Batman Decoded: Perspectives on The Dark Knight Rises


With The Dark Knight Rises, director Christopher Nolan completed the epic triptych he began with Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008). Nolan’s installments have brought in over $2 billion at the box office, but they aren’t empty crowd-pleasers. Box office success is just about all these films share with the many shoot ‘em up, plotless wrecks of other superhero films from recent years. In fact, Nolan’s Batman installments have been nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two, including Best Supporting Actor (Heath Ledger)—highly unusual accomplishments for an action series. An experienced filmmaker before these films clapped on more awards, Nolan explained his choice to take up the stagnated Batman series:

Superheroes fill a gap in the pop culture psyche, similar to the role of Greek mythology. There isn’t really anything else that does the job in modern terms. For me, Batman is the one that can most clearly be taken seriously. [1]
 

We too are strong Batman exclusivists and think Nolan’s films bring to life the hero’s mythic potential in important ways. In this article, Airspace editors analyze and critique Christopher Nolan’s latest film from the perspectives of social justice, psychology, and cinematography.


Batman and Social Justice — Jon Catlin

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman

Favorite Character

No question: Catwoman (especially when she’s straddling the Bat-Pod). Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) proves a strong contrast to Bruce Wayne throughout the film, but also a great compliment. Though her sexy arrogance often comes off as tasteless, she’s relatable and emotionally forward in a way Bruce Wayne can never be. She’s a character with attainable goals like erasing her identity and just getting by, while Wayne’s goals and motives are forever shrouded in mystery. She also has the ego of a young and unstoppable superhero on the rise, just at the time when Wayne has fallen the farthest from his former superhero years.

Favorite Moment

Bane shooting up the New York Stock Exchange and the Bat-Pod in a high speed chase past New York icons like Saks Fifth Avenue. It’s one thing to see violence in generic cityscapes and another entirely to see it threatening places you know. It’s terrifying to consider that our law enforcement would be totally unprepared to deal with a villain like Bain.
 

Favorite Quote

Miranda Tate: Bruce Wayne at a charity ball?
Bruce Wayne: Miss Tate, isn’t it?
Miranda Tate: Even before you became a recluse, you never came to these things.
Bruce Wayne: Proceeds go to the big fat spread. It’s not about charity, it’s about feeding the ego of whichever society hag laid this on.
Miranda Tate: Actually, this is my party, Mr. Wayne.
Bruce Wayne: Oh.
Miranda Tate: And the proceeds will go where they should, because I paid for the big fat spread myself.
Bruce Wayne: That’s very generous of you.
Miranda Tate: You have to invest to restore balance to the world. Take our clean-energy project.
Bruce Wayne: Sometimes the investment doesn’t pay off. I’m Sorry.
Miranda Tate: You have a practiced apathy, Mr. Wayne. But a man who doesn’t care about the world doesn’t spend half his fortune on a plan to save it and isn’t so wounded when it fails that he goes into hiding. Have a good evening, Mr. Wayne.

Analysis

The dialogue between Bruce Wayne and Miranda Tate at the charity ball made me question Batman the way most Gothamites must have when he went into hiding. What were Bruce Wayne’s motives for laying low in the Wayne Manor for the eight years between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises? For starters, as Tate seems to reveal, Wayne’s outwardly defeatist atitude—”Sometimes the investment doesn’t pay off”—doesn’t add up with his actions. He went into hiding in large part because he was deeply troubled by the fact that the nuclear fusion reactor his money invented could be used to destroy the city he helped protect for years. He invested his entire life’s work and fortune into Gotham—even to the point of taking widespread denunciation for Harvey Dent’s death, but, to his mind, neither his financial nor his physical sacrifices paid off. In a state of utter disillusionment with Gotham, he almost starts to believe Alfred’s (Michael Caine) suggestion that “there is nothing here for you but pain and tragedy.”

Joshua Gordon-Levitt as John Blake

As the film goes on, Wayne confronts another one of his “investments” in the face of John Blake, the detective who is to become his sidekick and closest friend, Robin. There are at least three levels of paying it forward in this series, and that’s what makes Batman’s ethical code just as much about minor human relationships as vigilante justice. When Bruce was orphaned, a young Commissioner Gordon supported him through the psychological trauma of losing his parents. Wayne then funded the orphanage that raised Blake, and Blake in turn passed that support down to the next generation of orphans. Blake’s story brings to life Batman’s quote: “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hadn’t ended.” In a place like Gotham undergoing frequent episodes of catastrophic crime, one needs follow through on investments of all kinds to have a sense of meaning. Above all else, The Dark Knight Rises reveals why Batman keeps returning: leaving human investment to others leaves everyone thinking that their world really is ending.


Psychoanalyzing Catwoman —Melissa McSweeney

Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate

Favorite Character

Miranda Tate. While Selina Kyle (Catwoman) tries too hard to act mysterious, Tate has an ineffable air of mystery to her character that is brilliantly reflective of her situation in The Dark Knight Rises.

Favorite Moment

I think the scene where Bane taunts Bruce Wayne in his prison was theatrically interesting from both a design and directorial standpoint. The blatant contrast in lighting between the dark, desolate prison and the unattainable pool of sunlight looming above the scene visually represented the content of Bane’s monologue about darkness and despair, and the dismal probability of escape from such darkness. Wayne was portrayed in a dark, vulnerable state with his only the contours of his mask-less facial features exposed to the light, while Bane’s menacing countenance was fully lit and masked, indicating his power over Wayne in this particular encounter. His colossal physique often overshadowed the distant light source, making Bane both a literal obstacle to freedom an a metaphor of despair. Overall, the minimal scenery, simple lighting, and effective character blocking tastefully conveyed the desperation, power struggle, and conflicting ideals that were essential to this scene.

Favorite Quote

John Blake: You’ve made some mistakes, Miss Kyle.
Selina Kyle: Girl’s gotta eat.
John Blake: Well, you’ve got quite an appetite.


 

Analysis

Though Selina Kyle is undeniably sexy, strong, and confident, she also has some undeniable issues that protrude through her flawless façade. More specifically, I have reason to suspect that Selina has several psychological disorders: kleptomania, dissociative personality disorder, and reactive attachment disorder. Using the DSM-IV (the manual used in classifying mental disorders), I will explore the darker side of Catwoman’s brain and explain how her irregular behavior, cognitive processes, and difficult past might contribute to these disorders.

Kleptomania, the most obvious of Selina’s mental abnormalities, is a disorder in which a person compulsively steals. Catwoman’s main operation is cat burglary, and Selina steals even when she’s off-duty (e.g. when she steals Bruce Wayne’s car at Tate’s charity ball just for fun). Her behavior is consistent with the DSM-IV’s criteria for kleptomania in that she finds pleasure in stealing and she steals even when theft is unnecessary.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), more commonly known as multiple personality disorder, is a mental condition in which a person has at least two distinct identities that endure over a long period of time. Catwoman is obviously not the only character in Batman who takes on two separate identities. This is important because she has something in common other characters who may also have DID (e.g. Batman and Tate): a difficult childhood that involved the death of at least one parent and a desire to escape from an unfortunate situation. Many real-life DID patients experienced childhood traumas, thus posing the possibility that Selina Kyle took on the persona of Catwoman as an escape mechanism. However, I would say Catwoman’s case isn’t too extreme because she appears to realize that she has two separate personas.

Fascinated by Catwoman’s character, I did some research on Comic Vine to uncover her past. From her mother’s suicide to her father’s neglect, it appears that Selina Kyle had a very difficult childhood [2]. Parental attachment is an extremely important element of childhood brain development, and when things go terribly wrong in the parent-child relationship, a child will often develop attachment problems that affect the ways in which she interact with people for the rest of her life. I believe that Selina Kyle expresses symptoms of reactive attachment disorder (RAD): a condition resulting from negative and/or absent parenting that results in inappropriate social interactions; indiscriminate sociability in Selina’s case. She seems to desperately seek attention, and will shamelessly flirt with strangers and acquaintances without second thought. Though such behaviors don’t sound too uncommon for a young, attractive woman, the extent to which Selina displays them is borderline pathological, especially given her difficult upbringing.


Nolan’s Plotholes — Tony Russo

Favorite Plot Hole

The Gotham PD’s decision to take on Bane’s troops Gangs of New York style. They’ve replaced butcher knifes with handguns, but the idea remains the same: one gang faces off against another, and they fight in the streets. Theatrically, I liked it. The image of the officers—who were, might I add, remarkably well kept after months in a sewer—marching out to take on Bane’s army face-to-face was this sort of corny, feel-good heroism that everyone loves to see. But when people have guns, warfare cannot work that way. We learned this in the Civil War. For British director Christopher Nolan and British actor Gary Oldman, who portrayed the mastermind behind this strategy, this lesson was learned in the Crimean War (1853-1856). And they kept on learning it up until World War I. In fact, it’s my theory that the main reason why we still read Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is so we don’t forget that charging stationed men with guns will not work.

But it worked. Perhaps Batman’s credo about not using guns rubbed off on Bane’s army. And it made that epic Bane-Batman fist fight possible.

Least Favorite Plot Hole

This has bugged me since I caught a pirated preview of the opening scene. I was hoping Bane’s reveal would be on par with The Joker’s bank heist in The Dark Knight, which is without a doubt one of my favorite movie moments. Unfortunately, it was a total logical disaster. Ignoring the fact that the character they take gets approximately :30 of screen time after his kidnapping, the entire scene was contrived. Unless I am mistaken, the CIA employs some of the highest trained intelligence agents and supplies them with some of the most high-tech equipment in the world. Yet these intelligence agents neglected to check who they had captured under those hoods before bringing them on a plane—especially if, hypothetically, the man you want them to lead you to has some sort of distinctive cranial apparatus. And then, to top it off, Bane convinces one of his men to go down with the plane. Bane, mastermind that he is, must then believe that the CIA lacks the basic capabilities to recognize a plane that was crashed from being attacked, versus one that crashed from, say, a mechanical error. And even though Bane has banked successfully on the CIA’s ineptitude before, any person would be able to recognize a plane riddled with bullet holes did not go down from heavy winds. Furthermore, when he asks his man to stay on the plane so that the CIA will not be suspicious about the body count, he is assuming that the same organization will make no attempt to identify the bodies of those that died. Not that I know the science, but Bones has been running on Fox for 7 years now. I assume that there is a science to it.

The henchman he asks to stay behind, though, ends up ok. Because we see the same actor on the bridge with the U.S. Army later.

And I’ll leave you with a parody of potentially the most unbelievable portion of the film: the scenes within the Uzbeki prison/literal hell-hole.

Analysis; or Why These Plot Holes Don’t Matter

Christopher Nolan has been stunning audiences with twists since Memento began travelling the festival circuit back in 2000. The only way the experimental neo-noir works is if the main character is aware that he has anterograde amnesia, and—as the main character explains—knowing this is impossible. Still, the only thing he knows in the mystery is that he has anterograde amnesia, making for an extreme contradiction at the core of the film. But it’s hardly noticeable amidst the suspense, great acting, chic styling, and innovative timeline.

This is something Nolan knows and does well. It’s frustrating, but it can also be frighteningly entertaining. And by that I mean Nolan is an entertainer before a realist, which is all right because, for the most part, we aren’t expecting realism when we go into the theatre. It is problematic with a superhero film because we suspend disbelief on so many fronts (reminder: the premise of the film is about a billionaire playboy who dresses as a bat to fight crime) that we can get exasperated when familiar rules and logic are not followed through.

For the most part, though, Nolan racks up critically acclaimed and enormously popular films unlike anyone else. Why is that? With his Batman trilogy and Inception, Christopher Nolan proved his ability to provide a film that excites both the body and mind. They are action films that are not simply about the effects of spectacular action on a viewer’s senses but incorporate philosophy and plot twists—which are essentially the psychological equivalent of action. These stand in stark contrast to the typical action film that is so mind-numbingly simple that it is essentially all action, moving from one conflict until the next up to a resolution that is immediately followed by the end. This is a generalization, yes, but I think it holds true to movie-goers experience.

In summary, The Dark Knight Rises suffers from several oversights and begs the audience to stretch its imagination, but for the most part, those aren’t worth worrying about because Nolan refuses to insult our collective intelligence with dumb-downed plots.


Attribution

[1] IMDB
[2] Comic Vine

Images via
League of Fiction
Wikia
HD Wallpapers
Theiapolis
National Post
The Pixel Pulse


  • AirspaceReader

    Really enjoyed this piece, especially the panel-like format of discussion. A minor fix; in Jon’s segment, the quote attributed to Blake (“A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hadn’t ended.”) is actually said by Batman as he “reveals” his identity to Commissioner Gordon. Doesn’t really effect the piece and I hate being ‘that guy’ but just thought you should know. Keep up the good work!

    • Jon Catlin

      Thanks AirspaceReader, it’s been reworked!

  • Batmanrules

    I had a slight problem with Tony’s part on plotholes. the guy who went down with the plane looks kinda like the guy on the bridge, but it isn’t. That guy on the bridge might have been loosely based on Deadshot. He dropped off the hostages at the beginning to the CIA. that’s a plausible explanation as to why they wouldn’t check, they thought the hostages were already checked. The guy also sniped cops in the ally, met the Army on the bridge, handed Bane the cell phone when he shot and shoved the guy into the sewer, and was also protecting Talia near the end. he’s the guy batman punches in the face and knocks him out immediately, then takes his submachine gun and throws it to “Miranda” and tells her to guard the door. I also don’t want to be “that guy”, i just wanted to supply a good amount of examples to jog your memory. better plot holes would be the fact that they pumped the scientist’s blood into the drained body, but changed nothing else. so if they DNA that body, they’ll find that it had barely any blood, had a small about that belonged to the scientist, had a blood bag still attached to it’s arm, and was in a burned body bag instead of clothes. and also, the CIA agent said they told the CIA their flight only had one of the henchmen, but then he doesn’t kill any of them, meaning it was a lie. and the soldiers that escorted Bane were actually his men. when Bane breaks free, they open fire and kill the other “hostages”. so on this plane, there’s the weird body in a body bag on one side, shot up bodies of some agents, 4 less military guys then there should be, three tied up hostages that DNA test positive for soldiers, the plane was cut in half by explosives, the wings were about three miles back, and no one suspects a thing.

    • Tony Russo

      Batmanrules I only caught TDKR once, so I’ll take your word on my henchmen generalization. And yes the whole plane scene came off as a weak attempt to match (topping would be a fool’s errand) the Joker’s robbery from The Dark Knight. I look forward to more plot holes and problems being revealed when people can manage to dissect the film on video—I get too enthralled with the spectacle while sitting in a theater.