As a fan of DC Comics, and of Batman, The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) has perhaps been my most anticipated film of 2012 – while I was looking forward to seeing whether or not Joss Whedon would pull off The Avengers (he did), TDKR was the big one, the one to which I had an emotional, fanboy connection.
Then came the massacre in Aurora, Colorado.
Christopher Nolan’s Batverse has often been bruised by real world tragedy – the death of Heath Ledger, Aurora – and that can’t help but read backwards into the films themselves. There’s a grim irony in Ledger’s Joker telling Batman that “You and I will be doing this forever”, and when characters in TDKR start firing assault rifles I inwardly winced, even though there’s no resemblance between that and Aurora. Maybe these things shouldn’t have an impact on the film, but they do.
But if that’s the case then maybe there’s a positive in it. One of the themes of TDKR is that of protectors – those who’d protect Gotham City and those who’d protect Bruce Wayne himself. The most heart-breaking scene in TDKR is when Alfred destroys his relationship with Bruce in an attempt to save the man he raised from self-destruction. Even Bane, the film’s main villain, is ultimately revealed to be the protector of another character. It’s moments like this that form the film’s emotional heart and a lot of TDKR‘s humanity comes from when characters act as protectors – heck, it’s a superhero film, that’s how it should be.
So when we’re thinking about the tragedies that have befallen the Nolan films, it’s within the context of wider stories. We can remember how Jarell Brooks, who saved a woman and her two children during the Aurora shooting, or Eric Hunter, who prevented the shooter from getting into an adjacent screen. Any debate about how art influences life needs to take into account these stories, not just the screwed-up story of a man who doesn’t know what colour the Joker’s hair is.
(No, I’m not going to mention the shooter’s name. He’ll get enough publicity, and if you want a tenuous link to the movie, the revelation of the true names of two characters changes the narrative. Maybe celebrating the names of those who tried to help will do something to shift the way in which we watch the news.)
Life’s messy though, with no easy answers, no simplistic solution to debates that have been raging for decades, even centuries. In art we can at least craft a narrative that gives us closure. TDKR is largely about escape – escaping destiny, shackles, prisons of the mind as much as physical spaces like Bane’s former jail or the sociological nightmare of Gotham. Giving Bruce Wayne a happy ending could be seen as wishful thinking – a character like that is almost doomed to not find real peace – but it works, because we want the guy to be happy for once, and because, thanks to their serial, ongoing nature, it’s never going to happen in the comics, and so we get some closure in the movies instead.
It also works because it’s in a trilogy that’s loved to fracture communities, Bruce’s happy ending extends to those around him, particularly Alfred and Catwoman. It’s a moment of healing when we didn’t think healing was possible. That’s important and significant and true.
I loved The Dark Knight Rises. After all, liberation and hard-won hope are powerful things. There’ll be a new cinematic Batman eventually, that’s almost inevitable, but that movie will have a tough act to follow. Maybe the filmmakers would do well to look at the true story of the Nolan/Bale movies – they’re not about ticking off a list of elements that was found in a DC Comics office somewhere, and they’re not about the real world tragedies that accompanied them. They’re about Batman and his world and, despite all the fantasy, showing how they’re still relevant.
Thank you, Mr. Nolan.