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The Dark Knight Rises – An Ayn Rand Hero, But Christian

on July 25, 2012

The point of Batman as compared to other superheroes has always been that he’s actually human.

Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne pushes the boundaries of human strength, endurance, and brilliance in all three films but in this conclusion to the trilogy the filmmaker highlights the frail side of his hero’s humanity.

A few flaws in the storyline stretch believability. Wayne spends what seems like a year or so in a prison, far away in some Eastern country, bodybuilding. He starts out with his back broken, builds himself up, gets hurt again, builds up again, and then finally escapes. But the events going on simultaneously in the outside world supposedly take roughly a month. Then he suddenly reappears in a city sealed by military force. Is this possible? Maybe, but we ought to be shown how.

My husband and I also argued about the very last scene. Is it possible this is meant as an Inception-like ending, where the viewer gets to decide whether the event shown is cannon or whether it’s merely wishful thinking/dreaming on some character’s part? We decided that the character who was viewing the event in the last scene had never seen one of the people involved in what he was seeing,  so he could not have been dreaming. This is important to understand the story.

That being the case, we were left with a further question. Does being brilliant protect you from nuclear bombs? And why are we not shown how?

So much for the flaws.

This film contains one of the best-presented betrayals in film history. At no point does someone say something like, “Oh, no – our friend has betrayed us! Our friend has been working for the enemy!” This trust in the viewer may be the good side of the impulse that left certain explanations out. One of the best characteristics of intelligent movies is that they give you enough explicitly to go forward on, but reflection into what has gone before yields further insights into the story.

One of the best explicit scenes involves the villain trying to rob a stock exchange. Outside, some policemen argue about whether it’s worth stopping a robbery that only harms rich people. “It’s not just rich people, it’s everyone,” the smarty in the scene spits out. “Well, I’ve got my money hid in my mattress,” a bloke offers. The smarty explains that the paper in the mattress could be worth far less, depending on what happens inside the stock exchange. They decide to try and stop the robbery.

Most movies and shows lately fill me with a sense of impending doom. The reason is simple – it’s as if they are following a directive: “Include some scene to increase resentment against the rich.”

As Ayn Rand’s books so clearly show, attacking those who produce wealth is the quickest way to destroy the prosperity of everyone, creating a widespread dependency on a ruling robber class. Or, as Rand would have it, “the looters.”

The Dark Knight Rises seems allied with Ayn Rand’s ideas in many particulars – there’s even a character with a name (Daggart) that seems to hint at an homage to the author’s most famous story, Atlas Shrugged. If that’s true, I have to wonder about The League of Shadows. Did Christopher Nolan feel, as I did, that destroying the innocent is no way to avenge the righteous? Nevertheless, Rand’s ideas, or ideas harmonious with hers, appear to advantage in this film – alongside a persistent reverence for the Church, which Rand despised. In this story, Bruce Wayne has always been someone of whom Ayn Rand would have been proud as a hero for her own stories. He represents a heroic and romantic humanism. But unlike Rand’s heroes, Wayne helps the helpless (who in turn become heroes, while the neglected needy become criminals.) Like Rand’s heroes, the sexuality that satisfies him is one of mutually-agreeable struggle (without Rand’s pathological penchant for rape.) But unlike Rand’s heroes, Bruce needs others – and Bruce gets old.

I can’t resist comparing Nolan and Rand in general. Rand offers some very clear thinking on the nature of injustice. She insists on justice without mercy and the only kindness she knows is that of fair trade: an eye for an eye. Her outlook is essentially that of a secular Jew. Nolan supports some similar thinking about the nature of justice and injustice. When Bruce Wayne allows Batman (who is represented as his life’s work and therefore his true self) to be blamed for someon else’s crimes, it’s a blatant act of self-sacrifice – something Ayn Rand condemns. At first the effect is good – the city gets “cleaned up” and all the crooks go to jail. However, because the city’s most brilliant, wealthy, charitable, and righteous citizen is destroyed by this act, ultimately it’s for evil, and this film spells out that evil in detail.

Thus far Rand’s principle holds true.  But Nolan goes farther and makes a very Christian argument that mercy is an essential part of justice. After all, if the child of a righteous man killed by the unjust ends up in a boy’s home, the killer’s injustice includes the bleakness of that boy’s upbringing. By contributing to that boy’s keep with his excess, the hero freely (not through constraint) counteracts the acts of injustice and produces righteousness – a boy is saved who may become city’s next Savior.

The flaw in Rand’s reasoning is that while she rightly sees buildings and railroads as rightful possibilities for a life’s work, and understands that investing in business contributes to the prosperity of  everyone, direct investment in human beings leaves her cold. That’s understandable since, to be fair, what she’s complaining of is people who co-erce “mercy” from others whether through guns (the state) or guilt (family and religion.) Nevertheless she has no vision of free strong beings succoring other beings as an act of one’s highest, freely chosen purpose.

This film, and, we realize in perspective, the other two, present that missing vision. And yet – in the end, Bruce finds what Rand insists on – no one can ultimately live for others. Whatever a hero gives, he dare not give up the self because the self is his only inalienable treasure (his wealth and physical strength can be lost) and also because only the self can love.

In the film, the boy’s home is run by a Catholic priest, hinting at the conclusion Josh and I are coming to –  namely, that Ayn Rand’s justice is the only possible basis for society and that Christian mercy is the purview of the Church, not the State. To be frank, it even calls into question whether the State as an entity rightfully exists. Young Conservatives are sometimes characterized as resenting government. Government as a human act of governing oneself and one’s responsibilities and one’s dependents is very different from the modern institution of the State.

Others are talking competently of the artistry of this film, which is considerable. The soundtrack, although it does not equal a John Williams style symphonic soundtrack that could stand alone, is certainly iconic and seems to have a knack for obtruding at the right moments. Many have complained that Anne Hathaway was not “right” for Catwoman – but that is to completely misunderstand the role of Catwoman in this movie, which is defined once and for all in the final scene.

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13 responses to “The Dark Knight Rises – An Ayn Rand Hero, But Christian

  1. Nice post about the movie. I need to read Ayn Rand’s works. I did love TDKR though 🙂

  2. d4v34x says:

    Interesting thoughts.

    Since Bruce Wayne had fixed the autopilot module in the Batcopter he had opportunity to bail well outsided the radius of certain death. Long swim in very cold water, though, probably.

    My suspicion is that Daggart is less a hint at dagny than it is intended to be a near homophonic foreshadowing of the instrument of Batman’s betrayal.

    No thoughts on the Sean Connery vocal impersonation that stood in for the charactar of the villain?

  3. AR says:

    Ooo, good comments.

    OK, I’m going to have trust you on the machine-fixing thing. I tend to blank out on sections like that.

    No, I wasn’t thinking Dagny, I was thinking Taggart as in Jimmy, her brother. Also a slimy businessman that sold his soul and his company out to the people destroying them. It’s just a guess though. The foreshadowing would be neat but we already have foreshadowing when the child in prison stabs her mother’s raper.

    Yes! I did think it was Sean Connery at first but later I thought it was Liam Neeson. (Don’t forget he did Aslan: he tends to play mild, self-effacing characters but he can do so much more with his voice when he’s invisible, it seems.) Part of the whole Raz Algul “I am immortal” thing. But the voice was rounded slightly, probably to make it sound like it was being spoken without a mouth and whole effect was, yes, very Sean Connery. I missed the section in the credits, though. Did you see who, if anyone, was credited with the voice?

    • d4v34x says:

      I didn’t see, but I assume that Thomas Hardy provided voice as well as body for Bane.

      I had forgotten about Jimmy Taggart. It’s been a almost 15 years since I read Atlas Shrugged.

  4. Sam Kriss says:

    i don’t think it’s really correct to compare ayn rand’s outlook to that of secular judaism. far less to see it as anything other than fundamentally antithetical to the radically egalitarian spirit of christianity. i haven’t yet seen the new batman film but from what i’ve read it seems to be little more than propaganda on behalf of the wealthy. batman’s mercy is articulated only in erms of the status quo: acts of kindness can exist within it, but any attempt to fundamentally alter the distribution of wealth is an evil in and of itself. ayn rand would approve, i’m sure. i’m not sure if the same can be said for jesus.

    • AR says:

      LOL… you want to fundamentally alter the distribution of “the wealth?” What are you from, like, a century ago?

      So what did you think of We The Living? Did you know it is based on the author’s actual experiences in Post-Revolutionary Russia?

      Or did you also fail to read Rand’s actual books, not to mention the Gospels?

      P.S. – Just a hint: heading your assertions with fuzzifiers like “I don’t think it’s really correct” and “it seems to be little more than” and “I’m not sure if the same can be said” won’t disguise from intelligent readers your complete lack of intellectual content. Imitating the style of those who are aware of precisely what they do know and what they don’t know doesn’t magically make you know something.

      I’m guessing you’re educated. My deepest pity goes out to you in your desperate void of learning.

      Tis education forms the common mind
      Just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.

      -Alexander Pope

      • Sam Kriss says:

        that’s your major objection to radical egalitarianism? “totally passé, darling”? come on. given that the early 20th century had revolutionary movements in art and politics with mass followings, i wish i were from then. hardly a rejoinder.

        i’ve read enough extracts from ayn rand’s works to know that reading a book the size of a small suitcase jam-packed with rape, misreadings of nietzsche, and the worst dialogue ever committed to paper is not a productive use of my time. so yeah, i’ve ‘failed’ to read her actual works. i have, of course, read the gospels, although it kinda puzzles me why you’d so carelessly tack one of the most important pieces of literature in history on to your expression of shock at my not having read twenty thousand pages of psychotic schlock.

        re:p.s.: i’m sorry for trying to be diplomatic. let me put it more clearly. if you think ayn rand’s ideology is roughly analogous to secular judaism, you have no idea what one or both of those things are. if you think you can reconcile the puerile egocentricity of objectivism with christianity, you’re not a christian. unambiguous enough?

        i like your writing. pity about your ideology.

        • AR says:

          How about “tried and failed, dahling?”

          Yes, that’s better. Now we can examine our underlying premises instead of uselessly flinging around fully-formed conclusions.

          First of all, you respect ideology; I don’t. Mass murderers are invariably ideologues (there’s no other way to justify an unjust action.) Those movements you look back to often ended in mass murder. However, as a blogger you are part of today’s great egalitarian movement, which is the democratization of publishing. And it’s unlikely to be bloody. Until it’s used as a platform by revolutionaries, of course. Anyway, congratulations.

          Where you look at ideologies whole and revile or revere them, I respect ideas. Ideas are acts of the deeply imaginative and disciplined human mind. When I examine someone’s writing I can see the processes by which she derived her story or her system from ideas. I can see the ideas in their original form and I can see what she made of them. I don’t need to “reconcile” whole ideologies. I just need to examine the logic and the practicality of ideas, figure out which ideas are consistent with each other in which form, and collect them like jewels.

          Of course my standard for myself in the long run is to think originally and independently. Often as I strive for this I will re-think and transform the ideas of others.

          Secondly, I am a Christian because I adore Christ God, not because I adhere to an ideology which I want to equate with Christianity. You seem to equate Christianity with your own ideology which you’ve identified as radical egalitarianism. I’m guessing that’s why you don’t use capital letters – no letter should stand higher than any other letter? Are you aware the effect is monotonous and depressing and tiresome, like a landscape with no trees or hills?

          So let me ask you: Where, in all of Christian history, has there been a functioning Christianity that you would recognize as such? Surely not the religion of the apostles who admonished, “Obey them that have the rule over you”? For myself, I joined the Eastern Orthodox Church because I would rather spend my days as a child among spiritual giants than as a pygmy among pygmies. I love it when people are better than me. It means there’s hope that I can be better, too.

          “Not to mention” signifies increased importance or decreased likelihood or both. I don’t consider the Gospel as “radical” or “important” because those adjectives do not imply anything of significance for me. To me the Gospels are holy and dreadfully authoritative and often bewildering. I will not be jockeyed into squinting at them with a speculative eye. And I don’t stand on them as a platform for personal opinion.

          I’ve already mentioned what I don’t like about Ayn Rand. As I boasted on a conservative Christian blog recently, I read both good books and bad as well as books of mixed virtue. As a person of mature judgment I consider that I can handle it and I won’t be moved either by guilt or contempt to ignore a book when I’ve caught the scent of an original idea buried in it. I go diving in because I suspect there might be treasure. Thus the name of this blog, though I’m just getting started here.

  5. Joachim Sällström says:

    Well, Batman is a fighter for the people just like Ayn Rand’s protagonists are in Atlas Shrugged, no one said ever.

    • AR says:

      “The people” is one of my top ten most hated phrases. It’s one of those demagogue cliche’s. Did “the people” of the United States re-elect Barak Obama? We’ll be told they did despite the fact that nearly half of us consider him no better than a baby-killer. Generally, Batman is concerned with “the city” and with actual, individual people he meets. He’s human that way. He doesn’t abstract the human race the way that socialists conveniently do. At least not in this film. He’s concerned with justice, too, and I think that gets at something that’s missing in today’s society. We driving ourselves mad with all this election broo-hah-hah, pretending we are capable of electing leaders when in fact it’s an elaborate, expensive lottery every time. What we need is a just ruler. It’s a dark but happy fantasy to think of someone who fills in that gap.

      Now the folks in Atlas Shrugged are divided on whether to leave civilization to destroy itself instead of artificially propping it up, or whether to stick it out to the end. I admit it’s pretty shocking what they walk away from with no inner compulsion to help. Ayn Rand is concerned with justice strictly, apart from any consideration of charity. Whether you think that’s wrong or right, it provides a landscape for logical discussion – it makes one particular point which is that our society punishes the very people without whom we could not continue. As I said, her heroes are NOT Christian, and she’s far more aware of what that means than most atheists are. Most non-Christians in a post-Christian society still claim allegiance to an ethic that is basically Christian, while rejecting the belief system that makes that ethic reasonable. Rand was too honest for that.

      However, when I say “an Ayn Rand hero” I am not really getting at the story line of Atlas Shrugged. I have read ALL of Rand’s novels and I quickly picked up on a pattern, which is that all her male protagonists are more than protagonists, they are heroes. And they are all basically the same guy. In other words, she had a particular kind of person that she was sort of prone to hero-worship. He was not only brilliant but quick; not only talented, but hard-working. He had a slightly brutal side, pursued riches, was deeply honest, and had an extremely masculine physique. You’ve pointed out a difference between the storyline of Atlas Shrugged and the storyline of The Dark Knight Rises. I’m pointing out both a similarity and a difference between this particular Batman and a set of fictional characters.

      Dude, learn how to read.

  6. Mark says:

    Dark Knight Rises has so many objectivist references you could fill at least three pages worth of examples. As far as Batman’s comeback from the prison, when he confronts Bane on the steps, Bane asks him, “Did you come back to save your city?” Batman responds, “No, I came back to destroy you.” That’s hardly sympathetic to “The People” and more of an indication by Bruce’s pursuit of justice motivated by rational self-interest.
    Another example that comes to mind is the funding of the boy’s home by the Wayne Foundation. Alfred has to explain how profits from the company have to fund the foundation in order to be charitable. Essentially Nolan is telling us that profits are more important than charity, because without them you can have no charity. This is often pointed out by modern objectivists today, especially by likes of Dr. Yaron Brook and Dr. Leonard Peikoff.
    For further breakdowns of Dark Knight Rises and Objectivism try to checkout Amy Peikoff’s podcasts from around the time the movie was released.
    One more thing, Bane never uses the word “I” when talking about his motivations, he always uses “we” or “us,” even in the first scene on the plane.

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