As I have mentioned before, I was left with much despair at the end of The Dark Knight. The hero of the film, decides to take the blame for the misdeeds of Harvey Dent in order to “reward the faith” of Gotham, which is placed in this White Knight. It sounds so noble, as Batman becomes hunted down and chased, while Gotham goes on placing their hope in a lie. The rationale for this action is explained in Batman’s voiceover at the end, “Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”
I argued in another post that this is most problematic. Surprisingly, I have gotten some pushback on this. In some of my discussions, people have brought up that a falsehood can be used more effectively for the greater good than the truth in certain situations. Others have focused on the spectrum between faith and doubt in relation to one’s certainty of the truth. Each of those discussions, in my opinion, are separate than what I see is most problematic with this quote. The long and short of it is that one’s faith is only truly rewarded when it is placed in something (or Someone) that is true. Otherwise, one’s faith is meaningless, especially since it will ultimately fail in the end.
What was quite surprising is that The Dark Knight Rises actually shows the consequences of the lies Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and Alfred tell in order to protect those they love. There is no arguing that these falsehoods came out of good intentions, but the problem is not only deontological, but also negatively consequential towards those they intended to protect. One of the first scenes shows ice cracking under pressure, which effectively illustrates what is about to come.Here are some of the consequences that come from the decisions made by the main characters at the end of The Dark Knight:
Batman is completely vilified and Harvey Dent goes on to be the hero of Gotham. His death enables the passing of the controversial Harvey Dent Act, which gives the cops so much power, allowing them to imprison many people, who might not have deserved it. Part of the social critique of the movie, is that this Act enables the rich to get richer and the poor to be more oppressed in their poverty. This causes many like, Selina Kyle (Catwoman) to despise the rich and long for a revolution. Eventually, such sentiment allows for a villain like Bane to come to power. Bane reveals the truth about Harvey Dent to incense those who were imprisoned as a result of the Harvey Dent Act.
The other lie that was told at the end of The Dark Knight, was when Alfred withholds the letter of Rachel Dawes to Bruce Wayne, stating that she had chosen Harvey Dent. Trying to protect Bruce, Alfred burns the letter so as not to cause complete despair after the events with Harvey and Rachel. What happens in the long run is that in thinking that Rachel was going to wait for him, Bruce never moves on. Eight years go by and he has become a recluse not having much desire for anything, whether marriage to another woman or other philanthropic activities. All Alfred wants for Bruce is to move on, live his life, and let go of being Batman and what he thought he had with Rachel. Ironically, the lie that he thought would protect him became the very thing that diminishes and hinders him.
In a very emotional, poignant scene (which happens every time Michael Caine appears on the screen), Alfred tries to convince Bruce one last time to move on and leave Batman and Rachel behind. I love his words, “Maybe it’s time we stop trying to avoid the truth and let it have its day.” Of course it is too late by now, and this only breaks the already strained relationship between the two. It is also notable to watch Gary Oldman’s performance throughout the film in how he deals with his guilt. He seems to be withering and worn by the burden he carries. It is reminiscent of his role in the Scarlet Letter (1995), where he plays Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale covering up his affair with Hester Prynne (Demi Moore).
I found a most interesting article on a website that is an excellent resource for movies, Screenrant.com. The title of the article is “Does ‘Dark Knight Rises’ contradict ‘Dark Knight’?” They say, “The Dark Knight basically said ‘Sometimes a lie that inspires is better than a truth that defeats,’ while The Dark Knight Rises basically says, ‘Hope and inspiration cannot be falsely earned, they have to be fought for through blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice.’ It’s not every day that a movie uses a sequel to contradict the thematic conclusions of its predecessor.”
At some level Screenrant is right in their analysis. But for me, this “contradiction” is why I like The Dark Knight Rises so much and its prequel, The Dark Knight even more. Even if the “thematic conclusions” are contradicted, in my opinion the sequel better complements the precarious nature of their lie. I was quite surprised at the critique in The Dark Knight Rises of the main characters’ ethical decisions in the prequel. But maybe this is why I appreciate the trilogy as a whole all the more. We are able to see the creation of a hero in the first film, his fall in the second leading into the third, and his ultimate redemption as he rises in the final film.