Based on the conclusions I’ve drawn from the first two films, Bruce Wayne must die in The Dark Knight Rises, or the film will feel like a cop-out, one that fails to act on the central themes of this dense, complex three-part story.
Notice that I say Bruce must die, not Batman, for the ultimate way to prove that Batman is “incorruptible” and “everlasting” would be for the Dark Knight to endure after Bruce Wayne has perished. With the mighty Bane as antagonist, it would not be difficult for Nolan to kill Bruce in a satisfying manner. Having seen nothing but the trailers, the danger seems more extreme and enveloping than it ever has before, and even if Nolan’s films weren’t about the ethereal power of symbols, I still wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce fell in combat.
But Nolan’s films are, very clearly, an examination of how symbols are bigger than individuals, and as such, I find it hard to fathom an ending where Bruce Wayne lives. Nolan has been very clear that The Dark Knight Rises is the end of the story, and if the series began with the thesis that symbols can endure where individuals can’t, then the conclusion must provide evidence of this fact. And there can be no greater evidence than Bruce Wayne’s demise.
I say this with the expectation that if Bruce dies, Batman will somehow live on. There are many ways to achieve this, each as likely as the next: The Gotham City Police Department could recreate the Bat-searchlight as a sign of respect; the people of Gotham could hold a candlelight vigil for their fallen protector and rise up as one to create a brighter future; or, for a distinctly less sappy prediction, another character could don the cowl and take over the role of Batman, proving that the Dark Knight is bigger than any one individual. This, to me, seems like the most likely and fulfilling route, the one that would definitively prove Bruce’s point from Batman Begins. My personal prediction is that the series ends with a dying Bruce passing his alter ego on to the next generation via Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, a young, idealistic cop new to the franchise. It would be symbolic in more ways than one, and would bring Nolan’s story full circle in dramatic fashion.
One of the most prescient bits of dialogue in Nolan’s series comes early in Batman Begins. After falling down the well, Bruce’s father comforts him with a simple, profound motto: “Why do we fall?” he asks. “So we can learn to pick ourselves up again.” Later in the film, when Wayne Manor is burning down and Bruce has lost all hope, Alfred repeats these words. “Why do we fall, sir? So we might learn to pick ourselves up.”
If the series is to come full circle, I believe these words will form the basis of The Dark Knight Rises. If Bruce Wayne falls in battle as I expect him to, it will not be without purpose. It will be, in the spirit of what his father and Alfred told him, to prove that Batman can always pick himself up again, through another individual or the spirit of Gotham itself. If Bruce can teach the city he fights for the simple truth his father related all those years ago, Bruce’s character arc will finally be complete, his goal attained and his life fulfilled. Batman will live on without him, and only then can it truly be said that Gotham is saved.
Nolan’s films are remarkable for the stark, uncompromising way they examine the most immediate of real world issues. While it is unlikely we will ever find a masked vigilante like Batman making headlines, these films speak to our society’s need for symbols bigger than ourselves, for an incorruptible force to shake us out of apathy and set us on a path for a better tomorrow. It is astonishing that Nolan has created such a three-dimensional allegory in the world of Hollywood blockbusters, and whether my predictions come true or not, I am eager to see how The Dark Knight Rises wraps up one of the greatest cinematic stories of my lifetime.
Just as Batman is a symbol for the people of Gotham, Nolan’s films are the ideal for what big-budget filmmaking can achieve in an industry dominated by commercial garbage. Christopher Nolan and his team have provided us a ray of light in the darkest of times, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
If you enjoyed this article, read Jonathan Lack’s extensive four-part analysis of The Dark Knight Rises itself, “Imagine The Fire,” a continuation of the themes discussed here.Previous