Batman in Nolan’s Trilogy: hero or villain? | Part 3: The Dark Truth rises

Aggiornamento: 4 mar 2020

by Pietro Somaini

Part 1: Escalation begins

Part 2: The Dark Truth

«I believed in Harvey Dent»

In Gotham there is peace now. This peace is preserved by a myth, a ritual and a law, like in ancient societies. The myth is the story of the White Knight’s dead; the ritual is Harvey Dent Day, in which every year the myth is remembered; the law is the Dent Act, which has been realized thanks to the myth and has leaded to the total defeat of organized crime. When Batman becomes villain and disappears, the crime disappears with him.

The problem is simple: all of this is based on a lie and the dark truth can’t be hidden forever. The truth has been buried in the Underground and the mimetic response of the Underground won’t be late. One can rest assured that it will be twice as terrible, as always.

«There’s a storm coming» says Selina to Bruce, the same sentence that Batman said to Gordon in the first film, meaning that a violent reaction is hanging on their heads. In fact we watch the last Dostoyevskian enemy, another character grown in the Underground (clearly represented by well-prison and by sewers) and ready to rise: Bane. As he says:

«You [Batman] merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man»

The point is that we need to know the origin of these characters (see the comment about the Joker’s speech and the reason why Bruce becomes Batman) in order to really understand them. According to Romantic and super-human ideology – with their manachaean view – the origin is irrelevant: they are all the same. Dostoyevsky, however, changed things – “forever” would say the Joker – and Nolan with him.

Nobody in Gotham sees the clues that envisage the mimetic response of the Underground, only Gordon has a hunch, because he knows the truth along with a policeman, John Black, who understands that something is off. But no one see the full picture: the apparent death of dr. Pavel, dead people emerge out of sewer, Wayne Enterprise makes a loss… The lie begins to show its adverse effect. The police allow Bane to escape, as they direct all their energies on catching the Dark Knight, the fiend that murdered Harvey.

Soon the crisis gets out of control and no one is prepared: the attacks on the Stock Exchange and on the Football Stadium after The Star-Spangled Banner (all symbols of America), the thread of nuclear weapon. If before the lie preserved the peace, when the dark truth rises out of Underground with Bane, it causes the worst escalation.

It is not empty rhetoric from Nolan: Bane prepares Gotham to be the sacrificial victim, in order to rid America (and the world) of evil. He does not expose the truth about Harvey’s death to restore the reputation of Batman, but he does it to make of Gordon another scapegoat and destroy everything he represents. As first consequence, all criminals in Blackgate Prison, who were denied parole thanks to the Dent Act, are released. This is the mimetic response to oppressive laws. The illusion of social revolution masks the end of all differences – in particular, again, between justice and crime, as well shown by dr. Crane acting as judge – that prepares for the final destruction of the city.

The contrast is stark: right when it really seemed that Gotham’s police had won, they end up imprisoned in the sewers, that now more than ever appear as the visual and symbolic embodiment of the Underground. «Victory has defeated you» says Bane to Batman and he is right: the mimetic nature of the rivalry explains it. In fact also Bane’s victory will defeat him.

Bruce does not lose hope and is eventually able to rise out of Bane’s wall-prison, when he accepts the fear of death. As well shown in the first chapter, Bruce was never really able to defeat his fear. In the depth of Bane’s prison, he learns that the fear is not to be won nonetheless: fear can only be accepted. He is finally ready to save Gotham.

The final battle between the police and the criminals cannot redeem the city, however, as that is just another mimetic reaction, as well as Batman’s temporary victory against Bane: Bruce eventually falls again at the hand of Talia al Gul. Nolan sees the point very well: the impossibility to stop escalation by violence is represented by nuclear weapon. If preventing the bomb from detonating had been enough, the fate of the city would have been in the hands of the strongest. But the conviction that the strongest decides Gotham’s fate has exactly been the cause of infinite oscillation throughout all three of films. Instead the bomb goes off anyway: no display of strength can save Gotham.

The city is ultimately saved by two choices of Batman. The first one is Bruce’s decision to let Catwoman go away, unconditional, without asking anything in return. This choice changes her and sets her to come back just in time to save him from Bane. The second one instead saves Gotham from the bomb: Batman takes it away with him by his Bat.

The movie is drawing to an end and for the second time the Batman disappears, but this departure has a different meaning: he does not go as a fake villain and his apparent death is not a deception. Bruce leaves Gotham because he finally has faith in its citizens, in ordinary people without super-strength, and in those who was criminal (like Selina). And Gotham does not need Batman anymore. He can remain in their memory as a symbol (and not as an idol like Dent) and this is sufficient. The escalation has come to an end.

The question must be answered now: is Batman a hero? If his display of strength causes the escalation, then he tries to reverse it by assuming the role of scapegoat. As shown, hero and scapegoat are similar, but eventually the Dark Knight fails again.

So is he a villain? One might assume so, but his failures are not in vain.

«Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up»

His father was right. He learns from his mistakes and the citizens of Gotham learn from theirs through his example.

The Dark Knight Trilogy plays out the failure of the super-human ideology without proposing the nihilism as an alternative, hence opening a new way. The lesson ultimately is that the need of a hero is created by the fear of mistakes, the “hard truth” we mentioned, but everyone can redeem themselves by having faith in one another. Before Selina, how did little Bruce manage to pick himself up? Through the helping hand reached out by his father.

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