black and white for a world that has a lot of grey matter. If you had asked me about the concepts ‘Free Will’, ‘Destiny’, and ‘Fate’ when I was ten years younger, I would have said that I have complete control over my life and that my destiny is totally in my hands. At my current age and the older I get, I believe that it is a intertwining mix of destiny and your own will that sees you through both the highs and lows of life.

From my own personal experiences, especially as I enter my mid-20’s, there have been many unexpected occurrences that have changed my life in different ways which would have been unimaginable to me in the past. I never would have thought that I would become an ESL teacher, move overseas and travel to different countries, and change my career path for the time being. There are cities that I have visited, cool experiences that I have had, and lessons that I have learned about life that would not have had happened had I stayed in the same town, kept my first job after college, and not gone out of my way to meet new people, make new friends.

It’s occurred to me now more than ever that we should not plan for everything in the future because the future is not up to us and life can throw unexpected curveballs when we least expect it. Instead of ‘cursing our fate’ and ‘falling into gloom and doom’ about the things we cannot control: (job security, natural disasters, deaths of family and friends), we should make an effort to change what we can control to benefit out lives: (relationships, where we live, and our physical and mental health.)

‘Free Will’ for human beings is limited as is ‘Pre-Destination.’ I would like to believe that I have some control over my life and the direction(s) it can take. However, I cannot change anything about my past and I am limited in what I can do about my future. Do not feel totally helpless about your future because you still have the power of decision-making, reasoning, and foresight, which can help you with your personal and professional goals.

It’s much easier to be angry at the world and to curse about the wrongs that have been committed against you but it won’t do much to make you feel better or to improve your future. Instead of feeling powerless, take charge and do your best with what you have now. Make every day a chance to improve yourself in some way so that your future will be a little bit brighter than before.

Never give up, and if challenges and set-backs come your way, meet them head-on and have the resolve to face them given your previous experiences in life. As was once said famously by the character, Forrest’s mother, in the critically acclaimed film, Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, Forrest, you never know what you’re going to get.” Even if you get a bad chocolate every now and then, there will still be plenty more to choose from.