Most of us associate Hollywood and hollywood movies as liberal things. But that’s really not true at all. In fact, it seems that more and more, the movie industry is increasingly conservative. Even if the individuals who act or direct or write or make the props are themselves liberal, the industry itself is increasingly conservative.
The Dark Knight Rises is probably the most telling case in point. Now, there are a few qualifications I feel I have to make before I continue. First of all, Batman is my favourite superhero. He is unquestionably the most interesting. Superman? Yawn. Second, the Christopher Nolan reboots are great batman movies, especially the one with the Joker. I think Nolan is one of the few directors around today that matter.
Batman was always a conservative superhero (unlike the Fantastic Four for example, a band of freaks and loners who team together (is this an organic socialism?) against a fearful and reactionary society). The very idea of Batman/Bruce Wayne (a philanthropic billionaire who saves hard working members of society from petty crime somehow not generated ultimately by the very economic system that makes Bruce Wayne possible) is profoundly conservative. But in The Dark Knight Rises Christopher Nolan has created the conservative propaganda movie par excellence. Really, it is up there with Triumph of the Will (the most perfect textbook propaganda film ever made), The Green Berets (one reviewer described this movie as “…Vile and Insane. On top of that, it is dull”. It’s a cowboys-and-indians narrative), and Reefer Madness (nothing needs to be said here) as some of the most iconic pieces of conservative filmmaking of all time. Also: the Death Wish movies, an indulgence of your deepest vigilante fantasy of violence…
Put aside Batman and put aside how much you like the Christopher Nolan Reboots, and think critically here, because Nolan wanted to make a propagandistic point with this film; it’s much more than “another Batman movie”, this is a real piece of political theatre.
And in doing so, Nolan has created the most perfect film of the conservative world view; it really just depicts the inner workings of the conservative mind, its fantasies, neurosis, and its hallmark lack-of-cognitive-dissonance. Many thinkers have already tackled The Dark Knight Rises as a conservative piece, most notably David Graeber in The Utopia of Rules and Slavoj Zizek in The Politics of Batman (http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/culture/2012/08/slavoj-žižek-politics-batman). I just wanted to give it my own shot; dwelling less on what the movies shows, and more on the movie itself as conservative propaganda, i.e., what it can tell us about the conservative mind. Both Graeber and Zizek dwell on the ideology of the film; Bane as a Robespierre, the cynical idea of liberal emancipatory politics as leading inexorably toward a totalitarian society.
I want to show how the movie reveals an ideological laundry list. I want to talk about the surreal inconsistencies and logical impossibilities that reveal this movie as a conservative propaganda piece.
Really, The Dark Knight Rises is about the Occupy Wall Street Movement. And boy, did Nolan have to twist this movie into knots to get his message across. Nothing in this movie makes any sense; at every turn Batman is right (even when he seems wrong or misguided or just plain stupid upon reflection). Take the Fusion Reactor subplot; at what point does it make even a little bit of sense? At every turn, Batman’s world view is confirmed…but the movie has to twist itself in knots to make that happen. And this is what I want to focus on.
Here’s the meta-synopsis: Batman is hiding out because he’s chosen to be a scapegoat. The League of Shadows, in the form of Bane and Miranda Tate/Ras’al Gul’s daughter, is bent on destroying Gotham, but not before creating a People’s Gotham City/Escape From New York situation before destroying it with Wayne Industry’s fusion reactor.
The League of Shadows (an organisation bent on “restoring balance” to the world notable for ending the great decadent civilisations of the past like Rome somehow) is inexplicably bent on destroying New York, err hem Gotham City. Note how “The League of Shadows” is the perfect conservative boogeyman; they are everything and nothing. There is no obvious motivation…but they are fiendishly dedicated to overthrowing what ever it is they are bent on overthrowing. They fit the conservative mind’s fear and it’s inability to understand the reasoning or motivations of others. Anything that is different from me and what I believe, the conservative thinks, must be wrong and must be stopped by violence (because that is what they understand). The League of Shadows in The Dark Knight Rises mixes a sort of eco-terrorism ethos with classic Marxist/communist motifs, as well as a Palestinian/terrorist/immigrant imagery. In other words, it makes no sense at all. Every conservative bugbear has been impossibly lumped together.
One of the weirdest bits is that Bruce Wayne has lost all of Wayne Industry’s money trying to build a cold fusion reactor (see billionaires do make the world a better place; the government couldn’t do that). Yet he doesn’t activate it because…it could be weaponised. The fact that it can be weaponised regardless does not seem to have occurred to any of the filmmakers. Miranda Tate/Ras al Gul poses as a sort of Green, liberal business savvy (an unobjectionable liberal figure in the green-tea-yoga mould simply to get her hands on the fusion core. Meanwhile, Bane a “high-tech Robespierre on steroids, a melded triad of Lenin, bin Laden and Steve Austin set on fomenting “proletarian retribution” takes over Gotham. Simply to do what exactly? Wait for the bomb to explode? Nolan sets out to show us the dangers of supporting Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Aside from the ridiculousness of the motivations and deception of the League of Shadows, it is Bruce Wayne’s entire world that is even more puzzling upon reflection. He’s a vigilante who, especially in this movie, has to fight other vigilantes (of a kind). Even though Bruce Wayne is mired in violence and Gotham seems in constant peril of succumbing to crime, poverty and the rest of it…somehow Nolan makes sure that everyone leaves the theatre thinking that “this is the best possible world.”
My favourite bit is when the police charge Bane and his revolutionaries – the whole thing dissolves in a brawl – and again, it makes no sense. First of all…it clearly wouldn’t work. Anyone who knows anything about WWI would be able to tell you why. I know why it’s in the movie: tear-jerking. But the very fact that Nolan put this in the movie tells us more about him then about us.
Several different characters represent change of some kind. And each is carefully shown to be wrong or misguided. Only Batman’s vigilante violence seems to be pure and this is what I find to be the most ridiculous. Because this cannot be justified by claims of dramatic cinema. It’s just pure propaganda. The fact that environmentalists are portrayed as terrorists is the most egregious error here. It’s ridiculous.
Ironically, the fact that his movie of fantasy cannot imagine an alternative to Batman; the fact that no characters emerge with a solution or an answer or a way forward is, I think, this movie’s most damming criticism.