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This has been a good– no, fantastic– year for superhero films. The Avengers exceeded all expectations and even the Spider-man reboot was good. But let’s be honest– those other movies don’t hold a candle to the epic conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy…

Cue soundtrack:

Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We hope for light, but there is darkness; for brightness, but we live in the night.– Isaiah 59:9

Looking up to the light of the open sky from the bottom of a massive, inescapable pit. That is the image that will always come to mind whenever I think of this movie– because, to me, that frame represents what The Dark Knight Rises is about: hope.

In the beginning of the film, everything seems pretty hunky-dory in Gotham City. Crime seems all but eradicated. The initiative to clean up Gotham’s once-violent (and Joker-ridden) streets was based on the ideals and motivation of the martyred hero, Harvey Dent. Of course, as we know from The Dark Knight, Dent did not die a hero’s death. It was all a lie. And so, the film poses some questions. Can good based on a lie succeed? Is it really good? Can it produce real hope? The answer, of course, is no.

It is clear in the movie that there is a hope dichotomy: there is false hope and there is real hope. False hope is built on lies. Real hope is built on truth. Real hope exists when people can put their faith in something or someone that will be faithful to deliver the fulfillment of their hope.

As often happens in Nolan’s films, things are not all they appear to be. A vengeance is growing beneath Gotham, fueled by the leadership of Bane, a sinister and powerful new villain with Hulk-like strength, and exacerbated by the longing of Gotham’s lower classes and criminals to overturn the city’s new status quo.

As Selina Kyle (Catwoman) says, “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

Though we see Bane’s army mostly as masses of criminals or unmemorable henchmen, Ms. Kyle (portrayed by the always kick-butt Anne Hathaway), is, in some ways, a representation of all of them. Trapped by her social status and criminal record, manipulative and self-serving, she begins to realize she is just a pawn for the schemes of the more powerful, like Bane and his sinister sponsors. Even with her backstabbing and gold-digging, Kyle is a likable character… because we see that despite all of her antics, she still hopes for something better.

Unfortunately, Kyle and the rest of the disenfranchised are following after a false hope. Bane, like most villains, is just using them for his own evil purposes. Kyle is fortunate enough to find a ray of light in the midst of the darkness– someone who offers real hope. Ironically, her ray of light is actually the Dark Knight.

Even more ironically, Batman himself seems lost and hopeless at the beginning of the film. He is living as a crippled hermit in Wayne Manor, having taken the fall for Dent’s crimes. But he is also basking in his own depression and guilt from losing Rachel, his love. How can a hero bring hope to others when he doesn’t have it himself?

Enter Officer John Blake. Blake is basically the epitome of hopefulness. He is young, good, gung-ho for justice, mighty fine-lookin, and he rose from a harsh childhood– we hope he is a premonition of Gotham’s future. But he is not just a spinner of positivism– he’s an optimistic realist. He sees things and people (including Batman and Commissioner Gordon) for what they really are, good and bad, but that doesn’t stop him from hoping for something better and standing up for what’s right, even when it means calling out his heroes on their faults.

With Blake’s prompting, ol’ Brucey realizes it’s time to put on his suit and get out his super-cool bat toys one more time. But trusty Alfred’s cautionary words make us wonder if Batman is intentionally heading for a suicide mission. In the end, our hero must overcome his own guilt, fear, and failure and learn to have faith.

Which brings us to the pit. All of our major characters, including the city of Gotham itself, have been there (symbolically) at some point. And so have we. Down in despair, darkness, suffering, we look to the light from below. And we must make a choice: to preserve what pitiful (no pun intended) life we have or to risk that life and make a climb, a jump, a grasp for freedom from the life we know and for hope in something greater.

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it.– Matthew 16:25

While Bane’s prison was meant to break Batman, it actually served to give him the faith he needed to be a hero and a leader once again. He was once again able to look beyond himself. As I see it, letting go of the rope was also letting go of his past– his last grip on the life he had before. So, in a way, it did break him, but in a way that made him stronger.

By the end of the movie, Batman regains faith in himself and others put their faith in him, and he comes through– for his own good and for theirs. Not only is Gotham rescued (once again) and freed from false hope, but Bruce Wayne also takes Alfred’s advice and chooses to be free himself– a fate few would have guessed for our tragic hero.

Some have criticized the conclusion of the movie for being too feel-good. While it may not have the sacrificial, punch-to-the-gut, bitter awesomeness of The Dark Knight, I thought it was a fitting end for the trilogy. These brilliant movies remind us that without tragedy, hope cannot exist. But without hope fulfilled, tragedy is pointless.

Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.– Hebrews 11:1


COMMENT: Have you seen the movie? What did you think? What was your favorite scene? 

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like 7 Films That Define Our Generation, Superheroes Are Screw-ups, Too: The Avengers in ReviewThe Death of the Chick Flick (or Why I Feel Sorry for Zac Efron)Bread and Circuses: What The Hunger Games Reminds Us About Ourselves, and “My Mouth’s Bleedin’, Bert!”: why one black-and-white Christmas film is my favorite of all time.

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