The Dark Knight Rises and Addiction: Part 1

Photo credit Jeffrey Simpson

This post has been lurking in the back of my mind since the middle of last week; much like Batman himself, it’s battled a few other ideas to come to the surface. The main hang-up is that I don’t generally review movies, save for when it comes to a storytelling context (you can see examples of those here and here). I knew that I could look at the films from that point of view, but something about the concept of Batman demands a little something more, given that the guy has been part of my own personal pantheon since right around age 3.

Then, of course, that asshole in Aurora carried out his attack and the dimension of the idea took on even more frightful proportions. I began to ponder whether such a post could be a good idea. I even got as far as staring at my list of other blog topics this morning, pondering whether I should choose a different topic, but this one kept beckoning to me. I had to give in. I just had to.

So, to get it out of the way first, I’m not sure I can express my sadness for what happened in Colorado. I know some folks who live in Aurora, frequent the theater, and are into Batman, so when it all went down, I immediately thought of them. I was grateful to learn that they had note been at the theater that night, but even the possibility made me slow down and think more about this tragedy than I might otherwise. There’s something to be said about the strange thematic layer it adds to the overall trilogy, but let’s start with the movie itself.

Photo from the scene.

I’ve already seen this movie twice; well, mostly twice. We attended a 4:15 showing on Saturday and had gotten down to the last 20-30 minutes, just into the big climax, when fire lights began to flash in the theater. Quite the surreal moment. All of us paused for a long moment, and you got the sense that many of us were attempting to puzzle out exactly what was going down – real fire alarm? Part of the movie? Something else? At last a guy sitting near me got out of his seat, and the rest of us followed suit. We evacuated in an orderly fashion, but I won’t lie: the whole thing was one of those intense, odd moments that stick with you. By the way, it turned out to be a fire – one of the popcorn machines had caught fire and took some of the wall with it. Not life-threatening, but quite a smell and bad enough that they refused to let us back in. I got a refund and went back to finish it yesterday morning.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve had some time to absorb the themes and formulate something of a response. I’ve also had an experience that highlights some of the zeitgeist into which this series has tapped.

Side-note: I intend to revisit the other films after this one, as the wife wants to see the others before giving The Dark Knight Rises (DKR) a second try, so I’ll skim some of the trilogy’s common thematic elements that pop up in this film. I’m also going to make use of spoilers, but I’ve worked out a way to share those without ruining the experience.

If you want to read my analysis of Batman Begins, you can read Part 1 here and/or Part 2 here.

I’ve decided against combing through the plot piece-by-piece, because, while exciting in spots, it’s somewhat pedestrian. Plot has never really been the strong point with any of these films; I mean, let’s face it. Though the Dark Knight is one of my favorite films of all time, it suffers from a convoluted plot that’s subsumed by incredible performances and themes. Christopher Nolan reached his plotting peak with Memento, and I think it’s been downhill since then, even as he’s grown greater as a director. I don’t judge his movies for plot, because they’re not why I ever get on board.

Courtesy Creative Commons

Nolan has two consistent strengths: character and theme. The characters in this movie, while not as strong as in the Dark Knight, are for the most part on point. There are some clunkers, such as Matthew Modine’s incredibly unlikable character and Miranda Tate, but Nolan can make even bit players shine. He makes it look easy, somehow coaxing great unexpected performances out of actors. For instance, I can’t praise Tom Hardy’s performance enough. The man has little more to work with than his eyes and body language for emoting – even his voice is flattened and devoid of emotion – and he sells a very complex character.  Anne Hathaway is also a very pleasant surprise as Selina Kyle, and her character is a true rendering of the comic book’s antihero/villain.

But theme…that’s what I’m really here to discuss. If the overarching theme of Batman Begins was addiction (trust me on this, we’ll get there, and it comes up strong in DKR) and the Dark Knight was about facing the consequences of your actions, then Dark Knight Rises is where we see these issues come to a head. Oodles of other themes pop up during the trilogy, including family, the thin line between right and wrong, and chaos versus order, but I think the true theme of this series is, essentially, addiction and what it does to lives. I’ll show you the truth of this with a scene between Alfred and Bruce in DKR, a sort of “rosetta stone” to the series, but I’m saving that for Part 2.

For today, let’s talk about the main characters and set the stage for tomorrow’s thematic exposition.

The Players

The film begins with an intense action sequence introducing us to the new villain, Bane. Aside from some horrendous acting by a “CIA Agent”, this set piece is incredibly effective in telling us what we need to know about Bane and his organization: the man is a meticulous planner, and he inspires absolute loyalty in his followers. As the tale unfolds, we also learn that Bane is cold, distant, and virtually unstoppable; he is, in so many ways, the opposite side of the Joker’s coin, and that’s an important distinction.

We also learn that once Batman had been labeled as a criminal, he won an ultimately hollow victory over crime. Bruce Wayne has hung up the cowl and retreated into seclusion, having lost what he thought was his last chance at having a “real” life in Rachel Dawes, who died in the Dark Knight. Much like a “dry drunk”, Bruce is collapsing in on himself without the false front of Batman to vent his anger. Bruce has not quite become the Howard Hughes character that local legend would have us believe, but he is also not the man that we saw in the first two films.

We are also introduced to Selina Kyle, who first appears as a demure, unsure servant at Wayne Manor. Like Bruce, Selina wears a mask in her day-to-day life. Nowhere is this more apparent than when Bruce catches her robbing him and then lying to him. Once she’s caught, her entire demeanor changes, as if she were dropping a mask made of pure personality. Selina is key to the entire thing, and we’ll talk about it tomorrow.

John Blake is an entirely new character, a young Gotham beat cop who chases down Bane and his plans, doggedly pursuing clues and serving as a Batman surrogate when Wayne himself is out of town. Blake carries a lot of the same anger as Bruce, but he’s learned to channel it in a more positive direction, working within the framework of the law. Blake is arguably the true hero of the film, and represents, I think, recovery and looking at the world from a different viewpoint.

Miranda Tate…she falls into spoiler territory. I’m going to black this portion out – if you want to read it, just drag your mouse over the text. Miranda represents that part of addiction that always lurks in the dark, waiting to betray those whom you love. The part of you that is willing to cheat on a loved one to score a high, that will steal the family’s money to hire a hooker, the part that coldly moves on once a family member is no longer useful. There’s an ironic divide between Selina and Miranda that will become clearer as I explore the themes.

And so, tomorrow, we begin the journey out of the darkness and into the light. Or something like that.

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6 Comments

  1. Your way of hiding the spoilers is ingenious. Is it okay if I copy that next time I do a spoiler-y post?

    I have not seen DKR, and I’ve never been able to get into the Batman universe. Blasphemous, I know. Still, I am interested to see where you take your examination of the themes & hopefully you get a commission off of any tickets sold as a result of your blog!

    I love this phrase: “…as if she were dropping a mask made of pure personality.”

    -aniko

    • Jonathan D Allen

      Hah, I actually borrowed it from someone else, so feel free. 🙂

      Are you into superheroes at all and have a different favorite, or not able to get into the thing? I’m really done with the whole concept – I’m not sure there’s much more to be said, but Batman was always my favorite for a number of reasons. I think someone’s favorite hero says something about them psychologically (yes, I can relate to some of Batman’s issues).

      I’ll take that commission, and thanks!

  2. Pingback: The Dark Knight Rises and Addiction: Part 2 | Shaggin the Muse

  3. Loved the movie and your take on it. Terrible that that incident happened.

  4. Pingback: From the Shadows: Revisiting Batman Begins, Part 1 | Shaggin the Muse

  5. Love the line “without the false front of Batman to vent his anger.”

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