“The man who is just flesh and blood can be defeated… can be destroyed. Whereas a symbol can transcend the idea of just being one man.”
Christopher Nolan has made considerable effort to conceal the ending of The Dark Knight Rises – arguably the most anticipated film of our generation. Having omitted the ending from the script, he only informed his cast of it verbally. The theories postulated below are deducted from the story and themes of the preceding films and the upcoming film’s trailers. No inside information has been used.
If any of the film happens to be spoiled, we sincerely apologise. But if we’re right, it will be a great end to an iconic trilogy. If we’re terribly wrong, we will happily take a punishment in the form of a barrage in the comments section of quotes from Joel Schumacher’s seminal shocker, Batman & Robin.
Based on the trajectory of the story from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight, it seems inevitable that the final instalment will see Batman make his final sacrifice and die a hero. In his place, people will rise to take the mantle, and the symbol will endure after Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale).
The Journey From Childhood To Immortality
Batman Begins is the definitive origin story that lays the foundations of the legend. Wayne’s story commences furthest away from the symbol status he attains and at the very start of a lifelong struggle. The first scene binds him and the audience together by revealing his personal worst fear – bats.
Blaming his fear of bats for the death of his parents, Wayne is forced by childhood friend, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), to realise that his self-indulgence will not prevent such injustices from happening again. In a confrontation with Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), the root cause of corruption and tragedy in Gotham, Wayne is treated with ridicule and pity and made to feel powerless. To be capable of defeating external conflicts like Falcone, Wayne must tame the internal conflicts that hinder him.
As referenced but never fully explored in the comics, Wayne disappears from Gotham for seven years. In this time, he learns to understand the mind of a desperate criminal. This results in his imprisonment.
Seeing the potential in him, Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) lures Wayne from incarceration, with the offer of training and counsel, in exchange for joining the League of Shadows. Ducard identifies that Wayne must first master his fear of bats before intimidating his enemies, and that all internal anger, borne from personal injustice, should be channelled into fighting the injustices of the world.
The first act of Batman Begins is dedicated to Wayne dealing with his internal conflicts. Eradicating his fear of bats, he is unimpeded to focus on defeating the League of Shadows when choosing to fight injustice on his terms and not theirs. A divide forms, creating two alter egos: Wayne, who manages the internal conflicts and Batman, who tackles the external conflicts. The angst on Batman’s mask is indicative of the inner turmoil that will remain as long as Wayne lives.
The Dark Knight initially portrays Wayne having fully disappeared into Batman. However, the remnants of the man resurface, causing Batman to make reckless decisions based on sentiment. Wayne’s desire to be with Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) prompts him to force Batman out, by prematurely passing the mantle onto Gotham’s courageous District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). The grave consequences of Wayne’s impatience conclude with Batman staining his reputation and becoming an outcast.
Given this trajectory, it makes sense that the conflict between Wayne and Batman will be resolved in The Dark Knight Rises. With Rachel, his most meaningful connection to humanity, now dead there is little left of Wayne to preserve. And if Batman’s return to action becomes a necessity, the man could be sacrificed in favour of the legend.
You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything.
Not everything. Not yet.
A Fight For Gotham’s Soul
Batman Begins depicts a fight for one man’s soul. Paling into insignificance compared to previous generations of his family, and derailing onto a journey of self-destruction, Wayne acts to transfer whatever’s left of him into an identity that can save it. The League of Shadows offers him a path towards redemption on the condition that he’s willing to kill and to destroy Gotham. In rejecting this methodology and forming his own, Wayne establishes the code that brings Batman into being.
The ramifications of Wayne’s transformation expand in The Dark Knight. In Harvey Dent, he sees a legitimate successor to continue the work of the symbol he created – a better man than Wayne could ever be. However, Batman’s antithesis, the Joker (Heath Ledger), corrupts Dent and prevails in the fight for his soul, proving that a man is fallible.
The Joker chose me.
Because you were the best of us. He wanted to prove that even someone as good as you could fall.
Wayne learns that only a symbol can’t be touched. Understanding the power of a legacy, Batman assumes culpability for Dent’s crimes, safeguarding a figure of hope for Gotham in the fight against injustice and corruption.
The Dark Knight Rises will stage the battle for Gotham’s soul with the League of Shadows returning to ruin the city it compares to historical civilizations it attests to have destroyed, such as Constantinople and Rome. If Gotham falls, people’s capacity to believe in ideals and the rest of civilization will.
You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I can do those things.
The above dialogue is foreboding. In the final instalment, Batman will, at first, be playing the villain for the sake of Gotham’s belief in Harvey Dent. With this dichotomy, he will inspire people by dying a hero and showing that anyone can atone for their sins and rise above their fallibility – even a supposedly corruptible figure such as Batman.
In the closing scene of Batman Begins, Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) warns Batman that his emergence will incite mobsters and villains to employ more sophisticated and aggressive methods. The symbol will be an inspiration for good and bad.
What about escalation? We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start buying Kevlar, they buy armor-piercing rounds. And you’re wearing a mask jumping off rooftops.
As soon as the Joker arrives in The Dark Knight, it becomes clear that the trilogy focuses on escalation and challenging a hero beyond his limits. Where Ducard was unsuccessful in winning Wayne’s soul and destroying Gotham, the Joker surpassed him in winning Harvey Dent’s soul despite failing to descend Gotham into chaos.
The Dark Knight is a distinct departure from the first film. It exhilarates and is unpredictable due to the seemingly unconnected events being orchestrated by the master criminal genius himself.
Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can’t savor all the little emotions.
The intricacies of his plot illustrate a vastly more intelligent villain than Ducard. By unifying the mob with deception and corrupting cops to carry out his deeds, he creates the distractions needed to preoccupy Batman, whilst he poisons Harvey Dent’s soul.
As displayed in the prologue of The Dark Knight Rises, Bane (Tom Hardy) embodies fierce intelligence combined with a formidable physicality that the Joker lacked. Backed by a vengeful League of Shadows, he will represent Batman’s greatest test and be the villain most likely to destroy the man.
I am Gotham’s reckoning.
Wayne’s devoted approach entails vanquishing any weaknesses. Batman’s approach is no different. Constantly posed with the threat of unprecedented antagonistic forces, he has to first experience defeat at the hands of his enemies in order to learn how to prevail. Batman has always risen above his limitations. This time, he will rise above the limitations of the flesh.
The Ultimate Rebirth
For Nolan to transform a mere mortal into legend, Wayne’s long metamorphosis required the man to be broken down and reassembled repeatedly before ultimately becoming something abstract – an undying spirit that outlives the physical self to inspire Gotham.
In Batman Begins, when returning to Gotham a changed man, Wayne discovers that his butler and surrogate father, Alfred (Michael Caine) had him declared dead. Wayne’s first resurrection is both a spiritual and legislative one. The second is a result of Batman’s first altercation with the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), where he is subjected to his fear toxin and set on fire. Finding himself near death, he screams to Alfred for help and awakens two days later. Lastly, the League of Shadows burns Wayne Manor to the ground, leaving Bruce to die amongst the physical legacy of his family. From this, he emerges as Batman.
The Dark Knightcontinues the slow death of Bruce Wayne. When Rachel dies, so does his motivation for leading a normal life. Batman’s hope of being an incorruptible symbol also dies when he breaks his one rule and kills Harvey Dent to save Commissioner Gordon. Experiencing the same fall as the man he killed, Batman finds himself lying next to him. He stands and is resurrected, this time as Gotham’s villain to keep Dent’s legacy pure.
In The Dark Knight Rises, only a shell of Bruce Wayne remains. This will be all that’s left to sacrifice when Batman is called to action. To galvanize Gotham, the man behind the symbol will have to die heroically. The absence felt will inspire people to take his place and one hero will be resurrected as many.
In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne was looking for an heir to Batman’s symbol. Batman has worthy allies in Alfred, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Gordon and Rachel. But none of them can conceivably succeed him.
In thinking Harvey Dent could stand for more than a man, Wayne made a fundamental mistake in passing the mantle on far too early. He placed the already endangered District Attorney under further public scrutiny and ultimately attracted the full attention of the Joker.
The Dark Knight Rises will see a distrustful and reluctant Batman, unwilling to pass on the mantle, until he is already beaten and has no other option. If Batman is to die, the legend will require new figures capable of continuing it. The most likely candidates are Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and the young beat cop, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
Having become so attached to Bruce Wayne, the audience will feel a sense of disembodiment after his death. As in life, when a person dies, the universe doesn’t perish along with them. The appropriate catharsis would be to keep the legend alive in the minds of the audience. To do this, Nolan will have to restore their emotional energy back into the universe of the film, and give them a new direction, by projecting their hopes onto other characters within the story.
As seen in the teaser trailer, Gordon appears incapacitated and unlikely to be present in the final scene of the trilogy. In the closing scenes of the previous films, he served the function of prophesying the future and orating the legend. The most natural successor to Gordon’s role here is John Blake. In the aftermath of Batman’s final sacrifice, Blake will deliver a monologue that heralds the end of the dark night and the rise of a new dawn. The legend endures.
The Arc Of The Legend
The transformation of Wayne to Batman warrants an epic and expansive saga. Christopher Nolan’s gift of expert non-linear storytelling provided an economic platform for the necessity to dispense vital information to the audience in an entertaining and emotionally magnetic fashion.
Nolan’s iteration of Batman should be considered a viable template in determining the approach of adapting a comic book property. No line is wasted. No theme forgotten. And rules are established within the realms of believability without ever being violated. Each film serves a particular function in the trilogy, permitting them to have their own distinctive feel according to where in the journey their characters are.
The thrilling nature of the films owes itself to one of screenwriting’s most effective tools – raising the stakes. Wayne’s emotional conflict correlates with the threatening capabilities of the villains, in the knowledge that he will have to sacrifice another part of himself to beat them. The Dark Knight provides strong evidence for Alfred Hitchcock’s assertion that “the more successful the villain, the more successful the picture”. If The Dark Knight Rises surpasses the previous film, Bane will be a fascinating and deadly villain to behold.