Monday, August 6, 2012

Will Brooker: Dark Knight Revealed

Dark Knight Revealed
by Will Brooker
Alternate Takes

The key image in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is not the tattered American flags or the exploding football field. It’s an image that circulated in viral marketing months before the film’s release - Bane’s ‘strike zones’, circled on a map of Gotham City. The package, sent out to key websites in December 2011, reappeared in The Dark Knight Rises, as Detective John Blake studied it for clues. ‘I don’t know anything about civil engineering,’ he protests. Jim Gordon reassures him. ‘But you know about patterns.’

The Dark Knight Rises - the entire Dark Knight trilogy - is about patterns. It’s about networks. It’s about matrices, links, dialogues, nodes on a map. It’s about echoes between those terms, and the way those terms define themselves in relation to each other, and can shift, and change places. It’s not just as a comment on capitalism that Bane’s men raid a stock exchange, and Bruce ponders the trades they were making.

Just as Batman Begins (2005) suggested that Scarecrow’s use of fear as a weapon was no different from Batman’s, and The Dark Knight (2008) ramped up the stakes by asking what, if anything, separated Batman’s counter-terror measures from Joker’s terror, so The Dark Knight Rises is about the fragility of definitions, the limits of structures, the illusion of binary oppositions.

The movie stresses conditions of birth, upbringing and social class - how characters are raised, how they rise in life - but it also suggests that they can free themselves from those structures, and fall, and change places. Bane, ‘born and raised in hell on earth’, climbs the ranks of the League of Shadows to become inheritor and leader, but is ultimately revealed as a foot-soldier, a bodyguard to Talia. Bruce, born in the Regency room of Wayne Manor, becomes imprisoned by his privilege, loses his fortune and falls (‘From Billionaire to Bum’, says the headline), and is free to remake himself as a nomad, a no-man, just as he did before becoming Batman in the first film. The chant we associate with Bane from his first appearance (as the plane falls and he rises into the sky, in an echo of The Dark Knight’s skyhook scene) is repeated for Bruce as he makes a leap of faith from the prison pit.

John Blake also rises through the ranks of the GCPD, becoming a detective and ditching his uniform. He tells the guards on the other side of Gotham’s bridge ‘I’m a cop like you’, but he also recognises the importance of transition and fluidity. ‘The situation has changed,’ he yells at his comrades as they bar his path. ‘Your orders are out of date.’ Blake realises that right and wrong can be flexible terms, and that they don’t always fit the letter of the law. Disillusioned by the police insistence on following strict instructions, he tosses his badge into the river and quits the force, telling Gordon he’s discovered that structures can become shackles. Like Bruce and Miranda, he hides his birth-name behind a disguise, but reclaims it, and discovers a new life, in the film’s closing scenes.

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