As promised, here is the first entry in my series of reviews diving into individual characters or other aspects of The Dark Knight Rises. SPOILER ALERT will apply to every DKR sub-review past this point, so you have been warned.
As I mentioned in my opening review, one of the things which bothered me when I first saw this movie was the Law and Order type “ripped from the headlines” feeling I got from many scenes, none more so than those calling back either directly or indirectly to the Occupy Movement. Nolan has always avoided that sort of blatant culture reference in the past Dark Knight films, which made it feel like Gotham City was truly its own little universe, allowing the majority of the focus of the films to be devoted to the characters and story at hand rather than overarching cultural issues. After watching the movie a second time, I did feel better about Nolan’s political explorations in many ways, but I still feel like there were plenty of individual scenes or lines which could have been dialed back a bit so as not to distract from the important aspects of the film. That being said, from a political stand point it was very interesting to me to see the widely varying ways that people have taken it’s political message to be. While I don’t like the idea of people reducing such a full and vibrant film as The Dark Knight Rises to anything as simplistic as political leanings, the ambiguity of most of Nolan’s politics in the film make it feel much more like an observation on our current society than any sort of outright judgement.
As I mentioned earlier, the most common theme of the movie’s politics is the conflict between the upper and lower classes. In many ways, Nolan’s focus on this conflict makes sense in several ways. First of all, in the eight years since Harvey Dent’s death the City of Gotham has united against the common foe of organized crime. Once that common foe was all but taken care of, however, the people of Gotham also lost the unifying force that criminals had provided and other more basal societal issues gradually came back to light. It must be noted though that these issues didn’t reach any sort of boiling point until Bane’s coup of the city, and to me this aspect of the film made it feel a lot less like a critique of the rich or a critique of the poor but rather a critique of how easily people can be manipulated. Call it jumping on the bandwagon, call it mob mentality, call it what you will but the point Nolan has touched on in all three of his Batman movies is the idea that once you take away our safety net of law, order and organized government, we are little more than animals. In each film, the main villain has made it their primary goal to cause Gotham City to destroy itself, whether through chemical induced hysteria (Ra’s Al Ghul), outright anarchistic chaos (The Joker) or massive class warfare (Bane). Nolan has always favored the idea of mankind ultimately being its own worst enemy, and his villains have always been more of a catalyst for our self-destruction than anything else.
Back to politics though. As I said above, I’ve read several reviews which either accuse the movie of being too liberal or too conservative, and each make valid points on the contents of the film. From the “too conservative” point of view, many are arguing that by making Bane a proponent of the sorts of “Take back what is yours” views of the Occupy Movement, the movie is trying to paint the 99% as an uncivilized mob of ignorant pseudo-citizens who focus too much on the inequalities of society without any realistic way of
remedying them aside from absolute anarchy. From the “too liberal” point of view, the upper class of Gotham City are portrayed as being completely aloof and unsympathetic with the problems of the unhygienic, unruly residents of Gotham’s underbelly. I’m not sure if these people were watching a different movie than I was, but from my point of view the film was very well balanced between liberal and conservative perspectives. Both the upper class and lower class had positive members and negative members, and the amusing thing to me is that both the “good guys” and the “bad guys” respectively included the positive and negative members of each class. Our protagonists include both the wealthy (Bruce Wayne, Miranda Tate) and the not-so-wealthy (Selina Kyle, Commissioner Gordon, John Blake), just as the antagonists included the wealthy (Daggett) and not-so-wealthy (Bane, Barsad). However, I will say that Nolan did tend to be a bit more harsh on the upper class than the lower, which I mostly noticed the second time through in some less noticeable lines (there is one scene in particular in which a young Wall Street trader specifically cites “flipping a coin” as part of his investment strategy). While these criticisms of the upper class don’t translate directly to a criticism of conservative politics, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that nowadays any attack on the rich is instantly taken as an attack on conservative politics.
I would love to hear from you in the comments section about what you thought of the politics of this movie. In the mean time, stay tuned for my next review where I shall dive headfirst into the surprisingly complex character of Bane. Till then, I bid you adieu.
P.S. I had written my first review before I heard of the tragic events which took place in Colorado this Friday, so I’d like to extend my deepest sympathies to the victims and their families. I sincerely hope that this tragedy will not be forgotten like so many others seem to have been in recent years, just as much as I hope that people in our government won’t use this as nothing more than leverage for pushing through any sort of pre-existing political agenda. I don’t care what your political views are, the people affected by this shooting deserve more than to be reduced to that.