The Dark Knight Rises: What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on The Dark Knight Rises: What Went Wrong? Coming off the crest of the acclaim of The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises had a lot to live up to. In good Nolan fashion, not only did the film continue the ambitious themes established by its predecessor, but it added so much more. And that’s where things started to get messy. From the inspiration of Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities to Occupy Wall Street, we delve in to the themes behind the conclusion of one of the biggest trilogies of the decade.
Written, Directed, and Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Post-Production Assistant: Emily Dunbar
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Jacob Salamon
The Dark Knight Rises: What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Hey Wisecrack, Jared again. This is me at the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises back in 2012. Needless to say, I was out-of-my-mind excited. Despite my Dark Knight infatuation, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. TDKR is not necessarily a bad movie, it just pales in comparison to its predecessor. But as with anything graced with the name Nolan (and by that I mean this one), this film has a LOT of intellectual ambition. Unfortunately not all of it pans out. So let’s dive in to see what works… and what doesn’t. Welcome to this Special Wisecrack Edition on The Dark Knight Rises: What Went Wrong? And of course- Spoilers ahead. A lot my disappointment with The Dark Knight Rises stems from its smart setup, but questionable execution. So let’s start with one of its smartest elements- the very unexpected influence of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. TDKR replicates most of the book’s major themes including social inequality, resurrection, and doubling. The most obvious thematic parallel with ATOTC is social inequality.
The book’s setting, the French Revolution, depicts a decadent aristocracy and their abuse of the poor. Likewise, the film portrays a similar class conflict through Bane’s false revolution. The third book in the novel is called “track of a storm” and Catwoman says: “A storm is coming, Mr. Wayne.” Then there’s the theme of resurrection. In a Tale of Two Cities, Dickens frequently uses the phrase “recalled to life” to signify that his characters are metaphorically brought back from the dead. One of the main characters is metaphorically brought back to life when he sees his daughter after 18 years in the Bastille (or in his words “buried alive”). Similarly Bruce Wayne is metaphorically “recalled to life” when Catwoman steals his fingerprints, forcing him to leave Wayne Manor after 8 years of self-imposed isolation.
Another character named Carton is “resurrected” when he sacrifices himself for another character, thus giving meaning to his aimless life. This arc is reflected in Catwoman, who overcomes her selfishness and saves Batman. This can also be likened to Officer Foley, who sacrifices his life to save Gotham after being complacent with the takeover. Carton even quotes the story of Lazarus. Lazarus, of course, being the guy Christ RESURRECTED in the bible. Bruce is metaphorically resurrected when he rebuilds his strength and climbs out of the LAZARUS pit. Darnay, the guy Carton saved, is given a second chance at life when he is spared from execution; and Bruce is again metaphorically resurrected when we find out at the end that he is, in fact, not dead, and is given a second chance to live a more rewarding life.
Even the title, “The Dark Knight Rises” invokes a “Phoenix rising from the ashes” The poster for the film swaps out a phoenix for the bat symbol. And Chapter 23 from ATOTC is called “Fire Rises”. Oh yeah, and both texts feature a capitalist named “Stryver”. At Batman’s funeral, Gordon even reads this line about Carton’s sacrifice and moral resurrection from the end of ATOTC. Finally, there’s the theme of doubling. You’ve probably heard the opening lines “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” – this contrasting between pairs – between best and worst of times, between age of wisdom and foolishness, between the epoch of belief and incredulity – happens throughout the whole book. There are two Mannettes, two cities- London and Paris, Darnay has two trials, Darnay and Carton look the same. In the Dark Knight Rises, there’s: Two cities – Gotham and Bane’s underground. Batman and Bane, two League of Shadows alums who deal with unbearable pain. One born in privilege, another born in hell. Blake and Batman are two orphans with anger issues.
A constant reminder of the division between the body and the soul. So what we’ve got is probably the most graceful thematic adaptation from a classic to a comic book movie in existence. But the problem is that on top of developing new themes borrowed from A Tale of Two Cities, the film also has to juggle the themes established in The Dark Knight. And here’s where the film starts to stumble. One of the essential themes of The Dark Knight is “Truth versus lies.” The Dark Knight ends with a noble lie: Batman takes responsibility for Harvey Dent’s murders, denying the fall of Gotham’s savior and upholding the image of him as an Ideal symbol of justice and hope. Herein lies one of the most squandered opportunities of the film. Many incredible works end with a noble lie. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, for example, Marlowe lies to Kurz’s intended by telling her that that Kurtz’s last words were her name, saving her from the truth that he died a deranged psychopath.
Or in Alan Moore’s Watchmen the team agrees to preserve Ozymandias’s lie that millions were killed by an extraterrestrial force in order to maintain peace between the US and the USSR. However, both Heart of Darkness and Watchmen end without the truth ever coming out. We’re left to ponder: What is more important? The truth? Or the saving lie? The Dark Knight leaves us with the same ambiguity, but the Dark Knight Rises picks up where these films left off (thematically, of course): So finally we get to see what happens when a noble lie is exposed to the vulgar truth. Does the film live up to the challenge? Unfortunately, Not really. At the beginning of TDKR, we see that the noble lie has manifested itself in The Dent Act, a piece of legislation that allows cops increased power to persecute organized crime.
There are two ways this can be read: We can read it as a metaphor for the Patriot Act, a law criticized for giving the government a dangerous amount of power to fight terrorism. Considering many interpret the Joker’s radicalism as a reflection of Al Qaeda extremism, this makes sense. Or 2, Harvey Dent can be read as a Christ figure WITHOUT resurrection – a kind of atheistic interpretation. Imagine if Christ never came back to life, but people fabricated the lie that he DID in order to maintain his divine status and create a religious institution founded on a lie. Based on this reading, Christ, like Dent would be a false idol, but one that must be upheld in order to maintain peace and hope.
Gothamites even celebrate his legacy with “Harvey Dent Day,” which I’m sure will be moved to late December to stimulate the economy. Considered in this light, the Dent Act can be likened to the way that religion has been used to justify overreaching acts of power like the Inquisition. As juicy as this sounds, neither of these extended metaphors actually pan out, because contrary to what the film wants us to assume, there is no evidence that the product of the lie is corrupt. In fact, the Dent Act seems to work wonders. Once Bane reveals the truth that Harvey Dent is a false idol and the Dent Act is built off this lie, it leads to social unrest. So is the film trying to say that bad stuff happens when the truth is revealed? It seems so, considering when Alfred reveals the truth about Rachel choosing Dent over Bruce, It just drives them further apart and encourages Bruce to go on his suicide mission.
But the problem comes when the film doubles back to the conclusion at the end of the Dark Knight: because everything is only fixed when the truth is buried and another lie is established. At the end Wayne lies about the Bat’s autopilot being broken so that he could fake his death. Thus the narrative of Batman sacrificing himself for Gotham creates another image of justice for Gotham to revere. The final lines from ATOTC that Gordon quotes during Bruce’s funeral reflect Carton’s christ-like sacrifice, thereby suggesting Batman’s sacrifice is also Christ like. However, as the final shots of the movie proves, Batman did NOT sacrifice himself for Gotham, but perhaps it’s necessary to believe the lie that he did, just as it was necessary to believe the lie that Harvey Dent was noble until the end. After spending nearly 3-fucking-hours to find out how this theme of truth will develop, we end up exactly at the same spot as the end of the Dark Knight; establishing the necessity of a lie to uphold faith in justice. If the theme of the noble lie were to truly develop, we might be presented with a scenario in which the toxic lies lead to so much corruption that revealing the lie is more beneficial than letting it fester and destroy Gotham. The film attempts this by suggesting that the corruption of the Dent Act leads to Bane’s social revolution, as evidenced by Gordon’s quote: “We were in this together and then you were gone.” “The Batman wasn’t needed anymore. We won.” “Based on a lie. And now this evil rises that which we tried to bury.”
Bane is SUPPOSED to be the outcome of this toxic lie. Given Gordon’s words, it seems like Bane was meant to function, like the Joker did, a product of escalation. In the Dark Knight we got SUPER clear exposition that SHOWS the state of society that leads to the rise of the Joker. Batman has put so many drug dealers out of business, and inspired so much fear, that the mob has been pushed to desperation, leading to the rise of a radically antithetical form of Batman’s brand of justice- The Joker. It seems Gordon was trying to suggest that that when abusive power based on a lie leads to unsavory political and economic tensions, a violent reaction is bound to happen. But once again, we have no evidence of this corruption at the hands of the Dent Act, or the lie that justifies it.
In one scene, Catwoman tricks a man threatening her life by making him use the cellphone of a missing congressman, and SECONDS later, the police bombard in. This could be read as an indication that the Dent Act allows for the monitoring of everyone’s cell phones, which would make sense given the Patriot Act parallels but problem is- this saves Catwoman’s life! Without this kind of power, Catwoman would be dead. Why not show us the negative consequences of invasive surveillance? The film throws away this opportunity to comment on how those in power can use a lie to justify excessive authority. This brings us to to the second theme of the movie- pain.
This, theme, like truth, spends nearly three hours developing just to bring us back to where we started. At the beginning, Bruce,stricken with physical pain and the pain of losing Rachel, doesn’t leave his mansion. He overcomes his pain when he heals his back and escapes the Lazarus pit. But he ultimately gives into pain again when decides to stop being Batman, fucks off to Italy, and starts livin’ that bored billionaire lifestyle. Now I’m going to bring another literary work in here to possibly defend the cyclical nature of these two themes- George Orwell’s Animal Farm. See, in Animal Farm, Orwell does a very clever thing: the term “revolution” is given a double meaning. On the one hand, it denotes the revolution when the animals overthrow their human oppressors. But the original definition of “revolution” is also given significance because the novel comes FULL CIRCLE — it revolves. At the end, The pigs are just like the humans they overthrew, greedy capitalists. So could the Nolans be playing with this double meaning of the word revolution by having the themes of pain and truth come full circle in a film about a social revolution? Maybe, or maybe I’m giving them too much credit, you guys decide. The third major theme of the film is social inequality. But whereas a Tale of Two Cities aptly displays the decadence and corruption of the elite that leads to social unrest, The Dark Knight Rises gives us a vague, muddy and almost nonsensical display of the social tensions that lead to Bane’s false revolution against the rich.
According to Bane, Blackgate Prison is a symbol of the Dent Act’s oppression. Blackgate is overcrowded, men and women sometimes share cell blocks, and criminals under the Dent Act don’t get parole. Sure, it’s harsh and unjust, but it’s hardly the gratuitous cruelty we see in, say, A Tale of Two Cities. These unfortunate realities seem to pale in comparison to the overwhelming success of the Dent Act. Especially considering that the law’s inability to fight crime is a central conflict in the first two films. And even if Blackgate was wrongfully imprisoning people, how does that translate to overthrowing the rich? Blackgate is a clear stand-in for the Bastille during the French Revolution, and drawing that analogy out farther, the Dent Act is meant to be the French “Lettres de Cachet” a kind of “warrant” issued by the king of France that detained people without being burdened by annoying stuff like “proof” or “reasonable suspicion.” The Bastille became a symbol for the excesses of the King’s authority: people could be thrown in jail for practicing the wrong religion, criticizing the government, or pissing off the wrong nobleman at the wrong time. And when popular rage finally reached a breaking point: the Bastille was an obvious target.
Problem is, this analogy doesn’t fit because Blackgate does none of these things. King Louis didn’t go around eradicating the mob and making France safe with his authority. And if the Gotham police are abusing their authority, like Louis, we’re not shown it. I suppose that would have complicated the final showdown scene in which the cops are the good guys. So if The Dent Act alone doesn’t justify people overthrowing Gotham’s social structures, maybe it’s something else? The kid in the orphanage suggests that the economic situation is making orphans go in to the sewers to join Bane’s army, but we’re given zero indication on how the Dent Act or Blackgate are disenfranchising the poor. The only evidence we see of elite corruption is when Daggit tries to steal Wayne Enterprises from Bruce Wayne, but that’s the rich screwing over the rich, not the rich screwing over the poor. Some people have condemned The Dark Knight Rises as anti-Occupy Wall Street propaganda for this very reason. It shows a society that seeks vengeance on the rich for no other reason than they’re rich, and sets up kangaroo courts to punish them.
Without actually establishing what these people are rebelling against, it makes it look like the film is painting Occupy activists as nothing more than easily manipulated fascistic clowns. It’s more an issue of underdeveloped worldbuilding, and not necesarilly politically-charged moralizing. As I said earlier, The Dark Knight Rises is far from a bad film. It unfortunately falls short., — so goes the tragedy of many trilogies. With SO many subplots, so many characters, and so much ambition, it’s not hard to see why some of this got a little messy. None of this even takes in to account that this whole social unrest scenario is an elaborate fabrication from the League of Shadows to Destroy Gotham, which of course begs the question why even bother with all the French revolution stuff? But that’s gonna have to be the subject of another video. With a little more finessing and tad more attention on world building, this film could have been a Wisecrackian wet dream, and a fitting conclusion to one of the best trilogies of our time. It’s almost that. Thanks for watching Wisecrack. Peace.