Meta-Commentary

Knights

Posted in culture, politics by Adrian Arroyo on July 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises references Frank Miller’s books, but where Miller saw an antihero struggling to balance conflicting duties and institutions, Nolan offers us a righteous patrician concerned with little beyond his own moral, mental, and material endowments–a caped crusader in place of a dark knight. From the outset, the plot ignores any ambiguity that adheres to Batman or his actions; Christopher Nolan helpfully sorts the supporting cast into those who “get” Batman, and those who don’t, and a few not-so-subtle cues let the audience know that the former are heroes and the latter either villains or collaborators.

The result is a humorless movie with an authoritarian streak a mile wide, and the way Nolan treats Commissioner Gordon is the clearest illustration of that tendency. Gordon, friendly moustache and everyman face aside, has been involved in a multi-year coverup surrounding the death of Harvey Dent, which resulted in the incarceration of thousands. We are given to know that these miscreants are–of course!–undoubtedly guilty and deserving of their punishment. It’s in light of this consideration that, in one of the early scenes, Gordon folds away his tearful confession in the name of law and order. By the time the plot engages with Gordon’s deception, the battle lines have been drawn and the revelation falls on deaf ears.

Nolan takes a similar approach to Foley, Alfred and Miranda. Foley is cast as a fool and a coward because he takes Gordon at his word about what happened between Dent and Batman, then later refuses to fall in with the man who fed him a diet of lies that endangered his life and family. An otherwise affecting scene between Bruce and Alfred is marred by the fact that Wayne is objecting to a form of emotional vigilanteism whose violent mirror image he embraces wholeheartedlty while wearing the cape and cowl. The message is clear: the methods don’t matter if you’re protecting a city, but they do if you’re protecting a heart. Finally, a discussion between Miranda and Bruce Wayne about the relationship between man and technology is robbed of its meaning when Nolan turns first the device in question and then Miranda herself into dei ex machinis.

What we’re left with is a movie in which the heroes are endowed with secret knowledge that allows them to flout the norms and processes of modern life, in which everyone who disagrees with or restrains them does so out of ignorance, villainy, or a soft heart, and in which the great mass of humanity is reduced to a howling mob whose only feature of note is their willingness to believe the lies told by their leaders, whether they be public servants or revolutionary madmen. As such, The Dark Knight Rises is neither conservative nor liberal; it’s a clash of exalted wills against the backdrop of various mindless or incompetent collectivities. To call it anything but anti-democratic reveals more about the author than the movie.