There are certain core traits that make up Batman, and most of them are all fairly well-known in popular culture. In most iterations of the character, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy who witnessed the shooting of his parents as a child, and so decides to spend his nights fighting crime and corruption in Gotham. It’s no secret that I love Batman; he’s been my favorite for as long as I can remember, and I’m probably not the only one who likes that fact that he’s a human who can stand toe to toe with Superman. But after countless conversations about the character (mostly when Uta and I should have been studying), there are certain truths about him that I can’t deny.
People often jokingly argue that Batman’s superpower is actually money. I’d like to think he’d fight crime even if he wasn’t born in a manor, but the truth is that it’s a lot easier to do when you’ve got a Kevlar suit, fancy analyzing equipment, and a Batmobile. As a rich, white male, Bruce has privilege in ways that many fans of his character do not. Sometimes it feels like this privilege isn’t really discussed in Batman stories, which is why I was interested in the way that it was acknowledged in The Dark Knight Rises.
Nolan probably penned his script before the Occupy movement caught national attention, but people were noting the connections between the movie and the movement as early as the release of the trailers. Take, for example, the rest of the Catwoman quote from my title:
“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.”
Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Throughout the movie, Selina Kyle seems to act as a voice for the average Gotham citizen whose problems persist in the corrupt city. She tells Bruce, “I started off doing what I had to. Once you’ve done what you had to, they’ll never let you do what you want to.”
It’s clear that Selina believes the revolution will free her of whatever debts or obligations she’s become entangled in. That’s also why, when Bane’s revolution does begin and her friend asks if this was what she wanted, her lack of reply is important. As viewers we realize that Bane is only manipulating people for his own means, and this scene shows that she realizes that his revolution is not what she wanted at all.
I should take a moment and say that I don’t think the movie is trying to vilify the reasons why people would buy into Bane’s words. The very reason he can manipulate the people of Gotham is because obvious inequalities exist. Time and time again, we’ve been shown that people of this city live in fear of the mob and the criminals that run through the streets. Politicians and public servants are crooked or inefficient. The people who publicly fought for better conditions have either been killed or corrupted themselves. As Gordon pointed out while they were searching for the bomb’s trigger, Bane doesn’t want to liberate Gotham and wouldn’t hand over control to an average citizen. But after being failed by the system so much in the past, I can’t blame them for wanting to believe him.
As for Bruce, he shows skepticism about his peers early on in the film. Arriving at Miranda Tate’s charity ball, he talks about how these events are more about feeding the ego of the rich than actually benefiting anyone. Bruce’s lack of acknowledgement of his own privilege, however, contributes to his failures in the movie. As he is drawn back into the role of Batman, Alfred points out that there is more than one way to fight crime. The police could use his resources to solve crimes if he trusted them enough to share them. It’s been argued before that if he put just as much money into Gotham’s infrastructure as he does fighting crime, then the city’s problems could be solved. Of course, Bruce Wayne is already a philanthropist, and people might not find it very interesting to watch him save Gotham by donating a lot of money. I still liked the fact that this point was addressed.
While he was trying to escape the pit, Bruce was told flat out by another prisoner that he can’t compare himself to the child that climbed out, because that child grew up in the prison and was not “born of privilege.” He has lost his fortune at this point, but as Selina pointed out earlier, “the rich don’t even go broke like the rest of us.” Bruce still has his gadgets and manor waiting at home, and recent events don’t erase the fact that he was born in the lap of luxury. He can never fully understand what it was like to grow up in the pit, but when he does try to connect by also climbing up without the rope, he finally succeeds in escaping.
I think I’ll need to watch the movie a couple more times, and maybe even reread A Tale of Two Cities, before I fully decide what overall message emerges from the discussion of economic disparity in The Dark Knight Rises. While I have to admit that I like seeing Bruce with his fortune, I think it’s interesting that the one story where we see him actually let go of being Batman is the same one where he loses it. I also wish that a movie with this kind of discussion didn’t have issues with whitewashing characters, but that is a topic for a different entry.