* This post contains movie spoilers. I’ll mark them as they come up.
Spilling out of the theatre after a recent showing of The Dark Knight Rises, my first response to the film was inarticulate.
But then my brain kicked in. Christopher Nolan’s trilogy-capping bat opus is brilliant, grand, and glorious.
Nolan is the master of metaphor. The Dark Knight explored moral reversals, and this symbolic tension was everywhere. In The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan examines the consequences of deception, whether big or small. Lies always undermine us, Nolan says, and we always pay the price. This imagery is pervasive throughout this film too. What’s truly remarkable (Christians take note) is how clear this message becomes without being the slightest bit preachy along the way:
Gotham is living a lie, and so are many of its important players.
Publicly, Gotham enjoys peace and an historically low crime rate. Beneath the polished streets, however, crime is thriving, growing, preparing.
I believe in Harvey Dent.
At the close of The Dark Knight, Batman asks Commissioner Gordon to blame him for Harvey Dent’s murder. They agree to perpetuate the Harvey Dent myth because the people of Gotham need to believe in a hero.
Research and Development in the Wayne Tower.
Since Batman Begins, the R&D floor has been “officially shut down,” hidden from the board of directors and public scrutiny in order to outfit Batman with the gadgets and firepower he needs to fight crime.
The bat cave.
Batman’s famous “lair” lies hidden beneath the Wayne Mansion.
In The Dark Knight, Alfred hides and burns a letter from Rachel to Bruce in which she confessed that she had chosen Harvey Dent over him, deciding some truths are better hidden.
*spoiler: The fusion reactor.
Wayne Enterprises has been hiding a fully functional (though still offline) fusion reactor beneath the city.
The Dark Knight himself.
Batman himself is a kind of lie, as Bruce Wayne masquerades as his alter ego. In the Dark Knight Rises, Bruce finds himself dancing with Selina Kyle at a costume charity ball. She’s dressed as a cat burglar (as herself), and he has no costume to speak of. Bruce calls her on her thieving ways.
“That’s a brazen costume for a cat burglar,” he quips.
“Yeah? Who are you pretending to be?” she asks.
“Bruce Wayne,” he replies, not catching his own irony. In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne pretended to be Batman. But now, in Dark Knight Rises, he’s pretending to be Bruce Wayne. He’s lost himself in his own myth, his own lie.
Notice, too, that every lie I’ve just listed has been told by one or more of “the good guys.”
Gotham’s Reckoning.*Spoiler alert this section
Catwoman plays the prophetess when leans in close, whispering in Bruce’s ear: “You think this can last? There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”
Enter Bane, who describes himself as “Gotham’s reckoning.” And he is. Nolan’s villains, you see, don’t represent people as much as forces. In the Dark Knight, the Joker represented a wild card—the chaos of pure, illogical evil, and he says as much about himself. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane is the inevitable (and unstoppable) judgement that comes for us when we live a lie. Even when those lies have been crafted from noble motives.
The destruction of Batman’s entire infrastructure is a fitting end to this trilogy because the whole thing was doomed to collapse under its own weight.
- Bane’s crew has been at work beneath the research and development lab. The entire lab literally collapses, falling into the lap of the enemy.
- Bane’s men have commandeered a cement factory, enabling them to slowly lace the foundations of the city with explosives waiting for the day of reckoning. When Bane finally flips the switch, Gotham’s foundations are literally shaken. The lie has undermined them all.
- In a particularly symbolic scene, an entire Football field caves in while thousands of spectators watch it fall. Their game is up.
- The hidden reactor is activated and begins to decay, making a nuclear explosion inevitable.
- Alfred’s lie comes to light, severing his relationship with Bruce.
- The Harvey Dent lie comes to light, shattering Gotham’s hope and its trust in authority.
In a losing battle against Bane, Batman kills the lights because up until this point, deception and darkness have been his ally. The move backfires. “The shadows betray you because they belong to me,” Bane says, chastising his victim. Gotham and it’s good guys have made their bed with lies, and now it’s time for them to sleep in it.
As some have noted, the story in The Dark Night Rises got so big, it almost swallowed Batman whole. But that was deliberate, part of the film’s message. The reckoning had to run it’s course, and Batman nearly lost himself along the way.
The Dark Knight Rises
As the constant voice of wisdom in the Dark Knight trilogy, Alfred nails the issue on the head yet again. He lectures Bruce about his role in the story. Gotham doesn’t need Batman, he says. It needs Bruce Wayne. “Maybe it’s time we stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have it’s day,” he comments sagely. When Bruce dismisses that, dismisses him, the judgement die was cast.
What Alfred didn’t realize is, the truth always has it’s day. Bane will see to that. “I wondered what would break first; your spirit, or your body,” he mused over Batman’s inevitable defeat.
In the end, the dark knight rose. Rose from the rubble of his own moral collapse. Rose out of the pit with the faith of a child. Rose right out of his costume, rose from his alter ego. Rose into the pure light of freedom. As himself.
Because not even heroes can outsmart the truth.