With the girls being out of town, I have recently had a little more time to myself. In my excessive amount of “free time,” and a little weakness, I found myself given to my vice for entertainment more than is common for me. In one particular bout of weakness, I finally watched Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”
I had heard many reports of the film’s success and I loved Nolan’s interpretation of the Gotham Guardian’s origins and subsequent development, so I had hopes that it would rise (pun intended) to what I’ve come to expect of the series. Unfortunately, it did not.
Upon my first viewing, I felt something was wrong, but I couldn’t pin-point why…so I watched it again. In the second run-through, I began to see why the film did not resonate with me. Simply put:
Batman should have died.
More aptly, Bruce Wayne should have died.
Seems kind of crude and morbid, doesn’t it? It isn’t. Let me continue.
To skip a lot of plot and tons of detail, the Dark Knight Trilogy chronicles the rises and falls of Bruce Wayne (aka: the Batman) as he ventures to redeem his beloved city, Gotham, from the brink of total corruption and destruction.
In the third installment of the trilogy, Director/Writer, Christopher Nolan puts forth Batman as the Christological Savior of Gotham, even going so far as to put Bruce “in the heart of the earth as Jonah was in the belly of the earth” (for a period of 3 months rather than 3 days). Nolan even has him “Rise,” setting captivity free, and then includes a delay of the Bats’ coming to his people (Gothamites) who possess a hopeful expectation of his return. All are very pointed statements about who Nolan thinks Batman represents.
Simultaneously, we see the return of the League of Shadows. They are a surreptitious organization determined on cleansing Gotham of corruption by destroying the entire city—good with the bad. In their twisted understanding, they perceive their actions as good for humanity as a whole and, as Alfred states, they fight with the “power of belief.” Admirable as their resolve is, this ideal that “the ends always justify the means,” is not always so. It does, however, emphasizes much of the short-sided, false-justice, spirit of the age in which we live.
Bruce’s steadfastness is just as strong, but set upon a different theory. He believes that through time, self-sacrifice, and the “intrinsic goodness” of mankind, Gotham can be redeemed. Also admirable, if only partially true.
In the confrontation of these idealistic viewpoints, a violent battle ensues.
While I won’t get into details of the issues I have with this “greater violence beats violence,” anti-climatic, demise of the character Bane and the League of Shadows, suffice it to say that it is unbefitting of the moral integrity of the Batman and is a weak interpretation of the character. In fact, Bruce builds the very salvation of Gotham City upon a lie (as you’ll see), in much the same way as he and Gordon did with the death of Harvey Dent (from “The Dark Knight”). Ironically, this conduct is actually demonized earlier in the third film. The point is, Bruce doesn’t learn anything…he is static. But this is only a minor issue in the grander scale of the trilogy.
My main issue with the story is the end itself.
In the climax, Selina Kyle (aka: Catwoman), says to Batman, “Save yourself. You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything!”
To this Batman heroically replies, “Not everything. Not yet.”
He then flies off and we expect him to do just that.
…But he doesn’t.
Bruce cheats death and goes on to live happily ever after.
Therein lies the fundamental flaw of the trilogy’s portrayal of Caped Crusader. The very thing that it takes to bring salvation and redemption is the very thing that Bruce never gives—his life. Just when you think he is capable of actually giving everything and fully redeeming Gotham, he epically falls short.
You see, victory—true freedom—always requires true sacrifice.
Nolan tells us that Batman believes differently. He removes the necessity of a savior from the equation and tells us that through secular humanism—our own strength, a little money, a little self-sacrifice (of our excess), a few white lies, and enough time—Man can save himself. We don’t need someone to die for us.
This is a fundamental untruth.
We know this. This need is a longing of the human heart.
If it was true, and Batman’s pseudo-sacrifice had actually redeemed Gotham City, then for what purpose does Robin go to the Bat-Cave at the end of the film? Is it to leave us hanging on for a sequel? Probably…at least in the minds of Hollywood execs.
But in reality, I believe—whether Nolan understands this or not—Robin goes because he knows, in his heart, that a savior is needed.
Not a symbol.
Not an image of strength and justice for Man to rally behind, but real justice—a real savior.
Not someone just willing to die, but someone to actually die.
Man needs a savior.
Amen. Let’s stand.