Monday, July 23, 2012

'The Dark Knight Rises': Is it advocating responsible capitalism? - Los Angeles Times

[Warning: Sizable spoilers ahead.]

It's fitting that not even four months after "The Hunger Games" (and its barest outlines of politics) came Christopher Nolan's “The Dark Knight Rises” (and its very overstuffed suitcase of them). "The Hunger Games" hinted at larger messages but shied away from providing them. "The Dark Knight Rises" takes the opposite approach, spilling out political content wherever you look.

But more politics doesn't mean your movie's message is more consistent or decipherable.

Contradictions abound in "The Dark Knight Rises." There is a man (Thomas Hardy’s Bane) who urges populist unrest against a monied elite and a woman (Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle) who speaks the language of social justice, stirringly asking a member of the 1% "how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” Yet both are, for at least chunks of the movie, villains â€" in Bane's case, murderously and maliciously so.

Meanwhile, the hero (Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne/Batman), the man we're rooting for, the one who's going to make it all OK, is ... a billionaire who sits on his money? A man who for parts of the film is as addicted to the thrills and the spotlight as much as he believes in the value of altruism? A man so disaffected he even forgets to write a check to his own orphanage?

What this all adds up to makes the head spin a little. Are we supposed to root for complacency? Or reevaluate our notions of equality and justice because its champions practice wanton murder? Or perhaps we should just decry the whole lot of them.

In the film's most blatantly political scene, Bane whips supporters into a populist frenzy as they literally rip wealthy people out of their penthouses to beat and rob them. It’s a jarring viewing experience. The language of revolt and justice would seem to call for sympathy with the rebels. But the violence of their attacks makes you side, discomfittingly and reflexively, with the pampered rich.

It's no wonder that progressive Democrats and free-market Republicans alike have found something to dislike about the movie (or, if they're trying to spin it in their favor, something to like about how the other side is portrayed).

Nolan fans will say the jumble is intentional; skeptics will say he’s thrown a lot at the wall and walked away. (Is it possible to believe a little bit of both?)

But there is a way to synthesize all of this, to argue that Nolan supports neither Bane-ish unbridled activism nor Wayne-like apathetic opportunism. It's a combination of the two, a kind of cherry-picking from both sides, a kind of responsible capitalism.

By putting universal truths in the mouth of someone as malignant as Bane, Nolan isn't necessarily disavowing the message. He's just warning us that it can mutate quickly.

And Wayne, for all his selfishness, is of course jolted out of his apathy. In the film's climactic moments, he not only risks his life to save others but then â€" in an epilogue â€" also opens up an orphanage. And it's the latter Wayne that Nolan holds up as a hero.

Think about a revolution, Nolan seems to be saying, but conduct it mercifully. Practice free-markets, but do it with a soul.

Or maybe he's just throwing a lot at the wall and walking away.


The Dark Knight Rises shines, and on many levels

Hero Complex: Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolan takes Batman to a new place

Overall success of Dark Knight depends on foreign markets

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