New Batman film reveals distrust, fear of working class

Issue 
Bane and Batman confront each other in The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway
In cinemas now

The Dark Knight Rises, the last in the trilogy of Batman films by director Christopher Nolan, may well become a favourite for many of those who despise, fear or distrust the working class.

Unlike the previous films in the trilogy, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises explicitly alludes to real-life politics, particularly the global financial crisis and the anti-capitalist protests that arose from it.

Unfortunately, the analogy is not kind to those who seek to challenge the system rigged in favour of the richest 1%.

Given some of the film’s content, it will be tempting for some to write it off as conservative propaganda. It suggests a lot that conservatives would agree with.

But a closer look reveals the hallmarks of cynical liberalism ― which criticises the system and society’s rulers, but has an inability to imagine any positive alternative. It is also hostile towards those who advocate radical change and holds contempt for working people.

Perhaps unintentionally, the film highlights points where, despite their differences, liberalism and reactionary conservatism converge.

The film begins with a crippled Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living as a recluse in his mansion after being retired from duty as Batman for eight years. This is a consequence of events in The Dark Knight, where Batman took the blame for the killing spree of the late district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

Dent has since been canonised as a hero in the fight against crime and his legacy has been used to create harsh new laws. This has allowed Gotham City to become “peaceful”, according to members of elite society.

However, Batman is forced to return to stop Bane (Tom Hardy), a mercenary who terrorises the city and presents himself as “Gotham’s reckoning”.

Add to the mix Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a thief with a rough past who becomes entangled with Wayne when she targets the Wayne Manor. It is mainly through her that the film unloads its criticism of the rich.

“There's a storm coming,” Kyle tells Wayne. “You and your friends better batten down the hatches, 'cause when it hits, you're all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

But the most memorable line belongs to Bane when he violently raids the Gotham stock exchange, which strongly resembles the New York stock exchange on Wall Street. A trader tells Bane: “This is a stock exchange. There’s no money you can steal.” To which Bane replies: “Really? Then why are you people here?”

Viewers are expected to agree with such verbal jibes, but not when someone takes action to alter this system.

Despite the acknowledged failings of the elite, the alternative is portrayed as much worse. It is hard to take the portrayal of Bane and his followers as anything other than a malicious swipe at the Occupy movement and others who seek to challenge the status quo.

Bane and his followers are a nightmare vision of the working class with power. It is known from the start that Bane is not interested in helping the people of Gotham, but he uses the rhetoric of class warfare and promises “liberation” for ordinary people.

Bane himself is a representation of ruling-class fears. He is a hulking figure with an inhuman voice and scary-looking mask that covers his disfigurement.

He is the embodiment of brute power combined with sinister intelligence and, in one scene, describes himself as a “necessary evil”. As a self-proclaimed leader of the “oppressed”, he is ugly, frightening and vicious.

Bane’s followers are fanatics who do not think for themselves. They come from the dregs of society, live in sewers and look unkempt. Despite Bane’s rhetoric, no ordinary citizens are shown joining his group ― it is for those who are already fanatics or criminals.

It is hard to imagine a more contemptuous analogy for progressive activists.

Bane represents a force that wants to bring an end to the current order, a terrifying prospect for conservatives (who wish the system to remain the same) and liberals (who cannot imagine a positive alternative).

The Dark Knight Rises also shows the lack of viable solutions on offer from defenders of the system. No character is able to question the basis of Gotham’s crime problems. The reliance of Batman and others on symbolic gestures to hold order together proves unsustainable.

The only option offered for salvation is the classic liberal solution: faith in enlightened elites to make good decisions and do good deeds.

The film draws a line between good and bad billionaires, suggesting philanthropy and ethical investment are key to improving society. The issue of wealth disparity is acknowledged, but it is excused on the basis of good character.

And, of course, faith in enlightened elites is personified in the most enlightened elite in Gotham ― Batman ― who must save society yet again.

Putting politics aside, as a piece of entertainment The Dark Knight Rises fails to reach the heights of its predecessor, The Dark Knight. The early parts are enjoyable as an action-drama, but the closing third falters as the plot weakens, making for an unsatisfying experience.



Comments

I think it just alluded to occupy and was not intended in any way to be an anology for activists. Also it was quite a good movie, satisfying throughout.

Absolutely my thought exactly when I saw the film

Just saw The Dark Knight Rises yesterday and walked out of the theater debating these very points with my friends. You are right on the money with "Despite the acknowledged failings of the elite, the alternative is portrayed as much worse," and stating that the only alternative the movie offers is faith that some of the elite will prove enlightened and altruistic. Thanks for this piece, I feel absolutely vindicated!
BTW - one of my friends agreed and has posted your article on FB. The other friend thought I was overreaching, perhaps out of a longing to keep Batman out of politics. He just wanted to enjoy his brooding superhero. Alas, I would have preferred that as well.

Christopher Nolan finished writing the script to the film months before Occupy Wall Street even happened. It was a coincidence that at the time the film was shooting, the Occupy movement and class warfare gained a huge boost in popularity.

Bane is or was a member of The League of Shadow. His motives were that of the league, not to end order. I'm not aware if you've seen Batman Begins, you should have if you are going to review this film due to that film's story being crucial to TDKR.

Interesting review! I loved your analogies regarding working-class v ruling elites. I must say you've made me see the film in a different light. There were other anologies in the plot that you've not mentioned that I have in my review.

Have a look at http://pgtipsonfilms.com for my review and let me know what you think,

PG

Is it weird that I really enjoyed the film, even though I agree with these points about its politics? In fact, I would add two more observations that I made while watching it:

First, Bane intended from the start to betray Gotham's disenfranchised. The same claim was made about the Occupy movement, that the protestors wouldn't have acted without some rich man manipulating things behind the scenes, who intended to betray them after seizing power.

Second, the only time we ever see the people of Gotham acting is after Bane's occupation starts, when Gotham's poor are shown looting shops and attacking rich people in their apartments. Neither the Gotham police nor the outside authorities seem to make any attempt to recruit any civilians to resist Bane, even something as non-aggressive as surveillance.

In Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, the League of Shadows' stated goal was to bring "balance" to civilisation - of which it is implied Gotham is the current epicentre. Ras al Ghul and Bane both sought to bring down the current order - which the League had decided had overreached its bounds and become decadent - and allow the world to find a new balance after the chaos ended.

Of course this takes on another meaning when viewed through the prism of the class warfare analogy. In any case, its fair to say: "Bane represents a force that wants to bring an end to the current order".

The fact that Bane lies to the public about his real, deeply sinister motives makes the analogy all the more insulting to activists, implying that they too have a hidden agenda.

Ash Pemberton

WE are moving right along us occupiers and we don't need no stinking Bana, Bane, Bales or Batman. perseverence is greater than strength. We shall overcome. Just look at Rupert, Academe and Wall Street. time wounds all heels and we have smug patience and the will, they only have the money and the guns.

bane could only be seen as a monster by the blind. his actions were simply not sustainable but the truth is he is the hero in this film though he was stopped he was able to hand the most guilty of crimes to their victims the poor. we suffer at the hands of the wealthy everyday companys that make billions in profit every year hire people for pennys, and demand loyalty buying politicians to hide their profits and crimes. they pay for congress to shit on our rights and violate our privacy. we need a real bane. no more cuts to education no more tax breaks for the people that have billions to burn, and no more violations of our constitutional rights.

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