This was a paper I had written for my film rhetoric class nearly a year and a half ago. I just found it.
The Dark Culture Rises
What happens when the inmates run the asylum? This question has been asked for a long time, and one film that really examines the possibility of this is the final installment of the Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight Batman series, the Dark Knight Rises. The cultural impact that this film has had, specifically in the ever growing superhero genre, is huge. This series of films, but especially The Dark Knight Rises, really opened the doors into what the superhero genre could be, giving way to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to take the genre to where it is today, most recently with blockbusters such as Captain America Civil War. Furthermore, the film examines some deep rhetorical questions, such as who culture belongs to and whether or not you can assimilate into a culture and be on the same field as someone who was born into that culture.
The film takes place eight years after the events of the Dark Knight and the death of Harvey Dent, whose death lead to the Dent Act, granting the Gotham City Police Department the ability to essentially eradicate organized crime in Gotham. However, Commissioner Gordon shows that he is feeling more and more guilty about covering up the heinous crimes committed by Dent in the Dark Knight. When the time came to reveal the truth about Dent, Gordon decides that the timing is wrong and changes his mind. This speech would have happened at the mansion of Bruce Wayne, who had become a recluse following the death of Rachel Dawes in the Dark Knight film. He had retired from wearing the cape and the cowl as Batman. The first time seeing Wayne in the film, it is after Anne Hathaway’s character, Catwoman, or Selina Kyle, breaks into his room and steals his fingerprints to give to Wayne’s business rival John Dagget, through an assistant. In return, she was supposed to be given the software to give her a blank slate, a rather significant subplot of the film. However, Kyleis double crossed by Stryver, the assistant, and he attempts to kill her, but makes the mistake of using a kidnapped senator’s phone, which brings he police to the bar where they were meeting. The resulting gunfight had police, along with Commissioner Gordon, follow the criminals who were with Stryver down into the sewer, where there was a gunfight and explosion, leading to Gordon being captured and brought to Bane,t he leader of the renegade group. Bane finds the speech regarding Dent’s actions on Gordon’s body before Gordon is able to escape. Gordon is found by John Blake, who is then promoted to detective by Gordon. Bane uses the fingerprints attained by Kyle to drain his account in an attack on the Gotham stock exchange. As Wayne is contemplating what he should do, whether he should return to being the Batman, his butler, Alfred Pennyworth, explains that Rachel had intended to marry dent prior to their deaths in an attempt to convince Wayne that he should not return to his role as the Batman. In regards to his company, had discontinued a clean energy project after discovering that the reactor for the project could be turned into a weapon, and the asks Miranda Tate, a board member for Wayne’s foundation, to take over the company. She agrees, and in doing so, opens Wayne up to Bane’s trap. Bane reveals to Wayne that he is going to fulfil Ra’s al Ghul’s mission to destroy Gotham, armed with what is left of the League of Shadows. Wayne and Bane engage in a one on one fight, where Wayne is left crippled before being transferred to a prison that is practically impossible to escape from. The inmates of the prison explain to Wayne that only one prisoner had ever escaped, the child of Ra’s al Ghul. Wayne assumes that the child is Bane. In another underground attack, Bane is able to lure the entirety of the Gotham police department, minus Commissioner Gordon and Blake, underground where he traps the police department before killing the mayor of Gotham and having Dr. Leonid Pavel, a nuclear scientist, turn the reactor core from Wayne’s clean energy project into a nuclea bomb, which he uses to take Gotham hostage and is able to isolate Gotham from the rest of the world. He uses Gordon’s speech about Dent and reveals the secrets to Gotham, causing them to develop deep mistrust of the government and the police force. Bane releases the prisoners of Blackgate Penitentiary, which then turns to anarchy. The rich of Gotham have their assets seized and are put on faux trials by Jonathan Crane, who was the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, the first film in the trilogy. Crane sentences all of them to death. Meanwhile, in the prison, Wayne spends months recovering and training, eventually escaping from the prison. He enlists Kyle, Blake, Tate, Gordon, and Lucius Fox to assist him in stopping the detonation. Wayne tasks Kyle with getting people evacuated from the city and instructs her to save herself, but Kyle refuses since Wayne will not go with her. Wayne dons the cape and the cowl and returns to fight Bane as Batman, where he overpowers her, at which point the plot twist occurs, revealing that Katherinee Tate is actually Talia al Ghul, Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter. Bane is merely her security who helped her escape from prison. She uses the detonator for the bomb, only to reveal that Gordon was able to block her signal to keep the bomb from detonating. The film concludes with Wayne flying the bomb over the bay before it explodes, making Gotham think that he is dead, but he’s not, as he moved to France with Kyle to live a normal life.
There are a few reasons that this is a significant cultural film. First, it draws similarities to terrorists being thrown in prison, in terrible conditions, without being convicted of any crime. There are a few similarities between the prison that Bruce Wayne is put into and the prison that is used in Captain America Civil War. According to Brian Sanford’s article “The Death of Captain America: An Open-Ended Allegorical Reading of Marvel Comic’s Civil War Storyline,” the prison that was designed for prisoners in Captain America was made so that escape was virtually impossible. However, the Guantanamo prison is also made to make it so that escape is virtually impossible and uncomfortable. This is the same as the prison in the Dark Knight Rises. It is made to be virtually inescapable, but Wayne, Tate, and Bane are the only three people to have escaped the prison. This draws the similarities to Guantanamo Bay because the people imprisoned in Guantanamo are done so in very uncomfortable conditions, as well as in ways that are in blatant violation of basic human rights. Because of the way that the prison is designed and set up in The Dark Knight Rises, it is clearly not designed to ensure that the prisoners are comfortable in there, but rather to be locked up and forgotten as an enemy of those who put them there.
Even more so than the disregard for human rights aspect of this, the prison in the Dark Knight Rises draws parallels to Guantanamo Bay because, as the article states, the people directing the prisons, whether the CIA in Guantanamo Bay or whoever is in control of the prison that Bruce Wayne is put in takes great care to ensure that the prisons are outside of any legal jurisdiction, so that any laws that would govern prisoner rights can be avoided and ignored to do what is best for the prison, rather than ensuring that basic human rights are being met for the prisoners.
Another rhetorical conclusion that this film is able to draw is that of dealing with grief and depression. The reason Batman is Batman is because he is scared of bats. He dons himself with the image of that which scares him the most so that he can use that to scare the criminals of Gotham, who he targets after his parent’s death. Christopher Nolan, the director of the Dark Knight series, explains that Gotham is a realization of Wayne’s grief. This is shown through the dark colors palette of the film. Alfred Pennywether, Wayne’s butler, even states to Wayne in the film, “I never wanted you to come back to Gotham. I always knew there was nothing here for you except pain and tragedy.” Because the film series takes place in Gotham, and nothing happens for Wayne that is positive for his life. Even the conclusion of the film, after the nuclear bomb explodes is a scene that I originally thought was a copout for the director, but now realize why it is so important. The film ends with Bruce Wayne happy, going to the café that Alfred talks about in his fantasy, married to Selina Kyle (Catwoman). The significance for this is that the happiness takes place out of Gotham. It is in France. He leaves Gotham. According to Benjamin Winterhalter in his article “The Politics of the Inner: Why The Dark Knight Rises is Not a Conservatory Allegory,” Winterhalter explains that all of Gotham, all of the memories and all of the structures, are meant to be a representation of Wayne clinging to his grief (Winterhalter, 2015). This resonates rhetorically because it explains that, after experiencing a traumatic experience, such as the loss of a parent or a loved one, you need to be able to move on. That could mean so much as leaving the area where the grief occurred, especially if the place you lived at is a large part of the grief, like Gotham is to Wayne, considering the amount of influence his father had on the city.
Finally, the question remains about what happens when the inmates run the asylum. As stated before, the Dark Knight Rises shows this occurring. It shows what happened when the criminals who were locked up in Blackgate Penitentiary are released and take over the town. The results in the film are obviously negative, as shown with Crane being the judge, sentencing all of the rich to die. This is going to reign true any time that there is a direct representation of those who don’t know how to lead end up leading, similarly to the current reign of Donald Trump. He and his croneys have no experience leading, and that is showing in the leadership style. Trump and his cabinet are acting like the criminals from Blackgate Penitentiary getting out and attacking anyone who thinks differently from them, trying to seclude the United States from news organizations that question him, and keeping non-Americans out of America. This rhetoric cannot stand.
The Dark Knight Rises was definitely influenced by culture in a myriad of ways, but most importantly the influence was that of a culture that is willing to accept those who tout justice when they really are only out for blood and revenge. Culture is defined as “Culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions, and belief” (Buhmann, There is no adequate reasoning why the people of Gotham accepted the organized crime associates, including the police force being accepting, other than being complacent. The crime did not directly affect them, and so they don’t need to worry about it. This is the same as the conservative mindset that we see today. Trump’s policies aren’t affecting them, and thus they don’t care about the impact. When the policies do impact them, then they will learn to care, but as of now, the culture of not caring what is going on as long as it does not directly affect you is clearly the influence of the film. When the culture does impact you, such as it did with the murderer killing Wayne’s mother and father, he started to care about the injustice in the city and took it in his own hands to make sure that the city became safe and that the organized crime took a major hit.
However, a major criticism of the genre that I agree with is that the superhero movies make us rely on others to make the world better and that we have no choice other than to rely on them. In his book Global Entertainment Media, Artz argues that superhero movies, while entertaining, enforce the hegemonic view that the government needs to stay supreme and that we need to rely on the government to make our lives better rather than working for ourselves (Artz, 2015).
Despite having a clear and concise definition of culture, there is not one for pop culture. However, pop culture can described as what we view as in and has an influence over our culture. Superhero movies are absolutely a large part of pop culture. The influence they have had on our society is clearly shown by the success of the genre, from the Dark Knight series to the Avengers series to the X-Men series. All of these movies are clearly evident that the Dark Knight series opened up the genre to be a large aspect of pop culture, influencing us by showing that we need the superheroes to make our lives better rather than make sure that we are working to make the world better.
Buhmann, A Hellmueller, :; Bosshart, L. (2015). Popular Culture and Communication Practice. Communication Research Trends, 34(3).
Artz, L. (2015). Global Entertainment Media: A Critical Introduction. Chickester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.
Nolan, C. (Director). (2012). The Dark Knight rises [Video file]. United States of America: Warner Bros.
Swafford, B. M. , 2008-11-20 “The Death of Captain America: An Open-Ended Allegorical Reading of Marvel Comic’s Civil War Storyline” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the NCA 94th Annual Convention, TBA, San Diego, CA Online <PDF>
WINTERHALTER, B. (2015). The Politics of the Inner: Why The Dark Knight Rises is Not a Conservative Allegory. Journal Of Popular Culture, 48(5), 1030-1047. doi:10.1111/jpcu.12339