Review. Looking Into The Pit In The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises – in fact, director Christopher Nolan’s entire Batman trilogy – is about the things that come to life in the darkness and icons born in the light.
The monsters of Nolan’s Batman trilogy are almost uniformly human monsters, for the most part. They are born of dark and troubled pasts. Depending upon how far you trust the character, the Dark Knight’s Joker (the late Heath Ledger) may have been born of a broken home and an abusive father. The lead villain of The Dark Knight Rises, Bane (Tom Hardy) spends most of the movie brooding and plodding about in what seems like an inhuman ruthlessness. At the root of the character, he turns out to be far more human than anyone could have imagined. (The less you know about this, the better.)
There are, however, also some more deeply inhuman monsters. Their ruthlessness is far more genuine. Ras Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) is one of them. Depending upon how much you distrust the character, The Joker may be one as well. Dr Jonathon Crane, also known as Scarecrow (Killian Murphy) may be one of them as well – he may be the only character in the entire trilogy whose motivations remain a complete mystery throughout.
Then, of course, there are the icons. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is not only an icon, but he becomes the icon that looms over the entire film. As anyone who’s seen The Dark Knight knows (and if you haven’t seen The Dark Knight, proceed no further, and shame on you) that icon, like so many icons is built around a very pervasive fiction. Dent, Dark Knight viewers will recall, became as much a monster as any other in the trilogy. But that isn’t enough for Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). A hero of the war to rid Gotham City of organized crime, Gordon helped build Dent into an icon, knowing that Dent was truly a monster.
Gordon himself is an icon in his own right. Embracing the ruthless modicum of the monsters, Gordon has swept Gotham City free of organized crime. Using the Dent Act – the finishing touch on the iconography of Dent – the footsoldiers and leaders of organized crime are locked away pretty much for good, denied any possibility of parole.
It worked all together too well. Every icon is built around a pervasive fiction. And then there’s the biggest fiction of all.
That would be The Batman (Christian Bale). At the conclusion of The Dark Knight, Batman has willingly taken the fall for a number of murders committed by Dent during a vengeful and uncontrollable rage. Batman allows himself to be fictionalized as a monster, and the eight years that pass between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises have done nothing to diminish it. There remain some believers in The Batman, but mostly he’s seen as a monster – as a “murderous thug.” In embracing that infamy, Batman has become an icon of a sort. Really, he’s the one character who straddles the two distinctions the most.
Like the monsters of the trilogy, Batman was born in the dark. He was conceived when young Bruce Wayne fell into an abandoned well on the property of Wayne manor and broke his arm. He’s eventually rescued by his father, Thomas Wayne – who, along with Bruce’s mother Martha, becomes the overarching icons of the trilogy, the sole icons built with no semblance of fiction – but not before being terrified by a swarm of bats.
Before long, Bruce learns the power of fear. He even convinces himself that he has learned to overcome it. But he never really does.
In finding success leading the fight against organized crime, Batman himself becomes an icon. He allows himself to be cast as a monster; the icon is tarnished and torn down, with just enough rubble remaining to rebuild it if the time ever comes when that icon needs to be rebuilt.
The Dark Knight Rises is a movie about that time. It arrives because something that was born in the pit – an ancient prison used to punish those who provoked the wrath of the most powerful – finally sets about turning himself into an icon. That monster is Bane. And Bane sets out to become not just any icon. He sets out to become the icon of all icons. A true revolutionary icon.
In order to do so to his satisfaction, he must destroy the prevailing icons. He must stoke the resentments of the envious; Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), also known as Catwoman, is precisely right when she tells Wayne that “a storm is coming.” Bane must allow oppressors to act out their fictions of actually being oppressed. And those who had once been victim to those very oppressors, he oppresses more harshly than ever before.
He knows something that no one else cares to admit. The pit, you see, is not the only pit in the trilogy. In its own way, Gotham City is its own kind of pit. It’s in the darkness of that particular pit that Bane thrives like never before.
Like The Dark Knight before it, The Dark Knight Rises is in no way the typical comic book film that fans have long been accustomed to seeing. This film is not The Avengers, and it’s not really meant to be. Nor was The Avengers by any means meant to be The Dark Knight. Unlike The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises is a hero epic firmly rooted in the real world. Note that I didn’t refer to it as a “superhero” epic, because as every comic book fan the world over knows deep down, Batman isn’t really a superhero.
The Batman could be anyone. He could be anyone with the resolve to bring light to the darkness, to expose the monsters that live there and, if not necessarily destroy them – recall that Batman never kills – at least render them useful.
There’s a heavy dose of reality in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Filter out layers of hyperbole, and the world Batman and Bruce Wayne inhabit is not that much unlike the world that we ourselves – that you, dear reader – inhabit. We’ve built our icons, challenged old icons, torn icons down and rebuilt them anew. We’ve seen the monsters that crawl from the darkness, and we’ve even seen them destroyed.
Certainly, not everything that is born in the darkness is a monster. Nor is there any guarantee that monsters cannot hide themselves, even in the light. And in the end, in one way or another, the monsters can only be defeated by the light. No one man can ever carry enough light to destroy all the monsters. That is where the true message of Nolan’s Batman trilogy lies:
If anyone could be the Batman, everyone in their own way can be the Batman. Not by dressing up in a cape and cowl and pummelling every ne’er do well in sight, but simply by standing up to be counted, and to refuse to allow evil to pass unredressed. By refusing to allow darkness to encroach on the light.
Perhaps the pits of the world can never truly be filled in. Perhaps they can never be completely illuminated so as to dispel the darkness in which monsters are born. But each and every person can defend their own little patches of light, and band together with their fellow human beings to help them defend theirs.
Light can be reclaimed from darkness. All we need is the courage and the resolve to carry our light into that darkness and never, ever, allow what comes out of the pits of the world to snuff it out.
Patrick Ross is a Contributing Writer for The Propagandist