On The Dark Knight Rises and How The Dark Knight Does Not Rise At All Unless By "Rises" We Mean "Loses"

Christopher Nolan's end to his Batman trilogy came out last week and I've now seen it twice. It's a wonderfully shot and acted film with some writing problems which sadden me, because Nolan's writing problems aren't usually so blatant. Most of the more obvious ones have to do with the passage of time, for instance the early scene at the Gotham Stock Exchange starts with the opening bell (9 am, more than likely) and while we can't be sure how much time passes before we're told the whole thing will be done in eight minutes by the time that eight minutes ends it is very much night during summer and there's no reason to think eleven hours have passed.

But that (and the other time problems) are small compared to what's been digging at me since my second viewing. 

I think it goes without saying that there are spoilers down here, but as few as possible.

Bane's goal is to fulfill Ra's al Ghul's "destiny", his plan to have Gothan tear itself apart. Where as Ghul went for a direct chemical warfare plan (give everyone crazy gas and let them tear each other apart, see Batman Begins) Bane plays a more psychological game. Though he plans to kill them all anyway, Bane explicitly wants the city to tear itself apart before he wipes it off the map. In that regard (whether he knows it or not) he's out to prove the Joker correct. 

In The Dark Knight the Joker aims to show that the people of Gotham are just as twisted as he is, and that given the right impetus (he primarily uses fear of death) they will turn on one another. The Joker is defeated, though, and not by Batman. The plan falls apart because the Joker was wrong, the people will not willingly kill one another to save themselves. Some say they're willing to, but even those verbally in favor of it fail to act. Batman was right, people aren't as ugly as the Joker! The people of Gotham save themselves! Batman captures the Joker and takes the fall for Harvey Dent! Gotham gets the hero it needs, and (according to the opening scenes of The Dark Knight Rises) it all works out to really clean up the town.

But Bane proves the Joker right by increasing the scale. In what are heavy handed allusions to the French Revolution (though not as heavy handed as a certain character's real name reveal) Bane storms the Bastille -- sorry Blackgate -- and declares martial law. The people of Gotham rise up and tear down the rich, who mostly go into hiding. The Scarecrow presides over the court that executes the rich and formerly powerful, much to the cheers of the gathered masses. The police are all trapped underground, kept alive "so they might learn to serve true justice."

The problem here is that prior to the murder of up to 40,000 people, the French Revolution was generally a good thing in what it did for the direction of world politics. The excesses of the nobility and clergy needed to be reigned in, as they were built on broken backs of the underclasses, including the newly forming middle class. Bane's storming of Blackgate, like the real storming of the Bastille, is to free political prisoners. Perhaps our political prisoners here are really thugs and mobsters, but they are only imprisoned because of the falsely passed Dent Act. Bane has a point that corruption and lies passed that act, that it is not just. We may like it because it gets the job done, but that doesn't make it right. Even John Blake recognizes that when he says Gordon's hands are dirty, and he is undoubtedly a good guy.

So Bane grows his people's army for the last standoff with the police (which we'll get to more in a moment). I've heard people argue that Bane's Army is just his mercenaries and the freed prisoners, and if this is true it obviously undermines my entire point here. Fortunately for me, it's demonstrably false. In the scenes where the rich are being torn from their apartments it is very clear that these are normal people rioting, including one man who is clearly the doorman of the building pushing it's residents out. In the end fight with the police there is at least one member of Bane's forces who is in full Gotham Rogues merchandise (black and yellow pants and coat), a stark contrast to the bandanas and bandoliers of the mercs and thugs. It's fairly obvious as well that it is not just the guards of Prison Gotham that make up the crowds in the courtroom. Even if the majority of the city isn't part of the rebellion, they are still sitting around doing nothing but hiding, trying to get by instead of trying to make things right. It's said that evil triumphs when good men do nothing, but one who fails to confront evil is not a good man. I hope the Joker is in his cell in Arkham angry that someone's pulled his game off better than he could (and did it by being a man with a plan).

But that's not the only way Batman loses.

So Blake helps the police escape their tunnels, and Batman explicitly calls the officers his "army". Batman, who already believes himself to be the only force capable of saving Gotham; Batman, whose benevolence is already the only thing keeping him from declaring himself dictator of Gotham. He's got an army now and using the oppression of the Police is the only way to quell the rebellion, thereby finally claiming his position as Louis XVI in our overblown analogy (except that Robspiere already thinks the King is dead, but not everything can fit neatly 1:1).

In The Dark Knight, democracy defeats chaos. In The Dark Knight Rises, fascism is all that works.

That doesn't sit well, but it doesn't necessarily mean that Batman is less of a winner.

However, it does break his philosophy from the earlier movies: In Batman Begins the people are not evil, they are drugged; in The Dark Knight the people are not evil since they are not drugged; in The Dark Knight Rises the people are proven to be evil. And that's not the only place. While good guys in the other movies have always used guns, gun violence has never saved anyone directly, and usually those who threaten gun violence get a comeuppance (see Dent's death). There are no less than three instances in this movie where the lives of main characters are only saved by gun violence, including Batman himself.

So the message of the movie: Batman is wrong about the effectiveness of his methods and Batman is wrong about the goodness of his people; the state is the only thing that keeps most people from being evil.



Alternative solution!

Ok, I had been thinking that Bruce Wayne's limp was, like the old Chinese magician's bad back in The Prestige and like Batman's voice (which he uses even when he's alone), all an act. Living the trick.

Maybe this is a capstone to all of Nolan's movies.

Daggert really wants to take down Wayne Enterprises. Why not use inception as a method for his aims? Bruce Wayne has been in seclusion for 8 years. There's no reaons for his limp to suddenly disappear when he becomes Batman again. There's also no reason to believe that he can magically save a city by dragging a neutron bomb in a helicopter that has to be travelling at over 300 miles an hour. The whole movie, or at least everything after Selena breaks into the East Wing, is a dream. Bruce Wayne, through his training in the League of Shadows, can over come it, but chooses the lotus. This explains the logical inconsistancies with how time passes within the movie and why there's suddenly a digital timer on the reactor, as well as why Tate and he get naked together just after the lights go out despite Wayne having not gotten over Rachel Dawes until possibly that very moment and then he never thinks of her again. It explains how his back heals so quickly in less than ideal conditions. Batman winning is Bruce's totem, because Batman always wins. But Batman shouldn't win here, that's how we know he's staying in the dream world.