The Common Good

He Said: 'The Dark Knight Rises' Is a Redemption Tale

Christian Bale as Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises." Photo via Warner Bros. Ente
Christian Bale as Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises." Photo via Warner Bros. Entertainment.

Read another perspective on The Dark Knight Rises from Sojourners' staffer Nicole Higgins HERE.

In light of the tragic events which took place in Aurora, Colo., a few days ago, I feel uncomfortable providing a review of a film I was watching at the same time as the dozen souls who lost their lives in such an unfathomably awful situation. I’m sure that the emotions of excitement and anticipation that I felt in the days leading up to the film, as the previews rolled and as the opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises unfolded before my eyes, will forever be mixed with feelings of deep sadness and anger the senseless violence that descended in Colorado.

Through the lens of what happened last Friday, The Dark Knight Rises has, rightly or wrongly, taken on a new layer of meaning for me (and, I'd imagine, many other moviegoers). It is a film about the very darkest of times — when all hope seems lost, when there are no heroes — and what happens when we allow the worst of ourselves to take control.

But it is also a story about redemption. It is a tale of finding courage in the face of overwhelming adversity, in spite of overwhelming physical and spiritual suffering. Christian Bale’s Batman (and indeed his Bruce Wayne), is in some ways a more timid character, by comparison, to the Batman who saved Gotham City from The Joker's psychotic games in The Dark Knight.

Older, weaker, and yet not much wiser, in The Dark Knight Rises Batman/Wayne does not see the city that in which he has made himself a recluse, in the same way as its other citizens. We see a man out of touch with those he once had inspired, with many citizens of Gotham believing Batman to be a murderer (the ghost of Harvey Dent looms large throughout the film) or leaving him for dead.

He has nothing more to give to a Gotham where organized crime is a thing of the past, a city that no longer believes it needs a hero to protect it. Gotham, its leaders conclude, is doing just fine without "the Bat."

But there are a few who still believe in the Caped Crusader and the things for which he stands. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is compelling as an honest and idealistic young police detective who recognizes the importance of the symbol of Batman and takes risks well beyond his colleagues of a higher rank to ensure that that symbol is redeemed.

Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine all return as elders of the peace, offering sage advice to their younger counterparts, whilst at the same time battling with the personal demons that have caught up with each of them.

From my perspective, the only failing of this film’s casting is that, following a dramatic confrontation with his beloved employer, the character Alfred the butler is largely absent in the second half of the film. Without his guidance, Bruce Wayne and the film lose their moral compass. However, in a film approaching three hours in length, something has to give, and Alfred's absence is not a mortal blow to this gripping film.

Director Christopher Nolan ends his trilogy franchise with a film that is markedly different from his first two installments, but one that fits with a narrative arc a decade in the making. This is a grittier film than Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, and yet it still manages to offer the well-executed one-liners that have kept Batman fans from falling into complete despair and depression throughout the first two chapters of the trilogy.

The Dark Knight Rises also gives a nod to previous incarnations of the Batman hero. Those with an eagle eye — I cannot claim to be one of them, a lamentable fact that was pointed out by a friend — might notice something of a similarity between the final, climatic scene of The Dark Knight Rises and that of the 1960s Batman movie starring Adam West. While the tenor of the two movies could not be more different, this tip-of-the-hat from Nolan is a nice touch.

The question most often asked about this film was, “How do you replace/improve upon The Joker as a villain?” The Joker appeared to be Batman’s greatest nemisis, unstoppable because he simply couldn’t be reasoned with. To save any comparisons, Nolan created a very compelling and at times, downright terrifying, combination of villains, weaving together a complex but fascinating story that pits Batman against forces that he has heretofore not encountered — chief among them the unmatched strength of the mysterious mercenary, Bane.

It will take all of Batman’s courage (which at points seems to border on stupidity, but bear with him), luck and intelligence to overcome this mighty foe. We realize more and more that Batman's commitment to Gotham is unwavering, and that nothing, and nobody, will stand in his way of being its ultimate protector.

The relationship between Batman/Bruce Wayne and the light-fingered Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) balances a jovial back-and-forth and more solemn interactions with surprising ease. Indeed it is a far more compelling relationship than the one that develops between Bruce and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, a member of the Wayne Enterprises board seeking to save the company from bankruptcy.

This film will not disappoint. As seemingly unconnected plots weave together toward the dramatic conclusion of (rightly) one of the most successful movie franchises ever, you will be drawn deeper into a world that revolts and inspires in equal measure.

In The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan puts both the best and worst of humanity on display. Do not enter the movie theater with an expectation of seeing a new incarnation of The Dark Knight. This is a very different film, and one that elicits different reactions from the audience.

It is a fine piece of cinematic storytelling that does justice to the hype around it, and brings to conclusion (with just enough of the ambiguity that Nolan loves so much) his wonderful series of films.

Jack Palmer is a communications assistant at Sojourners. Hailing from the United Kingdom,Jack was born in the coastal town of Brighton, but having spent over 10 years living in London, now considers himself a true resident of the greatest city in the world (in Jack’s mind, there is no argument about this). He spent six years at a boarding school that looked suspiciously like Hogwarts, before relocating to the University of Surrey for four years, where he studied international politics, developing a passion for social justice in his town and overseas. He spent his third year at university working full time for Tearfund, before graduating and joining the staff of Sojourners in September 2011. Follow Jack on Twitter @jackpalmer88.

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