“The Dark Knight Rises” Review, Part 2: What’s Bane’s Deal?

James Holmes, the man who murdered innocent people at a midnight premier of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Colorado, fits one of three types, according to a recent article in Newsweek. He may be delusionally insane, incapable of discerning reality from the voices in his head (the Virginia Tech shooter was like this). He may be suicidally depressed, so consumed by sadness and despair that his mind decides to exact revenge on a world he misinterprets as so much worse than it actually is. And it’s possible he’s a psychopath, delighting in the suffering of others. Psychopaths can’t empathize, and are the sorts who harm animals as children. They want chaos.

Sound familiar? From the Newsweek article by Dave Cullen: “Psychopaths are not crazy in the sense that they don’t know what they are doing. They are hyperrational – they just don’t care about our pain. Psychopaths are remarkably like Health Ledger’s Joker in ‘The Dark Knight,’ if you strip away the costume and theatrics. But psychopathic killers have one Achilles’ heel: they revel in glory and like to brag. Look for clues as James Holmes’ history comes to light.”

Heath Ledger’s Joker is evoked without irony in a serious national-magazine article about the “Batman” movie shooter. That’s how amazing that character was as a villain – he is the perfect example of a psychopath.

This sign became popular at Tea Party rallies a few years ago, where right-leaning citizens protested wasteful government:

Creepy, right? The idea is that a single ambitious psychopath can effect profound change. Joker murdered anyone he wanted, burned millions in hard cash and put an entire city (Gotham, standing in for New York) into a state of panic. Hard-core Obama haters like this image because it turns our president into the perfect example of a psychopath. Rush Limbaugh delivers the same sort of message daily, that “Obama is destroying the economy on purpose.”

This is why the new series of Batman movies has been so amazing, particularly in this modern era of countless countless comic-book movies. “Iron Man” may have buried deep within it, somewhere, a moral about using genius for good rather than weapons manufacturing, but the depth gets buried beneath the film’s real goal: showcase Robert Downey Jr.’s charisma, stage a few special-effects scenes where the armor’s abilities get showcased, and set up sequels.

Nolan’s “Batman” flicks are filled with great effects, but they blend with the literally and figuratively dark pseudo-reality of Gotham City. Batman’s toys are fun, particularly the tumbler car, but the real point of these films comes through the complicated conversations between characters, like when the mob boss Carmine Falcone points a gun at Bruce Wayne in a seedy bar during “Batman Begins” and says ….

“Look around you. You’ll see two councilmen, a union official, a couple off-duty cops, and a judge. Now, I wouldn’t have a second’s hesitation of blowing your head off right here and right now in front of them. That’s power you cant buy. That’s the power of fear. … People from your world have so much to lose. Now, you think because your mommy and daddy got shot, you know about the ugly side of life, but you don’t. You’ve never tasted desperate.”

This is why Bruce Wayne left to turn himself into a batman – to taste desperate. He returns after years of training to fight corruption itself. Yes, he takes down Falcone and battles Ra’s Al-Ghul to save the city, but his true goal is acting as a symbol for the people to know fear can be overcome, so they don’t need to bend their knees to corruption. When Wayne, in “Dark Knight,” finally meets do-gooder district attorney Harvey Dent, he sees someone real who can take the torch and turn the people away from the symbol of Batman toward a real person willing to show his face as he’s battling real-world-style evil.

Then what happens? Dent becomes overwhelmed by the callously indifferent terrorism of Joker, and breaks. The huge lesson of “The Dark Knight” is that a truly crazy person, properly motivated, can take away the best things about ourselves if we let him. It’s true. Joker is cackling with glee at the end of that film, because he was at least a little right about us. So those people on the boats didn’t blow each other up. Big deal. He’d still stirred up an epic shit storm and corrupted the city’s savior.

Which is all a very long way to bring us to this question: What does Bane represent? The villain of “The Dark Knight Rises” is not like his character in the comic books, a hulking and hyper-intelligent brute who can super-charge his own muscles by injecting an experimental chemical into his blood stream.

This Bane is leading a revolutionary movement against the forces who think they control us through money. When the financier of Bane’s criminal enterprise, a douchey suit on the Wayne Corp. board named Roland Daggett, realizes Bane’s plan won’t help a very rich man get even richer, he demands respect from Bane because he’s given him so much money.

Bane’s response is important: “You think this gives you power over me?”

It’s Catwoman who says the line that best articulates what’s at stake in the world of “Rises.” She says it almost as a warning more than a threat: “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

Bane’s men, it is demonstrated and said out loud, will happily die for him. They want to take machine guns onto the stock exchange and scare an entire metropolis with the threat of a nuclear bomb. They bury the Gotham police force, then free and arm all the criminals in prison (many of whom were denied parole under the “Dent Act,” a law built on a lie). They stage rowdy show trials, where their enemies are sentenced to terrible death without a hearing.

These guys needed a leader, and that’s where Bane’s genius lies. Yet we learn almost nothing about any of them as they execute a plan to destroy everything. Is that because they’re all just normal people?

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