Batman: The Dark Knight Rises part 2
We’re still at the Dent-related function at Wayne Manor, and there are still characters scurrying around to meet. John Daggett is some level of businessman, disliked by Alfred and apparently by Miranda Tate as well, a dissolute lout who opines that Bruce Wayne pounced off with his investors’ money with his “save the world” project, and offers to get Miranda her money back in his own way. Miranda, it seems, shares Bruce’s ideals and snubs Daggett. In keeping with the theme of deception, Daggett thinks Bruce has deceived his investors and Miranda thinks Daggett is deceiving her. Later, we will find that Miranda was deceiving everybody.
Now two more guys show up: Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Foley and “Congressman,” who is, apparently, a congressman. Foley and Congressman talk about Gordon behind his back: we hear from this chorus that Gordon’s wife has left him because of his preoccupation with crime-fighting (making him, like Dent, Daytime Batman, his obsession creating his isolation). Foley, we see, is an opportunist of the worst sort: it doesn’t even occur to him that he could take Gordon’s job until Congressman unctuously alludes to Gordon’s impending exit from the GCPD. Gordon, it seems, has done his job too well: by eradicating organized crime, he’s rendered himself obsolete. With the daring, and effective, Gordon out of the picture, the job, it seems, naturally falls to spineless opportunists like Foley, a yes-man for the political establishment. The world of municipal politics of The Dark Knight Rises might be rooted in fantasy, but it’s often examined with greater attention to detail than most political dramas, certainly greater than any other “comic-book movie.” As in The Dark Knight, Gotham City here feels like a real place, a real city run by real politics. Politics is foremost on Rises‘s mind, it’s almost a political drama masquerading as a superhero movie, Coriolanus in a cape.
Speaking of which, here’s our protagonist, Bruce Wayne, finally making an entrance, foiling Selina Kyle’s theft of Bruce’s mother’s pearls. Look how far Bruce Wayne has come in our cinematic vocabulary. Here he is, creepy, bearded and spectral. Imagine Adam West playing this scene. Bruce Wayne has never been portrayed this way before onscreen, weakened, wary and wry. We are reminded that the totality of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies is a three-act drama: Act I, Begins, allows Bruce to destroy crime, Act II, Knight, allows crime to strike back, and ends with Bruce’s Act II low point, wounded, hunted and alone. Rises keeps those wounds and adds a new one, Bruce’s impending insolvency. If the story of Batman is the story of a man who creates a persona to bring balance to his world, Rises addresses the need for that man to shed that persona and finally face life, “billionaire playboy” being just as much a persona as the brooding lonely Batman.
Selina Kyle, of course, is the perfect tool to enable this change: a boy can’t be a man until he loves a woman. Batman, more than any other superhero, is arrested in a state of preadolescence, he’s still there at his parents’ sides as a helpless, angry eight-year-old. He works out and builds gadgets and makes plans and fights bad guys, but he’s still a boy, forever forstalling manhood, always ditching the girl and retreating to his cave to concoct his fantasies of power and righteousness. As long as Batman remains alone, he will always be pure, he will never suffer the compromise — the loss of self — of romance. Selina, being a thief, isn’t merely a romantic compromise, she’s also an ideological one as well.
Bruce is impressed by Selina’s thieving skills: his safe, he says, is uncrackable. (No one will ever get to him, until someone does.) Selina, the minx, kicks his cane out from under him (no metaphor there, certainly), leaps out the window, ditches her maid outfit and hops in Congressman’s car.
The party is over but there are still more characters to meet! Here’s John Blake, a dedicated cop, reporting to Gordon on the roof of the MCU, where the rusted Batsignal gathers cobwebs. Blake, like Gordon, is obsessed with the Batman. Gordon’s tales about the night Dent died don’t sit well with Blake, he knows that this peace is based on lies, starting with the central lie of the whole narrative: a man who wears a disguise to reveal the truth. Blake, we will learn, already knows who Batman is, and it’s a tribute to both the screenplay to Rises and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance that we accept that he could figure out Batman’s identity but Gordon, who met regularly with Batman for the length of his career, hasn’t got the faintest idea.
Back at the Batcave, Bruce bones up on Selina, expressing his interest the only way his persona will let him: as a detective. He couldn’t be interested in her romantically, no, that would be gross, but as a detective, yes, as a detective his interest is boundless. He learns that Selina wasn’t there to get Bruce’s mother’s pearls, no — she was there to get his fingerprints, his fingerprints, his very identity. This is, of course, Bruce’s primal terror, the one he has used all the weapons at his disposal to prevent. He shares it with Cinderella, the terror that someone will find out who he is. The Bruce/Selina relatioship in Batman Returns toyed with persona and the barriers we put up to protect ourselves from the penetration of love (see also the Xavier/Magneto relationship of X-Men: First Class), but Rises puts it front and center: in order to protect his secret, Bruce must risk revealing himself to a woman. Alfred, loyal Alfred, Batman’s sexless Jiminy Cricket, correctly sees this as Bruce’s central problem. The problem isn’t the death of Bruce’s parents or the death of Rachel Dawes or the rampages of the Joker, the problem is the same one any boy faces: stop playing superhero and compromise yourself, or you will live arrested and die alone.