An unlikely subliminal message: The Dark Knight Rises

Dark Knight Rises has given those of the conservative persuasion the film we’ve been waiting for

Would Gotham City survive without Bruce Wayne's private enterprise?
Emily Schrader
On 2 August 2012 10:59

Other reviewers have characterized Christopher Nolan's film-making as art, and I won't argue with that. Every detail of the movie works, from the lighting to the music to the sets to the actors (compelling performances all by Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, and Anne Hathaway, as well as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard from Inception).

But what makes this film remarkable is that it depicts capitalism as a good thing, portrays some of the wealthy as some of the biggest heroes, and most importantly paints a vivid – vividly dark – picture of the society that the "99 percent-Occupy-Wall-Street” folks would have us usher in. 

Dark Knight Rises emphasizes the importance of making money. While it is evident both in reality and in this film that some use their financial strength for evil, the lesson is brought home repeatedly that there is untold good that can be done with great wealth – wealth that must be actively earned, as Bruce Wayne discovers.

Building on that, the movie portrays Bruce Wayne the (at least one-time) billionaire as a selfless hero who consistently risks his own fortune and life to save those less powerful in society, motivated by a strong moral compass. 

Wayne, as we discover fairly early in the movie, is the primary funder of a children’s home for orphaned boys. When he stops caring about making profits because of personal life struggles, no one is left to help the children. The message could not be more clear – without wealth, there can be very little charity.

Powerful messages resonate through the details of this film, as well as the overarching story line - messages that we simply do not see out of Hollywood. When Wall Street is threatened by the madman villain, a banker actually explains to a police officer why the money and system that the bad guys are stealing helps make everyone's money more valuable.

Come to think of it, we may have heard that type of line before – but in most Hollywood movies, that concept is immediately shot down with abundant sarcasm. Not here – the banker's explanation is left to stand on its own merits, and stand it does, as the real villains become more and more evident. 

Which brings us to the villain, Bane (no relation to Bain).

Bane, escaped from a prison that is described as hell on earth, threatens the safety of Gotham by converting a reactor that was built to provide sustainable energy into a nuclear bomb, and then uses it to advance his agenda of “restoring power to the people.” 

What Bane advocates has striking similarities to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s general will: the idea that the people possess complete control over societal decisions, but allowing a “government” of magistrates to enforce this general will.

Under the false guise of “democracy” Rousseau’s ideology brings out nothing but aristocracy, violence, and corruption – which is exactly what happens under Bane in Gotham.

Bane encourages the masses to rise up in righteous indignation against the police, the justice system, and those with money - all with horrifying consequences. He hails terrorism as a method of tearing down the “corruption” of the city and claims to be liberating the oppressed through establishing an army of the people. 

As Gotham deteriorates under Bane’s violent “rule,” we see a pitch-perfect illustration of the many problems with the general will, and collectivism as a whole. Instead of more freedom for the people, chaos and violence ensue. Rations are given for food, a corrupt and bloodthirsty “supreme lawgiver” decides the fate of individuals without a fair trial (just as Rousseau advocates), and the city is literally under military occupation – by "the people."

In one very poignant scene, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), who was previously sympathetic to "the people's" cause and had even taunted Bruce Wayne that a revolution was coming, walks through an occupied home, picking up shattered family photos of the previous residents.

“This was someone’s home,” she murmurs, to which her friend responds, “But now it’s everyone’s home!” And in the dirt and destruction of "everyone's home" - the evil of collectivism is on full display.

One can’t help but think Rousseau, who was no defender of private property, would be proud of Bane's fictional revolution. But he probably wouldn't be proud of how the film so lucidly demonstrates that doing away with ideas like private property doesn’t harmonize society, but in fact leads ultimately to deprivation, servitude, and a loss of human dignity. 

It is not a spoiler to note that as expected, and despite the disastrous consequences of Bane’s efforts to “equalize” society, Batman pulls through and rescues the people from themselves. How this all unfolds is well worth your time to find out.

Because for once, the good guys are the ones making money, in a system that benefits everyone, in a country where a stadium full of people come to attention during the singing of the national anthem. And the bad guys, looking for all the world like “99 percent” crowd, intent upon taking whatever they feel entitled to, are the people who leave chaos, misery, fear and destruction in their wake.

Perhaps the most powerful image in the movie is a badly tattered American flag that has just barely survived Bane's "occupation." May that image sink deep into the hearts of the people who might otherwise be swayed by the real-life Banes of this world.

Emily Schrader is a researcher for a pro-Israel education organisation and a blogger at

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