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.