(ed. Originally published July 21, 2012 – here!)
*Spoiler Alert: The themes and even some details of The Dark Knight Rises are discussed in this post. If you absolutely must see this vile piece of counterrevolutionary propaganda, please download it illegally and do so before reading this.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises gives us a sheer brute destructive force as its villain. But the film itself is as viciously and sickly devoted to destruction as its villain Bane. Bane, as twisted as he is, could only have killed a few million Gotham citizens. This film uses the extraordinary fanatical popularity of Batman—and this trilogy in particular—to aid and abet imperialist and capitalist class oppression, the prison industrial complex, and the police state. Which is to say, this film perpetuates the brainwashing, killing, imprisonment and exploitation of bilions across the globe.
First of all, news flash for the ‘don’t read too much into it’ crowd: writer Frank Miller has frankly admitted to hating Occupy, warned about Islamicism, urged everyone to join the army, and has a penchant for making his villains Muslims: “[Occupy] is anything but an exercise of our blessed First Amendment. Occupy is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.” Which is pretty much a good description of the way an uprising of the poor and oppressed is portrayed in the putrid, false righteousness that is The Dark Knight Rises (See: Alan Moore’s response.) Let’s start with its fascist notion of class warfare.
The writers give the most inspiring and freedom-loving speech to…a psychotic brute serial killer. Our vicious villain sounds exactly like Occupy when he talks politics and culture, as the people of Gotham are exhorted to take back the city for themselves and end class oppression. The people who storm the stock market and the houses of the rich are portrayed as brute thugs who would abuse anyone to get ahead, and use the court system merely to affirm a foregone undemocratic conclusion. Um, you got it backwards Nolan and Miller: That’s what the oligarchical ruling elite do, not the poor.
Then there’s the speech about the oppressed inside of prison, who are there (and this is in the script) because of the manipulative lying of cops and politicians, in their clean-the-streets-at-all-costs crusade. This is of course a villain’s speech, and when the inmates break out they’re of course bent on nihilistic destruction, not building a self-sustaining community based on mutual aid, community services, and non-hiearchical community organization, which is what the Panthers in prison were ‘plotting’.
Sometimes the screenwriters’ idiotic notion of who runs the world and who starts revolutions is not so much infuriating as plain laughable, like when they make the revolutionaries’ backed by greedy corporate types. Sure, that’s who greedy corporate types back in America. Cheap attempt to appeal to confused audiences post 2008 anti-banker sentiments. Then there’s Catwoman, who starts out a revolutionary wanting to see wealth redistribution, but then conveniently turns to a ‘clean slate’, presumably as a good hard-working little capitalist.
The film isn’t even original or clever in its fascist propaganda. Once the revolution happens there of course food lines, in a cheap red-baitng reference to the Soviet Union. The pigs (I’m sorry, cops) are of course the heroes, and not one of them joins the revolutionaries. The villains are portrayed as corrupted and not really believing in the people power they espouse, hence Bane doesn’t really give the power to blow up the city to an ordinary citizen, because of course all revolutions are headed by cruel tyrants who only want to enslave everyone for power.
I won’t say this film is all bad. It’s well-crafted cinematically, and is a fascinating character study of Bruce Wayne. If only Wayne wasn’t such a dupe of people-hating police-state loving screenwriters, he could serve as a real hero, with his profound climb out of the well of his own self-protective toughness and forgetting, and his willingness to date criminals. The one real spot of redemption was Alfred saying “Maybe it’s time we stop trying to outsmart the truth. Maybe we should give the truth its day”, which makes up for the hideous ending of the “Dark Knight”, where lies are preached as good for the people and good for your loved ones. Then again, the person who reveals the truth about Harvey Dent in this film is once again the insane psychopath. It almost makes me miss “The Dark Knight”, where the fascism really only played out in its refusal to tie criminality to social relations (Why is the joker like that? Who cares, is Nolan’s answer. He just is).
On a less political note, do we really need to see this kind of back-breaking, brutal, unartful violence in a superhero film? Go watch that violence in a constructive way and see Schindler’s List or The Battle of Algiers, and keep the superhero violence on an Avengers level (a film so far superior to this one it’s like comparing Fellini to Michael Bay). I find the whole farce of ‘realism’ in preposterous superhero and action thriller films to be astoundingly idiotic. Are you kidding? You don’t get enough of life’s brutal violence and terror from real life, so you need to put it in a film about a man dressed up like a bat with high-tech vehicles that sell a lot of toys? Or is it that you don’t actually read enough or see enough (hint, hint: go to an occupy action – try chalking a sidewalk…[more and more]) everyday violence in your sheltered suburban home and you want it packaged in an escapist format, so that it goes down smooth but still gives you some realism credentials?
In sum, the film is a lot like most people I know—good at psychology; bad at philosophy (esp. political philosophy). But psychology without political understanding serves only one ideological agenda—neoliberalism. That’s what they’ve always wanted for us. To rack our brains trying to figure out what motivates and drives our heroes and villains, as long as the explanation stays purely in the realm of the psychological. Political explanations are dangerous to Power.
What’s the real origin story of Batman, for example? Economic inequality. That’s what leads to street robbery, and that’s what killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. How could Bruce really save the world? Joining a revolutionary movement against class and capitalist wealth accumulation, not fighting one. Or, he could use his money and power to fund such movements, or at least fund some anti-culture industry art and action. But what a boring film that would be, huh? No batsuit.
So the true ‘master’ behind this film that so many think was made by a ‘master’ filmmaker is neoliberal ideology. You’re being sold your own oppression, people. And the seller’s names are Nolan, Nolan, and Miller. But of course if you’re rich, you should like this film. It’s made to serve you. To those who predictably want to interject that this is just ‘art’ or ‘entertainment’ and you shouldn’t read into it that much, I respond: if it’s just entertainment why does it take itself so seriously? And believe me, its political agenda is working on people. That’s how the culture industry works. Nothing is harmless. Nothing.
Nolan even tried to defend his film against these kind of criticisms, which are coming in strong from the left, by claiming his film isn’t ‘political’. Again, only one type of political agenda claims anything isn’t political. It’s of course the one in power, which has carefully positioned its ideology as reality or human nature, a line most buy because it’s all they’ve ever known, and even their scientists and psychologist, and yes, ‘master’ filmmakers perpetuate it.
Your film is quite political, Nolan. Long live the 1% for which Batman fights. Give away some more money to charity, Bruce Wayne, to ease your conscience while you ‘clean up our streets’ along with the police state. And give me back Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, where the traditional Batman villains are portrayed as products of a sick misogynist classist system (Catwoman) that rejects all otherness (Penguin), and the real villain is, of course, a CEO.