On that there Batman movie about rock-climbing

So I re-watched The Dark Knight Rises just recently, and figured maybe I should talk about that some. In this post! Economics, protest culture, and authoritarianism! Woo!

OK. I want to say up front I really like this movie. I like it even better now than I did after I saw it the first time, and I liked it a lot then. I say this here because there are still a lot of people who confuse “criticism” and “hatred” (I have been accused of hating one of my favorite writers because I think about his stories, rather than just read them for facts – this author is in my dissertation).

OK. OK. PSA over.

If you are American and ever think about Batman, he might make you uncomfortable. But, from what I’ve seen, if you are American you are less likely to think about the discomfort of Batman than a European or an African might be. And that’s because Batman is a vanguard of the rich and elite. He himself is rich; he defends property (he is shown more than most other superheroes stopping petty crime, most of which involves B&E or mugging); he is from a culture, city, and regional world that uses money to determine most things, including societal mores; and he is often counterpoised to Superman.

Why is that last one important? Well, Superman is the hero of the working class. He has a job as a reporter, he struggles to get those jobs done (though not as much as Spider-Man, of course), and he grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere. He is Americana, or as people on the internets put it now, Murrican. I think he stands for even more than that, actually, but never mind now.

Batman is the defender of the status quo in many ways. And then there was The Dark Knight Rises. I don’t want to talk about how the movie appears to co-opt of be about the Occupy movement, though I’ve read some ideas about that. I just want to look at the discomfort I feel through the movie. There’s a lot of stuff about the rich manipulating and living off the poor: hell, that’s sort of just true. However, Bruce Wayne does that shit. I mean, he does. I’m sure he’s the best boss in the city. He’s the Gabe Newell of Gotham. But he creates an economic force around him to do with import/export, mergers with other companies (that allow them to continue their own business practices – see both Daggett in this film and the asshole from The Animated Series that owned the company that fired the Riddler), and so on. So. I don’t really buy the idea that Bruce Wayne doesn’t know hardship. I’m not sure the film expects us to. The characters all believe that, even when they know who he really is – the prisoners in Bane’s dystopic desert prison ought to know, at least, that he’s not just some rich dude, and yet they believe he’s nothing but a person “from privilege.”

In the end, then, the movie is actually about what the boundaries between the two camps actually are. Poor people are rich people with no money. Rich people are poor people who haven’t been dragged from their homes yet. And everyone is capable of both good and bad; justice picks freely among them (I’m having flashbacks to “Reeve the Just” here, give me a second… mm, yeah, OK, that’s good).

Now, what about Jim Gordon. I love Jim Gordon. I really do. And I love this one, particularly. But here’s a problem: wasn’t he, like, the only good cop in Gotham? I find it hard to believe eight years is enough to root out every instance of real corruption in Gotham – and Nolan’s movies do make it pretty clear that the police force is shitty before Rises. I mean, seriously? The cops we have in this film are Gordon; Robin, who is, well, Robin; the guy who keeps his money in a mattress, making him part of the aw shucks league; and the bigwig who wants to be commissioner. He’s the worst cop in the film. He’s greedy, opportunistic, and cares less about people than his career. But when inspired by Batman (something he does, sometimes, you know, when good writers get ahold of him) he goes out in his “dress blues” down main street, fighting Bane. So effectively there are no bad cops. Given that they enforce the Dent act, which removes a lot of protections from citizens, this makes me uncomfortable.

Remember that Dent was a psychopath. He was a psychopath both before and after the accident – all the accident was was a trigger, not the cause of his psychopathy. So the Dent Act is really the law of a high functioning crazy person / murderer. And that is what cleaned up Gotham – something Batman was complicit in, because neither he nor Gordon noticed Dent was crazy before the Joker. Which makes sense, as they’re both fucked up as well. The events of Rises mark a rejuvenation for everyone, including Gordon and Bruce. Bruce learns to be more than Batman, and in Nolan’s vision that means he can’t be Batman, because to be a person is to be not a symbol, a vigilante, a superhero.

That’s the last thing that makes me a little uncomfortable. According to this film, the greatest good will be performed by people who are “angry in their bones.” That’s how Robin describes both himself and Batman, and he’s right – in this iteration. Once Bruce loses his anger, once he deals with his past, he can’t be Batman any longer. Robin, who still has the orphans to protect, who still stifles under the thumb of the police procedures – he can become Batman. Gordon is the mystery, of course, but his own guilt probably suffices to keep him an effective commissioner.

So… yeah. There are a lot of deeply unsettling things in that movie, some of which serve the purposes of the story, some of which reveal deep-seated things in the Batman idea itself, or Nolan’s view of the world.


3 thoughts on “On that there Batman movie about rock-climbing

  1. DorkKnight

    For the record, I sometimes wish I could kick people in the nuts when they watched the Dark Knight Rises, presumably paying to do so, but then didn’t pay attention enough to the plot to put it all together.

    With that being said, I love this post. This is the kind of thing WORTH talking about. I was watching Dark Knight Returns pt 1 the other day and was struck by this same sort of discomfort, I think.

    Some of the best Batman stories are uncomfortable as hell. Batman is a rich man who uses his money to hunt criminals and in most iterations of Batman, this is the only thing he is capable of doing. Most times, I think writers deal with this issue by making Gotham a fucking horrible place. Its why Batman Begins and Dark Knight work.

    DKR is uncomfortable, I think, because all of this is there, but without the horrible crime and corruption. Naturally there’s Bane’s plot. But since the crime and corruption cleaned up as well as it did, all that is left is the divide that creates crime in the first place. Batman has saved the status quo, there’s no organized crime, but the vibe in Gotham is that things still aren’t necessarily good. Desperate poor criminals aren’t gunning down rich CEOs in the streets, but the poor are still there being ignored and exploited by the rich (something Bruce sort of comments on at the Tate fundraiser). Which maybe is part of the reason Jim Gordon sits on the top of MCU like “we’re still at war.”

    This is a subtext in the movie. Batman can’t fight this problem. The best Batman does (you know, aside from saving the rich and the poor from being blown up), is offer Selina Kyle, the main character who represents all these problems, a second chance.

    This is probably all insane rambling that should never see the light of day. But like I said, this is much more worthy of discussion than, “Man I wonder if the ending was real.”

    1. cuchlann Post author

      I like the cut of your figurative jib, actually, so don’t worry about sounding crazy. I like particularly what you said about Gordon thinking “we’re still at war” because of the class unrest prevalent in the city. I suppose, depending on who you ask, Gotham is either Chicago or New York, but in this sense it is New English: it’s working class enough to have a large population of poor people, but still has a foot in the old-money system, making class tension run as high as it does in some European and British cities. It’s not even as though the Wayne family made its money in the remembered past — they always had money, as did a ton of Gothamite families. Gordon’s goal has always been to keep the peace and reduce corruption, and cleaning up the streets is a step towards that, but with the corruption in the money politics, it’s not the only step.

      Also, did people really think the ending wasn’t real? I have never heard that before.

      1. DorkKnight

        There’s some people who are still stuck in Inception’s limbo, questioning whether anything is real, I suppose.

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