The Themes And Meanings Of THE DARK KNIGHT Trilogy
Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy is the most thematically rich and intellectually dense comic book movie series ever made. There are so many intricacies to the films that combine to tell a grand story. In this article, I try to dissect those intricacies, and take a look at what make it so great.
Batman. The Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader. He is, to put it mildly, a popular character. Since his introduction in a mere six-page story in 1939's Detective Comics #27, he has evolved into one of the most complex and endearing figures not only in comic books, but in the world of fiction.
Comic book characters are essentially modern day mythology. Their stories have been around for ages, through multiple eras, by countless writers and artists, and have been retold time and again in film and television. Batman in particular is perhaps the most loved. He and all of his supporting characters, even the name of his city, have become major staples of popular culture. He has even surpassed his predecessor, Superman, in popularity with today's youth.
Why is Batman specifically so adored? Why are so many people attracted to the Dark Knight as a character? It’s fairly simple. He's dark. He’s rugged. He’s damaged. People today tend to gravitate far more toward the tough, gritty, tortured characters than boy scouts. And in truth, that does often make for better drama.
Who wouldn't be fascinated by such a grandiose and mythic figure? Batman is force for good born out of an act of evil, a troubled hero who garbs himself in the very image of darkness in order to defeat it. Any man who spends his nights dressed up as a bat is clearly not altogether well. Although he fights for peace and justice, he himself seems to remains haunted. Other superheroes, like Spider-Man, are burdened with powers they didn't ask for, and they reluctantly use those powers out of a sense of duty while trying to live their regular lives. Batman, when he was only a child, chose to devote his entire person to become the perfect crime-fighting machine. And it is this driven character with a desire for goodness yet lack of inner peace has enchanted readers with the character for so many decades now.
The character has been adapted into live action film multiple times, beginning with tawdry, childish versions like film serials in the 1940s, the equally campy 1960s television series and the feature film adaptation thereof. Director Tim Burton helped bring the character back to his dark roots it his pair of films in the 1980s and ‘90s. Joel Schumacher’s two sequels, however, were criticized for returning to the camp appeal. Following that, the job beginning a new series and breathing new life into the character then fell to co-writer / director Christopher Nolan.
Unlike his predecessors, Nolan sought to make a concise film trilogy that told a singular story from beginning to end. At the time the general public saw the first film in 2005, we could not have told how just how concise this series would be, nor could we have noticed the seeds that were planted that would only fully come to light seven years later at the series' conclusion. Each chapter is enjoyable, has its own themes and ideas, and can be seen as a whole story in its own right. But when put together, the three films tell a much bigger, grander story. And that is the essence of a true trilogy.
The trilogy has two main interwoven storylines: The salvation of Gotham City, and the salvation of Bruce Wayne. These are two concepts that both have their basis in the night Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered.
There is a certain poeticism that this is a city so corrupt and degraded that it needed a hero like Batman, and it was only because it was like so that Bruce’s parents were killed. It is as if the city had sunk so low, eventually something had to happen that was so terrible it could sling it in the opposite direction. That terrible night, the city gave birth to its own savior. This is what Batman is about, and it is the first topic that Nolan’s series tackles: The salvation of the city.
But so many people forget, there were two things that were set into motion that night. This would lead to the salvation of Gotham. But what about what it did to Bruce? May he only save the city at the cost of his own soul, by becoming a terrible, gothic figure shrouded in darkness? May he himself ever have anything of but a life as a wraith? It is a question that the modern day comics dare not answer. Because if they did, the story would be over. Nolan, however, sought to answer it.
Nolan wanted to tell the complete story of Batman, from the beginning of his career to its end. With seven decades years of comic books telling the story, Nolan wanted to, in his own small trilogy; to tell the first onscreen version of that story that had a beginning, a middle, and an end.
We state the function of man to be a certain kind of life, and this to be an activity or actions of the soul implying a rational principle
During the build-up to Batman Begins, I remember well a post I saw on an internet message board, describing what one person believed the film had to feature to do the character justice. It went something like this:
"There is one thing they absolutely has to be done right. On the night Bruce Wayne's parents are murdered, Bruce Wayne dies with them. On that night, that innocent young man is gone, and in his place, Batman is born. As long as they get that aspect right, I am fine with whatever else happens."
I have often wondered what that person ended up thinking of Batman Begins. At first glance, at least, It actually does not fully follow that formula. The series presents a tweaked version of the story, yet in it’s own way, it is a version that remains extremely true to the character it is adapting.
In this trilogy, Bruce's journey begins as such: His parents are, of course, murdered in the same fashion. But he does not immediately begin seeking restitution. In fact, when we catch up with him, he gives the impression of being an unmotivated slacker with an attitude problem who has just been kicked out of college. He even comments that Alfred hasn't "given up" on him yet. Bruce’s parent’s murder hasn't inspired him to be a crime-fighter. Instead, as it would anyone else, it has merely turned him into a depressed, irresponsible, trouble-making screw-up.
Here, Nolan and company made one very key addition to the mythos: The character of Rachel Dawes. This character and the role she plays in Bruce’s journey is the essentially dividing line between these films and the comics, and the thing that makes the series distinctly Nolan’s. Rachel, in this series, is Bruce's lifelong friend. They have known each other since before Bruce's parents were killed, and it is clear from the beginning that they have great love for one another. We can assume it is because of Bruce’s poor behavior that, despite this love, they have not become a couple.
Of course, this degenerates into Bruce trying to murder the man who killed his parents. Rachel not only rebukes him for this, but also opens his eyes to the city around him and to what really needs to be done. It is only now that Bruce sets out on his mission.
It was still the night that his parents were murdered that changed Bruce. From that moment on, something inside of him was different. The difference is, in this version, it took him a long time to find direction for it. Without that direction, there was simply chaos and turmoil. And it is Rachel who showed him the way.
Yet even after seven years of traveling, learning about the world, human nature, and the criminal mind, Bruce is discovered in a dank jail cell, as lost and unsure of himself as ever. It is Ra’s al Ghul who finds him there that the next phase of his journey begins.
Al Ghul is the second figure who will help shape in Bruce’s identity. It is from him that he learns new direction, and gains what he needs to become Gotham’s savior. He learns the necessity to being a symbol, as well as the value theatricality, deception, and most importantly, of fear.
“Fear” is the key word in Batman Begins, and the word is used time and again in different circumstances. The theme seems to be the different ways in which fear can be used, even turned against those who use it on others. Al Ghul tells Bruce that in order to manipulate the fears in others, he must first master his own. Thus, of course, Bruce decides to turn his own greatest phobia into the symbol he will become to strike terror into the hearts of criminals: A bat.
Another theme for the entire trilogy, far more subtle at this point, is that of pain, and how it transforms us. Like Bruce, Al Ghul has his own terrible event in his past, a pain which has transformed him. Yet it has taken him further, toward a much darker path: That of vengeance. It is exactly this path which Rachel prevented Bruce from going down. She is not only what set him on his path initially, but also what then prevents him from becoming like Al Ghul.
Bruce becomes Batman. And it is an enormous success. He immediately takes down one of the city's biggest crime lords and creates an image which frightens every criminal in the city to their soul, and makes his first ally in Sergeant Jim Gordon. Then he comes across one criminal who he does not frighten: Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow. Crane is himself a master of fear, someone who uses his own morbid disguise to inflict it and knows all of Batman's tricks. Hence, Scarecrow can not only be called Bruce’s opposite in a sense, but is also the first real threat he encounters as Batman. The first true, if less major, villain.
It is at this point, after his first defeat, that another repeated line comes into play. Bruce remembers falling into the batcave as a youth, and hearing his father’s words. “Why do we fall?” The answer given is "so that we can learn to pick ourselves up." The thematic resonance of this line, and that of fear, are never really brought out to their fullest extent in this first film, nor is either even mentioned in the second. Both wait until the third and final chapter to be brought up to their full meaning.
The film is structured in a somewhat strange way. It is actually at the halfway point through the film, once Bruce has taken down Falcone, that Batman has truly “begun” and the film has made good on its title. He has started his journey to save Gotham, and has already made a huge first step. That journey will be continued, and finished, in the second chapter. Bruce’s attention is now turned to saving Gotham from what, in the third act, turns out to be an external threat by Ra’s Al Ghul. Bruce not only must save Gotham, he must prove that it is worth saving. But in addition to this, it also sets the scene for the third act of the trilogy.
Batman saves Gotham and has his final scene with Rachel. It is not, however, the typical romantic ending where the two characters live happily ever after. Rachel and Bruce do finally acknowledge their feelings for each other, but then she tells him that they cannot be together because of his life as Batman. She is not a typical love interest. Rather, she is something of an anti-love-interest. In a twist on the classic formula, it is precisely her not being with the hero that cements his character into place.
Rachel is now the one who essentially states the central idea to the audience: That Bruce Wayne is the mask, and Batman is his truest persona. She could not be with him before due to his lost, directionless state. Now that she has helped him find his path, it is that which keeps them apart.
All that said, however, she then states that there might be hope for them if a day comes when Gotham no longer needs Batman. How this idea will work out, we can only find out in a sequel.
The Dark Knight
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. - Sir Isaac Newton
Another way in which Nolan's Batman differs from the comics’ version is that Bruce sees his role as a temporary one, one which he can finish and have a life beyond. His main goal is to create an image and inspire others to action to fix the broken, corrupt city. After that, his role as a vigilante would be more poisonous than anything else. Even now, people’s opinions on him are divided, and even if it is the right course of action, it’s an ugly one, and not the one people would choose first.
Yet since his debut, Batman has become champion of Gotham City. Despite being a dark mysterious figure of the night that is never photographed, he is seen by many as something of savior: “the hero Gotham deserves.” He may actually enjoy this spotlight, but he also recognizes it is not what the city truly needs.
Yet his presence has been the spark to begin the true healing of the city. And Harvey Dent represents that legitimate hope. He is Batman’s opposite in a much more positive way: The other side of that coin. “A hero with a face,” Bruce calls him, and “the hero Gotham needs,” while the people call him “Gotham’s white knight.”
Bruce is more than happy to have the spotlight start to be turned from him, and begins to think of that life beyond Batman, with Rachel. Hence the irony that Rachel is now dating Dent. Both storylines of the series, the mission to save Gotham and Bruce’s own personal journey, are both impacted by Harvey’s presence.
The film makes a definite point of showing how effective the new partnership between Batman, Dent, and Gordon is. They hatch an elaborate plan and, before long, come to the verge of eliminating organized crime in Gotham City once and for all.
Enter the Joker.
For seventy decades in the world of comic books, the Joker has been Batman's arch-nemesis, the yin to his yang. It therefore is appropriate that he should make an appearance in the second act of this story. If the first act tells of Batman’s origin, shows him winning his first victory and becoming a hero, the second now shows that he has met his match. In the first film, Bruce learned all about the criminal mind, and how to combat it. Now he meets a man who exemplifies none of that, who he cannot understand.
The Joker represents of everything Batman is fighting against. If Bruce, Gordon, and Dent, are fighting against the corruption of Gotham, and the Joker, unhampered by normal human goals of greed, is simply that very vileness of the city itself given human form.
Although his exact origin remains unclear, something terrible clearly happened to this man, just as something happened to Bruce, sending him spiraling in the opposite direction. Once again, tragedy and pain has the potential to send us in great or terrible directions, and in this case, it is a far more terrible path than Ra’s Al Ghul.
Just as the city, through one terrible event, gave birth to its savior, so too did it create its purest evil. One uses his darkness to fight for good, while the other perverts the image of something innocent to bring about evil. But both are byproducts of the city.
The Joker claims not to have any real plans. Yet even amidst his goal of simply creating chaos, what the Joker really wants is to show people that his is the natural way. If Batman and Dent want to inspire people to make the right choices, he wants to demean them to do wrong, to show that between the poles of good and evil in human nature, the one of those that is stronger, the inmost trait of man, is evil. And to do so, he subjects our heroes to tests that continually prove him right.
The first situation he introduces is one where Batman either has to either give into the Joker’s demands to reveal his identity, or allow others to be killed in retaliation and be held responsible for those deaths. The Joker tries to prove that Batman’s “one rule,” is not practical, and that, given the right situation, one has to choose between one life and another. It seems like there is no right choice.
“I've see what I would have to be come to stop men like him,” Bruce says. Of course, ultimately, there is a right choice. There simply isn’t always a pretty choice. What the Joker does succeed in creating is a situation where there is no escaping pain, where even the right choice will cause doubt and uncertainty. Batman does not, at first, do what is the right thing in the eyes of the public, and, by choosing not to reveal his identity, he condemns himself in their eyes, losing that heroic praise he has gained and perhaps enjoyed.
The theme that is in the mouths of all the characters this time around is the idea of being “something more” than hero. Of course, when they talk about this, they are defining "hero" as being in the minds of others. But to be "something more," being truly heroic, often means doing the thing that will not gain you praise, in which perhaps the only person who will know you have done the right thing is you.
And yet, Bruce almost does make that wrong choice. The Joker wins, in that Bruce gives in and almost reveals himself. He is only stopped by Harvey, who proves more righteous. But later on, when the woman he loves is threatened, Harvey nearly gives into rage and has to be halted by Batman. Good is always stronger with numbers. When one of us fails, as the Joker proves that we will, the others can hold us up.
In the next situation, the Joker forces Batman to choose between choosing between Harvey Dent, the true hero of Gotham, and the woman he loves. And once again, the Joker wins. He manages to show that there is evil even in the best of men as, in his desperation, Batman makes the selfish choice of choosing the woman he loves over the man who can save the city. Yet he also tricks Batman so that he actually saves the opposite of the one he intended to. It later becomes clear that the Joker still wanted Harvey alive, and therefore that he knew Batman would make the wrong choice.
It is his final game, trying to get two groups of people to kill one another, that is ultimately his downfall. For all of his talk about not having plans, in the one thing he truly wanted to prove, he is proven wrong. He no doubt hoped it would be the innocent, “good” people, who would actually do the crime, using the excuse that they were more worthy to live, and proving him all the more right. Yet amazingly, when it matters the most, both groups do the right thing.
Yes, there is evil in all men’s nature, and yes, even in the strongest men, it can often be brought out by the right temptations. But perhaps good is stronger than evil, and out of the two, the one that resides deepest in the human heart is love for one another. And that means there is hope for Gotham. When this becomes apparent, it is the one time where the Joker is not smiling.
But there is still Dent. The Joker’s greatest victory comes in finally bringing out Harvey’s dark side completely. He has now killed the woman that both heroes loved, and through this pain, has managed to change the better of the two into a creature more like himself. Gotham’s “hero with a face” has been defaced both literally and figuratively.
But when one us of fails, the other can hold us up. The only way to stop the Joker from winning is with a lie. It is not a pretty choice. Again, the Joker has succeeded in creating a situation where there is no choice that will be easy. In order to save Gotham, Batman truly does have to become a monster. Fictionally.
The people need their white knight. To do so, they cannot be making a hero out of Batman. And so he turns himself into a menacing figure, one so bad that the people will not love, to showcase the other side of the coin to the public, and to frighten the underworld all the more. Gordon will tell an ugly lie, he will act like Harvey was the white knight for the city. But he knows that is not the hero the city has truly given birth to.
Though these events brought Harvey down, they also force Bruce to do the more difficult, but right thing. In choosing to take the blame, Bruce is now becoming a true hero. And in doing so, he does what he always meant to do: saves Gotham. He has become the city’s Dark Knight.
Hence, the story of Gotham’s salvation is mostly told in the first two chapters. But Bruce’s story is far from over, and there is another aspect to this film that more relates to that journey. Just before she died, Rachel makes it clear in a letter, which never reaches Bruce, that she has chosen Harvey Dent. “When I told you that when Gotham no longer needed Batman, we could be together, I meant it. But now I’m sure the day won’t come when you no longer need Batman.”
Rachel is realizing something, and herein lies the basis for Bruce’s entire character arc. Rachel finally decides that this is simply who Bruce is and who he has been for a very long time.
If Bruce’s parents had never been killed, there is a good chance that Bruce and Rachel would have been together from an early age and lived happily ever after. But since that night, that was never going to happen. Rachel was never Bruce’s true love. She was never the person he was going to find contentment in. She is the Daisy to his Gatsby, a shadow of a past life that he could just not let go of.
Of course, to spare Bruce pain, Alfred burns Rachel's letter. And so, at the film’s end, we are left with two lies.
These two lies represent the two major themes of the entire trilogy: One, the battle for the city’s soul, and the other, Bruce’s personal journey. How these lies affect the film’s themes, especially the latter, will play out in the trilogy’s third and final chapter.
The Dark Knight Rises
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come? – William Shakespeare
When we catch up with Gotham eight years later, it is a city reborn. The lie has worked. Crime in the city is at an all-time low, and Dent's martyrdom has made organized crime is a thing of the past. When we catch up with Bruce, however, he is a wreck. Shut away as a recluse in his mansion, he is depressed and despondent, having given up on life. Why?
The night his parents were killed, Bruce turned into something else. Before he discovered that meaning, that purpose within himself, he was a restless malcontent. Once he did discover it, his one goal, his purpose, was the salvation of the city. Now that it has come, what is left for him?
And, of course, with the salvation of Gotham also came the death of Rachel. She was that one link for Bruce to a life beyond the cowl. It may have been a false hope, one that we know would never have worked out, but it was the only one he had. Without that, he does not know how even to exist.
And so when a new menace, Bane, arises in Gotham, Bruce jumps at the first opportunity to put on the suit. This is not the mission that he set out for when he became Batman, and Alfred knows it. But Bruce is convinced the city needs him. And as misguided as his internal motivations may be, he does turn out to be right, and it is, in the end, necessary for him to take this last action to find peace.
Alfred tries to assure Bruce that he can have a full life if only he leaves Gotham and starts over, and when he sees that the memory of Rachel is holding him back, finally reveals the truth. Bruce may be able to slowly let go of Rachel now, but that only reinforces his lack of interest in continuing on with a life beyond Batman. He reverts to what he knows because he cannot imagine his life beyond it, and doesn’t want to.
Enter Selina Kyle.
Although the reasons are far more subtle, Selina’s presence here is just as central and important to this chapter of Bruce’s story as the Joker’s was to the last. Throughout his seventy-plus year history, Batman has had no shortage of love interests, and they have all paled in comparison to his true love: Selina Kyle, AKA Catwoman. Both damaged by traumatic childhoods, both seeking meaning in a double life behind masks, they are two tortured, kindred spirits. But like the villains of the series, hers was a darker path. Her experiences lead her to life as a thief, and she finds herself on the opposite side of the law as Batman.
In this version of the tale, Selina and Bruce meet when she robs him of his mother’s pearls. It is actually this action that gets him back down in the batcave investigating, doing something with himself for the first time in years.
Bruce, in the meantime, finds attempts to find romance with fellow business mogul Miranda Tate. Once again, he seeks some solace in the arms of someone ideal, someone grand and “normal." But even before her villainous nature is revealed, it is clearly not a very strong bond.
Selina herself is presented as a very angry person. She notes how, despite Gotham’s new “paradise” in lack of crime, the evil that still exists, which everybody still seems to not notice, is the lives the poor people are leading and the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. Clearly someone who has suffered poverty her entire life, she has learned the hard way to look out for herself, because no one else will, and she at first resents Bruce for having lived his life of apparent ease (just like Rachel, she misinterprets him at first). Yet beneath her tough and stern exterior, she is has her own pain, hurt by the way the world has treated her, and sorely lost.
Selina begins to see she has taken this attitude too far when she betrays Batman to Bane. She tells herself she merely looked out for herself, like she always has, but it is at this point that she begins to truly question herself.
Once again, the League of Shadows returns to try and destroy Gotham. Each villain of the series is appropriate for the chapter that they appear in. If the Joker was the darker side of what Gotham created, to be defeated in order to save the city from itself, the Bane is the darker side of Bruce’s own path, the one of vengeance led by Ra’s al Ghul. It is that past which Bruce will have to once again face in order to save the city again.
Bane is the perfect embodiment of that dark path. Born in darkness, with no love or comfort from the beginning, his pain is perhaps the greatest, and his hatred and thirst for vengeance proved too much for even Ra’s Al Ghul.
As soon as Batman meets Bane, he is easily defeated. Bane tells Bruce that he loses because his years of “peace” have made him weak. While Bruce has hardly been at “peace,” it is still true that his state has left him complacent and uncaring, as opposed to the unstoppable force of will that Bane has become.
Bane places Bruce in the same pit that he lived throughout his own childhood. Although he does this as a “punishment,” this will of course prove to be exactly what Bruce needs.
This now finally emerges as the major theme of the third film, that suffering builds character, It is so often is only after going through our worst that we become our best. Such is the case for any character to have to go through their greatest trials before finding fulfillment. To put it in Biblical terms, it is after one has been crucified that they can come to new life.
It borders on stating the obvious to say that this pit Bruce finds himself in is a metaphor. He has been in this pit for a very long time now. The first film opened with Bruce in a dark, dank prison cell somewhere in Asia, and here he is again. Ra’s al Ghul stated that he had found him that cell he was lost. The truth is that he still hasn’t really climbed out of it.
The first time Bruce returned to fight Bane, he was not truly ready. Even now, the fear that his entire city will perish is not enough to get him out of that pit But being here, watching it die, with the threat of everything he fought for, what Rachel and Harvey died for, being destroyed, has to awaken something in him to give him what he needs.
Just what is it in Bruce that has to come out? What was it that Ra’s Al Ghul missed in his teaching that left Bruce still so lost, and which only this place can solve? The answer brings us back to the beginning:
Thus we finally come full circle. Ra’s Al Ghul instructed Bruce how to use fears against criminals, on how to manipulate their fears only after overcoming his own. He never taught what we learn here: That sometimes, fear is good. Fear is the truest motivator. Especially the fear of death.
Whatever our beliefs, the fear of death, of what Shakespeare called “the undiscovered country” is built into each one of us, and if it isn’t, there is usually something very wrong. Bruce’s lack of fear of death is motivated simply by a severe indifference to his life. But to stare the actual reality of death full on in the face is another matter, and enough to start to wake up anyone to what they still have to live for.
This is the seminal moment of the entire trilogy. It is the conclusion of the journey that started the night his parents died. Before he can rise to save his city, he has to let go of his pain, let go of the past, and learn to value the gift of his own life. And he does.
It is still true that the person living today is a far different one than the one that would have lived had his parents not been killed. This is still the man that Rachel could not love. He is still The Dark Knight. But now he has risen.
Many superhero films, including the first two films in this series, are about facing responsibility and obligations to others. The Dark Knight Rises is unique as a film in that it is about hero needing to love himself.
But the film is not yet over. Our hero still has to save Gotham from destruction. It is now that Batman’s actions are most heroic. With a new found value of his own life, he now goes into battle knowing he may very well lose it.
But before he does, he makes one recruit to help him: Selina. There is a reason he goes to her. He knows what is inside of her, the anger, the bitterness, the pain. And despite her actions, he sees more in her. He sees the same frightened, innocent child whose life was stolen from them. But unlike The Joker or Bane, she has a chance at redemption. He tries to redirect that anger, to do for her what Rachel did to him. He gives her his trust, and in doing so, shows her what she needs to begin to let go.
In truth, Gotham does still have a remainder of its own story to be told here, alongside Bruce's. This final assault, the last great consequence of the sins of its past, is a final test for the city to show it has truly changed. Not only is it threatened with destruction, but the city's criminals are released, Bane preys on the same flaws in Gotham's nature that preoccupied Selina, and reveals the dark truth about the city's salvation, believing it will lead it back to desolation. Perhaps it is his own unrelenting bloodthirst, as well as his mistress Talia's desire for retribution, her own inability to let go of her father's work, that stops them from seeing that Gotham has truly changed.
There is something to be appreciated in the plot twist that Bane never actually escaped from the prison, but that it was rather Talia. Bane was still there, in that prison, since birth. The experience did still harden him into the warrior he became. But, as we learn, he did not ultimately take the jump in the pit without the rope. And perhaps that is why Batman defeats Bane in the end: Because Bane, for all the strengths he had, never held much value in life. His only desire was for destruction. Even Talia, who made the jump, who is the only life that Bane perhaps ever cared for, sees little enough value in it to destroy them all just to satisfy her hatred. Selina, on the other hand, sees enough value in life to come back. And Gotham City, once again, is saved.
Just as Alfred revealing his lie began to change Bruce, so does Bane’s reveal of Dent’s true actions apparently work for the city. Gordon wanted to reveal the truth, hoping after eight years it wouldn’t make a difference, but couldn’t take that risk. Bane did it for him because he had no faith in people. But Gordon was right. And the city has a new hope now. Dent is no longer has the hero it “needed,” nor does it need him anymore. It is now that they finally embrace the hero they had all along. His apparent martyrdom only reinforces this for the city. Their champion was never a white knight. It was always the Dark Knight. And now they know it. The Dark Knight Rises.
Nevertheless, one more lie has been told. For a moment, it seems that that Bruce does seem to heroically lay down everything he had just achieved. But his friends know the truth. Through this apparent “death,” in a sense the death of Batman, Bruce is now free to live more fully than ever before.
And he is with Selina. We do not get to see the actual romance, for the most part, how he contacted her, how they courted each other. What is clear is that, just as he was able to find order and peace in his own life, he was also able to help her do the same. The two will be good for each other. In this lifetime, this is the woman who can bring him peace, and vice versa. And we assume they will do just that.
Finally, it must be noted, the presence of Bruce’s mother’s pearls, and his giving them to Selina in the end, has extreme thematic significance. For her, it is the bridging of the gap between them, of giving her that life he had but she did not, thus offering some healing at the hurt she has always felt. But it goes far deeper than that. The pearls are just another one of those little seeds planted in the first film. They were first shown to Bruce on the day his parents died. They are, in a sense, one of the last vestiges of that innocent life he had. They also ended up inadvertently being the cause of his parent’s death and therefore the creation of the Batman. And it is now, when his life as Batman is over, when he can finally move on from that night, that he can share them with another, and begin the life he was meant for.
Hence, Nolan becomes the first filmmaker to feature Batman’s journey from beginning to end, to actually show him hanging up the cape, being together with Selina Kyle, and essentially living happily ever after. That’s the story that the comic books have been telling for a long time now. Christopher Nolan, in his own version, simply concluded it.
And thus the legend ends.
That is, until the next reboot. As said, Batman, as with most other superheroes, is a modern day mythological character. His story is a legend that can be told a thousand times, in a thousand different ways. Tim Burton did it one way, Nolan did it another. And as long as they stay true to the bare essence of the character, who he is, and what he means, each new version is exciting and wonderful in its own way. Now, the next version is in the hands of the same co-writer, David S. Goyer, along with director Zack Snyder.
This version will have Batman interact with other heroes from the DC Universe. I mention this because his relationships with these fellow heroes, and the friendships therein, are also a major aspect of who the character is, and one that has not yet been explored onscreen. Snyder will be the first to get to tap into that on the live-action screen.
So now we can now look forward with hopeful and attentive spirits to once again see the Dark Knight fight crime on the streets of Gotham, just as he will do for as long as stories of adventure are told.
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