Well, its about time I sat down to write this.
I grew up a Batman fan. And that was it. I never delved into comic books or, other cartoon series, or any of that, I found them too farfetched. I grew up on the original 1992 animated series, one of the most brilliant representations of Batman out there. And after a slew of horrible Tim Burton renditions, along came my hero Christopher Nolan who created The Dark Knight Trilogy, for which I am forever grateful to him. Batman is one of the greatest characters of all time, as are some his enemies. This series is by far the most brilliant realization of the story. Artistic, crisp, fantastic and yet very believable, it is a series that has, at least for me, changed action movies. This is how Batman should have been represented- dark, heroic, human.
So why is The Dark Knight Rises (hence forth to be referred to as Rises for short) such a great movie? Several reasons, the most important of which is the completion of the Bruce Wayne character arc in such style. The second is the boldness to step out of one’s comfort zone, and by this I mean the comfort zone that Nolan has created with the previous two movies. This zone is the reassuring thought that “Yes, this could actually happen,” which is one of the main USPs of the series. The fall of Gotham into anarchy has been covered in the comics. But to show the fall of a modern American city, the modern American city, is a ballsy thing to do- and Nolan pulled it off. If Gotham were to fall, it would take a villain like Bane and The League Of Shadows. Even then, this is the trippiest movie I’ve seen of the series.
So now, what about that arc? Bruce Wayne’s character arc. Or rather, Batman’s character arc. Or maybe it’s the same thing?
Rewind to Batman Begins (hence forth to be referred to as Begins for short). We must start at the beginning in order to explore the transformation properly. The main theme that ran throughout Begins was FEAR. Young Bruce Wayne was born into an easy life. His family were the equivalent of royalty in Gotham. Bruce’s father was brilliant and made himself rich through toil, and the world was Bruce’s oyster. He could have done anything he wanted. But here’s the most important part- his parents were both humble, generous and honest people, and that influenced him to a great extent. This is important, because the influence they had on him started long before their murder. Bruce is humble, we never see him act arrogantly, or with a sense of entitlement. His father must have inculcated that entrepreneurial spirit in him from the start. And most importantly, there was so much love and affection in his family life.
But Bruce was just a kid, and as such, had childish fears. In his case, fear manifested itself in the form of bats. Now you know the story, but Nolan shows it with such style and panache. At the opera, Bruce gets frightened by the actors in bat costumes, which bring back the recent traumatic memory of him being attacked by bats. It is THIS that forces his parents to leave and enter that alleyway. In fact, his father was understanding and magnanimous throughout. Of course, we all know what happened next.
Then came the sorrow, which was natural for a young boy seeing his parents murdered. But more than that was a crushing guilt that it was HIS fault (or so he thought). Imagine what it would be like to feel responsible for your parents’ deaths. And then the anger that came with it, that mutated into an “impossible rage, strangling his grief, until the memory of his loved ones became just poison in his veins.” And perhaps one day, he did find himself wishing they had never existed, so that he could be spared his pain. And the only thing he could do is fake normalcy. He’d trained himself from an early age to wear a mask to the world, because how long could they take a brooding kid, as was explained by John Blake, especially when that kid is the “Prince of Gotham?” As a young man, he tried to take revenge for his parents’ deaths, but was thankfully denied that opportunity by another. He was then showed the truth by another person in his life, a lover and childhood friend. Rachel Dawes plays a very important part in the Bruce Wayne character arc. She made him realize what was going on, that there was a world out there apart from his pain, that suffers as a direct result of the forces that took his parents from him (and of course, from Gotham). Here you have to appreciate how important and integral the Wayne family is to the history and image of Gotham.
But what does Bruce understand of these forces, and of the world in which they operate? No matter how angry he was, how wronged, how deprived, the fact remains that he has never known what it’s like to be down there, to “taste desperate,” as was put forward so eloquently by mob boss Carmine Falcone. Cold reality smacked him down and told him what was what. The dawn of realization came swift and hard. Bruce understood what it meant. He would have to know his enemy, his enemy’s world. And so he goes underground, travelling the world to enter the criminal’s mind and train his own mind and body.
His mission was simple: To use fear against those who prey on the fearful. This was something he must have formulated years later, after living in the underbelly of the criminal world. But this usage of the concept of FEAR was very poignant and intrinsic to his character. But of course, in order to BECOME fear, he must first conquer his own. Ultimately he is taken in by the League Of Shadows, who complete his training, help him conquer his fear, and finally give him a task that he cannot complete- kill a man, and proceed to destroy Gotham. But however angry and vengeful Bruce is, he cannot bring himself to be like the enemy before him, even if the enemy would gladly take his life. Mercy is not an attribute his enemies would share, but as Bruce put it, “That’s why it’s so important. It’s what sets us apart from them.” This was the final step in his journey from aimless vigilante to focused instrument of justice. He chose to become a SYMBOL, something that could not be corrupted or destroyed so easily. He became an embodiment of vengeance and fear.
This sums up the great beginning of Bruce’s journey. He went from pampered little school boy, full of fear, to hardened upholder of justice, who was wise, experience, skilled, compassionate and had conquered his fear, channelling it into a rage that would crush many enemies.
In the penultimate scene, Bruce and Rachel share a tender moment. They are still very much in love with each other, but Rachel points out that Bruce now wears a mask.Bruce says Batman is just a symbol, that he wouldn’t be that forever. “No,” she replies and touches his face, “this is your mask. Your real face is the ones criminals now fear.” She then gives him HOPE. Hope that one day when Gotham no longer needed Batman, they could be together. And so she steps aside. Perhaps she did not want to hold him back. And Bruce knew that he had to sacrifice his own happiness for the greater good. It is not something he took lightly. We can safely assume that no matter how many women he was with after that, his heart belonged to his childhood friend, who had served as confidante, lover, and inspiration throughout his life.