“You truly are… incorruptible”—Joker “The Dark Knight”

With The Dark Knight Rises, director Christopher Nolan closes out cinema’s most memorable comic book adaptation. A master of visual misdirection (The Prestige, Inception) and exploring the fractured male psyche (Memento, Insomnia), Nolan has given us an insightful perspective on a man so wracked with emotional anguish, he must take on a dual persona to keep his sanity intact.  In Dark Knight Rises Nolan takes the bold (and perhaps controversial) stance that the masked persona that we’ve come to love and revere has become a slow but corrosive poison to the man underneath.  The Dark Knight Rises is not about Batman, but rather a study on the fall and rise of Bruce Wayne himself.

“Why do we fall Bruce? So we can learn how to pick ourselves back up.”–Thomas Wayne, “Batman Begins”

While we’re well versed on the tragic event that set Bruce on his destiny to be the Caped Crusader,  Nolan takes a step back in Batman Begins to flesh out the most influential man in Bruce’s life—Thomas Wayne. Although born to privilege, Thomas has devoted his life to helping others as a  physician. A generous philanthropist, Thomas has used his family’s vast financial resources in building a new mass transit system for the citizens of Gotham. Through Thomas we’re presented with a template of the man Bruce could have been if not for that senseless act of violence in that dark alley.

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“Theatricality and deception are powerful agents”–Ra’s Al Ghul, “Batman Begins”

Without a male parent to guide him, Bruce will be in a continual search for a replacement father figure.  Alfred (Michael Caine), the family’s trusted butler, is a loyal confidante and  and while empathetic to Bruce’s loss, isn’t sure how to help the young man channel his grief.  In comes Ducard (Liam Neeson), a mysterious man who plucks Bruce out of a squalid Asian prison and offers him a place in the League of Shadows.  The rigorous training provides Bruce with mental and physical discipline, a welcome distraction from his inner pain.  However this mentor/mentee relationship falls to pieces when Ducard is revealed to be the villainous Ra’s Al Ghul.  In an ironic twist, the very skills given to him by Ra’s Al Ghul and The League of Shadows, Bruce uses to become the Batman–Gotham’s guardian angel.

In The Dark Knight Bruce has established relationships with two additional father figures—Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).  Gordon is one of the few men Bruce truly trusts as they share the same vision for a crime-free Gotham.  Lucius runs Wayne Enterprises and provides Bruce with the high tech gadgets and toys needed as the masked vigilante, no questions asked.  Although the Batman has been instrumental in keeping the city’s criminals at bay, it’s taken a physical and emotional toll on Bruce. His decision to back Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) aren’t entirely selfless—by handing the reins over to Gotham’s district attorney, he can retire both Batman and his “billionaire playboy” personas.  Tragedy will visit Bruce’s life yet again when the psychopathic Joker sets off a catastrophic chain of events resulting in the deaths of Harvey and Rachel Dawes.

“I never wanted you to come back to Gotham. I always knew that there was nothing for you here except pain and tragedy”–Alfred, “The Dark Knight Rises”

Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the death of Gotham’s “White Knight” Harvey Dent.  Gordon and Bruce  have kept their end of the unholy pact made on that fateful night by covering up the facts behind Harvey’s death. Their fabrication has cost them emotionally with Gordon newly divorced, and Wayne now a recluse in Wayne Manor. His ancestral home has become a mausoleum, surrounded by the ghosts of his past.

Having been ravaged psychologically  by the Joker, Bruce will be broken (literally) by Bane, Gotham’s newest villain. Putting the mask once more, Bruce believes his anonymity will protect him from Bane’s onslaught but he soon learns his adversary is also a well-versed disciple of the shadows.

In an interesting turn of events, Bruce once again finds himself thrown in jail, cut off from his privilege and wealth.  Trapped in this hellish pit, Bruce is forced to confront his demons, undergoing a second rite of passage.  Whereas his first metamorphosis with Ra’s Al Ghul was based on false and elitist ideals, Bruce comes to understand that he no longer needs the cape and mask to be a true hero to Gotham.  The real legacy is not the vigilante Batman persona, but rather the Wayne legacy of pacifism and philanthropy.   When Bruce makes his ascension out of the pit he is fueled by hope, finally putting the ghosts of his parents, Harvey and Rachel to rest.

The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t glorify Batman, but rather critiques society’s addictive need for idol worship.  Nolan systematically smashes the pedestal beneath our most beloved superhero, freeing Bruce Wayne to find the peace and cohesiveness he’s been searching for so desperately.  While its citizens will always need a symbol for justice in Batman, Bruce Wayne has proven himself to be Gotham’s true shining prince.

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