John Reimann’s article “Hollywood’s War on American Youth” is an error-ridden piece that people should seriously question before accepting its main thesis. While not an overtly revolutionary film, “The Dark Knight Rises” can also be seen as a criticism of rapacious and predatory vulture capitalism as well as an endorsement of people putting aside their self-interest to work together in accomplishing a laudable goal. Of course, this is a profoundly different analysis than the one put forward by Mr. Reimann.
Let’s begin with just a few factual errors from Mr. Reimann’s piece. Reimann attributes the following quote to Bane – the villain in the film – “You think this can last. There is a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You’re going to wonder how you and your friends can live life so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” However, it was not a hulking bald behemoth with a face mask who uttered that line but Selina Kyle, a poor woman who resorts to burglary to survive. Yet for all her animus toward the 1%, she ultimately chooses to help Batman and the others save Gotham City from Bane’s evil plot.
Reimann also calls Bruce Wayne/Batman a multi-billionaire that is saving the day. However, we find out at the very start of the movie that Bruce Wayne is near bankruptcy and he also loses his spot on the board of Wayne Enterprises.
The author’s piece calls the plot of “The Dark Knight Rises” a disjointed series of violent events. However, the film does indeed have a plot. The only problem is that much of the plot does not fit the idea that Reimann is peddling and so it is attacked with baseless ad hominem attacks.
The first half of the film is an overt criticism of vulture capitalism and private security forces that operate in a quasi-legal gray area of international law. The viewer is made to feel disgusted at John Daggett, the powerful businessman who has a history of hostile takeovers to enrich himself and using Bane’s forces, a private military, to aid him in his quest for wealth. It is nearly impossible to not feel the revulsion toward the corrupted tactics of the free-market capitalist profit-mongers. The film prompts the viewer to ask some serious questions about the levels of income inequality and the fairness of what we can see, especially through Daggett’s example, is an increasingly rigged system.
Ultimately, Bane’s forces turn on Daggett and implement their own plan that they had been preparing – the ultimate and purposeful destruction of Gotham. Instead of being some act of overt fomenting of revolution, Bane’s goal was entirely focused on revenge. Bane was not a part of a “bloody mob” as Reimann describes them, but rather a trained group of assassins and ninjas called the League of Shadows. The League of Shadows was in the first film (“Batman Begins,” 2005) and had a plan to destroy Gotham because they believed the city was far too corrupted to be saved. Batman disagrees with the the League, including his trainer R’as al Ghul, and stops them – ultimately leading to al Ghul’s death. So, Bane and the League’s plan is not to foment a 99% style uprising of revolution. It is solely about completing al Ghul’s original missing as well as getting revenge against Batman for thwarting their original plan and for killing R’as al Ghul.
It is an oversimplification to say that this plot is a criticism of any kind of resistance to social inequality. It is a criticism of centralized seizures of power, of vanguardism, that metastasized into systemic problems like we’ve seen in Robespierre’s Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, the violent attacks against the Kronstadt mutineers, Stalinism and more. In fact, this perspective is strengthened by Commissioner Gordon reading from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities at Bruce Wayne’s funeral, since the Dickens book was about the objectionable acts that took place during the Reign of Terror.
While Reimann believes that the film attempts to push an agenda of individualism and demanding that people solve problems by themselves, the realities of the film undermine this point. In fact, it takes multiple people working together to overcome Bane and the League. There was the motivational work of the fellow prisoners that aid Bruce in being able to overcome his body trauma and escape the prison. Detective Blake, a character who was a poor child that grew up in an orphanage, is integral to helping Batman and keeping up the morale of the imprisoned police forces. Selina Kyle, the impoverished cat burglar, ultimately overcomes her selfish impulses to help Batman and save innocent people in Gotham. There are also the efforts of a working class police commissioner and the working class people in the Gotham PD. All of these people – the vast majority of which are poor and working class folks – help contribute to squelching Bane and the League of Shadows’ plan.
Despite these aspects of the plot, Reimann’s article attempts to use science to further justify his point that this film is part of a wider propaganda campaign to normalize violence and that this propaganda has negative implications for the people who view it. Unfortunately, the research on the effects of media on violent acts perpetrated by the viewers is, at best, inconclusive. The University of Gothenburg shows that video games increase collaborative activities and skills. Professor Christopher Ferguson of Texas A&M International University has been publishing research attacking the idea that violent video games negatively impact the player’s behavior. Reimann cites some of the work opposing his central thesis but instead of looking at the very real nuances of the psychological research, he chooses to use disrespectful attacks against dissident researchers and reviewers. This undermines the central case he is attempting to make.
Ultimately, Batman and “The Dark Knight Rises” does actively promote an agenda of another world being possible if people work together and confront the inequality and corruption of society. Batman/Bruce Wayne believed another world was possible when he began as Batman in “Batman Begins” yet everybody else saw a city that was under the thumb of corrupted criminal influence. By the third film, Gotham has changed significantly. While there are still social problems that needed to be addressed and Batman is far from an overt social revolutionary, the world of Gotham City has changed dramatically. As Batman states in “The Dark Knight Rises,” he wears the mask so anybody can believe themselves to be the change they’d like to see and that they can make the change they want to see. I can’t think of a much more empowering statement for people than to believe that they can be active agents of change by working together and the importance of community collaboration.