Dark Knight and Occupy Wall Street: The Humble Rise
The new Batman movie has become a consequential film, but it also rises to the noblest level of Western art.
In the run-up to the release of the long-anticipated The Dark Knight Rises, political commentators on the Left remarked that the name of a principal villain, Bane, resembled Mitt Romney’s old firm, Bain Capital. A YouTube video humorously portrays this idea, but most Americans know better than to take the villain’s name as a serious critique of the likely Republican Presidential candidate.
Tragically, a shooting at a midnight showing in Aurora, CO left twelve dead and dozens wounded, the Washington Free Beacon reports. The shooting led the New York Times to call for stricter gun laws, and conservative organizations to call for looser ones. While the alleged shooter’s motive remains unknown, the film provided a setting for senseless violence and murder.
Despite these tremors among current political fault lines, the film appeals to the center of America’s tradition- the ideal of noble sacrifice for the common people. Batman must humble himself to be exalted, and lay down his life to find a new one. The Dark Knight truly rises, but he has to bend the knee first.
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead
The film opens with a speech by Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), who continues to hide the truth about Harvey Dent. Dent has become the public hero of Gotham, as his efforts against organized crime allowed the cops to imprison every syndicate, bringing a new period of justice to the streets.
But, as Dark Knight afficionados know, Dent tried to kill Gordon’s son before Batman saved him. Dent fell to his death, and Batman took the fall for the Dent myth, allowing himself to be demonized as Gotham’s villain.
The gas-mask villain Bane (Tom Hardy) reveals this truth, using a written speech Gordon had prepared for the occasion. Trapping the police underground with charges, and condemning the rich and powerful, he calls on the common people to “take your city back.”
As the Washington Free Beacon’s Sonny Bunch pointed out, Bane is the ultimate Wall Street Occupier, calling on the 99% to band together and overthrow societal elites. He robs the stock exchange, bankrupting Wayne, and sets up a nuclear bomb to destroy the city if outside forces like the federal government get involved. He aims to finish the work of his mentor, Ra’s Al Ghul, destroying Gotham by setting its citizens against each other.
He promises to restore the power of the people, but his court assumes the guilt of everyone who comes before it and Bane does nothing to help the orphanage that Wayne and the rising officer Blake (James Gordon-Levitt) care about. In scenes reminiscent of the Nazi occupation of Paris, the streets become littered with crime and villainy. Indeed, officer Blake himself looks like Marco Rubio, a politician well known for his opposition to the Robin Hood tactics of Occupy Wall Street.
Cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) plays the part of the disillusioned Occupier, stealing from the rich in order to redistribute wealth. She brings Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), out of isolation, but after seeing Bane’s true colors, she turns on him.
After Bane takes control, she says of a plundered house, “this was someone’s home.” Her friend responds by throwing her own words back at her: “now it’s everyone’s home. There’s a storm coming, remember? This is what you wanted.”
Like Kyle, Wayne stands in need of redemption. The millionaire has taken an early retirement from the world, since he lost his love, Rachel Dawes. His butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), wants the best for him- a new life with a loving wife and children.
While he brings Batman back, Wayne cannot face Bane at the beginning. In a chilling fist-fight, Bane sorely defeats him, breaking his mask, and leaving Gotham’s defender in the very prison from which he once escaped.
Echoing the earlier films, the movie shows Wayne’s father reaching out to him, saying, “Bruce, why do we fall? So we might learn to pick ourselves up.”
Motivated to save his city from Ra’s Al Ghul’s own child, he trains himself again. Climbing up the walls of the prison, he leaps without a rope for safety. His new love for Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) also inspires him to save the city.
Having restored himself, Batman returns to Gotham, faces Bane, and defeats him. But Miranda Tate turns on him, revealing herself to be Ra’s Al Ghul’s true child. In a stunning twist, the Wayne Enterprises board member and societal benefactor has turned against the city to finish the work her father started.
Unable to disarm the bomb, Batman must fly it out of the city, sacrificing himself to save the people. It explodes over the bay, allowing Gotham to live on. An ultimate Christ-figure, Batman sacrifices himself to save others.
As order returns to Gotham, the people raise a statue of Batman, and officer Blake assumes the weighted name “Robin,” Nolan adds one final twist. Following Wayne’s funeral, Alfred finds him eating lunch with Kyle, alive and happy, in the new life his butler had dreamed of.
While Batman’s survival from a nuclear blast remains unexplained, his happy life answers the fundamental plot of the film- Batman saves his life by losing it.
In short, the film does not primarily champion one political philosophy over another, but presents the central premise of Western civilization.
Alfred notably quotes an ending passage from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
But even Dickens’ words rise from an older tradition. The culture of sacrifice rises from the Spartans at Thermopylae, George Washington at Newburgh (when he denied the crown), and Jesus Christ at Calvary.
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:25, 26 KJV)
For Batman, love and sacrifice are one. He finds a new life only by giving his own in the service of his people. The rich man becomes poor, and rises richer than he ever was before.
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