The Dark Knight Rises: and so must We

Is The Dark Knight Rises a typical anti-socialist Hollywood film, or is it something deeper? Chris Wright dissects Christopher Nolan’s new movie, and suggests that there is something for us activists to find meaning within.


Last night, I followed some friends to watch the movie, The Dark Knight Rises.

Little did I know that within 30 minutes of watching, the film would leap into an explosion of anti-socialist propaganda, replete with cartoonish characterisations of Bolshevik fascists and a pitiful portrayal of poor rich people held hostage by the will of ‘other’ mindlessly violent poor people.

Luckily I expected this. I had been warned by the movie status updates of recent days, and the unprecedented media coverage that comes with a Columbine-style Colorado tragedy.

Photo credit: PunditKitchen.com | Beware of the Joker.

 

So instead of reacting to it an angered dismissal, I tried to look a little deeper, inside what I believe to be an intentionally ambiguous policy position taken up by the director, Christopher Nolan.

The film begins as all good Batman films do, with an unsurmountable villain. In this case it is Bane, a legendary mercenary who is said to have been born inside a jail so terrible, it has been named the pits of hell. He was literally born into darkness.

Although, inside his barren jail cell, he must have had a lot of old Soviet propaganda posters, and I’m guessing they must have played old Sean Connery movies on repeat.

Because pretty soon into the film, amid the backdrop of fraying American flags, Bane takes over as an unstoppable fascist force who refuses to wear anything but his comic-book mask, outdated body armour and a big old sherling coat, regardless of the weather changes in the six months that he spends in Gotham city.

According to costume designer Lindy Hemming, Bane’s outfit is meant to be an “amalgam of sorts” that makes him look half French revolutionary and half Russian dictator.

So regardless of the fact that the US republic was inspired by the French Revolution and arguably protected by the 20,000,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting the Nazis in WW2…well, we have to move on.

 

What then developed was one of the clearest anti-Occupy images I have seen from Hollywood yet. Bane attacks Gotham’s Stock exchange (which looks oh so similar to that one on Wall Street) with a host of bearded, cargo-pants wearing Occupy look-a-likes on steroids. Then he and his gang Occupy Gotham city, overcome the “oppression of the police” and give the city back to the People. He establishes corrupt People’s courts, evokes the brutal acquisition of the rich’s accumulated spoils and administers their heavy handed executions.

All the while, “the people” seem to be mindlessly supportive of Bane’s oppressive and fascist rule. It is an image of anarchy pumped out of like one of those funny pre-war propaganda films with gorillas and dragons attacking people.

Sadly, I think it will be years before we come to see it this way.

Better yet, this combination of co-opted fascism and usurped anarchy comes with its own ticking time bomb. And in true Cold war style, yes, it’s nuclear. And ironically, the “people” of Gotham city have to be “contained” or else they will “endanger everyone”.

Sound like the slippery slope of Cold War foreign policy to you too?

But it’s not Cold War time anymore, now we are in the 21st century and the new war is about energy and the battle of sustainability. So it’s only fitting that the weapon of this new Cold War throwback is not a nuclear fission device, but a nuclear fusion device that falls into devious hands.

That’s right, renewable energy’s gonna kill us all.

Unless Batman, his rich friends and the police save us from the perils of a sustainable future.

That’s one reading of it. A bit of a critical one at that.

But I think that shortchanges Christopher Nolan, director of Momento, Insomnia and Inception. These new Batman films are far more complex than your average Hollywood brain number and I think there is another layer to it all together.

Nolan’s films like to play on the audience’s mind. They trick and tease and disguise their meanings from any audience member not on the tip of their toes.

And I think he has done the same thing here.

Throughout the film, Nolan’s anti-socialist plot is strangely pulled back by the odd one-liner that seems to sting you like a piece of glass you stepped on in the kitchen. Whether it’s Bruce Wayne’s own disdain for extravagant charity balls or Catwoman’s list of one punch anti-capitalist scratches. I even found myself sympathising with Bane at times, such as when he responds to a stockbroker at the stock exchange who exclaims that “there’s nothing to steal here” by asking, “then why are you here?”

So why did Nolan do this?

Well, I think it is because Nolan himself is hiding something for us to find. Just like Inception where there’s a dream within a dream, I think here there is a movie within a movie.

Behind the Comicon festival of every socialist phobia you can imagine is a protagonist made powerful by overcoming his irrational phobia. Behind the black suits of our new heroes is a band of “hot-head” brothers and sisters who have grown tired of the sluggishness of “the system” and it’s “institutions”. Behind Bruce Wayne is a belief that no matter how bad “the people” of Gotham city get, they too deserve to be emancipated from the oppressive crime and corruption that has been brought upon them.

And behind Nolan’s paraphernalia-filled feature film is an image that we the people of the world need to overcome. In an age where we are impounded with the fears of failed states, and made to think that climate change is a conspiracy theory intended to force renewable energy on the world, these are in fact our society’s phobias.

These are our bats. And I think this is Nolan’s invitation for us to see the irrationality of our fears.

The strength of Batman supposedly comes from his ability to not only face his fears, but to utilise them. In Nolan’s first Batman Begins, we saw this. But in this film, Bruce Wayne is forced to utilise a new fear, the fear of dying.

Photo credit: Yahoo Movies | Up up and away

When in the armpit of hell itself, the only way Bruce was able to escape the treacherous climb into the light was by letting go of any safety ropes, and letting the fear of dying, the fear of failure lift him to new heights.

So too do I think Nolan is asking us to face our fears as a society. To face our fears of taking dramatic action to change the systemic inequality in our world. To face our fears of climage change and urgently transforming our current energy systems. And finally, to face our fears of taking responsibility for our own lives and to leap into a new existence where we are actively involved in the political decision-making processes that define our lives.

For many social and environmental activists, these are the hopes that keep us alive. But like the prison which Bane and Bruce Wayne were stuck in, this can also be an unquenchable and debilitating hope. This is a hope which forces us to haplessly try and try again to climb out from the structures of oppression while still holding onto the safety ropes of super funds, segregated housing markets and grants from socially responsible puddles at the side of corporate swimming pools.

It was only when the rope was let go that Bruce Wayne could realise his fate. And maybe this is what Nolan is saying to us, activists and non-activists alike. If you want to realise a fairer tomorrow, you must start by facing the fears of today, and using this fear to make tomorrow what you want it.

We must now learn from this deeper message of Batman and let our spirits leap, unrestrained and into a future where we may create the future we really want. If not, we will remain at the bottom of an underground prison, letting the light of each day’s hope torture and torment our spirit.

If we do not come to grips with the power of our fears, both to hold us back and to help us rise, we may never leap far enough.

The Dark Knight Rises from the hellspring of unattainable hope – and so it is time that we too must rise from the ropes that hold us back from realising our true potential, united as a people.


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Posted on 3 August 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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3 Responses to The Dark Knight Rises: and so must We

  1. Excellent stuff. Alot of subtleties by Nolan, indeed. We will also see what we want to see of course, always a hard thing to tell if the artist tells what we want to see or what he wants us to see.

  2. Kipsake

    If Nolan read this, he might just give you a call. :) Well-written. Very, well-written.

  3. Wai

    Cool piece. For a while there, I thought you were going to descend into some half-baked (and completely off-the-mark) socio-political diatribe. So, nice bait & switch there. Nolan himself would approve.

    I just wish the man had made more of a convincing case for the things you're giving him credit for. I say this only in response to how you read things as Nolan "asking us to face our fears as a society. To face our fears of taking dramatic action to change the systemic inequality in our world". While it's great that you have that take-out, and I applaud its effect in galvanizing your passions as an activist… I kind of feel you saw way more in what he presented than he himself probably ever did. To each his own, I guess.