“You’ve given these people everything.”
“Not everything. Not yet.”
-The best exchange of The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR).
TDKR is a film people have been waiting for for four years. A film that many people lost sleep (including myself) fantasizing about. A film that had controversy and violence around it in Aurora, Colorado. A film that has been praised and ripped apart by many people. A film this divisive shouldn’t be titled “Best Film of the Year”, right? And yet it’s a film that deserves such a title.
I’ve seen TDKR 5 times now. That’s 13 hours and 45 minutes that most would say that I wasted away. But why did I see it more than once when I hated it the first time (I travelled to another city to watch it in IMAX)? Because TDKR is a film that connects with one’s spirit, not with one’s mind. I over analyzed what I was watching in IMAX the first time, and only upon repeat viewings did I praise it for what it is. It’s the most emotional film Christopher Nolan has directed, the frames saturated in nostalgia and feeling at times. People have criticized its various plot holes for being unrealistic and impossible. I say to them: So what? Look past all the plot stuff, the HOW of things, and soak in the Story for what it is and you see the brilliance, the magic and the beauty of The Dark Knight Rises.
Nolan decided to set the story 8 years after The Dark Knight (TDK), a genius move. We’ve spent half that time waiting for it anyway. And he’s illustrated how things have changed in those 8 years: the cops are so complacent and lazy, Bruce is sustaining his long term injuries (which in a lesser film he would have brushed off and continued fighting crime), Wayne Industries is run into the ground, and so no one sees “a storm” coming, in the form of the masked man, Bane.
Bane is such a cool and colorful character, and this has been a recurring motif within the The Dark Knight Trilogy (populate the scenery with colorful individuals) and this one has them in spades. Bane’s voice has been described as many things, and I’ve been practicing my impression for a long time (my sister keeps laughing at me when I try). He certainly has the best lines in the movie, preaching them as gospel for Gotham. Whenever he appears on screen, suddenly you see this towering mass of sinew and tension fill the frame, augmenting the freakiness of the mask. Speaking of which, how does Bane eat food? Does he inject an IV of nuclear Nutella to fuel his unceasing rampage?
For me, where TDKR really scores is in Bruce Wayne’s arc through the movie. What I’ve realized is this is Bruce’s story at the end of the day, and when Rachel died, so did a part of him. Christian Bale’s performance echoes the torture that his soul has endured because of the guilt of not being able to save her. The question Nolan puts forth to us is: What if Batman consumed Bruce Wayne entirely? Bruce always had to balance between his identities, and the trilogy really carries the erosion of that balance all the way. Rachel was Bruce’s moral compass, his link to that identity, and when she died, most of Bruce died with her and only Batman remained. In the first act of TDKR, we see how he doesn’t fear death and how he doesn’t behave rationally when it comes to sizing up Bane. Bale’s face conveys the fatigue that his mask has put on him for all these years and his voice sounds weary as well. This is why Batman’s fall feels inevitable in the movie, it isn’t shocking, just like in the comics. Alfred was always right about Bruce wanting to fail; he’s lost everything that gave him a purpose: Rachel and the people of Gotham. He is alone in this world, save for Alfred (who he takes for granted), and he doesn’t see any other end to his story. When Bruce is sentenced to the pit, not only does his body rise up, but also his true self emerges from within.
We were given two female superheroes this summer: Black Widow and Selina Kyle (no one really calls her Catwoman right?) and I think Selina is the more fun woman to watch (Johansson had that whole red mark ledger thing weighing The Avengers down). I recently read a few articles on TDKR, one of which claims that Nolan’s female characters either represent innocent naivete or selfish betrayal, and Selina falls in the former category. The Batman-Kyle chemistry is one of the best in recent times, because its the kind of banter that Hollywood films of the ’40s had (especially Howard Hawks’). Now, any banter in 21st century Hollywood seen as foreplay and is hindered by the sex, but not this one. On the other hand, Marion Cotillard’s character was a dead giveaway for her climactic twist because it’s MARION COTILLARD. Remember, people, she played the villain in Inception as well? Clearly, she’s up to no good, and Nolan doesn’t trick us at all. Random thought, my favorite TDKR tracks are “Imagine The Fire”, “The Fire Rises” and “Why Do We Fall”.
TDKR has some near classic lines that my friends and I have been using amongst ourselves for a while now. You can also use them too to look hip and cool amongst your friends:
- If your friends ask you if you’ve gone all the way with your girlfriend, calmly reply, “Not everything. Not yet.”
- If you see a group of girls looking at you and giggling amongst themselves in a bar, coolly walk up to them and say, “Speak of the devil and he shall appear.”
- When you experience a power cut in your house at night with your girl, and she’s kind of creeped out because you guys were watching a horror movie, put your arm around her and whisper, “Now is not the time for fear, that comes later. I was born in the darkness, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was a man and by then it was only blinding!”
- At a friend’s uprising, tweet stuff against the despotic dictator like, “You have been supplied with a false idol to stop you from tearing down this corrupt city”. Or “The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure. Courts will be convened, spoils will be enjoyed. Blood will be shed. The police will survive as they learn to survive true justice.”
Christopher Nolan is a skilled craftsman, but he has still not mastered the art of directing action. His idea of action is to manipulate the audience with Zimmery music and seemingly “epic” shots, but they all feel manufactured and restrained. There’s no FUCK YEAH reactions to his action, just Meh. In my head, all of his action scenes are a blur, complemented by the music, by when I think back to, say, The Bourne Ultimatum, the progression of action is clear because I know where each player is in the sequence. Nolan really does try hard to make you grab your seat with his action, but he makes the same mistakes every time of disorienting the viewer with his editing. But he knows how to evoke that buzzing feeling you get when you connect with a moment in a movie, in happiness or sorrow or nostalgia or euphoria. Every single one of the five times I saw TDKR, I felt the same way about the scene where Bruce gets out of the Pit (although it seemed pretty easy save for one big jump). It felt like a mix of joy, goose bumps, nostalgia and epicness. It’s a feeling that I only get at the cinema. The scene is a staple of Hollywood emotion, the scene where the hero has to overcome the obstacle, we all know that. And yet, as Zimmer’s score crescendoes, as the other prisoners chant for Bruce and the bats come out of nowhere from the side of the pit and he’s on the edge of the ledge, you can’t feel anything but blood rush to your head as you’re with Bruce, chanting in your head for him all the way. (Note: Over the course of the trilogy, Nolan slowly brought out a superhero that fights crime in the dark to a point where he staged the climax of TDKR in broad daylight. Another note: Nolan seemingly conveys big ideas in a concise manner, which people have criticized, but which I find admirable simply because it’s tough to do.)
Another article I read (I have to store these to link them to you guys) got me thinking about the way Nolan chooses to end TDKR. We see Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Blake escort the some kids on a bus to the bridge as an exodus in case the nuclear bomb blew up, but the cops have already rigged it with explosives to prevent people from crossing it so that the nuclear bomb didn’t go off (tricky, I know). This scene parallels the boat standoff in The Dark Knight, here the Joker places bombs on two boats and sets it up so that one boat can blow the other up before midnight. In The Dark Knight, the citizens of Gotham did the more moral thing by choosing not to participate in the Joker’s “game”, but in TDKR, the people of Gotham actually turn the other way and submit to Bane’s rules. The result of this action in TDKR fuels Blake’s decision to quit the force. Now, here’s the interesting thing: this ending is actually much bleaker than its shown to be, because now Blake doesn’t trust the people of Gotham to do the right thing when the situation calls for it, and yet Bruce always believed that the people of Gotham deserved another chance when opposed by The League of Shadows. And now, Blake has access to the Mantle of the Bat. It reminds me of the Knightquest arc in Knightfall, where Azrael takes over the Mantle of the Bat, but becomes a much more brutal force within Gotham, not bound by Batman’s code. That would be an interesting sequel to watch, where Blake believes that Gotham really has fallen and that its people aren’t worth saving, and stages a Bane-like plan himself, but Bruce comes back to stop him. Only, and this is still just spitballing, maybe even Bruce understands that there’s a time that comes for everything to end, and Batman might only be resisting the natural course of things. Think about it, Warner Bros.
So, why is TDKR the Best Film Of The Year? Because it’s the best mix of art, awe, and commerce that you will see this year and there is nothing more inspiring that you’ll see this year. Because in all our hearts lie that tiny kernel of imagination where we’re dressed up in Kevlar and graphite, armed with Batarangs, spinning along a Batpod. Because Batman is in everyone of us, and is that side of us that pushes us towards right and not wrong. Because it is utterly divisive because of its plot holes and yet redeems itself through bringing out our goose bumps. Because at the end of the day, we all need someone to look up to, and Nolan has given us our 21st century role model.
To conclude, here are some links to better writing about “The Best Film Of The Year”:
And on Nolan’s style of filmmaking, a fantastic piece by David Bordwell.