Review/Ramble: The Dark Knight Rises

05Aug12

There will be spoilers!

Besides the shadow of the Aurora shooting as well as the ridiculous comments from Romney’s camp that Bane was somehow riffing on Bain capital (suggesting that the Romney camp is incapable of a two second wikipedia search to note when Bane was created) most of the talk around the Dark Knight Rises (DKR going forward) is whether it is a conservative or a progressive or something else politically.

First off the accusations that the film is an attack on OWS seem a bit off the mark (at least initially). If anything, Bane’s revolution is (to borrow from Badiou) a ‘simulacra of the event,’ it is an uprising in the form of a revolution against the rich which is really composed mostly of criminals, paid mercenaries/former league of shadows thugs, and led by two individuals who are primarily motivated by revenge. This could be read as ‘all popular uprisings are dangerous,’ or ‘OWS could turn into that’ but the headless nature of OWS coupled with the fact that Bane’s so called revolution is so not a revolution of the people, seems to be fairly clear. While Bane and his thugs attack Wallstreet (or the Gotham equivalent) it is only to give a particular capitalist the upper hand. If it had been, say, to randomly redistribute the virtual wealth or a less vengeance-caused motive, one could say the film was taken a leftist stance or, given Bane’s later actions, was equating OWS with terrorism.

A related critique which seems more directly made by the film is that of ‘structures-becoming-shackles’ and I believe that this is the message of the film if the film has a message as such. It comes out in several places: most notably in the terse exchange between Commissioner Gordon and Det. Blake in that the further one goes the more one’s hands are tied by the structures that support them. Gordon argues that he was lucky to have Batman be the extra-structural smear or dark spot who could do what we couldn’t (or wouldn’t do) and take the blame. As Nolan himself has said in interviews, he is most concerned (across all three films) with the cracks in the world and how they can be opened.

The cracks in the world no doubt refers to the complicity inherent in globalization which is in all three films. Every large company is involved in corruption, every public official falters or fails in some way, Selina Kyle wishes to escape societies of control and erase her digital footprint (to become web-dead), the villains in each of the movies exploit massive city wide systems (water supply in the first, hospitals, bridges, tunnels and ferries in the second, and underground as well as the weaponization of the very building material itself in the third). In DKR especially, these cracks in the world are taken on as a material complicity, with the use of explosive concrete.

These cracks in the world index another concern of the film which is the tension/relation between trust and investment. The rich and the powerful have the capacity to change the world (at least in a material way) such as the case with the fusion reactor. Wayne stymies its development because he believes that the world is not ready for it that it is too easy to weaponize. In a related way, emphasis is placed on the fact that while Bane claims he gave the detonator of the weaponized core to ‘an average citizen’ this is again simply playing to the simulacra of a revolution, as the wish to destroy the city and Bruce Wayne trumps everything else. Another tension, that Charlie Anders points out here, is between legend (or myth) and propaganda.

The trouble, it seems, comes down to the fact that the false revolution sweeps up the poor and disenfranchised but we only see glimpses of every day people acting in the revolutionary time, things shift too quickly from the revolutionary violence to the committee for public safety (to the revolutionary terror). The central problem here, as Mark Fisher points out, is that the poor are denied agency.

And this is where the film seems to bring things together, for better or for worse. The engineered destruction (again borrowing from Anders’ review) shows the city itself is destroyed by the designs of the rich and the counter designs of the poor (gentrification and exploitation leading to black markets, drug trade and the like for survival). Nolan’s film de-virtualizes the economy but doesn’t seem to come down on whether capitalism, correctly directed, could save us from ourselves, or whether the system requires replacement. As the interview with McKenzie Wark over at Occupy Times begins, part of the problem is that politics seems to be lacking in the world yet ends with the suggestion that new tactics may be all around us. If there’s a useful political message in DKR it would seem to be that after propaganda, symbol, and myth, it is on the ground material constructions that matter. Or, it is saying that personal rage transformed is the essence of inspiring action.

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One Response to “Review/Ramble: The Dark Knight Rises”

  1. 1 Trevor

    There are two things that make me think there is an underlying right-wing ideology at work. You mention that Bane’s revolution doesn’t involve the people, which I found strange as well, but really that’s a reflection of conservative ideology. In the film you have only criminals and millionaires (and the police who defend them), there are no regular people, and thus any kind of anti-capitalist outburst is necessarily composed of criminals. It’s not that Bane doesn’t get the people on his side, therefore he’s just a terrorist/criminal it’s that there are no people because of the underlying ideological presumptions.

    There’s also the bomb, I was left wondering why does Bane go through all the trouble of pretending to have a revolution when everyone is just going to die eventually anyway? Again I think the underlying right-wing message is that all revolutions eventually self-destruct unless they can be stopped. If Bane really was just a terrorist, there’s no reason to not just set off the bomb right away and be done with it. If Gotham needs to be cleansed through destruction, there’s no point to anything he does after he acquires the bomb. So the bomb just symbolizes the inevitable self-destruction of all revolution, and that the choice is either stop it and go back to normal, or everyone dies.

    I agree that Nolan was trying to work some more ambiguities in, which he did a decent job of in the Dark Knight, but I think those attempts are overshadowed here.

    Also Catwoman is the liberal, she talks a good game when it comes to revolution, but when it starts to actually happen, she ultimately sides against it.


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