The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan – 2012

Christopher Nolan is that rare filmmaker who brings lofty concepts out of the art-house and into the multiplex. His films have provided some stellar level of blockbuster entertainment while also delving into particularly fascinating aspects of modern morality such as the planting of ideas into others minds, (Inception), when and whether it is appropriate to lie to the public for their own benefit or safety, (The Dark Knight), and my favorite, the advantages and dangers of duplicity as a lifestyle, and the obsessive lengths people may go to, to understand this duplicity, (The Prestige). These films are star-studded megaplex fodder and each deserves its place as a kind of new millennium classic. So the question is begged, is The Dark Knight Rises a classic of this sort?

I’ll say yes with only very few misgivings.


  1. Stock Exchange. The bell rings. Then it’s night after the escape. What the heck?
  2. Batman’s plan to box Bane. Seriously. He has no weapons for this fight? Even Adam West would have had some Bat-Bane repellent in his belt. For me Batman’s no gun stance has always been, any and everything except guns. I’m fine with Bane beating Bruce handily but at least have had the Bat go down there with a better plan.
  3. Stop showing Batman off in wide shots in full light. This is a very demystifying and unflattering technique. Batman, in victory or defeat, looks better in shadows and high contrast light design.

That stuff out of the way, let’s discuss the characters and how they function and why the story works on a thematic level.


We are introduced to Bane as a hostage in a CIA airplane. The attitude and approach of the CIA operative is a subtle jab at the US approach to foreign policy, shoot-first, then threaten to throw out of an airplane, then ask questions. Bane takes the man to task for his tactless gestures, before revealing his plan to blow up the plan. As the plane crumbles around the men during a firefight, and Bane grabs a nuclear scientist for a harrowing mid-flight extraction, one of his acolytes begins to tie a rope around his waist. Bane tells him a body is expected below. The fanatic man asks Bane in the fervent tone of a zealot, “The fire rises?” Bane answers back in mock fervor, “Yes, the fire rises.”

Hardy’s deliveries on these lines are quite subtle, but even in his speech in the football stadium it is clear that he doesn’t believe even one word coming out of his mouth. It’s horseshit. Nolan informs theme with form by placing a distortion over Bane’s mouth, distorting both the appearance of his mouthpiece and its tenor. In the end of the film it is revealed that Bane is in fact acting out of his own kind of fanaticism, an unyielding devotion to Talia.

His greatest moment, and one of the cornerstones of the films themes is after he puts Bruce in the Pit and tells him he will use hope to poison the souls of Gotham against one another. The promise of absolution to both the have and the have-nots will prove, (as in the Joker’s boat joke), that Gotham is due for extinction. The idea that with a push the duality of our society is due for implosion is inherent to the film and makes for stunning suspense whichever side of the fence you are on.


Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter is the worst fear of both sides of the fence. She orchestrates the breaking of a billionaire, in the exchange raid, while simultaneously ingratiating herself to Wayne Enterprises with the sole purpose of funding a Nuclear Weapon to be built through WE’s extensive R and D department. Her loyalty to her dead father’s ideals are as blind and heartless as any religious fanaticism and her lack of humanity is a parallel with those who would sacrifice their life to harm others. Her “love” for Bane is so broken it would leave them both dead at the hands of their own vengeance. This is itself a comment on the cyclical, destructive nature of reprisal.

It is amazing though how Nolan uses her character to get close to Wayne in ways that would make any billionaire shudder. She sleeps with him? Gets him to hand over the company? Sells him out to fund his own downfall?

If we look at her from the have-nots side of the fence she is no less terrifying. She represents the most dangerous aspirations of the 1%, using her money and influence specifically to devise a plan to polarize and set aflame the status quo. Despite her late reveal, in retrospect and over repeat viewings, Talia becomes an especially slimy and worthy villain for Batman.


Anne Hathaway gives the second best performance in the film as a woman who lives in both worlds, just as Batman does. But where Batman needs an hour to get ready to descend into the underworld of Gotham, Selina can adapt to her surroundings on a second by second basis, one minute a groveling serf, the next moment, amoral and flipping out a window. Or take for example her brilliant moment during the shootout at the bar where as the SWAT team enters she falls to the floor with a convincing horrified scream. One quivering lip, one eye-roll, can change her entire class.

She steals from the rich and gives to herself, but not out of greed. She’s in the hole and bad to the wrong people. She needs a way out. It is in this need for self-preservation that her betrayal of Bruce is not unforgivable.

At that moment she believes it is her best chance of survival. Selina represents forgiveness and transformation. Even after telling Bruce she will abandon him she does not, a shiny inversion of the murky fascination that passes for love between Talia and Bane. Selina is not the only soul who undergoes a transformation in this film.


I said Hathaway had the second best performance in the film. That’s because Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake is the best. He’s so damn good, you almost resent Nolan for not actually getting the guy in the suit, but you want it, you want it so bad. Blake begins the film on a rooftop with Gordon, asking Gordon if he ever wanted to know who the Batman was. Only, Blake actually knows.

Blake is the catalyst for Wayne waking back up and putting the suit back on, because really, in this film, Blake is Batman, he just doesn’t have the suit on. Bruce Wayne is just Wayne with the suit on, doing what he has to, to keep Gotham safe one more time. Blake repeatedly has a problem with his superiors, seeing a more direct course of action but having his hands tied.

In a brilliant scene Gordon promotes Blake to detective and tells him “You’re a detective now, you’re not allowed to believe in coincidence”. This line is repeated later in the film just before Blake’s detective work reveals the horrifying truth about Dagget’s construction crews and they role they had in planting explosives throughout the city. This device mirrors a popular conspiracy theory about construction crews planting explosive in the infra-structure of the world trade center, Nolan telling us perhaps to be a detective, not to believe in coincidence.

Near the end of the film, Blake attempts to get a school bus off of the island only to be shot at and have the bridge blown. He screams, “You maniacs! You son of a bitch! You killed us!” He tells the boys to get back on the bus. A priest chastises him. Tells him there’s no hope. Blake looks at the priest and says, “That’s how you want these boys to die, without any hope?” In this moment Blake is offering solace to these children that even a priest cannot.

After the bomb is flow safely out of the harbor Blake reflects on these men following their orders and tosses his badge over the bridge in contempt for a conventional chain of command. By the end of the film, he is where we knew he belonged from that moment with Wayne in his study. We knew whom the capable idealist in that room was.

The brave one, not selfish, but completely giving of his life to the city, sat and told Wayne to wake up. It is truly a satisfying beat to end on when that man enters the Batcave and rises. We know the bat is in good hands. Clean hands.


Jim Gordon has dirty hands and sewn lips. His deception of the people has led to only personal sadness and separation from his family he fought so desperately to save. Gordon is the system gone dirty, the corrupt cop who swore he would never be part of the corruption. The man who keeps his mouth shut because the truth is deemed unsavory.

Keeping these secrets poisons Jim and in Blake he finds something of a kindred spirit, someone not yet twisted by the role of the enforcer. When Blake hears Gordon’s speech about Dent, he is disgusted. He knows he would never tell the lie that Gordon did and Gordon knows in that moment that Blake’s perception of the police would never be the same.

All the same, Gordon is a grand hero by the stories end, his more recent misdeeds not outweighing the kindness of his past. When Bruce reveals to Gordon his identity at the end of the film, it is absolutely a moment of grace, as if to say to Gordon, we did it together, and I never lost faith in you.


Alfred lets Selena into the East wing because she is smoking hot and he’s trying to get Wayne laid. Unfortunately this was a terrible idea and allows her to get Bruce’s prints. Alfred is beholden to the idea that Wayne, in his current state can do more for Gotham with his money and his mind than with his body and life. Alfred is the character who, if it were up to him, would have the gall to turn on the machine that could be weaponized, so the city could have free clean energy.

He is an idealist and a believer in Bruce Wayne’s capacity for heroism so much that he believes that Batman is a threat to the man that Bruce could be and the good he could do over many years. He understands Bruce’s psychosis better than anyone and though his plan to get Bruce to stop ultimately fails, Alfred in a subtle moment undoes the end of the Dark Knight. At the end of that film Bruce takes on a lie in order to benefit the city. Alfred takes back his lie, the one he told to protect Bruce’s feelings, in order that the light of the truth might shine brighter than a lie. Again this casts Alfred in the light of the ultimate optimist, one who will not believe the lie more powerful than a truth any longer, one who will give all he has to save the one he loves.


Bruce Wayne is not Batman. He has the tools and the cave and the cape, but he is not Batman. He is a placeholder, a torch-runner, and the bearer of a standard that is larger than any one man. In order to emphasize the largess of the symbol Nolan diminishes and makes human the man.

Wayne in almost every scene fails at his attempts to return to the Bat, relying on technology to save him and ultimately succeeding at recognizing the temporary state that is being the Batman. Early in the film, before we even see the cape a doctor gives Wayne the laundry list of maladies populating his body. This man isn’t ready for war.

After the stock exchange chase Bruce only escapes because he has an urban helicopter. He rescues Selena, again escaping in the BAT. Bruce sleeps with Talia, never suspecting her intentions, not the detective he once was. In a scene of absolute villainy, Talia stokes a fire having fucked Wayne, literally and finacially.

He leaves her in the mansion (!) and Selina takes him to Bane. He doesn’t even bring something heavy to hit him over the head with. Wayne is done. Defeated.

And yet, when he makes it out of the pit, it is not Batman that makes the jump. It is Bruce Wayne, he who has again learned fear. Fear being a driving force, the notion that not only you but your family may not survive, this notion gives one strength, and here Nolan suggests that fear can be a motivating factor in the galvanizing of ones ideals.

When Bruce returns to Gotham, he is reliant on Selina to help open the tunnel, and she even saves his life, (with a gun, his gun ironically). Again at the end of the film it is technology, not Wayne that saves the city, the BAT, and it’s Wayne programmed autopilot take the Bomb a safe distance from the city. Wayne lives on but not as the Batman. Now, he is someone new, a man who gave not only his previous life to Gotham, but also a man who gave the city a persistent symbol of justice.

He bequeathed something to keep the playing field level. He gave the city the Batman.


2 Responses to “The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan – 2012”

  1. Matches Malone Says:

    One of the most intelligent readings of the film I’ve read thus far. Keep up the good work.

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