I've been e-mailing with Molly Templeton, one of my editors at Eugene Weekly, about pros and cons of the film The Dark Knight. As a long-time pop culture nerd, I found that most of my feedback centered on deviations, both positive and negative, from the comic books.
I can’t think of a major superhero movie that more lovingly respects, and gives the nod to, its source material. From the inclusion of Batman mythology bit players (Carmine Falcone! Salvatore Maroni!), to the thoughtful reinterpretation of Two-Face’s disfigurement, to the major parts for Detectives Stephens and Ramirez as obvious proxies of the comics’ Bullock and Montoya, I was in Easter egg heaven. The film carefully categorizes the nearly 70 years’ worth of Batman and Joker material, cherry-picking what works, and excising what doesn’t.
In a way, this is what I try to do, too, as a writer of narrative nonfiction. I sift through the layers of a person’s life, or of an incident, and try to find its essential truth. This requires more reinterpretation and recontextualization of fact than it might seem at the outset. Truth is malleable, and slippery. With a little care, “What happened” can be reformatted to tell a better story, ethically, without sacrificing accuracy.
Now, obviously, Christopher Nolan has more latitude here than I do. If he mucks about with comic book continuity (like, say, inventing from whole cloth a brand-new love interest), he’s on the receiving end of angry fanboy message board tirades, not a lawsuit.
When I was working on my Eugene Magazine profile of local restaurateur (and local legend) Papa Soul, our interviews yielded pieces of the man’s past in a non-linear, disjointed order. I had to press Papa for the facts, many of which he wished to forget, and certainly didn’t want to see in a magazine. It was my job to use what he gave me to fashion an accurate portrayal of the man, but also one he’d be proud to claim. Essentially, I was adapting source material.
They say Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood has been safer since Papa Soul moved in. The guy certainly looks like he could beat up the Joker, doesn't he? And you know, I’ve never seen Papa and Batman in the same place at the same time. Hmm…