07.19.12

Don’t Occupy Gotham City: A Protester Reviews ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

Holy wealth inequality, Batman? Christopher Nolan’s new epic depicts a sinister class warfare. But that’s Hollywood, not the Occupy Movement, says one Occupy Wall Street organizer.

Politicians and the mainstream media now have to talk about wealth inequality even though most would probably prefer not to—and that’s thanks to the Occupy Wall Street protests. The movement’s become so popular that even Batman now has to fight wealth inequality. Did the Occupy Movement inspire the Dark Knight, a one-percenter chairman of weapons-manufacturing Wayne Tech Enterprises by day and masked (street) crime fighting vigilante by night, to join the fight to restore justice for the 99 percent as Rush Limbaugh recently insinuated?

If only this were so, because if Batman were to officially join the movement (even as a fictional character), it would then be very difficult for the 1 percent to continue to pretend their crimes against the rest of us were not actually crimes when faced with accusations from the world’s greatest contemporary detective-turned-class traitor.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to make this completely pointless argument because the script for The Dark Knight Rises was written well before the protests began in September 2011. Director Christopher Nolan has also stated that the film was purely entertainment and not about politics. He has denied that the film was in any way inspired by the protests. He also decided not to shoot any footage from the Occupation of Zuccotti Park in order to avoid trivializing the movement and to avoid accusations of attempting to co-opt it.

Yet the media is already discussing latent Occupy themes in The Dark Knight Rises anyway. It demonstrates the underestimated extent to which the movement has captured the collective imagination of the world on the one hand, but also the tendency of the mainstream media to avoid talking about real social issues by talking about fictional portrayals of real social issues as if they were real social issues. It is fascinating but somewhat nerve-racking to wonder what millions of people around the world will think about the Occupy Wall Street protests after having watched this film, especially since a few of its scenes could potentially create misconceptions about the Occupy Movement for those who haven’t experienced it firsthand.

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Ramin Setoodeh interviews the 'Dark Knight's harshest critics yet: kids!

I’m glad that themes about wealth inequality and class conflict have entered into the zeitgeist of popular culture. In this case, however, I would rather see the these themes in The Dark Knight Rises remain free of any association with the Occupy Movement. “Bane’s Revolution,” for example, and his occupation of Gotham City was waged by highly disciplined terrorists and the violent criminals they freed from BlackGate Prison, who were all heavily armed with futuristic-looking firearms, tanks, and a big nuclear bomb. They in no way resemble the comparatively impoverished, peace-seeking protesters who armed themselves with signs, sleeping bags, tents, and iPhones at best in their attempts to fight for social justice.

If we are to talk about this film as if it has any connection to reality, which we should not, because it does not, then I would argue that this film is about revenge more than revolution, and the two are not at all the same thing. Revolution is not the violent overthrow of privileged classes by exploited classes. Revolution is not a violent revolt as it is depicted in The Dark Knight Rises. Rather, it is a social healing process and the resolution of violence between opposed social strata if it is successful. The occupation of Zuccotti Park was the beginning of such process rather than a declaration of war against those with privilege. The occupation gave many of us the support and confidence we needed in order to end the isolation we’ve felt obliged to impose upon ourselves in order to avoid the stigma, guilt, and shame that perpetually broke, debt-ridden people tend to experience from living in the most crassly materialistic society ever designed by human beings. The occupation of Zuccotti Park helped many of us feel less angry, less violent, and more like dignified human beings for the first time in our lives.

This theme is nowhere to be found in The Dark Knight Rises. There aren’t any revolutionary themes in the movie as far as I’m concerned, even though it may seem as if there are to the uninitiated. Catwoman and Bane both scorn Bruce Wayne for his privileged upbringing and both resentfully treat him as a legitimate target to steal from or sadistically cripple. The film depicts the sacking and destruction of wealthy Gotham homes, sham trials lacking procedure presided over by The Scarecrow, and public executions. All of these scenes are far more reminiscent of the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution rather than Occupy Wall Street and this is because screenwriter Jonathan Nolan was inspired by Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities more so than Occupy Wall Street.

Batman’s attempt to inspire others to stand up and take personal responsibility for widespread social injustice will likely only distract millions of people from actually doing so.

It won’t be surprising to watch themes of violent class war help sell this movie at the box office, but this movie will in no way help the movement spread its true message, and that’s fine because the movie is only a movie. I thought it was a very entertaining movie at that and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.  I’ve been reading Batman comic books and watching Batman films and animations for as long as I can remember. I know the characters well and I had fun watching all of the actors in the film do a pretty good job of bringing them to life.

However, the fact that this movie will not fail to entertain countless moviegoers is part of our bigger social problems. Batman’s attempt to inspire others to stand up and take personal responsibility for widespread social injustice will likely only distract millions of people from actually doing so.

Mainstream movies—much like mainstream politics—are distractions intended to comfort us not only from unpleasant social realities but from the solutions to those realities as well, which aren’t necessarily unpleasant. Revolution is an incredibly exhilarating and empowering social experience. It’s way more fun than going to the movies. And actually fighting against social injustice is way more fun than passively watching someone else do it for us, even if it happens to be the Batman.