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Bhupesh Bhandari: Shedding light on the Dark Knight

Is the story of Batman, that of a businessman fallen on bad times, or is it capitalism (battered by recession & joblessness) in decline?

Bhupesh Bhandari  |  New Delhi 

Ever since I saw Christopher Nolan’s Rises on Sunday I have been telling friends and family to watch it. Of course, the special effects are superb, the actors all have done a great job, the shots of Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort are breathtaking, and there isn’t a dull moment in the two-hour, 45-minute film. More than that, there are some political messages in the film. Here’s what: Bane, the villain of the film, leads common people to occupy Gotham City (read New York City) and throw out the rich. The 99 per cent rise against the 1 per cent. The once mighty and powerful are tried in public courts and can choose between death and exile (which involves walking on thin ice).

In the Western media, commentators have said that this is Nolan’s way of slamming the Occupy Wall Street movement — the drive that started in September last year against economic inequality, greed and crony capitalism. But there is a twist to it. Towards the end, it turns out that Bane did all his villainy out of love, and is vulnerable — he wears a mask not to look ominous but to hide his face distorted by disease; the mask injects analgesics to lessen his pain. So, there is sympathy for him and, by extension, to his cause.

Does this mean that Nolan, deep down in his heart, supports Occupy Wall Street? Your interpretation is as good as mine. Nolan, in a recent interview to magazine, said that what he really tried to do was “show the cracks of society, show the conflicts somebody would try to wedge open”. There would be, he said, various attempts to decipher the political message of the film, what it supports and what it doesn’t, but “it’s not doing any of those things”. On the implicit criticism of the Occupy Wall Street movement, he added: “Well, obviously, that’s not true.”

Bane also releases prisoners held captive indefinitely under the Dent Act. Harvey Dent is a Good Samaritan who turns into a bloodthirsty monster in (the 2008 prequel to the latest film) and is therefore killed by Batman. At Batman’s insistence, his villainous acts are kept from the public; that’s why he is seen as a martyr. The Act (named after him) helps the police clean up Gotham City. Commentators have likened it to the Patriot Act enacted in the United States after 9/11 (it gives law enforcement agencies special powers to deal with terrorists). Bane exposes the truth about Dent’s death. Is there another message here against stringent laws on the name of the fight against terror? There is, after all, resentment among a large section of the world population that arming the police with sweeping powers has curbed civil liberties and intruded into the personal spaces of people (conversations are tapped, movements are monitored, correspondence is opened, etcetera).

Still others have drawn connections between Bane and because he for long years headed Bain Capital!

Some have even found messages in the way Batman’s character is sketched. What makes Batman different from other superheroes, wrote in this newspaper on Saturday (The Moral Tales of Batman), is that he does not possess supernatural powers. He is just a fabulously rich businessman named Bruce Wayne who has the money to make fancy gadgets and hire a band of people who can run his business so that he can go out and fight crime in Gotham City. And this wealth, mind you, he has not created — he has inherited it from his philanthropist physician father.

In Rises, we come to know that his business has run into the ground. (Is that because he is unwell? In the beginning, he walks with the support of a stick and has a pronounced limp). A clean-energy project he supports runs the danger of going awry — the reactor can become a bomb. And the orphanage he once supported is running on empty. Then he loses it all when Bane occupies the Gotham City stock exchange and Wayne Enterprises’ stock falls (ah, the perils of speculation). None of the wealth returns at the end, and his mansion is sold off to repay the debts. Is that the story of a businessman who has fallen on bad times, or is it capitalism (battered by recession and joblessness) in decline? Take your pick.

This isn’t the first time people have read meanings into films and seen hidden messages where perhaps none exist. The Incredibles, a cute 2004 animation film produced by Pixar, is the story of a superhero (and his superhero wife and kids) who is a public nuisance for the destruction he causes while fighting evil; but he is the only person who can save the world from Syndrome, the evil genius. Some people saw it as endorsement for George W Bush’s fight against terrorism and the Iraq War. Brad Bird, the film’s director, later had to clarify that the film was conceived even before Bush took office. The Dark Knight, too, was seen as taking up Bush’s cause — somebody who was forced to push the boundaries of civil rights to finish crime. Get it?

First Published: Fri, August 03 2012. 00:15 IST