In the early hours of July 20th, the Century Aurora 16 theaters played host to an unprecedented tragedy, one in which many of us are still trying to wrap our heads around. Most of the major media articles surrounding the recent theater shootings in Aurora – which sadly claimed the lives of at least twelve victims and injured countless others – perhaps naturally focus on the link between the Batman trilogy’s now infamous mythology and the motives of the perpetrator, James Holmes. As San Francisco psychologist Eric Bender writes, however, it’s nearly impossible to determine the motives of such rare mass killings.
With that notion in mind, perhaps the most optimal lens for viewing this event lies in an ideological analysis of Christopher Nolan’s latest film, with a specific focus on the characters that convey its primary social metaphors and themes. Using Holmes and Bane as a type of socially-connective metaphor, we may contrast and thereby elucidate the other characters whom collectively convey Nolan’s ideologically contrasting ideals. Such analysis offers us the chance to not only deconstruct both the powerfully conscious and unconscious thematic ideology that has led millions of fans to repeatedly devour his massively popular trilogy of Batman films, but also provides a focused framework for interpreting and gaining additional meaning from the Aurora tragedy.
In shifting our focus to Nolan’s most recent, The Dark Knight Rises, one finds a powerful measuring stick for determining the relevant connections between Bane and Holmes. This is particularly salient when viewed through the aforementioned, socially ideological shadows casted by Nolan’s Gotham City, Bane himself, and the sharply defined characters that react to his revolutionary takeover of the city. As anyone who has seen the film knows, Bane decides to violently take control of a city he views as in need of liberation by any means necessary, in order to free its citizens from what he perceives and projects to be the product – or at least a powerful symptom – of his own oppressed and punishing past. Indeed, the character of Bane, as with many film antagonists, invites empathetic understanding through Nolan’s exploration of the root causes of violence (in Bane’s case, his oppressive imprisonment and the attempted murder of his beloved Miranda, played by Marion Cotillard).
Expanding our analytical lens to the overall socio-cultural environment collectively constructed by all these characters, filmmakers and scholars as diverse as HP Lovecraft, Neal Marshall, Mick Garris, Axelle Carolyn and others, see parallels between current events and the themes explored by such darker films, as evidence of the link between their newfound mainstream appeal and our real-life anxieties. According to Garris in his discussion of genre films, such movies “may be the best mirror of the world’s zeitgeist we have, reflecting, rather than creating, the ills and crises of the planet’s collective psychology.” If the arts and entertainment provide one means of taking society’s pulse, then these films make for “a great thermometer,” Carolyn expands.
With this somewhat more academic backdrop in mind, what really makes The Dark Knight Rises interesting, is not only the way that Nolan subtly differentiates Batman’s own arguably vengeful character from Bane’s. Rather, it’s also the way in which the reactions of the various characters to this crisis flesh out this primary theme, thereby illuminating the type of socio-ideological landscape that spawns dualistic characters like Gotham’s Batman versus Bane (or Bane’s reality counterpart, Holmes, as will be explained shortly). Some characters like Detective Foley – played by Matthew Modine – run and hide in the more comforting shadows of their own homes, waiting for higher authorities to take control of the escalating danger, for example. Other characters – like Batman himself and Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon – take up the offensive, seeking to free Bane’s grip on Gotham City even at the cost of their own lives. Ann Hathaway’s Catwoman character represents a particularly nice synthesis of this interplay, slowly mutating from a selfish cat burglar determined to ensure her own prowess, to eventually becoming an integral sidekick of the Batman.
What these sharply heightened and contrasting ideological mindsets – a quality in this humble reviewer’s mind that has been misguidedly criticized by reviewers like the Westword’s Nick Pinkerton – offer us in the case of Holmes, is a finely tuned measuring stick for analyzing our own dangerous times, and the motives of those whom seek to either maintain or deviate from the status quo. Like the characters in Gotham City, we are all beset by an increasingly alarming series of threats to our own livelihood, whether they take the form of economic crises, nuclear and civil war, natural disasters, local criminal elements, etc. In the age of the Internet and the World Wide Web, conspiracy theorists have an unprecedented canvas for not only reacting to the perceived sources of our world’s ills, but the means to reach a wider possible audience than ever possible in the past. As Marshall McLuhan once stated, communicatory networks like the Internet act as an extension of our central nervous systems, expanding our sense of responsibility for one another in an unprecedented fashion. Regardless, many prefer to simply stay the course, trusting or at least hoping that their perceived authorities are doing their best to alleviate the problems.
One of the few facts of the Aurora case, which is probably safe to take for granted is that Holmes – like Bane – is one of those beleaguered individuals, for which society’s ills were simply too much to handle and cope with in a positive direction. Like Bane, Holmes could no longer find a healthy way to deal with and contain his personal demons, however misguided or tragic the results. Whereas Nolan’s Batman becomes a character who has learned to transcend the murder of his parents in order to become a hero and martyr for Gotham City, Bane ultimately falls prey to the very negative devices that inform his decision to take Gotham City under siege, at the cost of many lives in the process. Such a character arc provides an apt mirror for not only Holmes’ actions, but also the Columbine incident and other chilling acts of deviant violence that have splashed across our headlines over the years.
With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has crafted another high-thematic masterpiece, whose genius has been unfortunately highlighted by the Aurora shootings and all of the other oppressive realities that we are experiencing and dealing with in our own ways. In doing so, Nolan deftly establishes through his diverse characters a finely-tuned, ideological mirror that reflects the varying potentials of our own socially ambiguous ills. In the process, this mirror sketches out an equally ideological road map for all of us under siege by very real forces. The Aurora tragedy represents this reflection negatively crystallized and manifested in our own backyards – a harsh reminder to strive for the more noble and virtuous pursuits embodied through the rising of our dark, often unseen knights.