German philosopher Immanuel Kant claimed that the pursuit of morality would inevitably lead to the pursuit of religion, as the latter is necessary to realise our commitment to the former. The Dark Knight Rises is the ultimate spiritual ecstasy that transforms both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight into two unshakable stepping stones of our religious adventure. Compared to the carefully constructed plots before, Rises leaves many puzzles unexplained. Known for his intellectualism and realism, Nolan’s conclusion seems to be a disappointment. Where is the prison in which Bane used to be kept? Who are all those prisoners? Who is keeping them alive? The sudden transition from extreme realism to theological symbolism has left many baffled. Without warning, we are cast into Exodus with the Caped Crusader and find that what awaits him would annihilate our conception of Batman forever.
At the beginning of the film, we are immediately brought back to the restored Gotham eight years after the reign of Joker. Batman has completed his mission by taking the fall for Dent, and the Dent Act, a law that targets organised crime, is enforced to ensure Gotham’s safety. Gotham needed a hero: a hero that represented justice, order and the belief in goodness, enabling the city to bury its evil. Despite this legacy being built on a lie, Gotham thrives on a falsity. In contrast, through the same falsity, Bruce Wayne retreats to his unlit dark room, curls up and waits for a legitimate reason to hide in his bat suit again. His unilateral belief that Rachel has chosen him over Harvey Dent provides unlimited grief for him to dwell on, and when peace, engendered by the hatred of Batman, is threatened by Bane, a legitimate reason has at last arrived for Bruce to be Batman again.
Ultimately, the war of morality is to gain the truth that impairs humanity, piercing through our flesh and bone like a serrated sword
But the days of Batman fighting crime are long gone. Bruce thinks he can simply strap up his leg and put his mask back on, but Alfred sees the truth: it doesn’t make him Batman again. Bruce needs to move on from his past, yet no matter how much Alfred tries to shed the light on the truth, he fails to see it. “Sometimes the truth is not good enough; sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” Yet ultimately, the war of morality is to gain the truth that impairs humanity, piercing through our flesh and bone like a serrated sword. The pain on finding that Rachel has chosen Harvey Dent over him – and the denial implied – is no less vivid than the agony created when Gotham chooses evil over goodness. Sitting in the café near River Arno in Florence, it was what Alfred wanted for Bruce during those years when Bruce was in his exile – to transcend this human affliction, and to know that he is happy with the truth. The dual identity Bruce has created for himself is now beyond his reach, and he must comes to reconcile his search of justice with his traumatic past if he is to defeat evil and save his city.
The evil comes from the masked Bane, a mysterious figure rumoured to be a pupil of Ra’s al Ghul (Arabic: The Head of the Demons). Standing alongside the masterful Joker, Bane in comparison is a villain that almost has no soul, a mere “necessary evil,” as he speaks for himself. He is merely a messenger that aims to accomplish the unfinished business of his former mentor. “There are many forms of immortality,” warned the Head of the Demons, and Bane is the proof. Confronting the masked man with his own mask, it no longer protects him as it cracks open in the face of the immortality of evil. There is “only one end to your journey,” pleads Alfred – but how could Bruce win the war between good and evil without accepting the truth that matters to him the most?
Broken and trapped in Bane’s prison, again and again Bruce fails to make the jump; no matter how hard he trains himself physically, he remains a prisoner. He believes his disconnection with humanity and his fearlessness of death are his weapons, but they are ropes that prevent him from understanding Batman from the angle of Gotham, a city which he has sworn to serve. This path has led Bruce astray; the leap he should make is not the leap of freedom, but the leap of faith. Batman has become a burden weighing heavily on his shoulder, and to make the leap of faith, he has to embrace Bruce Wayne and reconnect with humanity once more. In jumping without the rope, he finds himself again. He is vulnerable, made of flesh and blood. His life in that awful cave is long gone. The day has come that Bruce no longer needs Batman, a day that Rachel and he have waited for all along.
Death is the one and only option for Batman, as by dying Batman becomes an idea and symbol which no one can ever take away
For the first time in the trilogy, Batman appears in broad daylight, leading Gotham to battle Bane in his last stand. It is time for Gotham and Bruce to learn the truth, and finally let truth to have its stay. It was the crime that created this symbol, and it was when the citizens were threatened with poison that they needed Batman to rescue them; it was when the evil of the city prevailed that it needed Batman to become evil itself; it was the hatred of Batman that enabled Gotham to enjoy its glories and peace for eight long years; and at last, Batman is set to fulfil his meaning for Gotham. In giving his life, the physical necessity of Batman has ended and the need of his symbol has become spiritual. Death is the one and only option for Batman, as by dying Batman becomes an idea and symbol which no one can ever take away.
Gotham creates statues of him and worships him. Lost in this lawless and unethical world, this symbol is born and guides us through darkness. When we are conquered by our own evil, he saves us from the fire, conceding the evil from our eyes, plunging his hands into the filth so we can keep ours clean. Gotham is humanity, and we are its citizens.
Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman, is the Vitruvian Man; a microcosm of humanity; a representation of good and evil, just and unjust. She is trustworthy and unreliable, full of love and hate. She demonstrates the unique potential of human, that we are capable of such malicious and honourable deeds. Batman sees in Selina more than she sees in herself, seeing what she is capable of and that there is more she cares about beyond herself. She looks for the ‘Clean Slate’ that would rewrite her history, start her life afresh and wash away her sins; she pleads Batman to leave with her and abandon humanity, believing he has given Gotham everything, but not everything, not yet.
Jim Gordon is the ultimate apostle as he neither questions nor cares about the identity of Batman. For those who lack understanding and tirelessly seek his identity, Gordon knows the higher truth could only be obtained through faith. Gordon is always a necessary bridge between us which, because of its existence, means humanity is protected from the truth that wounds us like a knife. Gordon experiences an unparalleled delight when he spots the repaired Bat-Signal on the top of the Major Crimes Unit (MCU) building, symbolising that Gotham and Batman are mended.
“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Through the crucifixion of Batman, Bruce finds his own salvation, decades after the murder of his parents. The immutable war between humanity and God, thus, comes to its only possible end. He is always looking for someone to take up his mentor, someone who can comprehend him and his legacy. From the darkness, the fire rises, lighting up the path for those who are following his idea, like Detective John Blake – also known as Robin. He has to quit the force because he cannot stand the injustice, that no one is ever going to know who saved the entire city. But he is wrong; everyone knows who saved the city.
It was the Batman.