"Whoever wrote this movie has either really, really knows what's going on in the world, and sees the world a similar way, or they have read 'The Coming Insurrection.'"
With these words, Glenn Beck may have effectively wiped away whatever doubt remained among conservatives as to whether the latest Batman movie really is a gleefully nihilistic celebration of violence for its own sake. And not a moment too soon, considering the haunting tragedy that has since come to be identified with the film.
Beck delivered his review of the film on his radio show today, quoting several specific plot elements (though none that actually spoil the film's story too much, this author is happy to report) to demonstrate that this film is not only good at the artistic level, but also at the moral and political level. Indeed, as Beck himself put it, Van Jones could have given one of the speeches intoned by one of the film's villains, Bane.
Of course, Beck did not detail all the ways in which the film confirms a conservative worldview, out of concern that he might spoil the film for those who have yet to see it. However, his was by no means the only strong and politically charged response to the movie, and many other commentators have not been nearly so restrained in their reference to spoilers. As such, consider this a warning that before you read on, it would be wisest if you see the movie first, as this article and many of those quoted reference plot events that will give away the game. In case you need encouragement, we are enclosing an image of Bane that you will have to scroll past to read spoilers.
Now, assuming those who haven't seen the film have clicked out of the story, let us proceed with the analysis of the film itself that has been conducted by other sites. Firstly, it should be noted that this is not the first time a Christopher Nolan film about Batman has inspired political memes. Readers with a long memory will probably recall this poster that went up around the country at the same time the Tea Party protests began - a poster clearly inspired by Nolan's portrayal of the Joker:
Yet if this poster was the most high profile response to Nolan's second film, then the reaction this time has been unprecedented. Everyone from about every corner of the political spectrum has an opinion about this film's politics. And most of those responses are either deliberately encouraging or inadvertently so. Indeed, perhaps the most encouraging response to this film has come from Left wing blogger Andrew O'Hehir of Salon, who has leveled the ultimate unserious liberal charge at the film - namely, that its director is "evil" and "fascistic":
It’s no exaggeration to say that the “Dark Knight” universe is fascistic (and I’m not name-calling or claiming that Nolan has Nazi sympathies). It’s simply a fact. Nolan’s screenplay (co-written with his brother, Jonathan Nolan, and based on a story developed with David S. Goyer) simply pushes the Batman legend to its logical extreme, as a vision of human history understood as a struggle between superior individual wills, a tale of symbolic heroism and sacrifice set against the hopeless corruption of society. Maybe it’s an oversimplification to say that that’s the purest form of the ideology that was bequeathed from Richard Wagner to Nietzsche to Adolf Hitler, but not by much.
But if “The Dark Knight Rises” is a fascist film, it’s a great fascist film, and arguably the biggest, darkest, most thrilling and disturbing and utterly balls-out spectacle ever created for the screen. It’s an unfriendly masterpiece that shows you only a little circle of daylight, way up there at the top of our collective prison shaft — but a masterpiece nonetheless. Fighting against the tendency toward exhaustion in the final chapter of any entertainment franchise, Nolan, cinematographer Wally Pfister, editor Lee Smith, production designers Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh, and their enormous team have done grandiose and magnificent work, spinning this operatic saga of a great city brought to its knees and an idol smashed.[...]
But he leaves future Batman filmmakers in an impossible position. They’ll simply have to try something different, because for grandeur and pretension and evil genius and pure thrills — for delivering exactly what the multiplex audience wants, in tremendous style, and undercutting it at the same time — there’s no way to top “The Dark Knight Rises.”
With a charge that over-the-top, you half expect the Dark Knight to secretly be played by a computer generated facsimile of Ronald Reagan. And indeed, it is a silly argument, as the New York Times' Ross Douthat points out in his own positive review of the film's messages:
Without digging too deep into why O’Hehir’s characterization of fascism’s supposed “purest form” manages to distill away just about every defining aspect of fascism as it actually existed, let me just submit that a genuinely “fascistic” Batman movie would have concluded with the Caped Crusader using the chaos wreaked by terrorists and revolutionaries as a justification for setting aside Gotham’s existing political institutions and ruling the city by fiat, with Wayne Enterprises merged with City Hall, the bat signal emblazoned on every public building, and the collective will of the public channeled through the superior individual will of Il Batman (and his successor, Der Robin, presumably). And the fact that Batman does not seek such power — that he serves anonymously, vanishes in times of peace, and generally has more in common with a batsuited Cincinnatus than with a would-be Caesar — illustrates one of the crucial differences between a fascist understanding of a Great Man’s role in history and a more conservative understanding of the same.
However, some of the conservative reactions have, Douthat argues, been equally hyperbolic. For instance, Douthat points to Breitbart.com's John Nolte's giddy review of the film, which describes the film's villain, Bane, as "a hulk of a man burning with resentment against a society whose only provocation is being prosperous, generous, welcoming, and content -- instead of miserable like him," and describes Bane's militant followers as "insecure thumbsuckers raging with a sense of entitlement, desperate to justify their own laziness and failure and to flaunt a false sense of superiority through oppression, violence, terror, and ultimately, total and complete destruction."
As Douthat correctly points out, this oversimplifies the movie by a lot:
In “The Dark Knight Rises,” while the corruption and chaos have been reduced through the mass incarceration of gangland figures, the city’s basic inequities seem to have increased, and the movie gives every appearance of endorsing all of the nasty digs that Ann Hathaway’s Catwoman character takes at the Gotham elite. What’s more, the only time that we learn why a specific Gothamite has joined Bane’s underground army, the volunteer is a teenager who’s graduated out of an orphanage that lacks the resources to care for kids past the age of 16, and we’re specifically told that young men like him are going down into the sewers because there’s no work to be found up above — which suggests that something other than “laziness” is creating would-be revolutionaries. (Bane himself has been even more ill-used by the world, if not by Gotham itself.)
All of which is to say that Nolan isn’t trying to push a crude, Ayn Rand-esque parable about heroic Gotham capitalists threatened by resentful, parasitic looters. His model, as the movie’s literary references make clear, is “A Tale of Two Cities” rather than “Atlas Shrugged,” which means that he’s trying to simultaneously acknowledge the injustices of the existing regime while suggesting that both the revolutionary and anarchic alternatives would be much, much worse.
However, just because the film isn't Atlas Shrugged, that doesn't mean it's not deeply conservative. Indeed, it probably improves the movie, as John Podhoretz demonstrates in his review, which echoes Douthat's celebration of the film's complex sense of moral clarity:
The Dark Knight Rises finally finds an epic story that fits the super-hero’s simple moral code—good people do right and bad people do wrong and good people must stop bad people. Because Batman has no special powers, the character is far better suited to fit this code than the supernaturally charged Superman or the genetically mutated Fantastic Four or X-Men or Matter Eater Lad (an actual character name from a 1960s comic book).[...]
This Manichean worldview goes very well with what one might call the quiet Tory perspective of Christopher Nolan. The theme running through the three Batman movies (the first, Batman Begins, was not very good, although Nolan and his co-screenwriter, brother Jonathan, mine it effectively for plot points in the new one) is the battle between order and chaos, with Nolan standing unambiguously on the side of order.[...]
Nolan knows exactly what he’s doing when he puts the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the mouth of his villain. The Dark Knight Rises is a Classic Comics version of Edmund Burke.
However, perhaps the best summation of the film's many good points comes from Ben Shapiro, who has put forward a dazzling and spoiler-ridden outline of the film's many positive political messages (Shapiro even calls it the "most conservative film ever"). Shapiro's post is far too lengthy to do justice to with a block quote, so readers are encouraged to read it in full, but a few highlights follow:
[The Dark Knight Rises] explodes leftist meme after leftist meme.[...]
(1) Occupy Wall Street: The entire film is an ode to traditional capitalism. Bane leads an attack on the Gotham stock market – and a stock market executive explains to a cop, clearly unhappy about having to risk life and limb for the fat cats, how investment makes his savings more valuable. Selina Kyle – aka Catwoman – starts off as an anti-capitalism warrior, explaining to billionaire Bruce Wayne, “Do you think this is gonna last? 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." By the time Bane takes over the city with his communist-fascist regime, she’s looking on in horror at the anti-capitalist show trials (straight from the French Revolution, including summary sentencing) and destruction of private property. When she walks into an upscale house and sees how it’s been destroyed, she says that the house used to be beautiful. Her friend replies, “Now it’s everybody’s house.” In other words, communism destroys rather than building. The totalitarianism of equality is just that: totalitarianism.[...]
(5) Poverty: Poverty is seen as a sort of virtue by many people on the left. Not so in The Dark Knight Rises, where those who grow up poor are held to the same moral standard as those who grow up rich. Furthermore, while we learn that Bane spent time in poverty in a prison – and that it toughened him up – Bruce Wayne can get just as tough, though he grew up with tremendous wealth. Wayne is the most self-sacrificing character in the film, even though he’s also the richest. Wealth is not an automatic moral failing in TDKR. It’s a tool to be used for good or evil. And Batman uses it for good.
(6) Guns: One of Batman’s rules is that he will not use firearms, since his parents were killed by gunshot. At one point, Kyle has to save him by using guns – and she tells him that she disagrees with his rule. It’s hard for the audience to disagree, seeing as all the bad guys have guns – and in one scene in which thousands of cops charge the Occupy Army of Bane, the Occupy Army blows the underarmed cops away.[...]
(8) Green Energy: Bruce Wayne nearly goes bankrupt thanks to a green energy project he funds. And he also recognizes the dangers of green energy projects that are not fully ready – if the world isn’t ready for them, he says, they can’t be used. Solyndra, anyone?
Again, Shapiro's post includes many more deliciously comprehensive nuggets and readers are invited to read it in full.
However, despite the generally positive (or amusingly negative) reaction to the film, there remain a few key points that have been ignored by the reviews we've seen, and which should be pointed out for the sake of bringing the fully conservative message of the film full circle. If you've read this far, you almost certainly know the plot of the film, so no more needs to be said about avoiding spoilers.
One should note that even in the reviews that agree with the film's message (minus Beck's, which avoided spoilers this big altogether), there is a curious tendency to ignore the film's real villain - not Bane, who is simply a convenient and charismatic figurehead (and who does that sound like), but instead the Soros-esque Wayne Enterprises Board Member Miranda Tate, later revealed to be Talia al'Ghul, the imprisoned daughter of sometime Batman villain Ras al'Ghul. Like Soros, Talia's childhood has severe notes of trauma, including being raised in deeply ugly circumstances.
Moreover, like Soros, Talia al'Ghul masks her destructive desires behind a seemingly "socially just" cause - namely, clean energy. It is this supposedly noble desire that she uses to seduce Bruce Wayne into giving her control of Wayne Enterprises, and by extension, the nuclear reactor that becomes the bomb at the center of the film's plot. In short, Talia's takeover of Wayne Enterprises transforms the company into a weaponized version of Solyndra.
Also like Soros, Talia uses her figurehead, Bane, to wipe out corrupt infrastructure baron John Daggett while still convincing Daggett that Bane is actually working for him. One wonders if Bane flattered Daggett that Bruce Wayne didn't build Wayne Enterprises at all - that actually, Daggett did that by maintaining Gotham's roads. And speaking of maintaining Gotham, that brings up the matter of Talia and Bane's motivation.
Contrary to what some reviewers have suggested, neither Talia nor Bane have any interest in creating a more equal society or bringing about genuine social justice. In fact, Bane even gloats that they will use those ideas explicitly to "torture" Gotham. Rather, the goal of Bane and Talia is raw destruction of the city via nuclear bomb, with death becoming the ultimate form of equality for its citizens, and with that destruction becoming a symbol to the world of how greatness breeds decadence.
Not only is this eerily similar to Soros' investment strategy of deliberately investing so as to destroy countries' currencies, while claiming to believe in social justice, but it also renders an old quip by the economist John Maynard Keynes deeply disturbing. "In the long run, we are all dead," Keynes is supposed to have said when asked about long term effects of his spending happy policies. In the case of this film, that prediction is distressingly literal.
And, of course, rather like Keynes, this strategy ends up proven wrong. Only instead of being proven wrong by decades of fiscal failures, in this case, it only takes one courageous and wealthy man with extensive martial arts training to do it. Perhaps the campaign finance puritans will want to investigate Christopher Nolan for making this film - there may be a case to be made that it provides the best case for Mitt Romney's election yet made.