I finally saw the film The Dark Knight Rises. I truly enjoyed the film. I find Christopher Nolan’s work interesting. He could take the easy way out and make substance-less films, and still get rich (and probably win more awards), but he doesn’t. (i.e. He spent 10 years on Inception's creation process.)
I think it’s interesting that people only view the film as a comic book story adaptation. Or only as an “action film.” Or only as an example of class warfare. Or only as a “Conservative film” (i.e. the challenges with green energy, the perception of “anti” Occupy). Or only as a “Liberal” film (down with Wall Street and oppressive institutions, the poor strike back.) I’ve heard of many Conservatives dancing a happy dance thinking that this film is about conservatism. (A few didn’t, and think of Bain Capital [Romney] because of the character named “Bane”…but any comic book fan can easily explain why Limbaugh and his Borg-like followers are wrong.) I even read a good blog post that refutes the Conservatives’ view and other than a somewhat simplistic analysis of “Bane,” the post included good points that washes their ideas away. (It doesn’t mean a person can’t “critique” or enjoy the film if they view it any of these ways.)
Still…I think a lot of people are missing the real point. The film isn’t just about a comic book story adaptation. It isn’t just an action film. It isn’t just a critique on class and privilege. It’s isn’t solely a “Conservative” or “Liberal” film.
The Dark Night Rises raises serious questions about binary social constructs themselves (including conservative/liberal, perhaps) and their impact on the human condition. The film does not speak to the simplistic polarized thoughts of Conservatism and Liberalism as American political ideologies. The rigidity of binaries themselves—how humans perceive themselves and others through these binaries, and the choices we make in regards to them are the true story. This is how the sociopolitical critique throughout the film evolves.
Some of the binaries examined include:
Life/death. Good/bad. Love/hate. Despair/hope. Rich/poor. Male/female. Institutions/individuals. Ideologies/laws. Class and hierarchy/unity. Bondage/freedom. Democracy/anarchy. War/peace. Propaganda and lies/truth. Identity/anonymity. Privilege/persecution. 1%/99%. Police state/free state. Justice/corruption. Absolutes/choices.
These are all inherently political and personal, individually and simultaneously.
The most exquisite binary itself is of course the identities that actor Christian Bale portrays: Batman and “Bruce Wayne.” And, this personalized binary, is not just what the story wraps around but is the true metaphor for all of the binaries. And, he is not truly free until BOTH of these identities, both sides of the mirror, the binary itself dies and is buried (re: the two funerals at the end of the film for Batman and “Bruce Wayne”). Only then is he truly outside of these shells, perhaps retaining some minor facets of both, but ultimately rejecting both. He also experiences small deaths (death of arrogance, pride, money, status, romantic love, platonic love etc.) for which he is consistently reborn.
I thought back to The Dark Knight (the film that preceded this one) when “Harvey Dent” said "you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain," the two ships, both loaded with explosives where the question of the value of whose lives matter more (citizens or convicts) is posed, the statement “Joker” makes to “Two-Face” in the hospital regarding the dual perception of “plans” and “Alfred’s” metaphor about the ones who can’t be reasoned with and simply want to watch the world burn. Regarding the latter, they too are only one side of a coin, where the other side includes people who want good for the world, and these two are juxtaposed to those who think ultimate greed within order, versus the absence of order are the “only” ways to live—and both are revealed as failures in this third film. I also thought back to Batman Begins (the film that preceded The Dark Knight) where the dualities originally started. The kind of dualities which have manifested as binary social constructs (since the beginning of humankind) consistently appear through the whole series.
I thought it was a nice touch that in this film, “Robin” mentioned to “Bruce” that he knows the face that “Bruce” wears is not who he really is. The consistent theme of two faces, the dual identities, existed within Bruce himself, (let alone Batman, who also has two identities, the strong loner who needs no one in order to succeed and the injured hero who needs everyone in order to succeed), one of opulence and smiles and one of despair and pain. This was the first moment that the theme of binary social constructs, both personal and political, individually, and simultaneously, occurred to me.
Even “Bane,” who the society in the film and the real viewers (us) outside of the film may see one-dimensionally, is truly more than meets the eye. It’s easy to write him off as a monster who destroys…as if this differs from any government. (*rolls eyes*) Even “Bane,” who was capable of such unthinkable destruction is only human and also capable of unspeakable love. (And right here…I thought about something that Kola Boof wrote on p.217 of The Sexy Part of The Bible. Read it yourself. Not telling! *sticks out tongue*)
No extreme works, no matter how dedicated the true believers of each perspective may be. Neither oppression and hierarchy based on greed (and/or bigotry) nor extreme anarchy based rejecting that greed and bigotry works without blood being the price of their proliferation. (This makes me think of a book called The True Believer - Thoughts On The Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer.) A human being is in a state of consistent conflict—the person we show to the world and the person we are. And the person we really are lies somewhere in between these two and outside of these two. Simultaneously. Often it is between the binaries, not proliferation of their hyperbolic extremes, and outside of the binaries, is where liberation work occurs, and freedom begins. Eh…just my thoughts…
Anyway, these are some of my favorite things/moments from the film:
1) I am a stan for “Bane’s” voice. Exquisite.
2) Almost anything that came out of “Bane’s” mouth, especially this line:
It doesn’t matter who we are… what matters is our plan. No one cared who I was until I put on the mask.
3) I also liked when “Bane” replied to “Roland Dagget” who said "I paid you a small fortune" and Bane’s says "And you think this gives you power over me?" Heh.
4) Catwoman playing the damsel in distress in the bar where she caused the distress. Take that patriarchy and sexism! She used the very archetype that men created for women and bind women by, to escape a situation she created for her advantage. That fake scream on the floor and then the body language shift when she walked out past the SWAT member (from weak to strong) had me smirking and laughing.
5) Batman’s loss of control in the sewer when he first fought “Bane”…he was not the “hero” in that moment. I found that critical to the story. In fact, it wasn’t the physical fight but what “Bane” said during the fight that was pivotal…and the real ass whooping.
6) “Bane’s” demise being inconsequential. The idea of who he was mattered more than reality or identity. Only a few knew who he really was. And, they feared him beyond anything he ended up being able to do. Catwoman taking him down (made me think of The Lord of The Rings, “Eowyn” taking down The Witch King of Angmar) and how her fear of “Bane” dissipated in the face of love for “Bruce” was interesting.
7) The way that I think most of the audience immediately filed “Miranda” away as “good” and Catwoman as “bad” (binary social constructs, again) and the sex with “Bruce Wayne” probably exacerbated that. I placed “Miranda” more towards “bad” than “good” (not the reverse) but again…here’s a place where binaries don’t work.
8) The conversation in front of the Stock Exchange about money and the perception of value. I like that a Black character (the cop) was involved in this scene (re: money in the mattress). I…honestly know Black people who think money is “safe” when not in a bank, and aren’t examining the arbitrariness of money itself.
9) Exile by walking on thin ice. That speaks for itself.
10) “Bane” being in the back of the court that Scarecrow presided over—almost immaterial to the scene, but beyond necessary to the scene.
11) The parallels between the Stock Exchange pit and the sewer underbelly where “Bane” built his army. Which was truly chaos and savagery? Which was operating like a machine?
12) The ending cafe scene. It revealed the possibility of existing outside of the most pivotal binary of all. As soon as I saw “Alfred” look up and nod, I got a little teary eyed.
Those who think the film is just about America and just about American politics, 2010 forward, missed the point, in my opinion. The individual, institutional and ideological binary social construct warfare is older than America and is as old as humankind itself. Nolan always does a good job of posing questions challenging universal themes.
I think the overwhelming Whiteness of the film is actually important this time, more than an “annoyance” when it is proliferated in other films where it feels like a moratorium on casting minorities. In this case, the universal themes are brought to a present day perspective as Whiteness most certainly is used as the boiler plate for binary social constructs, used as a “norm,” and most certainly impacts the shaping of how the perceived “good” side of each construct is promulgated. This may have not even been intentional by Nolan (perhaps it’s just typical Hollywood almost all-White casting), he denies being specifically political and claims that he tries to be universal, but even the portrayal of “universality” is most certainly White in most cases (problematic), and whether he intended to convey and critique this or not, amidst all of the other apparent social critiques, is rather exquisite.
I don’t stan for a lot of White guys (laughs), but I do for Christopher Nolan. (Assuming he hasn’t done anything cockamamie in his personal life.) Well…let’s say I stan for how his mind works in writing and directing stories and providing enough simplicity or complexity that any type of viewer can be pleased with his work no matter how they choose to think about it.