Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Dark Knight Rises, Fear, and Humanity

Perusing different blogs and articles written around the time that The Dark Knight Rises came out, I noticed that some writers complained that the movie seemed to turn the progress of the trilogy backward to force Bruce to learn the same lessons all over again. I agree that it would make for a less exciting and less interesting movie if this were the case, but I think that the actual lesson Bruce had to learn in the last movie was not only different from what he learned in Batman Begins, but actually contradicts and - through that contradiction - fulfills the trilogy by marking the true death of Batman and the true rise of Bruce Wayne.

In Batman Begins, Bruce is initiated into the League of Shadows, an order that relies on the killing of fear within themselves so as to better utilize the fears of the citizenry of decadent cultures in the course of dismantling their civilizations. Bruce has to confront his own fear to be inducted as a member of the League; upon leaving the League, Bruce utilizes their tactic of using his enemy's fears to turn the Batman symbol into something larger than life to wage his war on crime.

The key here is that Bruce had to rise above his own fear. We see when he was a child that he was a very fearful child, particularly of bats. When Bruce returns to Gotham we no longer see any fear left in him. As Scarecrow's fear toxin shows, there is still fear within Batman, but Batman rises above Bruce Wayne's fears for the sake of his city.

In The Dark Knight Rises we see a Bruce completely lacking in fear, or anything else for that matter. Bruce's identity as Batman has been retired and his driving desire as Bruce Wayne - Rachel Dawes - was taken from him by the Joker. He wastes away in his mansion, waiting to die. As Bane says, "you don't fear death. You welcome it." Batman no longer rises above Bruce Wayne's fears, rather, Bruce Wayne no longer has fears.

In the prison, Bruce consistently fails to make the climb to the top of the prison. In a move that I'm sure we all saw coming a mile away, we see that it is the rope that is holding Bruce back. The fact that he could always try again kept him from having the inner will to jump the distance. As the exchange between Bruce and the Blind Prisoner shows,

Blind Prisoner: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak. 
Bruce Wayne: Why? 
Blind Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death. 
Bruce Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there's no one there to save it.  
Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb. 
Bruce Wayne: How? 
Blind Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.

The lesson Bruce learns in The Dark Knight Rises is the value of fear within oneself. Without fear and without love, Bruce becomes a living corpse wasting away in his mansion. Once he is broken by Bane and left in the pit, he still has love compelling him forward to save Gotham City, but he has no fear. He is not yet human again without repulsion as well as attraction. Once he makes the climb without his rope he rediscovers his fear and thereby once again becomes fully Bruce Wayne and is therefore able to fully become Batman once again.

Whereas the trilogy starts out with Bruce having to escape the power of fear, the trilogy ends with Bruce relying on the power of fear. The ending especially draws this out - Bruce would have been happy to die at the beginning of the movie, but by the end his will to live is strong enough that he allows Batman (who is a symbol and who dies insofar as people recognize him as dead) to die while he moves on to live his life as Bruce Wayne.

Whatever the other faults of the movie, I have to say that rehashing old lessons and arcs is not one of them. Bruce's arc in this movie follows from the arcs of the previous movies, completing and fulfilling them.

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