The Dark Knight Rises is too Good to be either Liberal or Conservative

Is new Batman movie liberal or conservative?  There’s already been a lot of back-and-forth on this.  Like some idiotic Obama supporters, the idiotic Rush Limbaugh thinks that the villainous “Bane” is an obvious reference to the villainous “Bain Capital,” Mitt Romney’s old company.  Meanwhile, others have claimed that the film is unabashedly Reaganite.  I’m kind of sympathetic to conservatives on this one because the movie can’t help but look pro-conservative in comparison to what Hollywood usually puts out. But it’s simply not pro-conservative or pro-capitalist.

Having seen the movie yesterday, I’m happy to report that it is not particularly political one way or the other. Political values are shallow values, which is why overtly political movies usually just aren’t very good. Good movies reach so far deeper than politics that although they may contain political commentary, they end up transcending that commentary and making it part of something far more important. Both conservatives and liberals will find some of their values crystallized in the film because ultimately conservatives and liberals are all humans and have the same law written on their hearts even if sin has twisted that law in different ways.  Nevertheless, the film isn’t so myopic as to be blind to any deep value that isn’t clearly seen through a liberal or conservative filter.

I’ve heard that the movie is inspired by A Tale of Two Cities, and that certainly seems to be the case. But while some would impose modern notions of “social justice” on Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities is a classic work that goes way too deep to be boxed into modern partisan politics. The Dark Knight Rises is similar. It is decidedly anti-occupy-wall-street in the same way that Tale was certainly anti-revolutionary. In both, the “revolution” is undeniably ugly, brutal, and offers nothing but destruction and false hope.  Any veneer of nobility in the revolution is quite obviously just that–a pretense that hides what’s underneath.

This must not, however, be read to imply that either one is “for” the other side. Tale is not kind to the aristocracy and Dark Knight is not kind to wall street or capitalism. Each work describes a corrupt society which is corrupt precisely because both “sides” are rotten. Virtue and decency are found in the individuals who know something deeper and pursue something more than what either “side” has to offer. If either “side” wins, everyone loses. Both Batman and Bane buck the trends of their natural “side.” But whereas Bane hates people because they’re infected by the culture’s wickedness and wants to destroy them, Batman loves people despite the infection and wants to pull them out of it.  Regardless of what liberals and conservatives might want to believe, that particular virtue of Batman isn’t liberal or conservative.

Conservatives and liberals will both find their sides represented in this movie somewhere and cheer when the other side gets zinged.  Some will like that Gotham’s upper class are portrayed as snobbish, self-indulgent, and out-of-touch or that a wealthy corporate suit makes such a substantial contribution to Bane’s villainy for the sake of greed.  Others will appreciate the unsympathetic treatment of the blatantly socialistic rhetoric of Bain and his thugs or the brilliant scene with where Catwoman laments that a seized apartment “used to be someone’s home” and her apprentice’s shallow response that “now it’s everyone’s home” only highlights that a place that’s “everyone’s home” isn’t really a home at all.  If they’re shallow, partisans will assume the movie must be on their side, where all goodness is located, simply because the movie is very good. But in the end, the movie is just too good for that.

Bonus Mini-Review

It amazes me that each film in Nolan’s Batman trilogy is so different from the others despite being so similar.  That alone makes them hard to compare to one-another.  I can say that this movie is excellent.   Though not as good as The Dark Knight, I think it’s better than Batman Begins.  Thematically, it’s greatest strength is that it desperately grapples with the one flaw I thought the second movie had–that victory in the battle for Gotham’s soul hinged on lying and manipulating the people of Gotham.  Its greatest flaw is probably that, for a movie about the battle for Gotham’s soul, the people of Gotham are conspicuously absent as compared to the second movie.  Rises really needed a “ferry” scene.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
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