A few weeks ago I did what I thought only ever happened in movies; I snapped awake from a nightmare, drenched in sweat, heart pounding. The usual dreadscapes of monsters, insects, and rampant unexpected public nudity had been replaced by atypically sober horrors, wherein I walked in on Daisyhellcakes, distressed, as she watched the news showing President Obama conceding an electoral loss to Mitt Romney. I was as grateful for waking life as I am when I dream of being arrested or getting lost in New York. At least for now, the US doesn’t have to go through what the UK is currently going through, and that’s good, even with an economy as unhealthy as this one.
Because if Romney and his Randian conspirator Paul Ryan (one man with two first names, another with none) gets into the White House, the US will go through something similar to what is happening in the UK, except turbo-charged in that uniquely American way. The UK is watching aghast as the Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition begins to take apart the welfare state under the guise of economy-restoring austerity. Well, I say Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition, but right now it feels as if the Tories, pretending to be operating under a mandate, are desperately looting the country and selling off huge chunks of it before their coalition falls apart while the Lib-Dems stand by like a clone army of Neville Chamberlains, their only contribution to occasionally clear their throats to say, “About that House of Lords reform…”
A Romney-Ryan win would see the US welfare apparatus attacked too, except that while the Tories are breaking bits off and handing them under the table to the titans of industry, the two Rs would just drop a nanobomb on society like Cobra in the hit Channing Tatum film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, before dusting the debris off their very expensive jackets and saying, “Job done. Another liger blood daiquiri?” Rest assured it will happen. The Right are thrilled because whenever the populace is scared enough, the sociopaths with their leather-bound copies of Atlas Shrugged will be able to do whatever they want, and no one seems able or willing to oppose them. A society distracted by fear, oppressed by the terror of imminent economic collapse, can be made to do anything.
Yes, this is a review of The Dark Knight Rises – or at least a brain-dump about how my feelings about it have evolved from anticipation to reflection — but there’s a reason why the movie chimed so strongly with me, and why that nightmare rattled me so thoroughly. Christopher Nolan has stated that he has not included specific political messages in his movies, preferring to add ideas that resonate before letting the audience make their own minds up. Certainly The Dark Knight felt like a response to 9/11 and the War on Terror, with Batman creating a surveillance device that so offended saintly Lucius Fox that he threatened to quit Wayne Enterprises, and the Joker representing an unpredictable and implacable terrorist boogeyman determined to undermine the psyche of Gotham’s populace.
However, the conclusion to the trilogy very quickly inspired a take on the movie’s politics that troubled me greatly. Catherine Shoard’s demolition of the movie as pro-capitalist, in which she rightly brings up the difficult fact that Bruce Wayne is able to become a crimefighter using inherited wealth to fund his activities in order to save the underprivileged from themselves, worried me in the days leading up to the release of TDKR. Shots in the trailer showing the rich being pulled out of hiding by baying mobs were shot by Nolan and Wally Pfister to look like a kind of dystopian nightmare, and the thought of a Batman movie making an explicit plea for sympathy for the robber barons in the face of out-of-control populism concerned me.
The Occupy movement doesn’t create the same headlines it once did. Updates on protests still pop up in my Twitter feed from time to time, especially during the recent one year anniversary, but for now the novelty seems to have worn off and the media has moved on. Nevertheless the populist anger against the money men remains even if now belittled and treated as a failure, and there are still many who hold out hope that the movement could conceivably hold the germ of a nationwide philosophical realignment on a par with the populist movement during the (last) Great Depression. The thought of one of the most anticipated movies of the year dismissing this movement as the rule of the mob depressed me beyond words.
The stories that make a difference inspire hope, not despair, which is why the possibility that TDKR might seek to demonise the Occupy movement was so upsetting. We don’t need their battle to be any harder than it already is. Occupy’s potential for success is precarious, the odds against it altering society for the better so large because of the monolithic corporate power ranged against it, that a kind of derangement has set in with some voices on the left who have even, shamefully, taken to shouting down feminists who dare to call for Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden over the rape charges against him, his worst supporters taking on a tenor of desperation as if to say, “Don’t you see how close we are to bringing the evil empire down? You uppity bitches are ruining everything!” Seriously, fuck these clowns.
On first viewing, head filled with tragic reports from the horrifying shooting in Aurora and the comparatively trivial worries that The Dark Knight Rises was going to be a letdown on an artistic level, it was impossible to concentrate on it. The only thing to break through the mental block was the bravura finale, but my reaction was nevertheless muted, which I attributed at the time to the continued post-Avengers lull I’ve felt since April. It was only upon seeing it again in full IMAX that I was able to figure out what I thought of it, and to work through concerns about the seemingly superfluous digressions and complications in the plot that had irked first time around, and to decide if it truly was the “audaciously capitalist vision” that Shoard suggested.
The misunderstanding that has tainted some takes on The Dark Knight Rises is that Bane represents Anarchy, that the League of Shadows are anarchists, and that the movie is a depiction of the futility and ugliness of the Anarchist credo. The capitalist system and its framework of government, if removed and replaced by “Bane-archy” (sorry), will inevitably lead to mob rule, and the collapse of society as we know it. Even to anyone who has reservations about the capitalist system, the thought of wealth being not redistributed but effectively destroyed and replaced with barbarism by the idiotic, conscience-free mob is a terrifying one, and the scenes of the people of Gotham baying for blood are truly nightmarish.
However, Anarchy has once more been misinterpreted by almost everyone, except Chris and Jonathan Nolan, who are well aware that Anarchy is not a lack of “government” or the destruction of society, but a political philosophy in which the people can become responsible enough and engaged enough that they do not need to be governed from above through fear or coercion, and can look after themselves and create a functioning society out of civic virtue and co-operation. The League of Shadows wants nothing more than the destruction of all of communal, supportive society, holding to a kind of cultist idea that our world is corrupt and evil, seeking to destabilise the world and stymie progress at every turn. This isn’t about fairness or justice; The League have more in common with a kind of militant nihilism than true virtuous anarchy.
Bane pretends that he is freeing the citizens of Gotham from the shackles of society; killing the mayor, trapping the police in a prison resembling the one that he was once trapped in so that he can break their spirits, and closing the people off from the rest of the world (i.e. a militia paradise of no government, destruction of the loathed Feds, and total isolationism). However, the deadly mobs we see in the movie, though they certainly would contain many citizens of Gotham, are formed behind a phalanx of armed prisoners released from Blackgate Prison. What we see is not Gotham spontaneously turning into a violent hate-mob; we see a terrified populace staying at home in large numbers under fear of nuclear annihilation, while the worst of them run riot.
This is not freedom. The rule of law is removed, and replaced with the fear of imminent death. Trap a rat in a cage and it’ll become as angry as Billy Corgan. Basically, Bane has turned Gotham into a city ravaged by the idiocy and fear of a gang of violent, vengeful and perpetually aggrieved Billy Corgans, while the virtuous of the city — the Kurt Cobains of abstention, if you will — stay at home, off the streets, living in terror. And yet pundits continue to argue that this is an attack on Occupy. A bunch of tent-dwelling Engel-quoting sweethearts whose most violent act would probably be slamming their MacBook Air shut after reading a contentious Wall Street Journal op-ed? If anything, the militant forces roaming the streets of Gotham represent the Tea Party. They’re the ones praying for the dismantling of the state that so “oppresses” them, in favour of a return to “survival of the fittest” chaos.
These were the many metaphors in The Dark Knight Rises that I was trying to parse and juggle through my first viewing in an attempt to reassure myself that one of my favourite filmmakers wasn’t going to take one of the most impressive movie franchises of all time and betray the message of hope from the second installment, choosing instead to churn out propaganda that would misrepresent an attempt to hold our leaders to account in order to help stabilise or celebrate a corrupt strata of power. The problem in approaching this movie as a patchwork of topical themes about government, law enforcement, terrorism and economic populism is that those themes exist alongside a complex but elegant narrative in which the characters can be seen to represent those themes but more importantly — obviously — represent themselves. By ignoring the human story I disappeared down a rabbit hole of interpretation, and my enjoyment was the casualty.
If Nolan doesn’t see himself as a political filmmaker, merely as someone who is aware of modern politics and wishes to use them as a single shade in his artistic palette, we can either ignore him and parse this movie with a copy of Jonathan Wolff’s Introduction to Political Philosophy in one hand and a signed picture of Noam Chomsky in the other, or we can take him at his word and take or leave the politics, which means we can focus on the characters and their stories. The second viewing of TDKR, in IMAX revealed a tapestry of character arcs that echoed that of Bruce Wayne’s journey from spiritual death to life, and initial concerns about the meandering plot were washed away. This is a precisely tooled movie; the longer runtime is not a consequence of flabby editing but of ambition, and even if, like me, you think The Dark Knight is superior, this will be a movie to revisit and explore many times over.
Also, as someone who is in the middle of writing a trilogy of books (in one go, like an idiot), it’s pleasing to see this as a single movie but even more so as a part of a larger whole, with Bruce Wayne/Gotham going through three individual arcs and one master arc that resolves problems posed right at the beginning of the first film. Nolan’s genius move here is the flashback that occurs while Bruce Wayne is recovering in the prison, back to the moment where he sees his father descend into the pit to save him. We realise Bruce is still in the pit, literally in the sense of the prison in which he has been placed, and figuratively in that he never really escaped the pit in the first movie. His father rescues him, before being murdered, after which Bruce carries the fear he experienced in the pit with him, even cloaking himself in a costume based on the bats that appeared at that moment.
Alfred has been telling Bruce this all the way through the series, and much to my own annoyance these scenes with Michael Caine never really struck home until I realised that the main arc of The Dark Knight trilogy was Bruce saving himself. In the comics Bruce Wayne can never recover, but here Nolan fixes the man, and everything that happens in the trilogy is about him finding peace, as well as his own way. To do that he has to be broken down (literally), to lose everything that his father has given him, so that he can finally step out of the shadow as his own man. The buffers (Alfred, Wayne Enterprises, his financial resources) are gone, he’s returned to the pit, and he conquers fear, the failures of his body, and the consequences of his arguably misguided decision to fight crime as a shadowy monster, but this time without the crutch of his inheritance and his father’s legacy.
Of course Bruce can only fix himself once he has fixed Gotham, and this has been an ongoing process through the films, but as Robert McKee would probably applaud, his subsequent adventures are instigated by the mistakes he makes. In the first he establishes himself as a protector of Gotham, hoping that his example would inspire the people of Gotham to take responsibility for their city. This obviously fails, even though he defeats and kills Ra’s al Ghul (an act of omission — saving Ra’s from the monorail — is as bad as an act itself, surely). This sets up a problem in the second movie — the crap vigilantes he has to keep stopping, not to mention the escalation of the Joker’s plans — and the third — Talia and Bane’s revenge against Batman and the city Ra’s wanted to destroy.
Of course this also sets in motion Bruce and Gotham’s salvation. In the second movie Harvey Dent rises to Batman’s challenge, and the people of Gotham reject the Joker’s terrible plan. Then Dent goes insane and the only thing Batman and Commissioner Gordon can do is cover it up, a mistake that sets up the events of the third movie. This lie rots under their achievement, and as a result Gotham is still corrupted even in peace. The police are arrogant idiots who won’t take expertise seriously, due process is ignored, the Wayne Enterprises board is still polluted with the presence of Daggett and Talia, the distribution of wealth is still skewed horribly (and this time without the interference of the League of Shadows, as pointed out in the first movie), and the Mayor is eager to get rid of Gordon because he’s short-sighted. The complacency and corruption are still there, and the poor still suffer.
Bane and Talia arrive to wreak vengeance on the things that destroyed Ra’s al Ghul, and cause their own undoing; they make their enemies follow the path they once walked, thinking it will either kill them or break their spirit. Their hubris is borne of their lack of imagination, and the typical arrogance that they and only they could survive such an ordeal due to their inherent superiority — that Randian, “We Built It” overconfidence shown by Mitt Romney and his Tea Party followers fully in view. But they don’t count on Bruce’s eagerness to transcend the limits of his body and soul, nor Bruce’s final realisation that, as Alfred and Bane point out, all he has done since his father’s death is carelessly chase his own demise. In that sense Bane rescues Bruce from a brink we didn’t even realise he stood on, freeing him from his fear and self-destructive urges (I doubt I’m the only person who was reminded of Bresson’s Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut during this sequence).
As for the police, their complacency is thoroughly shook up, and their charge at the end of the movie, after escaping from the facsimile of the pit created by Bane, is the moment in which they reclaim their purpose, united against a true foe without the complications of politics, as shown by the heroism of Foley, who finally abandons his ambition for a greater good. The visceral nature of this battle removes all ambiguity or doubt from the minds of Gotham’s heroes, even to the extent of resolving Selina Kyle’s stance. She finds herself lost in a world without structure, merely surviving, disappointed that the collapse she predicted did not bring about the utopia she imagined. Her decision to stay in Gotham at the end is as much a fight for the world she once hated as it is an act of heroism, though she flippantly dismisses any such suggestion. The storm she wanted came and all it left behind was chaos. Inspired by Batman’s selfless fight to not only preserve society but improve it, she turns to the side of good.
John Blake was already there, and spends the whole movie struggling against the corruption that stays his hand. His crisis of faith intensifies after Gordon’s hand in the Dent lie (aka Patriot Act) is revealed by Bane, and Blackgate is exposed as Gotham’s equivalent of Guantanamo Bay (an institution that, if this bit of trivia is to be believed, attracts the outrage of Gotham’s public in the same way Gitmo does).
These men, locked up in Blackgate for eight years, denied parole under the Dent Act. Based on a lie.
A lie to keep a city from burning to the ground. Gotham needed a hero, someone to believe in -
Not as much as it does now. But you betrayed everything you stood for.
There’s a point. Far out there. When the structures fail you. When the rules aren’t weapons anymore, they’re shackles, letting the bad get ahead. Maybe one day you’ll have such a moment of crisis. And in that moment, I hope you have a friend like I did. To plunge their hands into the filth so you can keep yours clean.
Your hands look pretty filthy to me, Commissioner.
Gordon’s decision to double-down on deceit follows the pattern in which the police force in Dark Knight is riddled with corrupt cops, a fact stubbornly ignored by Gordon even when Harvey Dent challenges him on it. This corruption was never resolved, which is why Blake becomes so frustrated under the incompetent charge of Deputy Commissioner Foley, and may be a factor in his rejection of the weapons of the police force (his disgusted reaction to the gun with which he kills the construction worker is one of the most satisfying moments in the film, and a lovely bit of foreshadowing). More importantly, it factors into his rejection of his badge when confronted with the obstinacy of the policemen guarding the bridge (it’s telling that the cop he interacts with, played by Dexter‘s Desmond Harrington, is listed in the screenplay as “Uniform”). His reaction is perfect:
Can I change your mind about quitting the force?
No. What you said about structures. About shackles. I can’t take it. The injustice.
His response is to take responsibility, without heirarchical pressure or political interference, to get on with the job of continuing Batman’s work. Which is all Bruce Wayne wanted; for the people of Gotham to follow his lead, to figure out that they didn’t have to let their city fall to the corrupt, that they can hold the police or government to account, that the job of cleaning out the rot is theirs if they want it. A vigilant populace that doesn’t reject the rule of law but ensures it is maintained, one that can still be like the society of altruistic individuals coming together that they are in already, but operating with a higher purpose and greater investment in their future. As Batman says to Gordon near the end, “A hero can be anyone. That was always the point.”
Just as Bane — a man forged by The Pit — represents the dark mirror image of Batman, Bane’s Gotham is a bleak insult to Bruce Wayne’s vision. The League of Shadows thinks only through some kind of ideological purity and training can someone become ready to forge a new world, but Batman knows anyone can take on this mantle as long as they have the right inspiration. Batman has fathered Gotham — rightly and wrongly — for years, and the only way to let it grow is by leaving the city to itself, and so he “sacrifices” himself, killing Batman but rescuing himself (which is why Nolan makes sure we know it’s Bruce who writes the autopilot software patch, not Lucius Fox), safe in the knowledge that Gotham is ready to make its own way, as he has been predicting throughout the trilogy.
This wasn’t possible earlier in the series, because a hero based on fear is as problematic as a villain who promises freedom but really just lets fear act as control. What Bruce Wayne wanted was a hero who inspired hope, as shown by his support for Harvey Dent, because he understood its transformative nature even as he built himself into a vision of terror. After all, a man consumed by fear is like the carpenter who sees every problem as a nail and every solution a hammer. Bane’s ultimate punishment is to turn that idea of a hopeful Gotham into a black vision of despair, that he could use as a weapon the thing Bruce Wayne sought to bring to the people. As he says as he monologues at Bruce in The Pit:
There is a reason that this prison is the worst hell on earth. Hope. Every man who has rotted here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So simple. So easy. And, like shipwrecked men turning to sea water from uncontrollable thirst, many have died trying. I learned that there can be no true despair without hope. So as I terrorize Gotham, I will feed its people hope to poison their souls. I will let them believe they can survive so that you can watch them clamber over each other to stay in the sun. You will watch as I torture an entire city to cause you pain you thought you could never feel again. Then, when you have truly understood the depths of your failure, we will fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny. We will destroy Gotham. And when it is done…when Gotham is ashes…then you have my permission to die.
Perhaps Bane’s biggest mistake, even more than putting Bruce in a world in which he can learn to be free from the cycle of hatred and self-loathing that powers his brute-force nemesis, is to turn that symbol of fear into a symbol of hope, by foolishly revealing that Batman was innocent of the crime which led Bruce to hang up his cowl, to show how dedicated Batman was to the goal of saving Gotham, allowing him to truly become the symbol of resistance that can lift up the people and the police. Thankfully Bruce isn’t the only person who knows that hope can inspire, as he does by burning the Bat symbol into a bridge to reassure the people who thought him gone. John Blake is in the depths of despair as he tries to save the busload of orphans, but even he sees the importance of keeping up the illusion of hope in front of those he seeks to protect.
Come on! On the bus!
What’re you doing?
Protection from the blast -
It’s an atom bomb -!
You think they need to hear that in their last seconds? You think I’m going to let them die without hope?
We don’t get to see Gotham become a shining beacon. We just get hints that he has made a difference. We get a statue, and Gordon’s statement that the people of Gotham know that they were saved by Batman. This inspiration may empower them to take control of their lives, that they will realise it’s up to them to monitor those who govern them, that they will be on the lookout for threats against their liberty, against society. It might not be true anarchy in the sense of a world without government or control, but it’s a lot closer to it that the faux-Anarchy forced on them by Bane. It’s self-actualisation, taking on the responsibility of protecting the world we already live in, and the people of Gotham have seen that they can save their city by following that ideal.
Which is why I can’t separate the final act of this movie from the election that worries me so much, or the government meddling in the UK. The society we live in is corrupted and bureaucratic and unjust and basically terrible much of the time, but it’s also worth saving. It’s a work in progress, and we’ve made it better over periods of time that are almost geological in size. We refine society, and it’s not easy, but that’s what we do. We move forward, together, lifting each other up and giving each other the chance to grow to a point in which they can repay that debt, contributing through taxes or accomplishment.
Right now the UK, and soon the US if the Republicans win, will roll back the clock in the name of giving people “more” responsibility. That view is merely sink or swim, allowing the money men to rule the world and create an unjust society like that seen in Gotham. While greedy assholes like Daggett try to make money by acquiring things instead of building them (a la Mitt Romney), everything else falls apart. Bruce Wayne was trying to save the world with a sustainable clean power source, but he halted it because of its potential for destruction. He knew what the world does when it’s not ready. It builds things for good reasons then sees them turned to bad. The system becomes a shackle.
But only if we let it. Big government isn’t the problem; it’s unaccountability. Government and society can be good things if properly monitored by a motivated and vigilant populace that participates in its governance, instead of giving up with a cynical shrug. The alternative is the world of the Tea Party and Bane, “freeing” a people who end up at the edge of the abyss, where any mistake they make will plunge them into the darkness. Ordinary people will be trapped between the grasping claws of the robber barons, giddily and immorally making whatever money they can, and the out-of-control and increasingly desperate criminals taking over at the bottom, because they don’t give a damn about the rules that give everyone a chance.
Anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead will recognise this vision, in which altruism is eradicated in order to create a world in which no one helps anyone else. What a desolate, miserable fantasy this is. And while the superhero genre has at its core the idea of the Übermensch, or at least diametrically opposed versions of this, with Manicheaen heroes and villains of immense power battling to save the world or control it, the idea of the superhero — the man or woman who embodies the greatest ideals of generosity and compassion, sacrifice and honour — is one that is more culturally accepted as right than the Randian hero who lives for him/herself, honours and helps no one else, and stands astride the world like an aloof, solipsistic colossus.
Yes, as Shoard says, Bruce Wayne is a titan of industry, or at least the inheritor of such. And to have him be the one to rescue Gotham plays into the idea of trickledown economics or, as here, morality. The rich, cultured, worldly hero saving the masses from themselves, the poor as children to be saved by their inherently superior bosses. But at the heart of the Batman myth, and the last movie in this trilogy, is the very kindness that so appalls Objectivists. Bruce Wayne is saved by the kindness of his parents, Alfred and Jim Gordon. John Blake escapes his fate through Wayne Enterprise’s donations to the orphanage. Bruce saves Catwoman from her cynicism by offering her a way out (the USB drive with the “Clean Slate”) before asking for her help. And it’s right there in one of the most moving exchanges in the entire trilogy:
I never cared who you were -
And you were right.
But shouldn’t the people know the hero who saved them?
A hero can be anyone. That was always the point. Anyone. 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…
Bane and Talia have been brutalised their whole lives, have been indoctrinated by Ra’s al Ghul to distrust a world they never lived in until it came time to enact their terrible plan. They have protected each other but cannot see how anyone else deserves that, or can feel the same way, treating all others as criminals, as the Other. Right now, in our world, the Coalition government in the UK is selling off the NHS — that great liberal idea — merely to profit their friends, convinced that any profit is a moral good. In the same way, the Republicans have promised to drastically transform American government in a way that would, again, only profit their friends and backers. The result would be Bane’s Gotham. Those images of Faux-Anarchy shown in the Dark Knight Rises trailer, the ones that upset me so much, are visceral for a reason. It’s not an image of sympathy for the 1%; it’s a message to the rest of us. Don’t let the 1% turn us into a self-destructive hateful mob, or they’ve won. As is said in the movie:
I’m sorry for not taking you seriously -
Don’t apologize for believing the world’s in better shape than it is…just fight to make it true.
This is the lesson I took from The Dark Knight trilogy. There are always things worth fighting for, and though democracy is flawed and the welfare state will always attract criticism from those who see a way to make a profit from desperation and bad luck, these civilised ideas are a weapon against the erosion of society, ways to ensure that people are given the chance to forge their own future without worrying about plummeting back to the bottom of the pit. Every tiny improvement in the world is the consequence of an enormous battle, and if Occupy Wall Street didn’t radically and instantly transform society (as it never could), it is at least a movement that can plant a seed in the minds of millions, who can come together to fight for a world in which every individual can be a precious resource, if given the opportunity. The Dark Knight trilogy calls on people to recognise that the world we live in can get better, if we uncynically choose to fight for it.
Yes, my fear of this dismantled and cruel world is hysterical and hyperbolic, and I’m sure most people reading this will tell me to calm down and get a grip, but America has a chance to reject an argument for the privatisation of society’s best structures for the benefit of a fraction of the population. I can only atheistically pray to Crom or something that Mitt Romney, the man who wants this world to be turned into a business (as argued in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly), will find his quest for power stymied, for the sake of everyone who knows me and has had to put up with my sour moods and reflexive pessimism.
The only glimmer of hope I’ve had in the past few weeks — a time in which panic was the background radiation that polluted my every thought and paralysed my very soul — was the video of Romney’s 47% speech captured by a waiter / waitress who worked at the fundraising event in full view of the politician accusing almost half of the population of laziness and fecklessness. In The Dark Knight Rises Bane is finally defeated by Selina Kyle, who has previously masqueraded as a waitress and is obviously not a woman of means. Wouldn’t it be perfect if Romney — a man motivated by a barbaric ideal, but who tells lies about his allegiance to the poor and aspirational — was also brought low by the actions of the otherwise ignored “help”?
Return 1. As I have done occasionally in the past, I’m going to discuss Rand’s ideas in a blunt manner, not because I’m obsessed with her (heaven forfend), but because her philosophy of Objectivism is at the core of Romney and Ryan’s worldview, and is responsible for a lot of the misery in the world right now. Also, she idolises the idea of larger-than-life characters, who exist almost as superheroes within the berserk, dystopian worlds she wrote about. Rather than compare Batman to some kind of Nietzschean ideal of humanity, it seems timelier to look at him through the Rand lens, especially as The Dark Knight trilogy deals with themes of economic warfare, behind-the-scenes manipulation of the world, and men who transcend the weakness of their minds and bodies to become greater than the riff-raff.
Return 2. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again; the most powerful moment I’ve ever experienced in a cinema was seeing The Dark Knight in New York, and hearing a cathartic roar of approval and defiant joy from the audience as Tiny Lister throws the detonator out of the ferry window. Nothing will ever top that, I think.
Return 3. Also, stupidly, Rush Limbaugh accused the movie of trying to create some kind of link between Bane and Romney’s Bain Capital. As I’ll get to in this piece, I’d say Bain Capital could easily have been run by snidely Daggett, while Bane could arguably be more aptly compared to Rush himself, inciting hatred and violence and calling for the destruction of many of the things that make America a civilised nation.
Return 4. I know that by daring to suggest that Assange’s supporters are acting like crazy people right now will draw fire; some friends of mine who have written about the subject have been attacked and accused of being CIA stooges (!!!!!!!!) for doing so. So I have two things to say to anyone who tries that with me. 1: If you think Wikileaks is the torpedo that flies down the exhaust port and blows up the Death Star of capitalism and corruption in one swift move, and not just a useful tool for campaigners to turn the dial of societal morality a little closer into the green, then you are deluded and need to stop watching so many movies where a single act by a single person can stop an evil Empire. And 2: try that hostile shit with me and I’ll delete your insults before they even show up on this site. This is a moderated blog and I police it with an iron fist of not-approving-comments-that-annoy-me. Your freedom-of-speech isn’t as important as my freedom-to-not-have-to-listen-to-misogynist-horseshit-from-hysterical-and-immature-dickheads because believe me, there’s enough of that everywhere else on the Internet and I’d like this corner of it to be a respite from that despicable fuckery, thanks.
Return 5. It truly is a rousing finale, even if on first viewing the majority of the film seemed to be a mechanical manipulation of characters and emotional elements in order to justify the 30-minute suspense/spectacle blow-out. The second viewing fixed that, and I now see it as a whole that works well, but even in that cluttered, compromised first experience, my heart soared as Gotham’s police force charged Bane’s mob, and my fists clenched as the Bat struggled to avoid the Tumbler’s missiles in one of the most naturalistic and convincing FX setpieces of recent years. All hail the smart folks at Double Negative, who absolutely nailed that sequence.
Return 6. There’s a strong argument that The Dark Knight Rises is a superior film to The Avengers, and I’d certainly accept that TDKR is not only more ambitious but more successful in many ways. In my review of The Avengers I tried to get across that I didn’t think it was perfect, and further viewings have made those flaws even more obvious. But even though TDKR is commendably serious and thought-provoking, it’s the relative triviality of The Avengers that makes me think so fondly of it. No other big summer blockbuster in recent years has so succeeded in entertaining the audience, exceeding the viewer’s expectations and providing such “uncomplicated” and joyous fun.
If this sounds like I’m only praising Joss Whedon for creating a film that is better than your average Michael Bay / Stephen Sommers fart, it really isn’t. Creating something like The Avengers is in no way easy to do, and as if to prove that, the hit of pleasure I got from The Avengers was so pure and so intense that I’ve spent the rest of the year searching for an experience even a tenth as potent, and have been repeatedly frustrated as movie after movie stumbles in its attempt. TDKR, for all its considerable and glorious accomplishments, did not hit that sweet spot; a classic example of me splitting movies in terms of objective quality and emotional contact (the best movie I’ve ever seen is Kurosawa’s Ran, but my favourite is either Die Hard or The Matrix; both terrific films, but more traditionally praised for their entertaining elements than their profundity or artistic merit). The only film this year that got close to making me as ecstatically happy as Avengers was The Bourne Legacy, and if popular opinion is anything to go by I’m statistically alone on that one. ::depressed sigh::
Return 7. I like this take on the philosophy of the League of Shadows in a comment on a blog about the philosophy of The Dark Knight trilogy that I agree with a bit less but still think it worth a read. The thought of Batman as a force that opposes a group altering the course of history on a vast level is one that fits in with my take on the trilogy, which is more about empowering and inspiring the masses to take control of their own destinies, to raise their expectations of what society can accomplish and then act upon that uncynical vision; a goal espoused by Bruce Wayne from the first film onward.
Return 8. Many, but not all, but seriously many of the Tea Partiers I’ve seen talking about their goals appear to be Christian, or use Christian quotes to fill out their otherwise threadbare debating gambits. How oddly perfect that Objectivity, a philosophy written by an atheist and keeping at its core a blunt version of one part of the work of Charles Darwin, should find such traction with hardcore anti-generosity “Christians”.
Return 9. Perhaps the worst thing about this initial experience is that this happened even though I’ve come to despair of movies being picked apart for political reasons, with no concern for it on a pure storytelling or cinematic level. After months of seeing perfectly acceptable — or even exceptional — films or TV shows pilloried for the inclusion or exclusion of characters, scenes or even in some cases individual lines of dialogue, I swore I’d approach things open-mindedly as stories first, political messages second (and by politics of course I mean content that either furthers or restricts the causes of gender, sexual, racial and class equality, and it’s telling that my leftie paranoia about such matters means that I agonised over the order in which I put those four elements in case anyone thought I was diminishing any of them by putting one in front of the other).
And yet I found myself parsing The Dark Knight Rises for its entire running time, and basically broke my own rule and did everything arse-over-tit. Which is exactly why I have tried to resist this approach. I didn’t enjoy the movie on first viewing because it didn’t seem to fit in the boxes I wanted it to. Only by looking at the characters did I get anything from it, and even if I subsequently extrapolated from there and wrote a huge and basically unreadable blogpost littered with sixth-form political philosophy and sweeping generalisations, at least now I “own” the film, in the sense that it sits in my head as an event that generated an honest emotional response from me, and not a box-ticking rundown of political elements required for me to be able to feel comfortable liking it. I mean, I do that all the time anyway, but I have to get out of the damnable habit of analysing art for its acceptability and just meet the artist behind it on their terms in order to give it a fair shake before I strip it apart to see if I have to worry about being considered insensitive for liking something that has made the world worse for someone (like the mother who railed against The Avengers because of the “He’s adopted” line).
See also: Lena Dunham’s Girls, which has failed to satisfy everyone in the entire world and has therefore been treated like shit by a significant number of people even though it’s fantastic and I love it and think it’s the best new show of the year by far because it’s just so goddamned funny and honest and I’m genuinely sorry if anyone thinks I’m an awful schmuck for saying that but goddamnit nothing is perfect and expecting this show to be perfect is counterproductive and negates all of the things it does that are extremely positive in helping the cultural discourse change for the better. ::deep breath::
Return 10. Christ, I’m really going for it in this one, aren’t I? Sorry for all the bloviating and faux-profundity. I gotta get all this bullshit out of my head so I can get onto more productive things (like blogging about why I’m blogging less these days). This election and this goddamn film have made it impossible for me to get anything else done. If you think this post is ridiculous by now you should know you’re only about halfway through and it just keeps getting more hysterical. I won’t blame anyone for giving up here.
Return 11. And what a difference IMAX makes to this movie. It’s sad that right now the only filmmakers really trying to get the most out of this technology are Nolan, Brad Bird and Michael Bay, though reportedly JJ Abrams and Francis Lawrence will be joining this small group soon. Nolan’s use of IMAX to create scale and spectacle in The Dark Knight was easily the most impressive use of the format yet, from that first vertiginous shot out of a window during the heist to the breathtaking shots of Chicago and Hong Kong. The Dark Knight Rises takes this even further, with 72 minutes of overwhelmingly powerful IMAX footage shot by SoC favourite Wally Pfister. While much Dark Knight‘s IMAX footage looked down on Gotham, Dark Knight Rises — when not echoing those memorable shots in order to create a visual continuity — takes things to the streets, casting the city as a series of canyons, those verticals enhanced by the square shape of the IMAX screen.
Nolan chooses to place his protagonists on the ground, not underneath or above the city as with the previous movies, and those images bolster the theme of an underclass struggling to control their territory as towers loom over them on all sides. Nolan has spoken of TDKR as his epic, but where that great, epic artist David Lean controlled the horizontal with his 70mm lens, Nolan controls the vertical now. The result is scale mixed paradoxically with claustrophobia, a cityscape that hems in the populace and the police that fight for them, while the money men and superheroes who normally occupy the heights are forced to battle on our level.
Return 12. What a pleasure it is to see a trilogy that feels so complete, thematically and emotionally. My own trilogy, always referred to as #TheProject, is hopefully structured similarly: protagonist has a problem that needs solving and only ever gets to solve bits of it while creating further complications that sets him/her back until getting to a cataclysmic point where the solution requires a terrible choice that allows the person to transcend their obstacle and the limits of their original desires, helping themself and everyone around them. Too many trilogies are just three films shoved together: The Dark Knight trilogy is a textbook example of a perfectly structured three-part tale. Only the first three Bourne films come close to that. See? There I go talking about Bourne again. I love the Bourne movies, you guys, and the fourth one is fantastic SHUT UP NO COMEBACKS.
Return 13. The scene in which Alfred reveals to Bruce that Rachel was not going to wait for Batman to leave their lives is a devastating one, and in that moment I realised that my favourite character in this series is Alfred. His compassion and love for Bruce is so total and so perfectly expressed that to see it crushed here was almost unbearable. Even during my first flawed viewing the tears they did flood down my face as if t’were a veritable downpour of sad. Michael Caine might be a tax-avoiding mofo but bless him, he’s a true cinema titan and his work here is of an incredibly (but unsurprisingly) high standard. But then everyone is great here; I can’t fault anyone, especially a resurgent Christian Bale, who does fantastic work as a broken and beaten Bruce Wayne who gradually finds peace, and the amazing Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle; a much-needed spunky and funny presence in an otherwise dour movie. I’d even argue that Gary Oldman deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the very least. His battle with his conscience is one of the most memorable things about this installment, and my recent realisation that he is one of our greatest actors is bolstered by the quiet pain and resolve displayed in his work here.
Return 14. On first watch I misheard the name as Daggart, which was transformed by my conviction that this was an explicitly political movie into a portmanteau of Dagny and Taggart, the heroine from Atlas Shrugged. I still suspect might be the case, as Daggett is such a perfect embodiment of the reality of Rand’s most successful fans; the delusional power-hungry bullies willing to commit all manner of crimes in order to attain what they feel is rightfully theirs, who are utterly unable to comprehend how truly insignificant they are when compared to the forces that oppose them (the moment Bane puts his hand on Daggett’s shoulder is infinitely pleasurable). Catherine Shoard and many others might be right that Bruce Wayne is a member of the moneyed aristocracy of America, and the fantasy that the rich are fixing the poor is a troubling one, but Bruce is at least willing to sacrifice himself for a greater good — something which no Objectivist would even consider — and is interested in building things like the fusion power source instead of merely acquiring companies and projects, which is what Daggett and Mitt Romney would do.
Yes, the idea of the benevolent capitalist is one that galls anyone who opposes this system, but honest-to-God, I cannot and will not apologise for thinking that a rich guy using the best years of his life to train to become the world’s greatest superninja before adapting military technology into a non-lethal arsenal which he uses to combat crime and injustice while patrolling the streets of Gotham on that beautiful beautiful Batpod is THE COOLEST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED IN ALL OF FICTION so step off. See also: Tony Stark, Danny Rand, Oliver Queen.
Return 15. Funny that Ratatouille, another film that flirts with Randian ideas of self-actualisation, finishes with the speech from Anton Ego about how “an artist can come from anywhere”, and is resolved with an act that inspires others to find their own way. Perhaps we should be grateful to Rand for creating such a bleak vision in which selfishness and aspiration merge so completely, that we get filmmakers like Brad Bird and Christopher Nolan who are willing to get their hands as dirty as Batman, reaching into the muck of those ridiculous, massive books, extracting the uplifting morals which celebrate achievement while leaving behind the message that helping others is a moral evil. Not to mention all of the rapiness in there. Oh Ayn, you really went for it, didn’t you.
Return 16. The first fight between Bane and Batman is particularly clever, as we see Batman for the chancer he really is. He was always a visitor to Ra’s al Ghul’s world, the rich kid on a gap year. Yes, he became a supercool vigilante badass, but he wasn’t forged in pain like Bane, and seeing him try to use the tricks of the League to gain the upper-hand is pitiful and hard to watch, especially if you have a paralysing (ha ha) fear of spinal injuries like I do. Of course Bane then stupidly makes Batman follow his path, which creates a more powerful foe. Oh silly, arrogant Bane. Didn’t you almost have it all (all being a big mushroom cloud).
Return 17. Real talk: how fucking cool is Bane as a villain? Yes, perhaps he isn’t as shocking as Heath Ledger’s incredible Joker, but Tom Hardy and the Nolans have performed what I think is comparable to a miracle; they’ve turned the lamest and stupidest Batman villain of all time into a meme-generating popular supervillain that lingers in the memory, that generates real hiss-boo loathing in the audience, and then flips it all on its head, throwing in a last act moment of humanity that recasts everything he has done in a new light. I’d like to see anyone try to do a similar trick with Superman’s similarly punchy foe Doomsday.
Tom Hardy has become one of those actors whose presence is guaranteed to make me want to watch everything he’s in. He was the main reason I went to see Lawless last week, and he was predictably fantastic as “Fawrst Bawwwndrawwwwwnt, as he would pronounce it. His work as Bane is remarkable, and imitating his voice has been this summer’s most enjoyable game. And even though Hardy has explained that he was inspired by bare-knuckle boxer Bartley Gorman, I prefer the description of that comical voice by friend-of-the-blog Jimmy LeChase: Patrick Stewart as a hyper-intelligent parrot.
Return 18. I’d swear it was Bane, not Grover Norquist, who said, “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Of course the only thing left to replace government is business, and as Leonard Pierce notes here, Romney is running for CEO of America, and there’s nothing good that can come of this idea.
Return 19. If you think I’m a little crazy to go to these lengths to defend the not-even-slightly-socialist-but-still-invested-in-inspiring-a-conversation-about-reshaping-society-for-the-better TDKR as an uplifting call to arms for the defence of a modern world that’s broken and malfunctioning, I’d rather gather up my yelling-breath to preach this rallying cry from the nearest mountaintop than let the dissembling creeps at Breitbart’s site claim this movie for their own side. There are obviously many arguments for and against this movie as a right-/left-wing message movie, but I honestly think the compassion shown by many of the characters immediately invalidates this as a Tea Party text.
Bruce Wayne sacrifices the identity of Batman (in TDK) and leaves Gotham (in TDKR) because he thinks his presence will make things worse, or hold people back from taking on his mantle and looking after themselves (which suggests a libertarian or anarchist bent to the tale, depending on your persuasion). In Atlas Shrugged John Galt leaves society in a snit because the nasty people don’t wuv him enough and he’s just so dang wonderful that he knows his absence will make people call for him to come back to show them all how powerful and righteous he looks in his sci-fi Slacks of Superiority, like the fuckwit teenager who believes his friends when they say you have to treat women mean to keep them keen; Galt’s choice betrays Objectivism’s laughably immature self-pity. While both The Dark Knight trilogy and Atlas Shrugged run on similar tracks, they’re both heading in completely different directions, with Batman as a figure of inspiration and John Galt a wank-fantasy for “self-made men” who didn’t fucking build it all, okay? They just fucking didn’t no matter how many times they say it, those myopic braggarts.
Return 20. Though I strongly believe I’m really only as angry and worried about all this as Samuel L. Jackson is. I just can’t help it. This happened four years ago and I went through a similar meltdown, constantly refreshing Salon, HuffPo, Slate, DailyKos and Andrew Sullivan’s page (KNOW HOPE!!!!) for constant updates. It’s awful. Daisyhellcakes is rightly sick of me fretting about this. If this post gets me to calm down IRL, it’ll be worth it, even if no one reads all of it, which I suspect will be the case.
Return 21. Well done! You made it to the end. I wish I could give you a cookie or some Optrex eye wash or something. Now celebrate finishing this descent into my metaphorical navel and go watch a movie. It’s better for your soul and your psyche than reading fucking blogposts, even when they’re not as redundant or laughably late-to-the-party as this one.