Well, its about time I sat down to write this.
If you are interested, I have covered the Bruce Wayne character arc (as I see it, of course) in part 1 and part 2. This article will look at his character arc from Rises and why I think the film is so great.
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.
Everything fits perfectly, everything is thought out, and everything is ended perfectly. Everything comes full circle, right from Begins through TDK till the end of Rises.
Eight years after the events of TDK, the Dent Act is enforced which has effectively cleaned up organized crime in Gotham. It seems Batman is victorious. Gordon still feels a great guilt at burying the truth, and almost reveals it in a speech he had written. Bruce Wayne, on the other hand is a recluse. Batman disappeared after that fateful night when he took the fall for Dent’s murders. Bruce Wayne went into hiding himself, refusing to come out of his fortress and cutting himself off from the world. Bruce was a broken man, physically and emotionally. The scars of that final battle are visible. He walks with a cane now. More than that, he can no longer face the world because his one chance at a normal life is gone. He couldn’t love again after Rachel’s death. Especially when he believed that it was his fault she died, and that she was waiting for him. In spite of all the good he had tried to inspire, all he knew in his life was pain and loss. And he felt the guilt of it all. First his parents, then countless innocents, then Rachel. Alfred knew there was nothing but pain and loss for Bruce in Gotham. But Bruce came back because he was driven by higher ideals. Alfred also hid the truth about Rachel’s final decision from Bruce. Bruce lived the last eight years believing that they were going to be together, he carried that weight every second of every day for eight years and as it bore down upon him it became a part of his existence. And the worst part for him is that he had nowhere to lose himself, nothing to distract himself with. His alter ego was an outcast. Gotham no longer needed Batman, they even wanted him arrested. With nothing else to turn to, Bruce withdrew completely.
True, he tried to do his best in his capacity as Bruce Wayne, billionaire industrialist. He tried to start a clean energy project but recognized the potential danger and put the project on hold. This caused Wayne Enterprise revenues and profits to plummet, and subsequently hampered the aid to his various philanthropic outlets. Other than that he probably tried to keep his mind occupied the best he could. I don’t know what physical therapy he might have been up to, but he seemed to have taken a shine to archery.
All the while, evil is rising again. The League Of Shadows is returning to Gotham to finish what they had begun. And they are led by Batman’s greatest physical match. It is fitting that Batman’s final test would be against the brotherhood that made him in the first place. Batman would be needed again. And he is sought by an officer, John Blake. I don’t know how, but Blake figured out that Bruce Wayne was indeed Batman. It took someone who had been through almost similar circumstances as a child, but in spite of being orphaned and having no money to his name, Blake remained a good soul. I don’t know how long it took him to finally be convinced of Batman’s identity. I’m not sure if he just jumped the gun finally and went to Bruce’s house and sprang this accusation on him, waiting to see his reaction. In any case, he jarred Bruce into action with what he had to say. Fitting that it had to come from another orphan.
And we now turn our attention to two new women in Bruce’s life.
One is a resourceful, clever girl who plies her trade as a master thief and goes by the name Selina Kyle. Bruce’s first meeting with her was a memorable one. She is highly trained in martial arts and knows how to handle herself. Bruce is intrigued, to put it lightly. But he doesn’t know how bad she is for him. Bruce finds out she is part of something huge, but her main motive is clearing her records. He thinks it is so that she can start over clean. She’s tired of doing what she does, and she wants out, but people who want to use her talents won’t let her. But she is essentially good, even if she has done bad things. Her guilt is very evident at two points: when she turns Batman over to Bane, and when Bruce returns to Gotham from his prison. This is not the characteristic trait of a psychopath.
The other is the very beautiful and rich environmentalist, Miranda Tate. She has been trying to get on board with Wayne Enterprises regarding a clean energy project. She comes off as a dutiful and concerned citizen, not wont to sit by idle while the world wastes itself. Much akin to Bruce himself. But it’s all just a mask, for she really is Talia al Ghul, Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter come to take revenge. She is the actual leader behind everything going on at Gotham. She needed to get on the board of Wayne Enterprises to get access to the nuclear device, nothing more. But her role goes deeper than that. She was another lynch pin in the plan to break Batman. Although her character was not given as much attention, her role was a solid one.
Both women are an equal to Bruce Wayne in different ways.
Alfred fears for Bruce’s life. Bruce is older now, and not quite at his peak of physical strength, and he expects to go up against Bane, whom Alfred points out is more than a match for this much older, more tired Bruce. But Bruce is adamant; he says he will fight harder, that his body can take it. But Alfred is afraid that Bruce is going on a suicide mission. “No, I’m afraid that you’d want to (fail),” is what he tells him. He knows Bruce never got past Rachel’s death, and that he had nowhere to turn to what with Batman not needed anymore. On Batman’s return, Alfred points out that Bruce was very much off his game. He believes that Bruce donning the mask again is an excuse for him to get himself killed in the line of duty and end his misery. Alfred pleads with Bruce to stop, to see there is something beyond that cave, that there is a life out there for him. But Bruce has believed for eight years that his last chance of a life outside of the cave died with Rachel. And this is when Alfred breaks the truth to him, even though he knows he will lose Bruce for good. He tells Bruce that Rachel was not waiting for him, that she chose Harvey, and he tells him why he hid that information. Betrayed, Bruce tells Alfred to leave. Alfred wishes to leave anyway, because after raising him and being a part of his war on crime, after all those years, he cannot watch Bruce set himself up to be killed. But what about the last eight years of Bruce’s life? It was all based on a lie. It was one of the worst blows he’d ever received. His faith was broken.
Then came the brush with Bane that left Bruce virtually bankrupt. This was, at least in part, due to Selina. This was part of the plan to allow Miranda Tate to join the board of Wayne Enterprises. It also left Bruce very much humbled and susceptible to the next stage of their plan.
And it was one of the most far reaching plans anyone could have concocted. Because Bane was coming not only to finish the League’s work and destroy Gotham, but also one very important, personal job: to break Gotham’s protector- physically and otherwise. The main theme of Rises is HOPE and ASCENSION. And it was hope that kept Bruce going at the end of Begins, hope that was taken from him at the end of TDK. Bruce was already broken, so how then does Talia exact revenge on him? Talia’s prison was the inspiration. As Bane pointed out, Bruce welcomed death. Now, that would hardly serve their purpose. For betraying the League, Bruce’s punishment must be more severe. The first stage was the League’s plan of obtaining the weapons stored in Wayne Enterprises and laying siege to Gotham. They declared martial law, and claimed to be liberators of the people (what Selina thought she was fighting for). And thus the oppressed brought down the greedy and the city fell to ruin. But this was not the point. Back in Bane’s prison, Bane explains to Bruce how it is the worst prison in the world. Freedom is there, just outside of the well that looks down into the bowels of the prison. An inmate need just make the impossible climb and leap across the wall of the well. But the HOPE is always there. “There can be no true despair without hope.” And this is what Bane aimed to give the people of Gotham. The people were given this glimmer of hope, and were meant to “climb over each other to try and get their place in the sun.” When they had been tortured thus sufficiently, Bane had a nuclear bomb ready, once again taken from Wayne Enterprises, to level the city and complete their true task.
Bane does break Batman. The physical job was done. Not only that, but he took the instruments of Gotham’s doom right from Bruce’s company. But the job of breaking Bruce had begun a long time ago. This was Miranda Tate’s role, to give Bruce Wayne hope in his life. She came to him at his most vulnerable moment- he had just been bankrupt, and now he was locked outside of his own house, stuck in the rain. It was at this moment that she came to him and gave him love and comfort. She played the womanly charm bit to the hilt. Her purpose as Miranda Tate was to give Bruce hope before they took it away. A hope that he could share a normal life with someone, that he could love again. The next part was to break the other side of Bruce, the Batman, and take hope away from him. This was to be achieved in the prison. As Batman lay, back broken, he begged for death. Bane declined, saying he welcomed death and his punishment must be more severe. Bruce would be kept alive, and would watch on through a television set as Bane gave the people of Gotham hope that they could rise above the decadence in their lives, and then wipe them out. All the while Bruce would know that his freedom lay just outside the well, if only he could somehow escape. Bane went back to Gotham and exposed the lie that Gordon had purported and put his plan into action. Bruce was so distraught that in a hallucination he saw Ra’s taunt him, saying that even with all his resources all he could achieve was a lie. And when Bane’s plan was complete, and Bruce’s failure would have been complete, then only would Bane have killed him.
Bruce had forgotten how Batman came to be. He had lost his fear, but then he lost all the care that came with that. The one who fears death fights harder. Since Bruce welcomed death, he could not fight his hardest because it didn’t matter to him if he fell or not. It was in that cell that he was reminded of the power of fear. His spine was popped back into place and he began to rebuild his body. Fear remained forgotten, and anger took its place. But pure, unfocussed rage was not going to help him. Bruce created Batman as an embodiment of fear, to take the fear that powerful people use to prey on the innocent and turn it back against them. Somewhere, he forgot this. It was the doctor who reminded him. He told him the only way to make the jump is to instil fear inside himself, and use that fear for his own survival, and only then could he save his city. Make the jump without the rope, he said. And in one of the best scenes in the entire film, Bruce ascends the wall amid chants of “rise” from the inmates who watched on. As the music slowly rises to a crescendo, bats fly out of a hole in the wall, reminiscent of his very first fear and the symbol he chose to adopt. It was one of the most beautiful, poignant, and poetic moments in the film. Fear was not a bad thing, fear would help him defeat his enemy. And then of course, he makes the jump and escapes. The Dark Knight had risen, literally and figuratively.
Back in Gotham, he enlists the help of Selina Kyle to get to Lucius Fox who could help him get access to the tools he needed. It seemed even after being betrayed by Selina, he still needed her help. I think he trusted her because he believed in her. Like himself, she wanted out of this life. She wanted to start over fresh. Then Batman led the police to war against Bane and his militia. Batman defeats Bane hand to hand. Bane is shocked. How could he return when he had broken him? At the last moment he is betrayed by Talia. Left to die at the hands of Bane, Batman is rescued by Selina, in whom he had placed a large amount of faith. She was going to leave to save her own skin, now that her record was clean, but she came back. In spite of her telling Bruce he had given these people everything and he doesn’t owe them at all, perhaps she was touched by his words: “Not everything. Not yet.”
And at the very end, with little time left on the bomb, they only way to save Gotham is to use the Bat to carry the bomb out over the bay. He could have gone anywhere, pointed out Selina, but he chose to come back. As a parting shot, he revealed to Jim Gordon his true identity. The Batman gave almost everything to Gotham, more than just his body. But he had not yet given them everything. And his sacrifice would be his last gift as Batman to Gotham City. The lasting legacy of a selfless hero; an embodiment of fear but a force of good.Magnificent.Shining.A beacon of truth; an inspiration.Someone to look up to, to serve as a shining reminder that people are capable of good. At that moment we are led to believe the auto-pilot doesn’t work. Batman flies the Bat out to sea and the bomb detonates.
With his name now cleared, Batman was hailed as a hero. A monument in his honor was constructed. Perhaps this great city would carry on. Its greatest threat seemed to have been overcome. Everyone who knew Batman’s identity thought Bruce Wayne was dead as well. A grave was constructed next to his parents. In his will, Bruce left everything to Alfred, and it was a just thing to do for the man who raised him and was his accomplice in his grand mission. Alfred is of course devastated because he failed to protect Bruce. Wayne Manor was left to the city to serve as a home for orphaned boys. But Bruce’s legacy did not end there. He left everything in place perfectly. In his very last act, he left a protector to look after Gotham even when he was gone. And with that, Bruce truly had given them everything.
The role of John Blake was that of a successor to Batman. Gotham would always need a watcher, a protector. Bruce chose Blake for this duty. It had to be someone like him, someone dedicated as he was. Blake’s character had an arc of his own. He went from the doubting Thomas to a believer that what’s necessary had to be done. He had to learn the hard way that what Gordon had said was true: that sometimes, the rules become shackles and they allow the bad guy to get away. Initially he condemned Gordon when he learned about how he hid the truth about Harvey Dent. But he was educated out there on that bridge when he was trying to get the kids off the island, but the cops on duty followed their orders to the letter and blew their last chance of escape. Even after this, he didn’t want the children to die without any hope. I can only assume he went through some rigorous training before he thought to put on the suit for real.
The people of Gotham City would be grateful, but they didn’t even know to whom, according to John Blake. He claimed it was unjust that Bruce died without anyone even knowing what he did. The people would never know who saved them. Gordon smiled reassuringly and said they do know who saved them. It was the Batman, and that was all they needed to know. Even Lucius Fox gets to rest easy in the end when he finds out that the autopilot was indeed fixed by Bruce himself. He knows now. And the audience is treated to the sight of a happy, content, and peaceful Bruce Wayne, starting a new life withSelina Kyle. He got everything he deserved in the end: peace and a pretty girl who is definitely his equal. And Alfred could be at peace too, no less than he deserved.
And it was in that last scene that one thing was made clear, one thing that Rachel was wrong about. Unlike in other versions of this story, Bruce was never consumed by Batman. He was always the man that he was underneath the suit. So Rachel was wrong, his mask was and always remained that of the Batman. The real face was always the man who wanted to avenge the innocents who fell at the hands of evil-doers. (It was a nice touch when Bruce went to the masquerade party that he was the only one not wearing a mask). It was the face of the man who at every step showed the utmost concern for those under his watch. It was the face of the only man in that city brave enough to be take the fall for the sake of his people. So the character arc here is that of Bruce Wayne, and never was of the Batman. They were never separate people. Bruce always wanted out at some point. Donning the mask was not something he did because it brought him a sense of power, he did it because someone had to. But he always had an ultimate goal, he always knew that one day he would want to step down and have a normal life. And he finally got that, without even the burden of having to be Bruce Wayne, the billionaire playboy, an act he’d had to put on for too long.
Another thing to note is the use of seasons throughout the films. I would like to assume Begins culminated in the spring, and was a new beginning for Gotham City and Bruce Wayne. TDK took place during the summer, and was full of vibrancy and urgency. Rises on the other hand begins in the autumn, just as the leaves are falling from the trees. It signals the beginning of an end. It symbolizes oldness, a turning from young to aged, a decaying. And then Gotham was covered in a terrible white winter. There is helplessness and death all around. When Gotham fell, it was cut off from all of the outside world. Any efforts to help from external sources was blocked by the threat of the nuclear bomb. The river is covered with ice and serves as a cruel means of punishment. And then the thaw comes again. I like to think that when Alfred saw Bruce in that café, it was a new spring, and a new beginning for all of them.
Nolan has taken a story that was told and retold a hundred times over and made a marvellous character piece. Everything falls into place, from the first film till the very last. And I for one am glad he chose to give his hero a happy ending. Each script was deep and carried so much weight. I am shocked that TDK didn’t get more recognition in the Oscars for its artistic prowess, and not just its technical brilliance. And Nolan does use technology to devastatingly amazing effect.
And the fall of Gotham was picturized magnificently. Exploding roads, collapsing bridges… it was mesmerising to watch. And the haunting vision of bodies hanging from high atop a suspension bridge will be burned in my memory forever. Bane truly was the greatest physical match Batman ever faced. And it was not only that, but everything Bane stood for. It was unnerving to see him snatch Batman out of the dark like he did. His voice, his mannerisms, his dialogs, and those burning eyes were all rolled so fantastically into one muscle-bound villain. To see Gotham descend into anarchy was a terrifying thing. Imagine if that were to happen to a real modern day financial hub like New York or Mumbai. But it was handled with such class. Which is not to say that this still isn’t the trippiest of the three films.
If I thank Nolan, I’d have to go on thanking everyone. Even those that I don’t know, those who were behind the scenes. It was everything from the writing to the cinematography to one of the greatest scores ever written that gave rise to this story of Bruce Wayne that touched millions. The wait for this movie was a nerve-wracking one. For me, it is one of the greatest moments in cinematic history. The Dark Knight Trilogy has come to an end. Bruce Wayne’s character arc is complete. Everything has come full circle. And now that Bruce can rest in peace, so can I.