Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reflections on The Dark Knight Rises

With the DVD release of The Dark Knight Rises, it's time to think about the ideas in director-writer Christopher Nolan's film. And while Nolan says his Batman movies are not overtly political, there are plot points in the films that reflect what's happening in our world. (Rolling Stone interview with Christopher Nolan.}

1. Modern Batman films are the children of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. In 1986, DC Comics released Frank Miller's graphic novel, "The Dark Knight Returns." It was a gritty, and subversive look at the the Batman story. Gotham, American society and even President Ronald Reagan did not get positive treatment. What Miller's work did do was to take the Batman story to more serious heights. Now Batman stories could feature social commentary.

So, starting with director Tim Burton's Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), the film version of Batman could comment on what's happening with the world today. Particularly in Batman Returns, Batman is a champion for the common as Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne fights against his economic class by opposing another super rich man's plan to milk the public of its money. And isn't that what Batman creator Bob Kane had in mind when he envisioned his character as a Zorro type.

Christopher Nolan's Batman films are more realistic than the campy TV series and Burton's surreal approach. There are modern themes in the first two movies. In Batman Begins (2005), there is the theme of revenge versus justice. And in The Dark Knight (2008), he explores terrorism and the means to stop it. A theme you will see in The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises resembles The Dark Knight Returns in terms of plot. In the graphic novel, a middle age Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to become Batman again. In the movie, an older and crippled Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to also become Batman again.

There's a fun nod to the graphic novel, in The Dark Knight Returns. While chasing robbers, two cops, one an old officer and the other a rookie, are passed by Batman on his motorcycle. The old cop sees Batman, and says, "You are in for a show tonight, son." It's a scene and line paraphrasing a similar one in The Dark Knight Returns.

2. Crime occurs at all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum of society. In The Dark Knight Rises, there's a rich and greedy, construction company owner named Dagget. His goal in life is to take over Wayne Enterprises. And he'll do it anyway he can. Legal or illegal.

3. Greedy capitalists can wreck our economies. The villain Bane attacks the Gotham stock exchange. He confronts a greedy stock broker. The broker says to Bane, "This is stock exchange. There's no money you can steal." Bane says, "Really? Then why are you people here." Yes, this is an obvious comment on the 2008 stock market meltdown, where Wall Street almost destroyed America.

4. Economic injustice can lead to revolution. Selina Kyle aka Catwoman warns Bruce Wayne about the continued abuses of the rich on the poor. She talks about the storm coming. "You're all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us." Of course, one needs to look at the French and communist Russian revolutions.

5. Radical poor people can lead to mob justice. Bane exploits the economic fissures of society to cause the poor to attack the rich. Even Catwoman is drawn back by the poor throwing the rich out onto the streets.

6. The Dent Act is the Patriot Act. In the movie, the Dent Act is a law which is used to put crooks in jail. Yet, it's based on a lie. The lie being Batman killed district attorney Harvey Dent. That ruse was the justification of the law. This is similar to the use of Bruce Wayne's high tech eavesdropping machine to find the Joker. The question always becomes, "Does the ends justify the means?"

While the Patriot Act is useful to catching terrorists, it also can infringe on individual rights. These laws have short term benefits but can have long term side effects. Bane exposes the lie to Gotham. This leads to more revolution but in a bad way. Legitimate government is replaced by the tyranny of the mob.

7. Hope is a major driving force for our existence. A couple things. Nolan's Batman is a dark vision. But it's dark because of the evil that people can have and their acts that inflict pain on each other. And yes, fear is a big theme in Batman. It's Bruce Wayne's fear of bats that he uses to create his crime fighting alter ego. He wants to instill the fear he feels in the criminals that he wants to bring to justice.

But The Dark Knight Rises also raises the idea that hope is a driving force for humanity. Fear of dying in a hellhole might drive Bruce Wayne to make the leap to freedom but it's hope that keeps him alive. That's clear when Nolan takes the image of the cave like prison and mixes it with the image of the well that a child Bruce Wayne falls down. There's an image from the first movie of Wayne's father coming to rescue him. We hear his father ask Bruce, "And why do we fall Bruce?" Now the answer though comes from the first movie, Batman Begins. He answers in the first movie, "So we can learn to pick ourselves up." Yes, Bruce must use fear to drive him but he needs hope to sustain him.

The idea of hope is weaved throughout the whole movie. Of course there's the goals of Batman. Give people hope of justice. Detective John Blake has hope for Batman's return. Perhaps, the concept of hope is best demonstrated by Officer Foley. (Matthew Modine) When Bane takes over Gotham, Foley gives up as a police officer. But when he sees the symbol of Batman burning on a bridge, his hope is restored. He puts on the uniform and enlists in the fight against Bane.

So why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.

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