The Batman franchise directed by Christopher Nolan is not about a war of brute force against brute force. It’s about a war of ideas. That’s what makes it so intriguing, and it’s also what makes it so poignantly relevant. The physical battles in these films, and especially in the last installment, “The Dark Knight Rises” are intense to say the least. But they are galvanized by the battle for the ideas in the minds of the combatants, not just their bravado. Nolan and his writers have the presence of mind to infuse an element of depth to the story lines which is becoming increasingly rare coming from Tinsel Town these days. The ideas are there in most of the Hollywood sewage they are feeding us, but there’s a difference between indoctrinating the audience through storytelling on the one hand, and honestly grappling with the difficult issues on the other.
The current culture war in the United States is a clash of neo-Marxism with common sense libertarianism and benign conservatism. Those are exactly the lines of scrimmage in the conflict between the ruthless Bane character (played brilliantly by Tom Hardy) and the crusader for true justice (Christian Bale). There are multiple layers found in the storyline in TDKR which adds even more depth and intrigue than what Nolan and his writers could have settled for in what would have been a lesser and disappointing film had they done so. Nolan and company have earned my deep respect for taking the road less traveled.
Consider Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) giving Bruce Wayne an earful of pure unadulterated Marxism during a swanky Gotham City soiree: “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. 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.” The zero-sum myth could not be put more eloquently, nor the impulse to vanquish it through violent revolution. Her thievery as the Cat Woman is not a result of poor parenting. She sincerely believes society owes her something, as restitution for its alleged built-in exploitation of those who refuse to stoop to the “corruption” of capitalism. The response from Bruce is revealing: “You sound like you’re looking forward to it.” I don’t know if this was Nolan’s decision or not, but it was a magnificent display of restraint for Bruce to expose Selina’s own corrupt heart rather than engage in a futile debate. If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t tell you whether Kyle redeems herself or not.
Bane, on the other hand, doesn’t make any attempt to justify his hostility toward what he sees as naked hypocrisy. He thinks Gotham City is getting what it deserves: the brutality of anarchy as bitter medicine for its transgressions. His logic is razor sharp, and his inspiration comes not from malice but the natural implications of his instinct to protect the woman he has a profound love for without the romantic distractions. In his eyes, she is a victim just as much as Selina is, though on a larger stage. Kyle is a petty thief. Bane is a revolutionary. What they have in common is the same garden-variety Marxian contempt for Western civilization left-wing luminaries have had in our society since the early 20th Century. But in terms of their susceptibility to reform, they are worlds apart. Bane is willing to die for his cause, indeed, he already has. The life he lives is a shadow of what it was, and its only purpose is to lash out: evil against evil—at least in his estimation.
Bruce Wayne is a white billionaire, and an easy target for regressive ideologues. His response to the onslaught of what is nothing more than critical theory adorned with sinister looking make-up, is to focus on the common people who are worth fighting for, rich or poor. It’s a refreshing antidote for misguided bloody revolution, and it accepts the awkward truth that in a fallen world, liberated imperfection is far superior to totalitarian sophistry.