WARNING: Spoiler ahead. Stop reading if you haven't seen the movie.
This isn't a review and it's not a blog post picking apart The Dark Knight Rises. I'll say from the beginning that I thought it was an epic and amazing film. I was drawn in from the first frame and left breathless until the last.
That said, a lot of people really didn't like it and multiple bloggers have laid down their case either for or against on various blogs and sites around the Internet. One of the reasons I've decided to write this is that despite the many flaws of the film, I still found it to be an enthralling and entertaining experience. And so have many others. Why?
I actually think there's a great lesson for filmmakers here, one that even the best directors and writers continually fail at. I believe it's what separates great films from good ones; memorable films from forgotten ones.
Why did I like The Dark Knight Rises so much, despite it's logic flaws, despite those things that have already been pointed out by other writers/reviewers? Why can I forgive those things? Because unlike most movies these days, The Dark Knight Rises made me feel. I connected with it on emotional level. I was left reeling when Gotham was turned upside down. I felt a collective sense of hitting bottom, wondering "how can they come back from this?"
I felt loss when Alfred left. I wondered, how on earth, we could come back from this? And I was right there with Bruce Wayne, in that prison, as he pulled himself and said "nope." I wanted him to climb that wall, I wanted him to make that leap, I wanted him to return and save Gotham.
Now of course, you're probably saying, "Well, yeah, that's what everyone wants." But for me, it's less about what I "want" and more about what I "felt." I felt it. This movie about a man dressed as a bat connected with me on an emotional level. I don't fully know why and choose not to dissect it, but it represents and executes what, in my opinion, movies are all about: that feeling of being a little kid and looking up at a giant screen and seeing a hero right there before your eyes.
I think that, generally speaking, movies these days have become less about making you feel something and more about being cool, or showing off cool shit -- in fact, I think superhero movies are collectively the guiltiest parties. I don't care about Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk. I don't feel anything when I see them. I saw Gladiator five times in the theater because having gone through what you do watching that movie and you hit that end scene, it's just: magic. I saw Traffic five times for the same reason. It's why I can be flipping the channel and see Forrest Gump on and start bawling, even though I've seen the movie a million times.
Knowing I would be seeing The Dark Knight Rises on Sunday, I spent Saturday re-watching Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. And you know what? As much as I love The Dark Knight, as much as Heath's performance as the Joker blew me away and will never be forgotten, I didn't feel anything watching it. I didn't feel loss when Rachel died, I didn't care about Gordon's kid, I didn't care about the people on the ferries. I thought it was a brilliant film, amazing on every technical level, and really cool. But I didn't feel anything watching it, nor did I watching Batman Begins (though I did find it to be a much better movie than I remembered, still a touch too fantastical, but whatever).
And at the end, when I thought Batman had died, I not only felt loss, but I felt...okay with it. I'd like to pretend that Alfred's sighting of Bruce is really nothing more than a vision, than an idea that, while dead, perhaps Bruce has now gone to a better place, free of his demons, free of the weight he carried with him. I'd like to think that part wasn't real, that it wasn't part of some trick to make you go "Whup, look!" I'd like to think that Nolan is smarter than that. He has too much power. He could have done whatever he wanted. I very much doubt he would have tacked on a happy ending because the studio made him. (Funny enough, I was just discussing with my wife and we both thought that Alfred was going to look up, smile, but that we wouldn't cut to what he was seeing, that we would have been left wondering...in many ways, that would have been better.) I think Batman died saving the citizens of Gotham from one of the worst things imaginable -- that he gave them "everything."
I felt the same way I did when watching Gladiator for the first time. "What?! He died? How is that an ending? He came all this way and now he's just gonna -- oh! Right, the afterlife with his family, is where he wanted to be all along. I'm okay with that." I think it's the same. Think back to The Dark Knight, Harvey's quote and one of the last lines by Batman in the film: "You either die a hero or you live long enough to become the villain." Batman died a hero.
I'm sure many people will speak to the moment of realization that the auto-pilot was always working as a clue to saying "Oh, he must have jumped out (or something)." I'd take the opposite look at it: that, in fact, the auto-pilot did work, but that Batman knew he couldn't leave something like that to chance. That the only way to ensure that Gotham was safe was to do it himself, as he always had before. And that having done that, having returned and become the hero, Bruce Wayne is now in a better place. Alfred's "sighting" was just a vision, a hope, a belief that, perhaps Bruce has finally found peace.
What do you think?