Alright alright, a little behind the times I admit, but I saw it as soon as I could. The plus side being there are far less people I’m being a spoiler for here. First things first I have to say, I was a little disappointed. Not at all that the film was bad, but when you’ve got a director like Christopher Nolan and it’s following on from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight the bar gets set pretty high. Anything less than the outright best film of the year would have disappointed me. However, the film certainly deserves some closer analysis, for while it might not have the blockbuster power of The Dark Knight the film deals with a lot of interesting themes and issues that arguably give it a greater emotional depth than its predecessor.
While watching the film I found one of the most interesting moments to be Jim Gordon’s recitation of the final passage of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities at the funeral of Bruce Wayne. Though initially the choice of such a passage highlighted for me Batman’s self-sacrifice, the more I thought about the two stories the more in common I could find between them. Ideas of class struggle and revolution are rife throughout the film as are other references to the French Revolution. The people’s court in which guilt has already been assumed is reminiscent of the Reign of Terror in the later phase of the revolution where the word of one witness was enough for conviction. This too is crucial to the plot of A Tale of Two Cities, where Charles Darnay is reported on by Madame Defarge for being an aristocrat guilty of the crimes ascribed to his family name. Also familiar, one of Bane’s first acts once in charge of Gotham is to liberate the prison filled with criminals placed there by illegitimate laws based upon corruption (The Dent Act/Lettres de cachet). Storming of the Bastille anyone? There were less obvious visual motifs too. A minute on the internet too was enough to confirm my suspicions that French revolutionary jackets were the inspiration for Bane’s costume.
The theme of class conflict can most clearly be seen by comparing the philosophies of the terrorists in this film to Batman Begins. Though the plots in many ways mirror each other, in Batman Begins Ra’s Al Gul’s belief was that Gotham was beyond redemption and all were deserving of death. Bane and Tahlia instead appeal to the common citizen, placing blame solely upon the ruling elite and bureaucracy. Interesting too is the way that the idea of citizenship, forged in the French Revolution through The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, is utilised in the film. Tahlia’s claim that she is not ordinary, but she is a citizen is used to legitimate the power she wields over Gotham and serves as a further point of departure from her father’s campaign on the city.
The theme of resurrection too is central to both texts. A Tale of Two Cities focuses on the physical resurrection of Dr. Manette following his incarceration in the Bastille as well as the spiritual resurrection of Sidney Carton at the point of his sacrifice. This is highlighted by Carton’s final thoughts regarding both a Paris reborn from the ashes of revolution and the great rest confronting him. The repetition of the phrase ‘recalled to life’ throughout the book emphasises this theme of resurrection. In Batman, the title itself, The Dark Knight Rises highlights the importance of the resurrection theme. Most obviously in the film we see Batman resurrect himself from self-imposed exile when he is recalled by Gotham. But more than this the film’s conclusion shows the resurrection of Bruce Wayne. At the film’s commencement a recluse unable to live his life due to the restriction of his guilt and unfinished business as Batman, the film’s final scene shows his resurrection (whether spiritually or literally) once he has destroyed the Batman.
The thematic similarities continue in the way that both stories deal with the morality of their aristocratic protagonists. Two Cities examines the level of guilt that can be ascribed to Charles Darnay for the crimes of his uncle against the peasantry. With The Dark Knight Rises we can discuss the extent to which the failure of the Wayne Corporation has influenced the financial situation facing Gotham, and in turn the responsibility that Bruce Wayne himself can be ascribed for the corruption that is oppressing Gotham’s poor. This is not to mention Batman’s role in Commissioner Gordon’s deceit of the people of Gotham. Despite their sympathy for the common person, both men too are forced to fake their own deaths (depending on your interpretation of Batman’s ending) and relinquish their names, and associated power and money, in order to be redeemed of the crimes done in their family names against the people.
While I’m sure the similarities don’t end there, for the purpose of a blog perhaps I’ve gone far enough. Enough at least to prove to myself (if not others) that The Dark Knight Rises really has no need to disappoint beyond the fact that it carries forward the name of its landmark predecessor.