Chris Nolan as philosopher.

Broad themes in The Dark Knight Rises. Spoiler: the fun stuff is at the bottom.

1. Occupy.
1.a. Class conflict.
Bane tantalizes the masses with the prospect of an egalitarian future. The first step is to forcibly equalize resources.

1.b. Radical Democracy.
Jeremy Waldron might be impressed. My impression is that the only branch left in Gotham is a quasi-legislative, although its main function in the film is to carry out judicial sentencing. Formal executive police power and formal courts are swept away.

1.c. Distrust of finance.
Bane holds up the stock exchange and the cops flippantly tell one member that their lives aren’t worth risking for the traders’ money. Another cop boasts about how his money is UNDER HIS MATTRESS. One sleaze getting his shoes shined boasts about how he flipped a coin to figure out whether to go long or short a stock. The least amount of sympathy for any of Bane’s victims occurs in this scene. There’s a sense of “you had it coming.”

2. Rousseauism.
This extends throughout the trilogy. As far as I can tell The League of Shadows’ ideology is deeply imbued antipathy of civilization, which it sees as corrupting. Conversely, the league believes man is purest in his natural state (why else train in subsistence on a mountain top?) It marries this with eastern asceticism and various other blends but Rousseau appears to be the most akin Western analogue.

3. Military/Industrial complex.
Wayne Enterprises has a generously funded defense arm. They build big toys for Batman, and also death machines generally that can, whoops, fall into bad men’s hands. As Wayne says “one man’s tool is another man’s weapon.”

4. Specious security state.
The Dent Act is The Patriot Act. That’s all you need to know.

5. Go green.
Wayne builds a fusion device to create sustainable green energy for everyone. I find it oddly un-environmentalist for Nolan to call nuclear power “green” but I’m on board with it. Sadly, humanity isn’t ready for it because it just gets turned into a bomb. Go figure.

A couple of left-leaning interpretations.

6. Anti-woman.
One woman is a backstabbing bitch. Another woman is only interested in amassing a jewelry collection for herself by theft and only seems to contain a kernel of morality at the end of the film when the man guilts her into it. Physically, she saves him, but morally, he saves her. She can’t be allowed to be a real hero because her heroism is contingent entirely upon her salvation at his hands.

7. Public sector bashing.
What kind of city is it where public institutions rely on a rich capitalist in a cape to make things run smoothly? I’ll turn it over to Corey Robin, who is in this quote referring to Cory Booker’s bravery in Newark.

The whole story speaks to a quintessentially American love of amateurism and cowboy theatrics, but it also speaks to our neoliberal age: like the superhero of comic-book lore, Booker is a stand-in, a compensation in this case for a public sector that doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work—the reason we put more stock in the antics of a Batman Mayor than a well paid and well trained city employee—is that we’ve made it not work: through tax cuts, privatization, and outsourcing, policies that Booker himself often supports.

So while Nolan shows solidarity with egalitarianism, let’s not forget the central theme of this trilogy is that a very rich man who makes a great deal of money off of the state by building death machines and otherwise from the rest of an inherited conglomerate deeply integrated into the capitalist order is essential for public stability. He’s never suffered, wanted, or really worked a day in his life, so we should be fortunate he funneled some of his wealth into making big toys and sticking his neck out to save us. In reality he repudiates public institutions and the law itself to do what rich people tend to do – operate outside of the constraints the prevailing order places upon the rest of us.

That’s either good or bad on net depending on your ideological persuasion.

Patrick Egan over at The Monkey Cage blog has great data on this as well. In summary:

Thus long-term trends suggest that we are in fact currently experiencing a waning culture of guns and violence in the United States. This is undoubtedly helping to dampen the public’s support for both gun control and the death penalty. There are growing partisan gaps on attitudes regarding the two policies, but enthusiasm for both has declined recently in lockstep with the drop in crime and violence. The total effects of these trends on opinion and policy remain to be seen, but one thing is clear: they defy easy ideological explanation.


3 thoughts on “Chris Nolan as philosopher.

  1. I would tend to interpret the League of Shadows actions in a much more Hegelian light. They don’t have the sentimentalism and indeed innocence that Rousseau’s philosophy requires for his interpretation of the origins of humanity. In particular, they see themselves as the manifestation of the march of history – a driving force that, in their minds, is not evil, but is paramount for progress. It’s not all civilization that they dispense with, but ‘decadent’ ones. They see themselves as a purifying and balancing force, tools of an ideal. It fits pretty nicely with the personal Buddhist asceticism Nolan emulates.

    Furthermore, I think this leaves Wayne to be defined in a far more existential vein as a Will over and against this type of idealistic determinism in which people are subsumed to the March of History, etc. and instead as an agent of order (his version). Think Schopenhauer (more so) or Kierkegaard (less so).

  2. Pingback: This Dark Knight’s Not For Shrugging « Shades of Caruso

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