21 Jul 2012
“Nobody deserves a medal, it’s just the ridiculous situation you find yourself in and how you react to it… Courage isn’t just a tap you can turn on and off whenever you want it to. Courage isn’t a permanence. Courage is a tenuous and fickle thing. Courage and cowardice exist in every man.” – Jack Kelso, LA Noire
Director Christopher Nolan has defined the themes of his Batman films as such: Batman Begins is about Fear, The Dark Knight is about Chaos, and The Dark Knight Rises is about Pain. I would expand upon this by saying that his films don’t revolve around these ideas, but rather revolve on how Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, overcomes them. In Batman Begins, Scarecrow seeks to create fear for his own purposes, while Henri Ducard, aka Ra’s al Ghul seeks to harness fear to exploit it for purposes of power and destruction. In the Dark Knight, Joker seeks to do what he pleases by playing in the chaos and confusion created by fear, because in fear, you can cause and watch the world burn. In Dark Knight Rises, Bane, himself in almost constant agony, seeks to bring about the consequences of fear, which leads to chaos: Pain. He makes the situation in Gotham even more painful by slowly extinguishing hope. But in this dimming hope, the people have a symbol on which to grasp onto. To help themselves ride up, by finding the courage within.
This is the story Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy illustrates through the examples of both the city of Gotham, and a product of that city, Bruce Wayne. WARNING: Spoilers Follow for all 3 films!
“When a forest grows too wild, a purging fire is inevitable and natural.” – Ra’s al Ghul
Before the events of Batman Begins, when Bruce is a young child, or even before, the city of Gotham, which is representative by the Industrial powerhouse cities in America in filming locations of Chicago, Pittsburgh and New York City, falls into a great depression. This financial depression, which makes the poor extremely so, and the rich, increasingly so, has bred a lack of hope, which has given way to anger, which has led to fear. Where Bruce’s father, Thomas, tries to restore this hope by building cheap transportation to help the people, his death ultimately quickens the decent. After all, if one of your city’s greatest and wealthiest citizens can be senselessly robbed and killed, what’s the hope for you?
“Over the ages, our weapons have grown more sophisticated. With Gotham, we tried a new one: Economics. But we underestimated certain of Gotham’s citizens… such as your parents. Gunned down by one of the very people they were trying to help. Create enough hunger and everyone becomes a criminal. Their deaths galvanized the city into saving itself… and Gotham has limped on ever since. We are back to finish the job. And this time no misguided idealists will get in the way. Like your father, you lack the courage to do all that is necessary. If someone stands in the way of true justice… you simply walk up behind them and stab them in the heart.” – Ra’s al Ghul
In this absence of hope and justice, the mob come in and fill in the gap. As a result, cops and politicians are bought off to give a sense of personal safety to them, and financial safety to the mob. Only a few shining lights hold out, such as Assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes, and James Gordon
“You think because your mommy and your daddy got shot, you know about the ugly side of life, but you don’t… This is a world you’ll never understand. And you always fear what you don’t understand.” - Carmine Falcone
Bruce Wayne on the other hand, a product of the city, and the recipient and holder of much of its fear, is lost. In the absence of his sense of justice, he fills his soul with wondering and wandering, trying to understand criminals, thus understanding the fear they create. But what he doesn’t realize, and what he learns under the tutelage of Henri Ducard, is that understanding a criminal is not hard. They’re products of fear, seeking to combat their fear with force. To truly fight injustice, you must overcome your fears to combat the fears of others, Bruce learns. To do this, he becomes a symbol of the thing he fears. He will use this symbol to give hope to others. In Batman Begins, this symbol starts working. He’s a signal in the cloudy night sky.
“A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed, or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely. A legend, Mr. Wayne.” – Henri Ducard
In the finale, Bruce must face his former mentor who wants to destroy Gotham, thinking that it’s too ravaged in its fear to be saved. Yet, Bruce, with some help from his friends, is able to shine a light in the darkness, stopping Ra’s al Ghul, putting away the mob, and stopping some corruption. This is of course not accomplished without his house burning down, to the point where he needs to replace its foundation. But, the path to salvation has only begun.
“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” – Alfred
In The Dark Knight, Bruce sees a need for Gotham to function without his symbol of hope. In this, he sees Harvey Dent, an ordinary citizen who has risen up to the role of D.A. The Joker, in his insanity, sees through the foundations being built however, and seeks to tear them down. He takes a city and people still petrified in fear, and introduces the element of chaos. With the element of chaos, he can bring people down to his level, including Harvey Dent. He single-handily takes down half the mob through fear of them losing their money and of being defeated. He takes down the police force by taking away their leaders and adding unpredictability. He introduces Batman to a criminal type he’s never met before, nor understands, crippling his normal methods of defeating him. And for Harvey, Gotham’s White Knight, he takes away his faith in the justice system, pushing him over the edge to seek revenge for the death of Rachel.
“You know that day that you once told me about, when Gotham would no longer need Batman? It’s coming. Harvey is that hero. He locked up half of the city’s criminals, and he did it without wearing a mask. Gotham needs a hero with a face.” – Bruce Wayne
At the end of the film, even though Joker is put away, his damage has been done. Gotham’s citizens may have shown some more hope, in the infamous boat scene, where two groups of people are forced to face the fear of death, at the expense of taking the lives of others. Still, Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon decide to build Gotham’s hope on a faulty foundation of the lies that Harvey Dent was a good man. They don’t want to admit that even the best of us, have cowardice and can fail.
‘”He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.”- James Gordon
So, for 8 years, Gotham is built on a lie. With the idol of Harvey Dent lost, the “Dent Act” allows criminals are now put away without the possibility of parole, no questions asked. Their safety, is a lie. Bruce Wayne, now free of the symbol of Batman, and without Rachel, locks himself away from the rest of the world, hiding out of fear and grief. His purpose is now a lie.
“When I told you that if Gotham no longer needed Batman we could be together, I meant it. But now I’m sure the day won’t come when you no longer need Batman. I hope it does; and if it does I will be there, but as your friend. I’m sorry to let you down. If you lose your faith in me, please keep your faith in people.” – Rachel Dawes
But, Talia, Bane and the rest of the League of Shadows see through the mask of lies, hiding the fear, and see that once again, Talia’s father before them, that Gotham is without hope of saving. So, they befall Gotham. But why do we fall? To learn to pick ourselves back up.
Bruce Wayne is convinced to come out of his self-imposed exile, but has lost his confidence and is still overcome by fear, so he fails. As a price for his failure to overcome the chaos, his back is literally broken. Commissioner Gordon has lived with a lie tearing him up inside for 8 years, so he fails, and pays the price of watching his city fall to martial law and kangaroo courts, presided in a brilliantly-staged cameo by Scarecrow himself, scaring people now with a complete lack of justice.
Still, there are the bright and shining lights of people like John Blake, Selina Kyle, Assistant Commissioner Foley, and the Gotham Police Force. All are on the precipice of being heroes, and to turn around a phrase used by the Joker, “All it takes is a little push.”
That push for the rising of the Good in Gotham is of course, Batman. But I think that IMDB’s FAQ for the film puts it, and sums it all up best.
“In the end, Batman can retire because his legacy of sacrificing everything for the city has been passed on. Every single cop running to their probable death against the mercenaries embraced the idea that Gotham is more important than themselves. In The Dark Knight, the cops are depicted as deathly afraid when it came to defending the city against the Joker. But at the end of the trilogy, the true crime-fighters run fearlessly into battle. Peter Foley, who was consumed by dreams of becoming a better commissioner than Gordon and a bigger hero, is inspired by Batman to lay aside his selfishness and cowardice and lead the charge, ultimately sacrificing his life. Selina Kyle, the apathetic burglar concerned only with getting a new life for herself, eventually follows this idea as well. John Blake, walking into gunfire to evacuate citizens, had little care for his life. Thus, because the defenders of the city no longer need a selfless hero, Bruce Wayne can retire.
This Trilogy is the story of a boy who had his family stolen from him, but with the help of loyal allies, he manages to restore justice to the city that wronged him. In the end, Bruce has given Gotham everything. The day has come that neither Gotham nor Bruce Wayne no longer needs Batman.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. And that my friends, is Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I don’t think it’s exactly a perfect trilogy, since I think The Dark Knight is a great inconsistency of the other two films in both tone and themes, but it’s a solid trilogy if nothing else. It’ll of course be rebooted in a couple of years, hopefully with John Blake/Robin taking on the crusade to finish the job by fighting against the chains of orders, but even if Hollywood does what it does best and makes a pure cash grab, we’ll always have this moral saga of good vs. evil, fear vs. courage, the purpose of falling, and the great value in rising. And for that, and for more than a couple hours of solid entertainment, I thank Christopher Nolan. Use the blank check you’ll get to make your next movie well.
Tags: alfred, bane, Batman, batman begins, bruce wayne, catwoman, chaos, christopher nolan, courage, dark, evil, fear, good, gotham, james gordon, john blake, Joker, liam neeson, light, miranda tate, pain, ra's al ghul, redemption, revenge, robin, scarecrow, selina kyle, talia al ghul, The Dark Knight, the dark night rises, two-face