The most chilling scene in “The Dark Knight Rises” takes place in the tranquil moments before chaos erupts throughout Gotham City. A young boy (Charles Jackson Coyne) stands in the middle of a stadium crowded with football fans, and sings the “Star-Spangled Banner” without missing a single note. Even Bane (Tom Hardy), the latest embodiment of evil to wreak havoc upon Gothamites, admits that the child has a beautiful voice.
As the boy sings, Nolan cuts to footage of Gotham’s police force bravely running toward certain danger, without realizing that they’re stepping into a trap. The tragedy in Colorado that took place during last Thursday’s midnight screening of the film have made these images doubly eerie. One is instantly reminded of the police that nearly stepped into a trap rigged by the same madman who murdered 12 audience members (and injured 58) at what was meant to be a euphoric night at the movies. The killer’s booby-trapped apartment was allegedly designed to cause a diversion precisely timed to the massacre. His actions are those of a cold-blooded villain straight out of countless Hollywood pictures.
Yet the very notion that Nolan’s filmmaking is in any way responsible for the man’s deranged mind is monstrously inane. Fox News labeling the tragedy as “The Batman Massacre” is typical of the American media’s ratings-driven shamelessness. Tragedy does, however, seem to have followed in the footsteps of this franchise. 2008’s “The Dark Knight” opened months after its 28-year-old star Heath Ledger died from an accidental overdose. His portrayal of the Joker was utterly exhilarating, and ended up earning him a wealth of posthumous accolades, including the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. But ever since the Colorado killer identified himself as the Joker, there’s a temptation for shallow blowhards to wag their finger in the late actor’s direction. Ledger’s father released a thoughtful statement observing that the real problem America must solve is the accessibility of weapons, particularly the semi-automatic firearms used by the killer.
The string of copycat incidents occurring in theaters throughout America (none of which have resulted in casualties) are further examples of the current turmoil pervading our culture, and it’s precisely this turmoil that Nolan aimed to reflect in his “Dark Knight Trilogy.” His version of Gotham appears to have grown out of our collective post-9/11 paranoia. The threat of terrorism resonates on a very real level. I’ve always considered Nolan an indie filmmaker at heart, and the uncompromising audacity that he displayed in his low-budget masterpiece, “Memento,” is apparent even in a summer tentpole movie such as this. He goes out of his way to achieve an in-camera effect rather than utilize digital shortcuts, which makes stunts such as the somersaulting truck in “Dark Knight” all the more astonishing. He also hires actors on the basis of their abilities rather than their star power, resulting in ensembles of formidable magnetism.
Yet what truly make Nolan’s Batman films so special are the ways in which they reflect, both consciously and coincidentally, modern life in America. The economic divide in Gotham reaches its fever-pitch in “Dark Knight Rises,” as the arrogance of Batman’s alter-ego, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), is openly criticized by seductive cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). Their dance at a costume ball (mirroring a similar scene in Burton’s “Batman Returns”) is mesmerizing, an impeccable union of fine acting and pointed dialogue. “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne,” Selina purrs. “You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” She clearly prides herself as a member of the 99 percent, a Robin Hood-like anti-hero for the masses. Bane is all too happy to take advantage of the breakdown in trust among Gothamites by promising to lead an Occupy-style revolt in streets and stock exchanges, while secretly harboring his ultimate plan (shared by his mentor, Ra’s Al Guhl) to burn the city to the ground.
Though Bruce is weary of Selina, he is intrigued by her motives, not to mention her catty choice of costume. Only after every material comfort is stripped from Bruce can he find the inner-will to rise again. Nolan’s overarching message appears to be a call for philanthropy that transcends political boundaries. Interpreting “Dark Knight Rises” as a mere put-down of Occupy Wall Street is not only false but far too simplistic. Nolan, along with his brother and co-writer Jonathan, took great care in exploring vital issues from a perspective that wasn’t overtly politicized. Like all great art, the “Dark Knight Trilogy” universalizes these issues–economic inequality, crime, terrorism, questionable methods of justice–while inspiring the audience to truly contemplate them without the voice of an opinionated pundit ringing in their ears. These films are as important as they are entertaining.
If Nolan treated the violence flippantly in his films, then “Dark Knight Rises” would be tougher to take in light of the recent tragedy. But he doesn’t. When I listen to those lyrics of the “Star Spangled Banner,” I’m moved by the hope that they represent during these very dark days. I’m also reminded of the acts of real-life heroism committed by the victims in Colorado, who dove into the path of gunfire to save their loved ones. Nolan’s film reminds us that we possess the power to rise above our challenges, even when we’re at our most broken. I feel nothing but gratitude toward the cast and crew that brought this extraordinary picture to life.