Under The Cowl – The Themes Of The Dark Knight Trilogy

the_dark_knight_7By now the last thing you want is another Dark Knight Rises review. So, with this in mind, I’m going to attempt to offer something new, as I take a look at the trilogy’s themes. Of course, spoilers ahoy!

Released in 2005, Batman Begins reinvented the character and treated him and the audience with respect. Watching it again I was impressed to discover how much it delves into its central theme of fear. Every character, every scene, almost every line has the theme of fear coursing through its veins. Fear motivates Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and ultimately it’s what he uses to defeat his enemies as Batman.

While Batman Begins is very much orientated around fear, The Dark Knight, released in 2008, explores a number of themes. The most talked about theme of TDK being chaos.

However the true theme at the heart of TDK is symbols and justified deception (a theme that is evident throughout all Christopher Nolan’s work) and is clearest at the climax of the film. In this scene Bruce Wayne is able to use the symbol of Batman to take the blame for Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart)’s crimes. Here Batman is whoever Gotham needs him to be. Here he becomes more than a hero. He becomes a legend. Another theme established in Batman Begins.

So, what of The Dark Knight Rises? Well, if we’re to believe Nolan, this film is all about pain. Another strong theme at the heart of TDKR is one of hope. Previous themes also make an appearance, with the theme of fear returning. Yet there is one theme that is in my opinion what TDKR is truly about: liberation.

The theme of liberation is evident throughout and is most noticeable in Bruce Wayne’s storyline. At the beginning of the narrative, Bruce is no longer Batman and no longer has to fear for the safety of Gotham. Yet he is not free. Hanging up his cape has not liberated him. His pain and his guilt weigh him down. What happened to Harvey Dent and more significantly, what happened to Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), torments him. The journey he goes on during the film forces him to face this pain and liberate himself.

Dark-Knight-Rises-box-office-22nd-july-2012The films’ ending points directly towards this, as by choosing to sacrifice himself, Bruce is gaining his freedom. He doesn’t gain it by dying but instead gains it by using his apparent death as a form of justified deception (again, Nolan using his favourite theme). By doing this he is able to lead a life without Batman. The scene at the end of the film where Alfred (Michael Caine) sees Bruce sitting with Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is a moving moment that gives Alfred and us the audience the ending we always wanted for Bruce.

Not only does the theme of liberation flow through Bruce’s story, but that of Selina Kyle’s. Throughout Selina wants her slate cleaned so she can have a chance at a new life – the theme of hope intersecting the theme of liberation. It’s a masterstroke by Nolan to orchestrate Bruce and Selina’s journeys so they intertwine in this manner.

Bane (Tom Hardy) also gets in on the liberation act. We are lead to believe he achieved his liberation from the prison by climbing the wall, yet this is revealed to be Talia Al Ghul (Marion Cotillard). We also come to discover he did not leave the League Of Shadows and was instead cast out. It’s not until we see the whole picture of Bane’s history that his motivation becomes clear. Suddenly his thoughts about hope crushing the individual make sense. He desires his own liberation, but can’t attain it. Thus he wants Gotham to feel the pain he feels.

Yet in the end, liberation is something Gotham can have. Through the actions of Batman and the police, Gotham is liberated. Liberated not only from Bane’s rule, but the lies that the city has been built on.

Watching the trilogy as a whole makes you appreciate the level of artistry and care Nolan et al have put in. Everything links and everything has a pay-off, with the film’s breathtaking finale suggesting a future film that although unlikely to be made, can be constructed within every child and man-child’s imagination.


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