Note: This post originally appeared 8/16/2012 on my other blog.
This brings us to The Dark Knight Rises. Spoiler Alert. Just in case you still haven’t seen the movie. Though, it’s been out so long that all plot points are fair game.
A perceptive youtuber made this Batman trilogy supertrailer with a voiceover from the Prestige (conveniently, it’s Michael Caine’s voice, who you hear as Alfred): And truly, if Nolan had to do major re-thinking of his trilogy after the death of Heath Ledger, the story did not suffer. Dark Knight mostly stood on its own, even though it built on the foundation of Batman Begins. TDKR, however, really relied heavily on the prequels and in a sense knit them together into a complete whole.
I was completely torn about going to see TDKR, but had to since I’d seen TDK. I kept comforting myself that I would get to see Anne Hathaway as Catwoman (and she did an excellent job).
I’m glad I went–though I was wound very tight until about halfway through the movie when I realized it wasn’t going the direction I thought it would. The last act of the trilogy, the prestige, itself has three acts, the descent, the pit, and the rise.
Ra’s al Ghul: You used all the tools I taught you… for a city that was corrupt, and a victory based on a lie. Now your failure will be seen…
TDKR takes place 8 years after TDK. 8 years of the noble lie cleaning up Gotham’s streets and tortuing Gordon’s soul, and Bruce Wayne holing up like a hermit in Wayne Manor (rebuilt after the ashes of Batman Begins!) while nursing his (physical and emotional) injuries from his fall in TDK.
Bruce and Gordon are struggling with the effects of their big fat noble lie. Bruce still thinks it was a good idea–but he is definitely not facing his pain about Rachel’s death, Dent’s fall, and Batman’s scapegoat status. He’s driving Alfred crazy. I don’t think Alfred can quite decide what a healthy Bruce would look like, but he knows that what he’s looking at is not it. By the way, even Alfred told a lie at the end of TDK, and he regrets that he hid Rachel’s choice from Bruce (she chose Dent). Alfred’s chief fear is that Bruce is not interested in living.
The only glimmer of life in Bruce’s eyes comes from Selina Kyle–the Catwoman. He catches her breaking into a safe in his house and is clearly intrigued by her. He sees something to her that most don’t. She’s a catthief with emotional issues that make her a little more complicated than others. He puzzles her a bit, too. That stupidly rich (but, admittedly handsome once he cleaned up) hermit who didn’t turn her in to the police but was fully capable of tracking her down himself.
Alfred: [about Selina Kyle] You two should exchange notes over coffee.
Bruce Wayne: So now you’re trying to set me up with a jewel thief?
Alfred: At this point, I’d set you up with a chimpanzee if it’d brought you back to the world!
The spark brought by both Selina and the mysterious person she is working for fans into flame when Bane shows up. Bruce is glad of the chance to be Batman again. He rather blithely steps back into the cowl (against Alfred’s wishes, see “not interested in living” above) with little preparation and walks right into the first villain who is physically stronger than Batman. Batman is promptly defeated and sent to hell. Bane’s definition of hell is a place that holds out a little thread of false hope–leaving you to hope and have your hopes dashed again and again because there really is no way out.
Bruce Wayne: Why didn’t you just… kill me?
Bane: You don’t fear death… You welcome it. Your punishment must be more severe.
Living in hell isn’t on Bruce’s list of things to do. He wants to die, but has a deep inner obligation to die fighting. Bruce talks in circles with a doctor who has lived in the pit for years. The doctor helps fix Bruce’s back, but also gets him to admit that he doesn’t fear death, and that’s part of his problem. There is a difference between risking your life for someone and wanting to live, and risking your life for someone and wanting to die. You’re much more likely to fail when you don’t desire life enough to try harder than you think you can (see chapter 10 of The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis). When Bruce realizes that he has to let go of his martyr complex, his deathwish, and the idea that he’s irrepairbly broken (body and soul), then he has what it takes to rise from the pit. He had to let go of failure, of Dent, of Rachel, of his parents’ murder, and do what Alfred had been trying to get him to do: embrace life.
Bane: So, you came back to die with your city.
Batman: No. I came back to stop you.
Bruce Wayne, back from the dead, once again fit and filled with new zeal, makes his way back to Gotham–back to the world. In many ways, the pit was the only thing that brought Batman back and made Batman the legend he was meant to be. While he was gone Bane ruthlessly undid the noble lie as part of his undoing of Gotham–he tore down the white knight who was their shining example and used that as justification for the Reign of Terror. It was hard not to watch Bane’s rule without thinking of the French Revolution. Anyone who could be deemed a “have” was evil and overrun by anyone who could be deemed a “have not.” To have was to be evil, unless of course you were a have not three seconds ago. Hate to get into politics, but it also bears resemblance to a certain movement whose main complaint is that some people have more than they do (but they are unwilling to share their ipads with the homeless guys who don’t have ipads). Bane: We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you… the people. Gotham is yours. None shall interfere. Do as you please. Start by storming Blackgate, and freeing the oppressed! Step forward those who would serve. For and army will be raised. The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests, and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure. Courts will be convened. Spoils will be enjoyed. Blood will be shed. The police will survive, as they learn to serve true justice. This great city… it will endure. Gotham will survive!
This is the lie Bane feeds the people to encourage them to destroy themselves and descend into chaos. Gotham does descend. There is a moral group that struggles to get by keeping its head down–the police force has been trapped in the train system underground and has done nothing but count the days till they can get out to reckon with the escapees from Arkam. Oh yeah, and there is a deteriorating nuclear-type-bomb rolling through the streets, which will eventually go off after a period of Bane’s torturous false hope.
To all this madness returns the Batman–more a man than he has ever been before. He finds his allies, makes allies out of others–namely Selina Kyle–and sets about systematically warring against Bane. Catwoman joins forces with Batman because Bane’s Gotham was never something she wanted. She’s also kinda stuck on the guy who has displayed unprecedented forgiveness and faith in her (perhaps the film could have been the Redemption of Selina Kyle). Plus, she’s definitely a girl more his speed than any others he’s had in his life.
In the end, it’s a pretty awesome climax. A fitting end for Batman’s journey that started when his parents were murdered in a dark alley. He has finally found himself, and only now could he truly sacrifice himself for Gotham.
Batman: A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.
Jim Gordon: Bruce Wayne?
Others have commented that TDKR was not as realistic as TDK, and I would agree. The plot has a few more fantastical elements that require suspension of disbelief–or require you to remember that this is actually a comic book movie.
It’s also interesting to note that the passage read at a certain key funeral at the end of the film is from Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, (a story set during the Reign of Terror, incidentally). The passage is from Sydney Carton’s final words before he goes to the guillotine in place of Darney (the man loved by the woman Sydney Carton loves).
I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
I’m growing to love this movie, actually. It’s a nuanced and rich story, with many themes, many good points, and many quotes. It’s not heavy handed, it’s a story that speaks for itself. I’m hesitant to really give away the ending, even though most folks have seen it by now. Suffice to say that I was happy. Gotham has the hero it needs, and Bruce Wayne has finally found peace.