The Politics of The Dark Knight Rises

July 24, 2012

Thoughts on the “deep” political message of The Dark Knight Rises and a response to the tragic mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, on the night of the film’s premier. (Warning: Spoilers Alert)

Since the official release of The Dark Knight Rises (the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy), viewers and critics alike have been asking about the film’s political agenda—casual speculation now rooted in the very tragic and real culture (I will not say “incident”) of gun violence that killed twelve people and injured dozens more in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater premiering the film.

As I sat in a crowded theater on Saturday, not more than 48 hours since the film’s opening and the Colorado shooting, I felt a bundle of conflicting emotions: excitement for a long-anticipated movie; a desire to be entertained and thrilled; grief and anxiety, knowing that we were as vulnerable as those sitting in the Aurora theater; hope that this film would do more than entertain but challenge me intellectually, even offering some internal critique of the senseless violence with which it was now forever paired. Questions tumbled around in my head: was there a political message to this film, and would I like it, or would it mar this trilogy I have come to respect and love?

Not all of the questions were mine. I had seen Facebook friends post about the glamorization of violence in today’s films. I had read Catherine Shoard of The Guardian critique our hero as a “capitalist caped crusader” who vilifies and combats the massed poor. I had heard Rush Limbaugh’s rant about the American populace being duped by the homophones “Bane” (the film’s villain) and “Bain” (Mitt Romney’s company Bain Capital).

When I finally watched The Dark Knight Rises, what I discovered was a film that confronted the cracks and fissures of our society through which violence intrudes and breaks down our democracy. It was, without question, a political film—but not the kind people have made it out to be.

In a Rolling Stone interview, director Christopher Nolan denies any political agenda for the film. Of course, Nolan doesn’t want to see any diminishments in his box office profits. But more importantly, he is speaking of a politics narrowly defined in this country as Democrat-Republican partisanship. Politics (deriving from the Greek words politicos, “of, for, or relating to citizens”, and polis, the “city-state”), however, encompasses anything that takes place in the public sphere (from our consumer decisions to the blogs we write to the films we create). So when Nolan says that the film is not about “liberal” or “conservative,” but about exposing “the cracks of society, the conflicts that somebody would try to wedge open,” Nolan is expressing a political intent behind the film.

One of those cracks was exposed Thursday night when a young man opened fire in a crowded theater. The fact that the shooter defies false stereotypes (a white, honors student and Ph.D. candidate) reveals another crack. The gun laws that made it possible for him to acquire 6,000 rounds of ammunition in two month’s time: another crack. And yet another crack when we learn that among the dead is Jessica Ghawi, a survivor of a mass shooting in a Toronto mall only a month ago.

These ruptures fill the Gotham landscape: the murder of Bruce’s parents that creates the Batman; a 16 year old orphan found dead in the sewers because the orphanage could not afford to care for him anymore; Wall Street-types rendering “invisible” the man who shines their shoes or washes their floors; a child born into a prison; the assumption that Bruce Wayne, because of his wealth, is just another suit living off the labor of others.

These cracks are points at which our relational ties (so essential to a functioning democracy) begin to stretch and tear. They could serve, as Parker Palmer says, as sincere moments of grief in which we realize our need for one another and choose to become better people. But these cracks can also quickly divide us into camps of “us” vs. “them,” the poor 99% vs. the rich 1%, the shining heroes vs. the grim villains. To acknowledge these cracks, to point out the inequities and injustices, is not the danger. The danger is that we will forget that the people on the “other side” are also human.

When that happens, we see a Gotham torn apart by fear, organized poverty and excess, draconian law, mass incarceration, crime, torture, violent revolution, and terrorism. It is a world not so different from our own.

But while exposing these wedges, this comic book movie about good and evil simultaneously blurs the dichotomies, complicates our assumptions. Walt Whitman once said, “I contain multitudes,” and no less might be said for the characters of Gotham. The Batman who refuses to execute a criminal, lest he become the very monster he has beheld, is the same Batman who tortures and sets up a system of illegal surveillance. Bruce Wayne holds within himself the billionaire, the orphan, the playboy, the grieving recluse, and the violent Batman who refuses to kill (“no guns”). Miranda Tate is the wealthy businesswoman laboring for a sustainable future, born into a prison, just as she is Talia al Ghul working to bring about the deaths of millions. The hulking mass of evil that is Bane is also the man who saved a little child. Both he and Batman are orphans of the League of Shadows, and tears are seen in the film on both men’s cheeks. The woman who betrays Batman—Selina Kyle—is also the one who saves him. The noble Police Commissioner Gordon, one of the few to resist corruption during the reign of the Falcone crime syndicate, is also the man whose lies set up the Dent Act and rampant incarceration.

The cracks can hide from our vision these complexities (including the social causes that led to the cracks in the first place). They can fill the pits of our stomachs with so much rancor and terror that we lash out because we don’t know what else to do. These cracks are particularly terrifying when they rupture in the banal places we considered safe: a movie theater in Colorado; a football stadium in Gotham; a school in Columbine; the Twin Towers in New York City.

But the vulnerability and fragility we suddenly feel do not have to lead to an identity politics pitting us against some contrived “other.” In The Dark Knight, two shiploads of people are told that they can either all die or they can press a button that will set off an explosion on the other ship: a perfect “us vs. them” scenario. But both ships choose not to press that button, with the ship carrying the incarcerated, the villains, interestingly making that choice first.

In The Dark Knight Rises, the people seem to succumb (with deliberate echoes of the French Revolution and post-9/11 America). But ironically, the film turns out, not to be about the lone savior Batman, but about the people and commonplace heroes. In what The Telegraph calls a “superhero movie without a superhero,” Batman is notably absent from many scenes. When he is most alone (Alfred has left him, Catwoman has betrayed him, and a cage literally separates him from the world), Batman is broken, his vertebrae cracked over the knees of Bane. Batman is able to save the day only with the help of others: they need him, no doubt about that, but he needs them just as much. In the last words he speaks in the film, Batman says that anyone can be a hero, even just by wrapping a coat around a scared and lonely child. Bane may appeal to the “common people,” but it is the common beat-cop and orphan, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who shines as a hero in the movie.

To escape his prison, Bruce Wayne is told that he must recapture that which he spent the last two films working to overcome: fear. He must feel vulnerable again. He must feel like he has something to lose, and something worth living for. To make the jump, he has to climb without a rope and harness; he has to take that leap knowing that he could fall and die.

Sometimes our fear, our vulnerability, our cracks and fissures, lead us to violence and the imposition of otherness. But sometimes that same fear, that same vulnerability, those same cracks and fissures, lead us to link arms and mend the rifts in our social fabric. We get to choose what we make of our broken hearts. We can calcify our wounds with hatred like Bane. Or we can let them breathe and bleed into the wounds of others, shared across sinful, aching hands, and see what might be created—it might just happen to be this thing we call democracy.

–Patrick David Heery

This piece was originally published by Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice.

U22: A Defining Disc from U2.Com Fan Club

July 12, 2012

  Almost a year has passed since U2 wrapped up its landmark 360° Tour at Moncton, Canada’s Magnetic Hill Festival. The Irish band’s tour encompassed three years, a landmark stage setup, and an audience of over seven million people while en route to becoming the highest-grossing tour of all time. The scope of the tour, one of several industry-defining tours in the band’s storied career, is as big as any in recent memory. To capture this period of U2’s career, the band recently issued U22, a fan-voted fan club-only release which manages to encapsulate the 360° Tour as the group’s best live album since U2 go Home: Live From Slane Castle in 2003.
    For a tour as vast as the 360° Tour, U22 captures the enormity of several different shows while injecting the double-disc with several special moments. The most important being the band’s magical cut of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with South African trumpeter Hugh Maskela. The spot-on mix of U22is also a big element in the quality of the set. While some live releases turn down the crowd mic, the mix on U22kept the audience on par with the band, allowing the big stadium choruses to become even more epic. The drum and bass mix are also of an unusual high quality for a live release.
    Among the best selections from U22 are an energy-infused take of “Even Better Than The Real Thing” and a version of “Until The End of the World” that is interspersed with a snippet of Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night.” Other highlights include a blistering solo from The Edge on “Elevation,” How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’s “City of Blinding Lights,” and an unbelievable performance of the extended version of “Bad.” Not to be left out is “With or Without You,” where the London crowd almost manages to drown out Bono on each chorus.
     Perhaps it was the fan voting, but U22 managed to separate the newer material from No Line On The Horizon and also allowed some of the best and most interesting songs to make it on the list instead of a regurgitated best hits. A great snapshot of not a single concert, but rather of an era, U22 defines the group in one of their peak eras in the same way that Rattle and Hum and Under a Blood Red Sky captured the group at their best. –John Saeger
To learn more about this special release, go to!This piece originally appeared on the website Long After Dark. We thank John Saeger for sharing it with us. do you think about U22? Leave a comment or send your own review to

Coldplay Inch Closer to U2 in Achieving Authentic Arena Rock Spectacle

July 2, 2012

In the same space where one week earlier the Miami Heat were crowned basketball champions, the jubilant city of Miami welcomed Grammy-winning superstars Coldplay to the American Airlines Arena.

Imagine over 20,000 multi-colored lights flashing all together in a single space. Add to the equation 20,000 voices singing along to worldwide hits. Multiply all this by 100 minutes, and we see why Coldplay is becoming a live band to rival any in terms of stage presence, including their inspiration and ours in Irish rockers U2.

The only British band to be equally successful in Europe and the United States, Coldplay are currently touring to support their latest release Mylo Xyloto across the globe throughout the year.

The stage design is all based on their graffiti theme, with five huge circular digital screens. Special wristbands were given on entry, with the screens telling the crowd to wear them because they were actually part of the show.

The evening began with the Back to the Future theme followed by a huge laser spectacle as Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland, Guy Berryman and Will Champion entered the stage and started playing “Hurts Like Heaven.” All the wristbands suddenly started flashing in rhythm with the music—wow.

The audience was already warmed up thanks to the brilliant opening performances of Wolf Gang and Robyn. However, next on the list was “In My Place” which made every single person stand up once and for all for the remainder of the show.

New songs from Mylo Xyloto prevailed, mixed with selections from A Rush of Cold Blood to the Head, Viva la Vida, X&Y, and only one from their debut Parachutes. But it was that single song “Yellow” that took the concert to a higher level.

The show was cleverly planned and well-balanced: a ballad followed every three uptempo songs, part of the setlist was played on an X-shaped stage in the middle of the crowd, and closer to the end a little stage at the very back of the stadium hosted the performance of two songs (“Us Against the World” and “Speed of Sound”).

The highlight of the concert took place as the darkness fell: that was when Viva la Vida and Charlie Brown were played. Their 2008 number one hit was fantastic in terms of response and sense of belonging (like when U2 plays “Where The Streets Have No Name”) but “Charlie Brown” was simply a visually spectacular Miami party. Watch to believe at this link:

Then followed a never-ending sequence of top-charting songs: “Paradise,” “Clocks,” “Fix You,” and the grand finale of their energetic “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall.”

Chris Martin was certainly born to be a performer, running and jumping across the whole stage from the beginning to the very last moment. A talented singer, he also found rest from his antics as he turned to his piano.

Some people may think Coldplay as a rock band are a little too poppy, but the show they put on clearly proves the rock roots of their repertoire, inching them closer to U2 in comparable live show extravaganza. –Jaime Rodriguez, Contributing Writer