Editor’s Note: This article contains numerous spoilers from The Dark Knight Rises. Read at your own risk.
Rolling Stone magazine just put the ultimate question to Chris Nolan.
Would Bruce Wayne vote for Mitt Romney?
Nolan adroitly answers the question with another question: Before or after Bruce goes broke?
The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) has become the unlikely political movie of the year. Conservative windbag Rush Limbaugh got it totally ass-backwards. TDKR is not some Democratic propaganda machine aimed at influencing the 2012 US presidential elections because it has a villain named Bane. Rush obviously confused a man in black fighting a baddie named Bane with a black man running against the former honcho of Bain Capital.
If anything, The Dark Knight Rises raises a different spectre in the mind of the viewer: what would happen if Occupy Wall Street (OWS) became Occupy New York?
The answer is clear: Anarchy, kangaroo courts, nukes on the loose, hoodies versus fur coats, sewer rats and armed convicts unleashing class warfare.
Enter the saviour: Very rich white guy.
Or as writer Hari Kunzru writes in a tweet-size review: Dark Knight wears politics on sleeve. #ows-esque baddies institute revolutionary terror. Billionaire in fetish wear saves the 1%.
The brothers Nolan hotly deny any political agenda in their grand trilogy. TDKR, they point out, was conceptualized long before the Occupy Wall Street protests erupted. Jonathan Nolan says if he was inspired by anything while writing the screenplay it was the French Revolution:
A Tale of Two Cities, was to me one of the most harrowing portraits of a relatable, recognizable civilization that completely folded to pieces with the terrors in Paris.
But what Nolan was reading while writing the movie does not really matter. Ultimately a movie’s message is in the eyes of the beholder, not in the intention of the moviemaker. Bane launches his spectacular attack on Gotham by aiming for the Twin Towers of Americana - the Stock Exchange and the football game. One is targeted by Occupy Wall Street as the symbol of all that is wrong with America. The other, which opens with a child singing the Star Spangled Banner, is the symbol of all-American wholesomeness. Nolan cleverly conflates the two.
The conservative blogsphere has gleefully found its wind beneath Batman’s right wing.
On Breitbart.com, Christian Toto writes it’s impossible not to “feel Nolan’s disgust at Occupy Wall Street.” After all, the horde that takes over Gotham literally comes out of its sewers.
“Rises” never mentions the 99 percent or other overt Occupy Wall Street slogans. But Nolan clearly summons the spirit of the ragtag movement with a propensity for violence. Bane’s henchmen literally attack Wall Street, savagely beat the rich and promise the good people of Gotham that “tomorrow you claim what is rightfully yours”. The Catwoman’s gal pal (Juno Temple) assures her at one point, when they enter a swanky abode, that this is “everyone’s home” now – in perfect Communist fashion.
We haven’t even mentioned how Bruce loses a good chunk of his fortune by investing in a failed clean energy program.
The OWS folks have issued their own defence with Harrison Schultz writing in the Daily Beast that Bane and his militia of terrorists and criminals freed from prison, armed with firearms, tanks and a nuclear bomb, “in no way resemble the comparatively impoverished, peace-seeking protesters who armed themselves with signs, sleeping bags, tents and iPhones at best in their attempts to fight for social justice.”
But it is impossible not to hear the rhetoric of the 99 percent in the film when the Catwoman turns to Bruce Wayne and says “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever though you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”
The cinematic trickery of TDKR, its clever bait-and-switch, is that having raised that prickly question, it never tells us if Mr. Wayne, indeed, wonders about any of these issues. Instead the distraction of a nuclear weapon on the loose, its trigger apparently in the hands of an ordinary citizen, allows the film to shepherd the terrified Gotham-ites (and the viewers) back to the relief of the status quo – where the guys who know best for us, the ones who have always been in charge, the billionaires and the thin blue line of the cops, are back in the saddle and peace (aka order) is restored. Even Batman's hallowed no guns philosophy gets shot to pieces when the Catwoman saves him with a blast that blows the villain to bits and says, "About the whole no guns things, I am not sure I feel as strongly about it as you do."
Why is any of this a surprise? The notion of the vigilante who can put down those he deems corrupt, unencumbered by the annoyances of the legal system, has always been terribly attractive because it's anti-democratic, democracy being slow, messy and error-prone, not to mention boring cinema. Batman has been the archangel of extraordinary rendition and we have all learned to stop worrying and love him for it. In The Dark Knight (2008) he literally swooped down from the sky to pluck the white-collar criminal Lau from his skyscraper in Hong Kong. In TDKR he becomes a victim of extraordinary rendition himself – consigned to a far-away black hole prison. But honestly, what were all those civil liberty types whining about? That prison doesn’t look so bad. The prisoners are not being beaten or tortured, they don’t even seem to have guards, and once you escape you are not in the badlands of Afghanistan but inside a commercial for Rajasthan tourism – beautiful old fort and all. You almost expect the cast of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to stroll past on a camel safari.
But the greatest deceit in TDKR is the one it begins and ends with. At the opening of the film Batman is in disgrace while the city celebrates Dent Day, unaware that Harvey Dent, its fallen hero from The Dark Knight was really the villain Two Face. At the end of this film, the supposedly dead Batman becomes a statue, his reputation restored in bronze. In a sentimental doffing of the cape to A Tale of Two Cities, Batman’s ultimate act of self-sacrifice is reflected in his eulogy: It is a far far better thing I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.
Except in A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton says those lines on his way to the guillotine, taking the place of a condemned aristocrat. In TDKR, (big spoiler alert) unbeknownst to the Gotham-ites, Batman is on his way, not to death, but to a café in sunny Florence where he can now drink wine and live in bliss with his true soulmate.
Wait, I thought Bruce Wayne went broke. I guess broke means something else when you are part of the 1% and Hollywood knits the yarn, instead of Madame Defarge.
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