Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: So You Say You Want a Revolution

Alisa has already provided an awesome and substantive review of The Dark Knight Rises, but I can't resist throwing my two cents in as well, mainly because watching the film left me with a lot of questions (which is a good thing). I'm going to attempt to remain as spoiler-free as possible, but I will be discussing plot points that the Frank Costanzas of the world (who want to go in FRESH!) would probably rather not know.

I was particularly struck by the way Bane appropriates the rhetoric and performance (using that word on purpose--more on that later) of revolution, particularly Occupy Wall Street and, even more so, the 1789 French Revolution. Having formed a cult of personality cum suicidal army, he announces his intentions to "give Gotham back to the people," and dismantle the power structures that depend upon exploitation and (explicitly) financial inequality in order to function. Prisons are stormed, homes are looted, kangaroo courts are convened to punish the wealthy and formerly powerful, and barricades are constructed in order to isolate, and ostensibly liberate, the city. But Bane isn't really a radical socialist. He's a tyrant wearing the mask of a revolutionary.

Whereas Heath Ledger's Joker (still the most compelling villain in the trilogy, if not in the whole of the cinematic superhero genre) fed on chaos, Bane is a deliberate and practiced deconstructionist. He wants to tear down the city not to see where the breaking points are, nor for the pleasure of watching it burn. He wants to take the pieces of Gotham and fashion something new--a prison that mirrors the dank dungeon that in many ways birthed him, and that he believes will "fulfill" the incomplete vision of his and Bruce Wayne's mentor, Ra's al Ghul. And deconstruction, after all, includes both the impulse to destroy and the directive to create. Bane's is a distorted and demented version of creation, but creation nonetheless. Similarly, Bane has created a body, voice, and posture that embody this project. He speaks and walks like an English lord but fights in a body that is in and of itself armored. (Hardy got huge, y'all.)

The trope of masking, both literal and figurative, is crucial to unpacking the politics of The Dark Knight Rises. Bane and Batman's masks are markers of their strength (Bane's is literally life-giving, Batman's allows him to protect those he cares about), and, for the same reasons, their physical and emotional vulnerability. Both masks get dismantled at key moments in the film for each character. But what the movie seems to argue is that the most dangerous and deceitful masks are the ones that you can't take off, that can't be broken. What the film categorizes as evil is the sort of disguise that seeps into the skin itself.

Which brings me to authority. In some ways, The Dark Knight Rises has a healthy conservative streak. The film's final epic battle scene (which is dazzling in its brutality) demonstrates a robust endorsement of civic institutions and a real mistrust of power outside the system. But then there's The Batman, who irrefutably does exert power on the margins. And I think it is the very portability of The Batman persona--the removable mask and cape--that excuses the character from the sort of chaotic power that all the films in the trilogy demonize. (And I believe that ultimately, the film argues that the authentic revolutionary spirit that animated the Occupy movement and the French Revolution is the "good" kind of power. I'm using a reading from a particular novel at a significant moment towards the end of the film for evidence.) And it is in that sort of fluid authority that we, the mere mortals, can place our faith. The human capacity for faith and belief is another pervasive and complicated theme in the film, and it is similarly portrayed as changeable, rooted in the evocativeness of a symbol, and as strong as the Batsuit itself.

1 comment:

  1. Wasn't cum suicidal what that guy from INXS did?

    G'night folks we're here all week...

    Oh also lovely writing! I morelike skimmed this to dart away at any spoilers, but I was very intregued by your points likening Batman and the language of revolution.