I heard the news when I awoke early Friday morning to attend the first showing of The Dark Knight Rises. There had been a shooting at a movie theater. It wasn’t clear how many had been injured or killed, but it was quickly evident that this tragedy was the work of an unstable individual. When I arrived at the theater, news reporters were already present, waiting for the lines to form. One asked me what I thought about the shooting. I told him I grieved with the loved ones of the victims and was lifting them in prayer. He asked if I was afraid to attend the film that day. The thought of fear hadn’t entered my mind until he asked the question. I told him we cannot fear the random violence in our world. I wish I had told him why I wasn’t afraid–a hope found in Christ casts out fear.
Hope is a powerful idea, and one clearly evident in The Dark Knight Rises. It has been eight years since the events in The Dark Knight. An uneasy peace has settled over Gotham City as hundreds of criminals have been rounded up under the banner of Harvey Dent, a villain remembered as a hero in the public eye. Both Batman and Bruce Wayne have drifted from the public eye; the world seemingly doesn’t need either of them any more. A number of new characters are introduced in this first act–Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is an alluring cat burglar, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an idealistic young police officer, and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is a beautiful businesswoman vying to partner with Wayne Enterprises. The beginning of the narrative is a bit convoluted with the brisk introduction of each new character, leaning heavily towards “telling” rather than “showing” the audience the elements of the story and motivation.
Then Bane arrives. Bane (Tom Hardy) is a hulking genius of a villain, a darker shadow of Batman both in intelligence and physical prowess. The word that best describes him is intimidating. While Heath Ledger’s memorable Joker is the pinnacle of villainy, Bane is a worthy opponent to the Dark Knight. Again, the opening narrative elements are a bit too tangled to understand the motives behind each character, but Bane’s desires soon become clear: he is building an underground army intent on destroying Gotham. His uprising draws Batman from out of the shadows and back into the salvific role of a masked hero.
Despite its floundering first act, The Dark Knight Rises is a compelling blockbuster film, with some of the best action sequences of the trilogy and some deeply affecting moments. I’m convinced that Christopher Nolan hasn’t made a bad film yet, and the masterpiece quality of The Dark Knight gave me high hopes for the final film in his Batman trilogy. However, the amount of third films that rise to their predecessors in scope and quality are few and far between (Toy Story 3 is the only one that comes to mind). So while The Dark Knight Rises isn’t the strongest film in the trilogy, this is like saying that it is a 4-caret diamond held next to a 5-caret; both are valuable and stunning in their own regard. The physical fights between Batman and Bane are brutal, and the CGI in this film surpasses its predecessors. Some of the moments where Bane attacks Gotham are stunning in their magnitude; this is an ambitious film, and Nolan doesn’t pull any punches.
I’ve written before about Nolan’s morality in his films, how characters will often approve of deceit–a false ideal–instead of embracing the harsh truth or reality. I’ve heard it called the “noble lie,” and it’s a concept that Nolan appears to embrace. In The Dark Knight, Alfred hid the truth about Rachel Dawes’ true feelings by burning her letter instead of giving it to Bruce. Batman hid the truth from Gotham about Harvey Dent’s villainy, taking the fall for him and creating a false hero in order to accomplish good. The problem with the truth is that it inevitably comes to light. Truth illuminates, reveals, and transforms. So I was pleasantly surprised when the truth was revealed in TDKR. The most affecting scene for me is Alfred’s confession to Bruce about Rachel’s letter. It is a scene where two men who truly care for each other must knowingly part ways as Bruce’s future seems certain to lead into brokenness and death. The look in each man’s eyes was powerful, and far more poignant than any words could convey.
Bane tells Batman that hope is an illusion, an unreachable light at the end of a tunnel used to torture the souls of people entrenched in despair. Yet hope is a deep longing in the human spirit; it is a central part of who we are. We long for escape from death, for something better than the broken reality before us. Something deep inside of us knows this hope is not unfounded, that the light at the end of the tunnel is the true Light of the World. A central theme in Nolan’s Batman films is this question: are the people of Gotham worth saving? While villains repeatedly try to destroy them, claiming they have brought this judgment upon themselves, Batman continues to persevere as an advocate for the people. In the midst of their selfish pettiness, he continues to rise up to save them time and again. Selina Kyle asks Batman, “haven’t you already given them everything?” “Not everything. Not yet.” With an evil like Bane present, he knows that confronting this evil will cost him everything.
Self-sacrifice is the mark of a true savior. It is grace, offered to a broken humanity so that they might have hope and a future. In a world where masked gunman shoot cruelly into crowds, we must hope that the light at the end of our tunnel is true. These words from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities come at a critical moment in TDKR. They are the last words of a man giving his life so that others might live:
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
I like this quote more:
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”