Like millions of Americans, I watched The Dark Knight Rises this past weekend. It was entertaining. A good good-guy, a very bad bad-guy, and lots of explosions, shooting and hand to hand combat. But I couldn’t fully enjoy all of the action and plot twists because the political undertones of the movie were extremely troubling.
SPOILER ALERT: I’m about to give away the whole movie so if you haven’t seen it and you want to be surprised stop reading now!
As with Batman Begins, in Dark Knight Rises Gotham has been targeted by members of the League of Shadows for its evil and corruption. Instead of working to save and reform Gotham, they decided that it would make a lot more sense to just blow it up. So they steal Wayne Enterprise’s fusion device which is supposed to provide clean energy for the whole city, convert it into a nuclear bomb, and arm it. Batman and the police are the lone forces in Gotham working to turn the city around and protect it from destruction. Sounds good right? Here’s a breakdown of the subtle political messages throughout the movie that ruined it for me.
The main characters in the film say a lot about the overall structure of the political ideas that are subtly inserted throughout the movie.
Batman: Wealthy white man who saves the world with his wealth
Catwoman: Well-intentioned but misguided woman who wants to strike back against the ruling class but sees the error of her ways and joins with Batman
Miranda Tate: Green liberal who is secretly trying to destroy the city
Bane: Would-be socialist leader who is actually trying to destroy the city
The man who is seemingly responsible for all the chaos (Bane) and the woman who is actually coordinating the assault behind the scenes (Miranda Tate) are both former inmates. Bane was born in prison and it’s a little unclear how Miranda wound up in prison but I guess she was born there too. Regardless, their time in prison defined them and really messed them up. Though they may have been unjustly imprisoned, Gotham (and the world in general) would have been a lot better if they had just rotted in the can.
Beyond this, one of the main signs that Bane’s regime is sending Gotham straight to hell is the speedy release of all prisoners from the main prison in Gotham. Their release spawns more chaos, corruptions, and general madness in the streets of Gotham.
As a result the overall message from Dark Knight Rises on prisoners is “keep them in there.” Even if they’re unjustly imprisoned, their release will destroy society. The obvious exception is Batman who is imprisoned during the movie but he is thrown in prison by Bane.
The Ruling Class (The Good-Guys) vs. The People (The Bad-Guys)
Bane uses a lot of socialist vernacular once he gains power. He says that he is giving Gotham back to the people and throwing out the opulent and corrupt ruling class. This manifests itself in horrific scenes of the wealthy literally being dragged out of their penthouses and their property being ransacked by mobs of people. Private wealth becoming communal is depicted as a savage and brutal process. And, let’s not forget, all that socialist talk is just a smoke screen so that Bane can destroy the city. Of course anybody who claims to be looking out for the people really has alternative, evil, psychotic motives. The collapse of society is signaled by the fall of the ruling class.
Perhaps most powerful were some of the visuals in the film. I was struck by the violent clashes between mobs of people and the police. Following two years of Occupy protests and rebellions in the Arab world, we have seen a plethora of images of masses of people fighting police. Several scenes in Dark Knight Rises are reminiscent of these clashes but, unlike the Arab Spring and Occupy, the police are unquestionably the righteous force in the clash.
In another not-so-subtle homage to Occupy Wall Street, Bane’s first public attack is an attack on Gotham’s stock exchange which, as with the rest of his public actions, are supposed represent the destruction of civilization.
Once the wealthy have been dragged from their mansions they are taken to a show trial where “the people” will determine their fate: death or exile (which are really the same). Jonathan Crane (the psychotic bad-guy from Batman Begins) presides over the court and, of course, finds everybody guilty. The people love it.
This kangaroo court is supposed to represent people’s courts which often spring up in pre and post revolutionary societies and regularly lead to the redistribution of wealth.
Green is Mean
The nuclear bomb that is going to destroy Gotham started off as a source of clean energy that was supposed to power all of the city. The woman who had been pushing for the clean energy source is secretly a psychopath who is hell bent on blowing up Gotham. The machine is safe, or at least neutralized, while it is in the hands of the wealthy and powerful Bruce Wayne but once he loses it to Bane (the people) it becomes a weapon of mass destruction. Another example of the chaos that ensues when private wealth becomes communal.
In the end, the lasting message of The Dark Knight Rises is that while our society may be flawed and corrupt, it’s much better than any alternative. Leftist attempts to create a more equal society will be misguided, insincere, horrific, and actually create a situation that is much worse than the established order. Best to trust in the wealthy and the boys in blue to look out for our best interests.