Immortals Discuss Saving The World:
A Film Analysis Of The Dark Knight Rises
There has been much discussion on the screenplay of The Dark Knight a film that has been heralded as a new age for the action film, and there has even been some good analysis on the existential archetypes that are examined in Batman Begins. The Dark Knight Rises, however, is getting tossed aside it seems. Whereas before Jonathan and Chris never wasted a scene, with the final film people can only see fault. Don't get me wrong I don't think Nolan's perfect, he is capable of fault, but people seem to forget that he is great at what he does, and what he does, he does with purpose. Before one attacks that scene or the motivations of some character one should first try and understand what the writer meant by that situation only then can one attack whether they executed their purpose as well as they should.
Nolan is a very clever director who has a vast love of films and classic literature. The Dark Knight Rises in its self has a great many influences running throughout it. Charles dickens a Tale of two Cities is obvious, as is On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Less obvious is Lawrence of Arabia, The Man who would be King, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and then there is a strain of Dostoeveskian existentialism that runs throughout all of his films.
How it all makes sense is is in the question, if together these three films form one story, then what do they mean? what is it a story about? Throughout Law school I had a professor who stated that whenever a Lawyer reads a case he is to notice the issues and the ruling, but the good lawyer see why the case even stands out in the first place. This goes the same for all art. Even individually these films have certain meaning to the central character and anyone who loves the archetype the character represents.
Nolan fixes the film so that as he writes characters who revolve around the central character of Bruce Wayne, they each explain a different aspect of the character, or teach him a different lesson. In Batman Begins, you had Scarecrow who was an explanation for the suit and the fear it provided in criminals minds. In one of his lines he even mentions Jungian archetypes.
Then much more importantly, the film opens on a conversation between Bruce Wayne and Ra's Al Ghul. Both immortals in that they fulfill both a Father and Son Archetype. Bruce's loss of a father makes his search very similar to that of a man searching for his father's spirit. These archetypes are as old as time itself. The discussion they have is a timeless one on training, will and Justice. They disagree however on what true justice means. Biblically the father has always been more oppressive in holding to the letter of the law. Flooding the earth and killing all but a few, the fathers rage seems somewhat genocidal. As Biblically the son is always much more compassionate, sacrificing himself for the good of the many as the spirit of the law intends. This argument continues throughout the trilogy. Though Ra's dies in the first film, his conversation with Bruce is very much alive.
The Dark Knight is a film that halts the Son's crusade for absolute justice. The characters in this film represent themes within Bruce's life yet again as he is close to finally saving his world he is prevented by the Joker, who represents that evil side that lives in all of us. The Joker is the part of the human race that cannot fit into a government system. That the human complexities will make it impossible to create a perfect program. Two face is that perfect program, and the inevitable failure of that program.
If I were to put the meaning of these two films into one sentence each, I would say Batman Begins asks whether Justice can be sought by human institutions and what that justice looks like. And the Dark Knight asks whether one can truly bring justice, or save the world without becoming that evil they were trying to rid the world of. Can one save the world without enslaving it.
I would also say that the trilogy most obviously is a discussion between two immortal archetypes over how to save the world. Therefore the Dark Knight Rises, is the end of the discussion. What does the world look like when it is saved, and is it a better one?
The Underground Man...And Army
Nolan was very influenced by Rudyard Kipling's the Man Who Would Be King. The story involves two men who are tired of exploring the world and need a path, so they decide to become kings of a third world country (Michael Caine happens to star in the film). Kipling uses this adventure story to comment on Western Imperialism. As the two men become kings they are shown to be generous yet very arrogant. The men believe that they are saving the country from their third world savage ways and bringing them into the 20th Century civilized way of doing things. This is generous and they do help the nation, but in the end their arrogance gets them killed, and it seems as if the way things were before might not have been all that bad. This is quite similar to the themes going on in the Dark Knight Trilogy which is full of characters who want to save the world, save it in their own way.
As the film The Dark knight Rises begins were are shown the character of Bane who seems to be nothing but rage personified. He seeks to rise a fire, and then crashes a plane without survivors. Later we find out that he is in connection with the League of Shadows. After that scene we move all the way to Gotham. This Gotham is a saved Gotham, it has been living under the Dent Act for 8 years now. We are not given much to go on when it comes to the actual language of the Dent Act, but it is easy to assume that it is similar to The Patriot Act. Nolan is doing this to again set up a world very much like our own. The League of Shadows is a ninja like Al Qaeda group bent on showing the west the error of their corrupt ways. Gordon has used the Dent Act like the Patriot Act to eradicate organized crime from the city. A correlation is being made between organized crime and terrorist organizations.
As the story continues Bane moves his operation underground. Nolan does this with purpose. As I have explained in previous articles, Nolan imbues his stories with existentialism. A quick overview, Nihilism came about in the enlightenment period from naturalism, believing that the only reality in life was matter. Nihilism, exemplified by the Joker, was that if matter only exists then there is no meaning to life and it should be lived accordingly. Existentialism shouts in the face of nihilism, stating that my own existence gives life meaning, it is proof of its meaning. Therefore through Batman's own will he give purpose and meaning to his life and that of Gotham's. Though Bane and Ras are both terrorists attacking Batman's western Gotham, they are not nihilists like the Joker. They are existentialist like Batman, whose wills contradict each others. There are many historical figures that get called to mind by this. Both Nietzsche and Dostoevesky describe human existentialism in similar ways, however there are a few differences. Dostoevesky believes that human existentialism is about mans will or spirit trying constantly to escape himself, constantly seeking freedom, or the unattainable. Nietzsche believes that this calling is a will to power. Though a will that is beneficial for all mankind, one that still overpowers other is benefit of the self. Even if it is selfless Nietzsche argue that might benefit the self. The point is that when someone's will overpowers other's will it is essentially an act of Fascism.
Batman has always been somewhat of a Fascist, in his controlling methods, but Nolan shows both Ras and Batman as characters who resort to their own will because of societies inability to enact true justice. Or possibly their perceived notion of what is true justice. Thus the Fascism that Bruce and Ras present is done out of their love for the world. Nolan makes this example early on in the historical figure of Caesar. Caesar saved Rome, but out of fear of corrupt bureaucrats never gave the power back to democracy. The Dent Act and the lie created by Gordon and Batman are a similar act to the one Caesar made. The Dent Act skips out on due process, keeping the power in Gordon's hands. Though Batman did give up his power to Gordon, he still awaits in his cave lest something should go wrong. This is not a letting go of power.
The first novel ever written by Fyodor Dostoevesky was called Notes from the Underground. It is seen by the philosophical community as the first existential novel. In the story the main character, the Underground Man, is living underground to escape a perfect almost utopian socialist society.
Dostoevesky is commenting on how no government institution will ever be perfect and on the freedom of the human will. The Underground Man's first line is that "my liver is diseased, I should seek a doctor for my liver, but I won't, if something is wrong with my liver then let it get worse". The character is somewhat similar to the Joker, he is irrational and would rather die underground than live in a perfect utopia that doesn't take into account human freedom. In a sense, he chooses the irrational.
The first scene in Batman begins, has Bruce falling into an underground cave away from his perfect mansion, and perfect world. This traumatic experience coupled with the death of his parents leaves him seriously questioning his world, yearn for the reality the cave represents. He grows up to spend most of his life brooding in his cave. The Dark Knight Rises has even more underground symbolism. First there is Bane, a man who grew up in a cave in the underground world. A world completely suppressed and unseen by the wealthy powerful warlord who created it. He has sit in wait all of his life hating not just the people who put him there, but all of the people who are like those who put him there. He hates all of those who have wealth and power. Bane would rather die than live in such a world, and Bane will die.
Bane isn't the only one living underground though. The children from St. Swithin's show an interesting side of Gotham's current psychology. The early scenes with Blake exemplify that when Batman took the blame for Dent's murders, the lie didn't go over as smooth as they thought it would, but the public went along with the program as they were in fear. Now eight years later it seems that everyone even those who are not aware there is a lie are tired of living under it. Blake wants to know the truth and continually asks gordon about. One might be able to argue that as such an angry kid, Blake grew up wanting a fight. He became a cop so that his fight would be rightuous, but the already "saved" condition of the city prevents him from doing this. Its arguable that all the kids at St. Swithins feel similar. There is no work and they are angry for similar reasons. So they go underground, the perfect utopia of gotham doesn't provide for them. Once they are underground they join Bane's army where he makes them members of the league of shadows. This is important, Batman took the falls, created the lies, and Dent Act so that no one else besides him would take the law into his own hands. Here, Bane taking vengence on those wealth and in power, is effectively making everyone not served by the Dent Act a vigilante. In away the entire city of Gotham follows in batman's example.
Bane isn't anarchistic like the Joker, he is a revolutionary like Batman was in the first film. He seeks to overthrow the old way, the corrupt way, Batman's rule. Bane believes that his actions are completely just. It is symbolic that Bane rises both from the cave that he was born to the streets of Gotham and completely reverses what Gotham looks like. At the beginning of the film Bane's Army is oppressed under the city, then as Bane takes power the police are imprisoned under the city as is Batman imprisoned.
Multiple revolutions are portrayed in the film. Bane revolts against the society that Batman created. Then Batman revolts against Bane's rule. While in prison, Batman is told the story of Ras al Ghul, who as it seems revolted against a warlord. There are two possibilities as to how this occurred. One is that Ra's created the League of shadows to overthrow the corrupt warlord and the other is that the warlords own city favored Ras more than him. Its possible that this warlord was a father figure to Ras, the same way Ras was to Batman. Might this warlord's name be Ras al Ghul as well?