July 26, 2012

Tyranny of the masses

This is Hube's Dark Knight Rises review (because, as usual, no one demanded it). Let's just say this quickly and up front: If you're a so-called "progressive," you ain't gonna like this movie.

Wait a second -- if you're a radical "progressive," you might like this movie. You probably won't dig the ending, however.


First of all, this is one damn good flick. Chris Nolan tops even The Dark Knight, the second installment of his trilogy, with this almost three hour-long epic finale. The pace is quick enough that the "slow" spots in no way bog down the story. The villain, Bane, is an "excommunicated" member of Ra's al-Ghul's (Liam Neeson in Batman Begins) League of Shadows who seeks to finish Ra's' work in "cleansing" Gotham City. Ironically, Gotham has had numerous years of peace since the ending ofThe Dark Knight, the middle installment of the trilogy. Batman is believed to be a murderer, and Harvey Dent is made into a hero. Bruce Wayne is a self-imposed recluse in his mansion, never venturing outside.

The "trigger" for Wayne ending his exile is the appearance of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) in his mansion during a party. Wayne recognizes the pearls she's wearing as his mother's. Turns out Kyle is a "cat" burgler, or, if you prefer, the Catwoman. It also turns out that Kyle had snatched Wayne's fingerprints from his own safe for devious use later in the film.

Eventually Bane and his loyal League of Shadows followers infiltrate Gotham and begin to execute their plan of isolating the city for eventual destruction. Massive explosives are planted throughout the city, and Bane manages to snatch Wayne Industries' [secret] fusion reactor core. Bruce pulls his Batman uniform out of mothballs and goes after Bane -- but this first encounter goes horribly wrong. In a clear homage to the classic comic confrontation, Bane slams Batman's back over his knee, incapacitating him.

Bane uses the fingerprints stolen from Catwoman to deplete Wayne's vast fortune, and while Bruce languishes in Bane's old prison with a broken back, Bane and the League consolidate their hold over Gotham. The fusion core stolen by Bane will decay in five months, thus, of course, (conveniently) granting Wayne time to recover in prison to come back and save the day. In what (again) is a three-hour flick (which, though, doesn't seem that long at all), this is the most rushed portion of the story. Wayne's recovery and time in prison should have logically taken more of the film's content. Nevertheless, with the assistance of several other prisoners, Bruce's back gets fixed, and he escapes back to Gotham.

Once back in the city, Batman now teams up with [now-rationally thinking] Catwoman and the now-freed police force to wage war against Bane and the League. The main goal is to find the fusion reactor core, which Bane has hidden in a lead-lined truck which is continuously driving through the city's streets (along with numerous decoys). As Bats pummels Bane and is about to emerge victorious, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) suddenly thrusts a knife into the Dark Knight's side! She reveals she is Ra's Al Ghul's daughter, Talia. (In the comics, Batman and Talia were once lovers and had a son, but no such connection is mentioned nor implied in the film.) As Bane recovers and is about to off Batman, Catwoman shows up and blasts the villain to Kingdom Come. But Talia has escaped and plans to set off the fusion core ASAP!

Needless to say, Batman saves the day and you should probably guess how if you have been paying attention to the film. And Nolan definitely leaves the trilogy wide open for a sequel (even though he has said he won't be the one doing it/them). I won't spoil these last five minutes or so of the movie ... because they're so damn awesome.

Now, the politics:

As I noted above the fold, if you're a "progressive," you won't like DKR. And if you do, you're a far-left radical "progressive." If anything should give away that villain Bane is no Occupy Wall Street-style hero, it's the brief early mention that he sold his [terrorist] services to a rich corporate type to assist in the overthrow of a small African nation ... to secure mining rights for the corporate type's company.

In essence, Bane's whole "revolution" can remind one of the French Revolution. What seems to have noble goals and purpose quickly degenerates into mass chaos -- or, the tyranny of the masses, if you will. Bane's "revolution" actually never has any noble goals like France's, although it certainly does appeal to many in the Gotham underclass as they ransack the "wealthy's" homes and businesses for their own, ironically, personal avarice. In France it was called the Reign of Terror which lasted for about one year. In Gotham, it persists for five months; as noted above, this is the duration in which Wayne Industries' fusion reactor core, captured by Bane and co., will decay and then explode, decimating the city. France's Revolutionary Tribunals meted out immediate and swift "justice" via the guillotine; Bane and the League of Shadows set up similar kangaroo courts (featuring head judge Jonathan Crane -- Scarecrow from Batman Begins), and their "guillotine" is "exile" -- walking across the frozen river surrounding Gotham which no one survives. Everyone eventually falls through the ice and drowns.

And Bane -- is Bane a Maximilien Robespierre analogue? Once Max was elected to France's Committee of General Security during the Reign of Terror, terror became its formal policy (my emphasis):

"It is time that equality bore its scythe above all heads. It is time to horrify all the conspirators. So legislators, place Terror on the order of the day! Let us be in revolution, because everywhere counter-revolution is being woven by our enemies. The blade of the law should hover over all the guilty."

Robespierre himself stated,

If virtue be the spring of a popular government in times of peace, the spring of that government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror: virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country ... The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny.

Bane and the League of Shadows believed that what they were doing to Gotham was "virtuous" (just re-examine Ra's Al Ghul's speeches to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins), and hence their terror was "an emanation of that virtue." Just listen to Bane's speeches to Gotham's populace at various locales, especially the football stadium -- where he also promptly breaks the neck of a scientist in the name of his "virtue." (Gotham's football team, by the way, was comprised of the roster of the Pittsburgh Steelers.) Bane was merciless -- just like Robespierre, who "saw no room for mercy in his Terror, stating that 'slowness of judgments is equal to impunity" and "uncertainty of punishment encourages all the guilty'." Backtrack to the "courts" headed by Scarecrow.

Catwoman, again played by (the amazingly built) Anne Hathaway, personifies the "second thoughts" about the "revolution." Never clearly having taken a side in the whole ordeal, Cat essentially rolls her eyes at her friend's exclamation that the contents of a ransacked (supposedly upper-class) home were "the people's" now. Despite her past self-absorption (and statement to Bruce Wayne that we've all seen in the movie's trailer about a coming class war), Cat realizes that she has to do something -- alongside Batman -- to thwart Bane and the League's plans for Gotham, for they've clearly gone way off the deep end.

And need I mention that the eventual authoritarian dictatorship that inevitably arises from such a "revolution" leads to what we've seen time and time and time again in the communist/socialist "paradises" from history? After Bane and the League take over, the residents of Gotham are routinely stopped by League members (secret police) asking what they're doing, and some are snatched up to face the Scarecrow kangaroo court. And perhaps most significantly, we see long lines in the streets waiting for basic necessities like food, clothing and fuel (ahem, like the old USSR, East bloc countries, Cuba, North Korea, etc.).

An aside here: Keep in mind that the American Founding Fathers abhorred direct democracy, which they rightly believed would lead to "tyranny of the majority" -- or masses, if you will -- a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic Democracy in America. Aristotle said that "democracy [is] a perversion of constitutional government in the interest of the needy." Alexander Hamilton said, “We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy.” The Founders codified republican measures in the Constitution, not democratic ones. Things like checks and balances. The Electoral College.

While it's obvious that director Nolan is no fan of the Occupy movement, especially its more radical strains, keep in mind this doesn't mean he lets corporations and their bigwigs off the hook. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, one of Wayne's business rivals had made use of Bane in securing mining rights in an African nation, and there's the undercurrent commentary that truly virtuous corporate types like Bruce Wayne can never -- or almost never -- really help out the community or world at large because their less virtuous rivals will always seek to stop them. Wayne's fusion reactor is the personification of this. Bruce never sought to activate the reactor -- which generates incredibly plentiful, and cheap, power -- in part because of just what Bane and co. did -- turn it into a weapon.

UPDATE: Check out Carl's review and Douglas' review as well!

Posted by Hube at July 26, 2012 12:50 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

I'll have my review up tonight. I've been busy this week so I haven't much time to blog.

Posted by: Carl at July 26, 2012 02:14 PM

Look forward to it, Carl!

Posted by: Hube at July 26, 2012 02:34 PM

Just posted it about two hours ago.

Posted by: Carl at July 27, 2012 03:20 AM

Thanks for the link.

Great review. As I scanned it over before giving a closer read I saw de Tocqueville and knew it was going to be good!

Posted by: Douglas Ernst at July 27, 2012 05:15 PM