The third film in the Batman series is a direct polemical assault on the French Revolution and its political heirs, which includes Occupy Wall Street and perhaps Barack Obama. I would say that it is the exact opposite of so many revolutionary-wannabe films from Fight Club to V for Vendetta (which has provided the tell-tale Guy Fawkes masks to the Occupy movement), except that in order to be opposite, they must in some sense be comparable and DKR is far superior to the others artistically, commercially and philosophically. The crazed theater shooter, if he turns out to be as much of an attempted revolutionary hero of the poor, the depressed, and the downtrodden as his predecessor at Virginia Tech, will prove to be a better match for the villain in the third film than for the one in the second film.
While superficial analysis has tried to make hay out of the name of the villain, Bane, which is a homonym for Bain, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney, the truth is that Bane the villain is philosophically much closer to Bam the President than to Bain the firm. Spoilers from here on…Bane is a man who speaks for the ‘oppressed’ (his word) masses against the upper classes. He is Gotham’s revolutionary ‘reckoning’ who urges the people to ‘storm’ (again his words) Blackgate prison and release the prisoners within. That’s the moment in the film at which I became sure that the French Revolution theme was intentional. Bane, like Robespierre, the real life villain of the French Revolution, uses the freed prisoners as the vanguard of the revolution and as citizen brigades to roust the affluent from their homes and expropriate their property, dragging them before citizen tribunals before which their guilt is already determined based on their class. They are then executed, judged by the lawless element of the city which had until the revolution been festering on the edge of society.
This film shows no ideological sympathy for the Occupy Movement. Bane, the terrible villain of the film, literally occupies Wall Street, taking control of the trading floor of the stock exchange. Police are hesitant to deal with the problem partly based on class warfare complaints that it’s not their money at risk, but the money of the wealthy Wall Street guys. But a trader explains that it is indeed the cops’ money too: that it’s everybody’s money that is part of the financial system, including cops’ pensions.
Bane was created by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nowlan, two “life long conservatives”, which is pretty unusual in the world of comic book creatives. He is, as his name implies, a curse, in this case the curse of class warfare. Interestingly, Dixon complained aboutRush Limbaugh’s misfire in trying to link the villain with Bain capital as part of some liberal media conspiracy.
How did things get so bad for Gotham? Partly it was a lack of profit. Bruce Wayne had become a recluse in his mansion, shrugging off the responsibility of running his company, and as his inner circle points out, where there are no profits there is no philanthropy. The Wayne Foundation ceased supporting the private religious program for at-risk motherless and fatherless youth who had aged out of the traditional government foster care system. The at-risk children became risky adults and became a feeder system for the army which Bane was gathering in the sewers beneath the city, literally chipping away at the foundations of the old order.
But it was not just a shortage of financial capital that ruined Gotham: moral capital was deficient too. Gotham’s social order was based on a lie: that Batman was evil and that the crusading District Attorney Harvey Dent died as a righteous martyr. As I pointed out in my review of the other two films in the series, the Platonic (and Machiavellian) useful lie is a major theme of the trilogy, and as I expected the lie would be found to be an inadequate foundation for long-term civil order. Alfred Pennyweather, the moral voice of the story, argues that it’s time to stop suppressing the truth, that truth must in the end have its day and be allowed to speak, whatever the consequences. Commissioner Gordon, the promulgator of the lie, is wracked with guilt and indecision about the lie and longs to correct it. Eventually, Bane uses the lie against the city, depriving it of legitimacy.
The film is not without some emotional, if not moral, sympathy for the foolish young idealists of OWS. Selina Kyle, AKA Catwoman, is a morally confused young woman who wages class warfare through jewel thievery. She takes from those who, in her estimation, have too much. She delights in the fact that “There’s a storm coming,” and that Gotham’s rich are living too well, and on borrowed time. But when the storm comes, she sees the evil of it. A young protégé reminds Selina that this is exactly what she has been calling for, but now that it’s here, Selina sees that it is far worse than what it replaced. This is Nolan’s way of saying “Hey, idiot in the Che t-shirt, smarten up. If deep down you are the decent person you claim to be, you’ll hate the revolution you’ve been wishing for.”
About halfway through the film, I turned to my wife and said “It’s Dickens.” By which I meant the movie is a modern retelling of A Tale of Two Cities, albeit much lousier with hovercrafts and nuclear bombs. Bane is Robespierre, Miranda (played by French actress Marion Cotillard) is Madame Defarge. Batman is Sydney Carton. Now every time I write something like this, some joker (pun not intended) writes to me and says that I’m reading too much into it, and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and it’s just a movie. I think I dislike those comments even more than the purely oppositional ones because they wallow in their own laziness and ignorance.
Toward the end of the film, Gordon offers a eulogy in the form of a long quote which begins “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.” That’s the speech which Sydney Carton, the former ne’er do well playboy-turned-sacrificial-hero, gives before offering his life in exchange to save another. I told this to my son, Christopher, and he pointed out that the co-writer of the screenplay, Jonathan Nolan, told his brother (and the film’s director) Christopher to read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens before making the film.
The debate between left and right in the modern world has largely been a debate for and against the French revolution. Russell Kirk, the intellectual father of American conservatism, attributes the intellectual founding of the philosophy to the British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, author of the Reflections on the Revolution in France, the most important anti-revolutionary book ever written. The right argues for tradition; the left for revolution. In fact, the idea of ‘left’ and ‘right’ come from revolutionary era France. Those who sided with the old order sat on the right side of the French general assembly. Those who wished to overthrow it sat on the left side. In the Gospels, those who are destined for Hell are told to go to Christ’s left, while those destined for Heaven are set at his right. Let us be rid, then, of any delusions about a synthesis of leftist politics with orthodox Christianity.
In some ways the film is a throw-back to the original Batman, not the comic book one, but the one on whom the whole masked hero genre was based, the Scarlett Pimpernel, the nobleman cum masked counter-revolutionary hero who went about saving victims of ‘the people’s justice’ from the guillotine. Now conservatives have a new hero, and this time he has a much cooler name than “Pimpernel.”
Mr. Bowyer is the author of "The Free Market Capitalists Survival Guide," published by HarperCollins, and a columnist for Forbes.com.