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'The Dark Knight Rises': Batman as counter-revolutionary

Christopher Nolan's latest Batman flick is big on thrills, but does it impart a counter-revolutionary message?

Sherif Tarek , Wednesday 22 Aug 2012
The Dark Knight Rises
A scene from 'The Dark Knight Rises' (Photo: Reuters)
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With prison inmates running free in the streets, policemen being turned into outcasts following the eruption of a 'revolution,' mayhem everywhere, and the people given – for the first time – control over their own city, 'The Dark Knight Rises' could almost be seen as an allegory of sorts for Egypt's 2011 Tahrir Square uprising.

Watching Christopher Nolan's latest blockbuster, the viewer might conclude that the English-American movie director did not think very highly of the January 25 Revolution.

Most superheroes, especially those from the US, support a system essential to fighting terror and crime, even if the administration of that system is far from ideal. Very few superheroes oppose the authorities, as did Zorro, who leads a revolt against tyranny in Mexico and helps his people topple a despotic ruler, or the mysterious V, who in 'V for Vendetta' instigates a revolution against an authoritarian regime in a dystopian Britain.

The all-American Batman, also known as the 'Dark Knight,' has always been a mainstream superhero, working alongside the police to catch the bad guys and seek justice in Gotham City, which is perennially riddled with corruption and crime. In Nolan's trilogy, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) – who has secretly dedicated his life to fighting crime as the caped crusader – is no different.

In 'The Dark Knight Rises,' the final film of the trilogy and the only one released post-Arab Spring, Batman locks horns with the robust Bane (portrayed by English actor Tom Hardy), the masked villain described as a "terrorist" and driven by pure evil. Bane and his allies hope to reduce Gotham City to ashes by setting off a nuclear bomb.

His attack begins with a series of well-planned explosions all over the city, which is cut off from the rest of the world as a result. After blowing up a stadium pitch during an American football game in one of the movie's most stunning scenes, Bane then tells spectators that the power to rule Gotham is now in the hands of the people, describing the ensuing chaos as a "revolution" of sorts.

Bane goes on to open the gates of Gotham's prison facility, releasing prisoners sentenced when good-turned-evil attorney-general Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) was in charge; those, in other words, who had been wrongly convicted under an unjust regime – from Bane's perspective. The dark truth concerning Dent – who had fought crime before turning to evil in the previous movie, 'The Dark Knight' – had been buried for years for the sake of the city.

Dent had become a villain after losing half his face as the Joker (Heath Ledger) – the real culprit – drove him mad by convincing him that the system was to blame for what had happened to him. Batman eventually kills Dent before the latter can murder the family of upstanding police commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman), but in order not to break Gotham's spirit, Batman and Gordon agree to keep the lawman's image intact.

To preserve the system in 'The Dark Knight,' the radical Batman offers to take the fall for Dent's crimes. Gordon eventually goes along with the plan, and, subsequently, Batman goes from hero to fugitive, disappearing for eight years until Bane's emergence prompts his reappearance.

Gordon, meanwhile, wants to come clean and tell the people of Gotham what really happened – namely, that Batman had been the real savior while Dent's dark side had prevailed in his last days and led to his death. But it is Bane who ends up telling Dent's secret after taking over the city, stealing Gordon's speech and delivering it on live television moments before releasing armed convicts onto the streets.

Much like Egypt's uprising last year, Bane and his men manage to trap most of Gotham's police in a subterranean tunnel. The rest are forced to hole up in their homes after being targeted by self-proclaimed "revolutionaries." In the ensuing security vacuum, French Revolution-style trials become commonplace.  

Egypt witnessed similar, albeit less violent, incidents, when millions hit the streets to protest 30 years of autocratic rule under the Hosni Mubarak regime. Police, hated by the public for opening fire on unarmed anti-regime demonstrators, vanished overnight. For days, in the absence of national security apparatuses, anarchy prevailed, with the public setting up makeshift checkpoints to protect family and property.

Adding fuel to the fire, prison inmates escaped – or were released – in large numbers during the turmoil, and the crime rate in Egypt has been on the rise ever since.

In Nolan's movie, the "revolution" witnessed by Gotham is led by Bane and his thuggish supporters, including inmates and criminals, while normal city residents are terrified into submission – inviting comparisons with Egypt's own post-revolution security vacuum. Bane's grand scheme promises to culminate in the city's destruction, were it not for Batman, who once again rises to the occasion to protect the people – as well as the system.

Gotham is led by Mayor Anthony Garcia (Nestor Carbonell), an honest man who really cares for his city. Social justice, however, is nowhere to be seen, thanks largely to deep-rooted corruption and greedy businessmen (again, not unlike Mubarak's Egypt). In so doing, the film conveys a message: corruption will always be around and the authorities must always come down hard on criminals. The safety of the system, meanwhile, is intimately related to that of the people.

And, according to the worldview espoused in 'The Dark Knight Rises,' revolution is not the solution.

Director: Christopher Nolan

Main cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman

Release date:  16 July, 2012 (world premiere)

This movie is currently playing at: Golden Stars Cinemas, Odeon, Galaxy, Stars Cinema

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