Movies, like religion, are full of contradictions. The third installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is no exception. Like its dark predecessor, the film portrays somewhat murky depictions of good versus evil. But unlike the first two films, The Dark Night Rises is making its millions off of recent world unrest. The film blatantly, unmistakably, borrows its script from current affairs. Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring and even the Tea Party are all populist movements whose grievances are reflected in Nolan’s film – perhaps none more than the Occupy movement.
While the trilogy’s protagonist has not changed (Bruce Wayne is still the vigilante hero fighting for justice) its enemy has. No longer is Batman’s rival a psychopathic lone wolf attacking the citizens of Gotham. This time, he’s a "revolutionary." Batman’s new nemesis, Bane, positions himself as one of the people; rising from the ashes of the masses to greet Gotham as a "liberator." His first act is to rob Gotham’s stock exchange, emptying the pockets of the city’s “one percent.” This is where audiences are not-so-subtly subjected to their first lesson as a trader informs a reluctant cop that, "That's not my money, that's everyone's money." Another officer then chimes in joking that his money is under his mattress to which the trader assures him that his savings will be “worth a lot less” if they don’t rescue the exchange.
The film’s social-political themes only accelerate from there as Bane, Miranda Tate, and Catwoman prepare for the “storm” that is to strip the elite of their power while empowering the masses. No one expresses the unrest and sense of injustice better than Catwoman while dancing with Bruce Wayne at a charity ball: “You're all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”
Catwoman’s eerie line is no accident. It’s beyond coincidence that Nolan’s feline villain echoes the grievances of people all over the world as economies are collapsing and currencies are being devalued. In another powerful scene, this one on the steps of Gotham’s stock exchange, Bane preaches about the “powerful being ripped from their decadent pasts” and promises to share the spoils with the people.
The Dark Night Rises puts moviegoers in the conflicting position of identifying with the film’s villains, if only for their rhetoric, while rooting for its one-percent hero. But any solidarity audiences momentarily feel is shown foolish as we learn of Bane’s true motives. His “revolution” becomes chaos and destruction as he triggers a ticking atomic time bomb set to go off in the city. As Detective Gordon puts it, “There is only one man with his finger on the trigger and that’s Bane.”
As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Gotham’s self-anointed liberator is nothing more than a terrorist using classist rhetoric to rally the masses. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; stirring the city’s embers of unrest to create class envy. In the end, what saves Gotham’s citizens is not mass liberation or revolution – it is an individual, a war-profiteering billionaire CEO. Batman, however the hero, is the one percent.
Movies are powerful, perhaps more powerful than the collective print and broadcast media. Unlike the evening news, films do not press on us information and facts. Rather, they leave us with an impression, a subtle imprint that shapes our worldview. The Dark Night Rises, whether intended by its creators or not, leaves moviegoers with a pointed worldview: Populist movements are to be feared while those in power are there to protect us – they may even be our heroes.