Now that I have seen Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, I see another layer of meaning behind its recent controversy, and find that the movie hit some unexpected and very deep personal buttons. Seeing as the film is immensely heavy and also very excellent, I would like to spend some time examining how the film is an examination of the soul of a specific type of person (which would include me, fortunately or unfortunately) as well as of our society (specifically American society) as a whole. As is so often the case, the personal and the political closely interact.
Ultimately, the Dark Knight Rises is an examination into the soul of different people who suffer from the same underlying problems. We see Batman, lonely and reclusive and wounded, hiding away from others after his heart has been broken and after he willingly took the bullet (figuratively speaking) to present Harvey Dent as a hero. He is brought back into action by a beautiful thief (Catwoman) who has a bad record and has lived a hard life and is looking for a second chance. Meanwhile, a super-damaged bad guy named Bane is causing mayhem with the threat of destruction, and Batman has an orphan admirer who has become a policeman.
Many of the main characters in this particular film seem very damaged. Some of them are orphans, some of them appear to have suffered immense abuse, but all of them share traumas that have have separated themselves from the rest of humanity. It does appear as if intense suffering and trauma has the role of inducing people to choose between good and evil and either be committed to justice or vengeful and spiteful. The awful loneliness and heavy burden of that choice weighs heavily on the whole film, and offers a poignant reminder to those of us who have been forced to face that choice ourselves.
For an individual like myself, watching a film like this is painful, especially because over and over again there are flashbacks and tales of vulnerable children in difficult positions, which is something I tend to react rather strongly to. Even though this was a great film, it was a difficult one, and it reminded me that even having chosen the good side does not mean that any of the struggles that I face are any less difficult. The theme of courage and self-sacrifice in this film is really deep and very moving, but also somewhat sad.
This is not merely a searching examination of people, though, but also of American society as a whole. The film portrays virtue rather than class as the most important dividing line, showing Bruce Wayne as an altruistic capitalist, and showing a great deal of criticism for the Occupy movement and those who would manipulate it for their own narrow partisan purposes (like Bane). In addition, the film also contains some rather deep criticisms of the weaknesses of our contemporary political situation, including crony capitalism. Suffice it to say that this film repays close viewing and examination, although it is not a lighthearted film that would be fun to watch over and over again.
Another point in this film’s favor, aside from the fact that it tackles very serious issues very thoughtfully, is that the film closes off the Nolan trilogy pretty definitively. In a way, Batman comes full circle from where we saw him as an angry and lonely boy in Batman Begins, wrestling with the legacy of good and evil in this world, a reminder that superheroes bleed and suffer like the rest of us, and struggle with the same demons that often haunt our lives. And for that, we owe Mr. Nolan a debt of gratitude, for providing a way to wrestle with the problem of evil and its repercussions.