Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thematic Wanderings: The Dark Knight Rises

An all new feature of The Wandering Kaijyu, where we take a closer dig into a popular work (old or new), and do our best to decipher past the scaly skin. Beware: Spoilers Ahead!

Upon giving Christopher Nolan's hotly debated finale, and also taking in many of the net-o-sphere's discussions/reviews of the film. And even though I stand by many in that the epic concluding chapter in The Dark Knight Trilogy is a bit of a messy kitchen-sink of a film littered with far too many ideas, and nowhere near the time and care necessary to deliver it all. But upon sifting a little harder, one can to a certain degree see a set of core conceits and concerns that were definitely on the minds of the Nolan brothers during the writing and filmmaking process that should allow some curious viewers some additional thought.

But first, a little attempt at debunking..

There is definitely a point within the film where one could easily opine that all that is happening on screen in indeed a slight against the current "Occupy" movement, and thus, a pro 1% statement. But upon closer examination, there is at least an attempt to offer a counterargument. Now without pretending that the film actually succeeded in sending it all home, let's go into this bit by bit.

A. Upon the arrival of Bane, and the siege of Gotham is under way, the bulk of those suffering the wrath of this affront seem to be of the city's wealthy. A good chunk of this very much seems ready to defend those of privilege.

However - With the fate that befalls Bruce Wayne, we also see a man of privilege go through the early stages of a full arc that is at the center of the narrative. His prolonged absence from the public eye has included a complete inability to engage directly with not only the citizens, and fellow business minds at Wayne Enterprises, which has as a result fallen into disarray. A large part of what has been neglected in the eight years since the disappearance of the Batman, has been the loss of moneys that largely supported local charities such as the boys home that once housed John Blake.

And while this again may seem like a tear being shed for the poor, privileged protagonist, the film also goes to great lengths to remind Wayne that even as his business falters, he will remain secure with a large mansion, and a butler to serve him. With all his worries, there truly is nothing for him to truly fear at any real survival level. In no way is he seen as sympathetic, or even remotely prepared for what is is meant to face by the film's climax. Great lengths are made to see that Wayne is not an instantly sympathetic lead at this point in the series.

But this is a portent to what will become the crux of the film's second half.

Why the 1% argument falters: 

While we see Wayne, and eventually the rich suffer large in the first half of the film, the counterbalance is brought in not only in Bane and crew who clearly came from the depths of society, but by "street level" such as Blake and of course, Selina Kyle, who is who she is despite her rocky past. Strong, brutal, seductive and clever, she is a reminder of those left behind in the city. As is the young patrolman, Blake, who grew up and orphan, and has become a sympathetic and observant member of Gotham PD. It is these two, combined with the already grounded soul in Commissioner James Gordon who represent those less spoken for in the city.

 After Batman/Bruce Wayne has been dispatched into a faraway undisclosed prison, where he is sent by Bane to suffer and wallow in his ultimate defeat, it is Gordon and a number of police who weren't buried in explosion rubble. And it is in their ground level actions that set up the notion that Batman is no longer even considered in any plans to save the city. By using the most basic methods such as notes on strings, secret meetings, and minimal to no firepower, the struggle to undo Bane's island-wide stranglehold is as bare-bones as it gets. It is the complete antithesis of Bruce Wayne's dependence on Lucius Fox's inventions to even walk straight. (the knee-brace is almost instantly a reminder of the expensive, often unusual technological needs Wayne is often dependent on to do what he does - something the remaining cops of Gotham do not have - It is also a big reminder of just how ill-prepared he is for the coming struggle.)

B. The final melee between the freed army of Gotham Police and Bane's army is tasteless as it features the cops beating down on the city's disenfranchised.

Now this is where it is more a case of faulty information delivery by the filmmakers, because the final battle on the steps of Wall Street is clearly between those with nothing, and others who have been armed, most of which have merely been established as remnants of the army that had been around from the beginning section of the film, and many of the escaped from Black Gate Prison (not any manner of "disenfranchised"). This is clear due to one of my largest gripes of the final film - We never see any testimonials or asides from ordinary citizens. It is one of the more egregious mistakes that the film makes, skipping out on reactions from people on the streets, in their homes, anyone who's opinions/observations might have shed some light on the overall mood of Gotham City before, and during the citywide takeover. Many might remember that The Dark Knight often took the time to allow many ordinary people (and not merely police) to voice their concerns over the threat of both Batman and The Joker's costly street war. We get a few shots here and there of families and children, but no grounding to help Bane's cause gather steam. No angry words about the Mayor's run as the Dent Act has cleared the streets, possibly creating other side effects across the city. Worse yet, we never hear both sides of the argument over Bane's scapegoating against Gotham's most powerful and "corrupt". This is perhaps where a majority of that fallacy's origin comes from. Even as Nolan and Co. attempt to call upon all sides to cast aside their circumstances, there's never enough of the disconnect and/or coming to terms with this often black and white presentation.

But again, much of what is actually established in the film, is that the armed horde awaiting the wholly outgunned police are followers of Bane's ideology, or are merely armed criminals/mercenaries.

So now, as we take a cue from that last section, what is Bane, and what is he about?

Well for anyone paying attention to the film, this one is a freebie and a half. As the film's heavy, also of a difficult background growing up in a deep, dark hell of a prison, Bane is the spiritual opposite of Blake, Kyle, etc. in that he has spent his entire life conquering those whom he deems unworthy of their stature. His background is that of the League Of Shadows, who eventually ex-communicated him for being far too "extreme". And considering the League's draconian worldview, it's safe to say that his skewed rendition is of a higher contrast level of black and white. It is this warped perception that leads to his reign of terror over Gotham as he sits on a slowly decaying nuclear weapon. His poisonous words and notions are that of what could happen to a movement such as Occupy, if it were to be perverted by those with other agendas. His absolution is everything that Bruce/Batman has employed on a micro level turned outward and amplified. Bruce, while in prison, is forced to see the world he helped create should such narrowness infiltrate every level of the city. - It is totalitarianism. Communism no less.

So when the film's final third comes along, it culminates with Bruce Wayne directly facing a similar worldview as those he always claimed to be defending. Broken, and tossed into a deep and deadly pit, he is forced to crawl. In the prison, he is granted his first true taste of living with nothing. With only a rope as a reminder of the shackles/tethers that his life always came with. And it is in the final moments in this setting that he comes full circle by removing the rope, and acknowledging fear, that he is capable of meeting Bane on equal terms. (The lack of subtlety during those shots of the two fighting on the steps-of WALL STREET is staggering) It is also telling that in the epilogue, Wayne Mansion is turned into a grand scale boys home, again reinforcing the concerns at the beginning that implies that a better means of fighting crime lies in helping the community at its roots, rather than with the ever growing symptoms of poverty, and lack of engagement between all sectors.

Whether the film succeeded at all in getting these across is debatable. But it is there. Where it all goes wrong, is that there is nowhere near enough coverage on the city side to make any of it work in any cohesive fashion. (especially in lieu of the manner in which Wayne's arc is resolved). There are also the big moments delivered by the female cast members at the finale which again offers the film a pluralist bent. It's just too bad the film fails to hold these disparate elements together enough. 

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