This post might have some spoilers, so if you have not yet seen The Dark Knight Rises, read at your own risk.
I was not able to see The Dark Knight Rises until a couple of weeks after it opened. Approaching this final offering of the Batman trilogy as imagined by Christopher Nolan, I was hyper-defensive against hearing anything at all from friends or media outlets. I avoided Facebook, blogs that I frequent, and conversations with friends who saw it before me. When watching TV, if a trailer came on, I switched the channel as quickly as possible, all to keep my Dark Knight Rises experience as pure as humanly possible. It pretty much worked; I didn’t know anything going into my first viewing.
Christopher Nolan is the film-maker in whom I have the most confidence. If it is announced that Nolan is making a new film, I am 99.9% sure that it’s going to be a great work of art. I can’t think of a film he hasn’t done well. Even the trippy, very disturbing docu-film Following was great. So when I sat down with my Dark Knight Rises virgin mind, and the movie began, I was so stoked to see this thing. Then Anne Hathaway came on the screen and my heart dropped through the floor. Visions of Princess movies, Bride Wars, a bad Get Smart remake and the devil wearing Prada began dancing through my head. Granted, I never saw any of these…but honestly, do I really need to? I don’t need to do heroine to know it’s bad for me. Nor do I need to watch Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway flitting across my screen in flowy, poofy, princess dresses (though Hathaway was great in Rachel Getting Married, a mediocre film with a killer performance by her).
How could Nolan betray me like this? Catwoman (who is a cat burglar, by the way, not a female, anthropomorphic, feline-ish type thing that has a crush on Batman) shouldn’t be personified by a princess-y type actress who makes mostly crappy movies while occasionally hitting one out of the park. But again, Nolan was right. Hathaway was perfect for the role.
In my opinion, at this point, Christopher Nolan can do no wrong when it comes to film-making. I’m so excited for the new Superman movie, it’s ridiculous.
A press release before the film hit the screen hinted that Nolan had based The Dark Knight Rises rises on the great novel, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and as the movie unfolds, the parallels are very clear. A Tale of Two Cities is a novel about the French Revolution, one of the most unstable points of cultural upheaval in European history. Dickens, setting his story in London and Paris, weaves a story of history, intrigue, romance, political commentary and deep, tense conflict. The most poignant parallel between the book and the movie is obviously when Commissioner Gordon carries the book to Batman’s funeral and reads from it in his eulogy. But the whole thing — the 1% vs the 99%, the concept of the bourgeoise vs the aristocracy, freedom vs anarchy — all of it was in there.
To me, the most striking scene portraying the divisions, excesses and deep tension of the French Revolution as portrayed in A Tale of Two Cities was the middle class and poor people pulling the rich out of their homes to be taken to a mock trial. The “court” was set in a huge room with a massive barricade erected, serving as a seat of judgement for the judge, who in this case was Dr Jonathan Crane — aka Scarecrow (the villain from Batman Begins).
In this scene, so many literary references coming crashing together, it’s crazy. The bench is a reference to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, a massive street barricade constructed from desks, bar stools, and living room furniture that the young revolutionaries constructed in the streets. On the barricades, they (the young revolutionaries) met their deaths. Thing is, Les Miserables is not historically set in the French Revolution, it is set in late- and post-Napoleonic France, but the story and inherent conflicted principles are eerily similar. After all, the French Revolution was not so revolutionary seeing that just a few years after its completion, Napoleon was appointed emperor. In The Dark Knight Rises, the ill-spilt blood of the young revolutionary is redeemed with the sentenced blood of the aristocracy.
Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution also comes into focus in this scene through the proverbial sentence uttered by Scarecrow as he makes the “1%” choose their fate. Will it be death or exile? Or death…by exile? Carlyle gives special attention in his flowing novel poetry to the Terrors of 1794-95, and the focus comes flowing through in this scene of the movie and the subsequent scenes of death by exile. The anarchy flows unhindered and free through the great hall, spilling into the city and empowering deeper and deeper levels of human darkness and chaos. Bane is not the true villain in this film; fallen humanity is.
[Rabbit Trail: It’s crazy to me to think that at one point in time, feudalism and aristocratic oppression had done such deep damage to people that anarchy was a philosophically sound and possibly noble choice of governmental belief. The anarchist mindset lived (lives?) strong in Western Europe — particularly France — all the way through World War II, giving birth to what we know today as philosophical postmodernism, which on many levels is simply passive-aggressive anarchism.]
These principled conflicts, Nolan’s examinations of human nature, its excesses and subsequent fallout are, I think, how he frames his Batman films. ___________ vs ____________. A humanly inherent, often ethically-cloudy conflict bringing the hero to a point of such introspection and need that he could almost go bad. Who is hero and who is villain becomes pretty twisted. After all, the heroic, dashing Dark Knight is still the selfish playboy Bruce Wayne. They are the same man, so who is who, and which is he?
In Batman Begins, the conflict is fear vs love. Key scene: Bruce Wayne standing in that cave of swirling bats, raising his hands in an almost worshipful posture, embracing that which defines his fear. Scare-crow is the bad guy, working with the League of Shadows to destroy humanity through fear and Batman embraces love and victory.
In The Dark Knight, it is chaos vs peace. Key scene: The Joker hangs upside-down in front of Batman — clearly beaten — but still messing with his mind, inviting the Dark Knight to embrace his Darkness. The convicts throw the detonator overboard.
In The Dark Knight Rises, the battle is unbelief vs belief. Key scene: Bruce Wayne jumps from the ledge unharnessed, embracing the belief that humanity is worth his own sacrifice. This wasn’t about revenge, it was about rescue.
The Dark Knight Rises is a beautiful picture of the Great Rescue Story. The hero is betrayed and sent into hiding by the very people he saved. He is then betrayed by a friend into the hands of his enemy who breaks him mercilessly. Buried in a pit, his body is restored, his strength regained and his resurrection complete as he embraces faith and miraculously climbs up from the ground. At this point, there is no question how the story will end. The risen hero will triumph; but sometimes in order to win, you have to lose.
And at the very end, there is freedom and love.
The ultimate revolution.
The Dark Knight Rises comes out on
DVD next Tuesday, December 4.
Don’t miss it.