You’ve probably noticed that FreakSugar has been a bit Batman-heavy in its coverage of late, mostly from me. While I try not to retread the same ground time and again, the fact is that I do think about Batman quite often, so I’ve got a lot of thoughts on the Dark Knight to pour out of my skull. I’m inundated with All Things Batman on a fairly regular basis, so it’s understandable and not creepy at all that I would think about a fictional character as much as I do. What is it that the kids say? #sorrynotsorry? (Aside: Kick me in the face if I ever use that hashtag again. For reals. I’ll deserve it.)
Case in point: I work from home for the most part, only venturing out to other venues when I need a change of scenery or if my pasty white skin needs some sunlight. While working, whether it be on contract writing assignments, FreakSugar articles, or doctoral dissertation research, I typically keep the TV on in the background, letting a movie help me make-pretend I’m out interacting with the 3D people and not being a solipsistic hermit clacking away at my keyboard. On deck is usually a season of Community or The Dark Knight Rises because comics and because I’ve seen both so often that I won’t accidentally get sucked in by the siren’s song of not working.
Something occurred to me, however, while Rises played not too long ago, a point about the character arc that Bruce Wayne goes through during the course of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Rises is probably the most maligned of the three movies, even if the film made so much money that some folks who bitched about the installment had to have seen it multiple times. Naysayers point to plot holes and inconsistencies and the ending that left even the most causal of Bat-fans divided. And as much as I adore this movie—it’s my favorite of the three—I agree that it has some clunky aspects to the overall experience. However, the reason that I’ll always opt to watch this film over the other two if given the choice is how Nolan fulfills the promise of his storyline and take on the Caped Crusader he set up in Batman Begins: the resurrection of Bruce Wayne and the eternal nature of the Batman.
Anyone who has even the slightest familiarity with the Batman’s story knows how much death plays a part in his creation: In a sense, the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne were the sacrificial lambs that brought the Batman to life. Another person died that night, however, Bruce Wayne, replaced with the seeds of the over-myth that would one day grow into the Dark Knight. However, Nolan’s story is self-contained with a beginning, middle, and end, unlike comic books whose stories continue into perpetuity. And what is the end of Batman’s journey, according to Christopher Nolan?
We know from the ending of The Dark Knight Rises that, after saving Gotham City from the terrorist Bane, Bruce goes into hiding (-ish) with Selina Kyle and gives up the life of the Caped Crusader. But how does Bruce come back from death, if what made him Bruce died in Crime Alley along with his parents? If you follow Nolan’s narrative thread from Begins to Rises, we see a Batman who rises as Gotham’s hero, to a man who becomes a shell of his former self in need of resurrection.
When we meet Bruce at the beginning of Rises, he’s in a fugue state. He’s not quite Bruce, as something of Batman is still stirring within him, but he’s certainly not Batman, as he’s certainly not Batman, as he’s effectively become a shut-in at Wayne Manor following the death of his love Rachel. When Bane threatens to overrun Gotham with his army from the League of Shadows, Bruce dons the cape and cowl to try to stop him, only to have his body broken for his trouble. As Alfred hinted at earlier in the movie, the trappings of Batman are not what make Batman who he is. He can’t choose to transform into a myth at will. Alfred, his surrogate father, wanted life for Bruce away from Gotham and Batman, and wonders if that’s ever possible.
After Bane has broken Bruce, he leaves the Dark Knight in an underground prison. This is Bruce’s time in the desert, battling Satan in the form of his inner demons and failings. When he learns to let go of his fear and make the jump across a cavern to his freedom, he makes his leap of faith, he becomes Batman again. He relents to the myth of Batman rather than trying to wrestle it into submission.
At the climax of the film, once Batman has returned to Gotham City, he tows a nuclear core that is on the brink of detonation in his Bat-aircraft in order to save the city and complete his mission. Seconds before the explosion, there is a relief that washes over his face, his “it is finished” moment. As the core explodes, Batman becomes Bruce Wayne again as his work is complete.
While Bruce survives, ejecting from the aircraft before the blast. In this way, Bruce has honored both of his fathers: He saves Gotham in a way his biological father was never able to do. At the same time, by surviving and completing his work as Batman, he honors the wishes of his surrogate Alfred, who wanted a better life for Bruce away from the horrors of Gotham City. Bruce is reborn.
However, Bruce has not allowed the myth to die. By leaving the Batcave to his detective friend “Robin,” he ensures the Batman will never truly die. The myth is renewed. Batman has reverted to a pre-ego dawn, primordial, beginning state. The once and future king.
Thanks for ruminating on the Batman yet again for this Flashback Friday, folks! Go out and live this weekend!