Why Do We Fall? Speculating Batman’s Fate In The Dark Knight Rises

The symbol Bruce chooses, of course, is Batman, a masked vigilante who takes the law into his own hands. Bruce’s reasons for crafting this particular persona are highly internal; through Batman, he aims to empower himself by symbolically mastering his own fear.

Yet in a broader context, Batman is a social symbol as well, a distillation of everything a broken culture built on apathy and depravity has wrought. A pure, unstoppable force of rage, passion, and power, Batman is the darkness of Gotham personified for the goal of doing good. It may seem paradoxical, but Batman is born out of anger, the fury of a world gone wrong, a wrath that can no longer be quelled. Every moment in Gotham’s troubled history led to Bruce’s transformation; a breaking point would inevitably be reached, and Batman embodies a great explosion of pent-up frustration.

The might of this fury fuels Batman’s literal and symbolic power. As Batman, Bruce tears through Gotham’s underworld thanks not only to his physical training and intelligence, but also to his deep-seated rage over Gotham’s decline. Likewise, the people of Gotham slowly but surely latch onto Batman as a symbol of hope because he embodies the frustration each of them feels. If Batman came from the heavens, an angelic Knight in shining armor, he would inspire little out of these people, for they would have nothing to relate to in such a figure. But Batman rises from the world in which they live, a dim and dangerous world where darkness prevails, and through intensely palpable emotions, he turns that world on its head. As a Dark Knight, a symbolic warrior, he can inspire hope, and through hope, he can dissipate the pervasive veil of apathy.

This is the symbolic nature of Batman, and thus far, each of Nolan’s films is built around testing the strength of that symbol. Batman Begins is at heart an introduction to the idea of symbols as agents of change. The film pits Bruce and his alter ego against Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows; both entities have seemingly similar goals – the ever-elusive ‘justice’ – but their differing methods are predicated on highly contradictory worldviews.

The League of Shadows concludes that there is no way to address Gotham’s issues but to destroy the city and let society start over; if the problems present themselves again, the cycle will be repeated. What they call a ‘solution,’ of course, is anything but, for it makes no attempt to confront the deeper issues at play. Destroying Gotham will only perpetuate a longstanding cycle of crippling hopelessness and fear, troubles the society that eventually follows will never be able to overcome.

Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, argues that with the proper symbol, Gotham can be inspired to better itself, and that meaningful, lasting change can be affected. Bruce proves Batman is powerful enough to stop the League’s plot, but this is not definitive evidence of his symbol’s strength. At the end of the film, Gotham is still in shambles, and if things have gotten any better, it’s only a starting point.

But the status quo presented at the start of The Dark Knight seems to vindicate Bruce’s theory; Gotham is a cleaner place, the legal system has much more of an impact, and crime is far less rampant. It is not a perfect city by any stretch of the imagination, but things have gotten better, and it’s not just Batman’s doing. Others have rallied behind the same cause; Lieutenant Gordon, Mayor Garcia, and D.A. Harvey Dent are each emboldened by Batman’s presence. For the time being, Bruce’s theory about the power of symbols seems to be coming true.

The Joker’s arrival and subsequent reign of terror, however, disrupts the natural progression. In Nolan and the late Heath Ledger’s interpretation, the Joker is a nameless, maniacal force of nature with no past; he comes out of nowhere, born from the same madness that spawned Batman and evolved far past the point of moral boundaries. At the end of Batman Begins, Gordon speaks of escalation, the theory that one force’s actions will inevitably prompt the opposing force to become deadlier. The Joker is the end result of escalation; for all the good Batman has achieved, the creation of the Joker is also his doing, for extreme measures in a chaotic world will only be met with actions of greater intensity.

The brilliance behind the Joker is that, for all his talk of anarchy and chaos, he is acutely aware of the role he plays. He too is a symbol, just like Batman, and like his foe, he’s gone to great lengths to embody that symbol. He’s cut his mouth, painted his face, dyed his hair, and let go of all worldly bonds. He has gone further with his identity than Batman ever could, freed himself of all rules, boundaries, or limits that could get in his way.

The Joker does this to prove a point. He wants to demonstrate that symbols can be destroyed, and his target is Batman. He knows the effect Batman has had on the city, and through an unbridled terror spree, he aims to prove that even ethereal symbols have their limits.

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Comments (39)

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  1. shootemup9339says:

    I too believe that the only satisfying conclusion is Bruce’s death. This was an exceptionally written and very enjoyable article on Nolan’s Batman films. Lets us hope it ends on the logical closing point as presented in this article.

  2. gerardomm2says:

    excellent, I agree almost with all your article.
    “if you make yourself more than just a man. . .”

  3. TimMeyfarthsays:

    I think I must disagree your premise, even though this article is flat out awesome! Thank you for writing this! However I believe the opposite will happen, Bruce will live and give up the cowl and Batman will become a symbol so powerful that he changes people behavior just by his memory not his actual physical presence, because he already “came back” once to defeat Bane.
    Heres my evidence, if we go “full circle” then what is at the very beginning of Batman Begins? Bruce is wounded and trapped in a hole by fear, in a nightmare. When he “wakes” we find Bruce has voluntarily imprisoned himself in his quest to make sense of the loss of his parents life and his own. Then we have Ra’s al Ghul in a “solitary” cell who speaks of vigilantes and legends and paths. Legend and symbol seem somewhat interchangeable in this reading.
    So Bruce became Batman because he is wounded and stuck in a hole of fear. He learned to accept his fear and to use his wounding to help others but he has not healed himself. Bruce must RISE past the darkness in his own life, not just Bane. Can Bruce Wayne RISE beyond needing the Batman to “live”?
    Now as you said Nolan loves symbols. So in the very beginning of Batman Begins we have Bruce trapped in a well with a wall of stone. Now what do we see in the trailers? Bruce trapped in a prison with the only way out being a well with a wall of stone. AND CLIMBING OUT OF IT AFTER BEING “BROKEN” BY BANE.
    Bruce will RISE by climbing out of his own personal darkness. Bruce must learn to be a real human being and let the Batman go, and the Batman will live on as an “incorruptible symbol” since it will be the mere memory of his example that has the power to change people, ie criminals with be scared of the shadows he might inhabit.
    It’s the same as Inception almost. Bruce is stuck in a hole of fear and must learn to deal with it, climb out of the holw and go on with his life. Just as Cobb was stuck in a limbo of guilt and had to learn to deal with it , and the second time he washed up on the shores of Limbo the dialogue is different and he is able to free himself and go on with his life. At least, thats my story and I’m stickin’ to it! <3

  4. jonnynguyen2321says:

    Amazing article. One of the best I’ve read in a while. I somewhat disagree with your prediction. I think that Bruce/Batman will fake his own death (Much like in The Dark Knight Returns) and in doing so, Gotham will rise as one and save itself. However, there will be some shot in the end leaving the viewer to decide if Bruce is really dead or not (Kinda like Inception). I also feel like John Blake is actually John Blake but he is very important to the story and that he is kinda like a young Gordon and Bruce Wayne in one character.

  5. MovieBuffComicFanaticsays:

    ummm, no. You fail to realize that Bruce Wayne is Batman. No one else. It is the murder of his parents that drives him to don the cape and cowl and go out hunting criminals at night. It is a curse he “wouldn’t wish upon ANYONE else”. As he has stated at least half a dozen times in the comics. The torch is not being passed. He’s not stepping down. He’s not handing over the cape and cowl to anyone else. And he most certainly is not going down without a fight. It is anger that drives him. The anger of the murder of his parents. It is the day Bruce Wayne died and the Batman was born.

  6. MovieBuffComicFanaticsays:

    Oh, and for the record, I believe Alfred is the one who will die at the end, possibly causing Batman to break his one big rule. Hence why people who saw the pre-screening claimed the ending is controversial. I don’t believe killing Batman is controversial. I believe Batman breaking his one big rule IS controversial. The only good enough reason I can see him breaking this rule is if something happened to the man that raised him like a son. Alfred is like a father to Bruce.

  7. Uh_Manny_Gsays:

    I’m only part way through the article, but the point about symbols is a good one. Symbols very rarely lose their meaning. Be it good or bad. A very good example of a symbol having resilient meaning is that of the Nazi’s swastika. It’s a symbol of hate and prejudice. And no matter what it will be as such for a long time going forward. The ironic thing is it was a symbol for peace.

  8. Peyton Sonnefeldsays:

    First off, absolutely BRILLIANTLY done. One of the best analytical pieces I’ve read on this trilogy, so thank you for that. However, I might offer one suggestion for you to ponder on concerning Bruce/Batman’s fate in The Dark Knight Rises. Going along with your idea that Bruce will die so that his symbol of the Batman can live on, I am of the opinion that Bruce will die, but more in the sense that it will be impossible for that half of his alter-ego to exist. First, Bane knows Bruce is the Batman, but Bruce can’t afford to have his identity revealed. Whether it happens by Bane’s hands (the shot of him dropping the destroyed cowl comes to mind), or Bruce fakes his own death through the chaos running through the streets, Bruce will have to “kill” himself in order to preserve the symbol (meaning simply faking his own death, only for his triumphant return as the Batman). In this way, Bruce no longer exists, the symbol lives on, and Batman can go on to save Gotham as was always intended. I’m sure you could word that MUCH better, but that’s the gist of where I’m coming from.

    1. Tobiassays:

      I agree with this – the article was fantastically done, but I disagree with all the talk of someone else, like JGL’s character of John Blake, donning the Batsuit. It would seem silly for a newly-introduced character to fill Bruce’s shoes, especially since Bruce had to go through one hell of a lot of hardcore training with the League of Shadows. Blake would probably be killed quite quickly, and so would anyone else who attempted to take up the role.

      1. Alex Lowesays:

        I also feel like showing Blake become Batman would just open up discussion as to another movie, I think Nolan will have an absolute, definitive end to the series.

      2. Ya but that happens.

  9. Israel Josephsays:

    Brillant…Indeed! I Think Bruce Will Die But Not Batman’s Spirit! I Can’t Wait To See This Movie!

  10. rodneysays:

    great article man.

  11. Jason O. Logansays:

    Bravura deconstruction of the theme running through the first two and hopefully the third film in this trilogy. I don’t want to see Bruce Wayne die in TDKR but you make a persuasive case as to why it would make for the more complete story. You’ve said it all and reminded me why I truly love the story Christopher Nolan and company has created and why I’ll be sitting in a darkened theater on Thursday night waiting to see how it all ends.

  12. Great read. I agree with your interpretation of the symbols in the bat-films almost wholeheartedly. The only part I disagree on would be the part about Bruce Wayne dying…I agree Begins was about creating that symbol and Batman standing up to his mentor and the League Of Shadows. Dark Knight pitted Batman’s incorruptible symbol against the Joker, who put Batman through the emotional “ringer” so to speak, but…the third film, Dark Knight Rises is presenting Batman with yet another challenge; a mental and physical match for him in the form of a criminal bent on bringing Gotham to it’s knees (or so it appears in the trailers). I see the clips of Batman facing off with Bane and I’m literally not sure if Batman can beat him one-on-one when I see those clips, Bane appears to stand fearless against Batman ready to whoop that @$$, not to mention the clips of Wayne imprisoned. I think THAT is what Batman is “rising” from, a solid defeat by a villain after being caught off-guard by the chaos. I think he’s going to lose to Bane (badly) then lose Gotham, then he’s going to have to muster all the strength, skills, tech and outside help he can to defeat Bane and set things right again, then retire like he deserves….until REBOOT

    1. Matches Malonesays:

      First of all, great analysis and a very good read… but like most others here, i think the symbol need not be transferred by Bruce’s death alone… Yes, the man of flesh and blood can be destroyed… But we’ve already seen the other extreme of this in TDK when multiple copycats try to become “batmen” in hockey pads…Batman inspiring ordinary citizens can take that extreme turn where the symbol could have been diluted and thankfully Joker steps in to take out the fake bats and ends that angle..

      Coming to why Bruce shouldn’t die: I can’t really come to terms with the idea that some other man can be as driven as Bruce and go the lengths that he does to protect Gotham. Maybe he’ll have to mentor a new Bat (like Batman Beyond) or something similar… But yes… i think the Bat-mantle will be transferred in this movie… to drive home the initial point… however, even Nolan wouldn’t kill of Bruce Wayne… That’s something that has never worked in the last 73 years! 🙂

      Bruce is THE Batman, whether he likes it, wants it or not… At max he can tutor someone to take his place for a while… But I don’t think the world is ready to accept the death of Wayne… Maybe he fakes his death and goes away somewhere peacefully with either Talia or Selina… Or both 😉

      1. Oh man, were we right or were we RIGHT dude?!?! I would high-five you but…you know….internet…

  13. Mearasays:

    this article is absolutely amazing it held my rapt attention from beginning till end. Bruce Wayne will certainly fall if we go by the comics (whether or not he dies in the fall is another matter) but another takes on the symbol that is Batman after him, Jean-Paul Valley. He was trained in hand-to-hand combat by his father using ‘The System’ a brainwashing tool that left him a dangerous fighter and somewhat mentally unstable. We’ll just have to wait and see if this is shown in the movie.

  14. funisforassholessays:

    I’ve seen this rehashed a month or two back, but Cracked had the ‘theory’ back in November.
    other than that, a nice piece.

  15. Jordansays:

    This is the best article written about christopher nolan’s batman series I’ve ever read. Kudos to you good sir you are a gentlemen and a scholar.

  16. Chrissays:

    Brilliant… Its along the lines of what I was thinking. You should complete this when you see The Dark Knight Rises. Giving a explained detailed look at the trilogy.

  17. Fantastic read. I really enjoyed the evidence and backing behind your reasoning. I have also been thinking for some time now how it the trilogy will all come to end and i beleieve that the only possible ending is for Bruce to die. It seems like the only logical thing to do. If the hero were to live this would be a completely fifferent world but Nolan has brought into something so deep that it seems incomprehendible that anything else could happen. Love the read. Great explanation. Cant wait for the conclusion!

  18. Nathan Jonessays:

    You know what I can’t stand? People who hate on the movies because of little things. They complain that Nolan killed off Dent, what the Joker looked like, and Batman’s voice. As for his voice, if he used he regular voice, he’d be recognizable. Somebody could easily find out who he his if he didn’t change his voice. As for Joker’s look. He has to look realistic, that’s what Nolan is trying to do; make the world look real to us so that we can relate to the characters. The fact that he killed off Dent that no matter how good you are, how good your deeds are, you will die.

  19. gtbdrummersays:

    Bain is known as “The man who broke Batman” by breaking his back in a fight in the Batcave with Batman when Bain was first introduced. So we’ll see if this carries over to the movie.

  20. Brilliant article! thank you for sharing with the world

  21. Edward Gorskisays:

    Your entitled to your opionion and I’m entitled to mine! Bruce Wayne can’t die because nobody but nobody can be Batman but Bruce Wayne! If you change who dons the cape and cowl, you erasing the legacy of Batman! Creator Bob Kane started it with Bruce Wayne,it should stay with Bruce Wayne! From the comic books,cartoons,toys,the early tv shows,video games and the hollywood movies! Its always been Bruce Wayne/Batman and no one else! Call me stupid,call me a dumbass,and I don’t care,I’m a superhero movie purist, and you don’t change Batman to satisfy the younger generation cause they don’t get it or understand! If you change Batman then who’s next…Superman,Spiderman,The Punisher! Leave it alone,if aint broke don’t fix it! If iI can quote a line from “The Dark Knight”,”You either die a hero or live long enough to become the villian!” That’s why Bruce Wayne does what he does,The people of Gotham have their hero and the police and criminals have their villian! I seen hollywood screw up enough superhero movies and it makes me want to stay indoors and no go to the movies again! Hollywood producers read a few comic books and think they’re experts and how the movies should be instead of asking the die-hard fans on what they want to see! It does’nt matter if its Batman,The Flash,Green Lantern, or Superman! If this is the way hollywood from now on is going to make superhero movies, I’d rather masterbate with a chainsaw and drink liquid drano at the same time!!!

    1. Stupid! (well, you did say to…) Bruce Wayne has not been the only Batman! I don’t confess to have read all the comics, or be an expert in anyway, but even I know Azrael became Batman for a bit, as did Dick Grayson I think (or one of the Robins at least). Anyway, the film is out and the way is already paved for someone to take over if Warner choose to go down that route..

  22. Samuel Caleb Weesays:

    Just watched the movie and I’m blown away by how prescient your piece was, as well as the simple yet illuminating way you highlighted the main themes running through the trilogy. Thank you good sir!

  23. Mikeysays:

    Great post, a fantastic read. My one problem with them killing Bruce Wayne off, is before, during and after they were done filming, Christian Bale stated he isn’t done playing Bruce Wayne and wouldn’t mind continuing portraying Batman (can you really blame him, it’s a childhood dream come true). If his Bruce Wayne dies in the movie, I don’t think he would even be considering further pursuing the role. Don’t try to sell me on this as a tactic to keep the story secret because he is seriously trying to continue on as Batman, Nolan’s done, not everyone else, the studio doesn’t give 2 s**ts if Chris’s plan was a trilogy, their plans and money are more important. Also I don’t think Batman or Bruce need to die for the story to come full circle. Bat’s mission from day one was to clean up Gotham, make it to where the city could handle itself and no longer fear leaving their houses at night, to completely remove the criminal element or the want of criminals to be their for it isn’t safe for them. Neither of them need to die to fulfill this dream of his, he only needs to show the people of Gotham that through whatever adversity (i.e. getting his back broken if that is indeed what happens) it is possible to “rise” up and overcome. I believe that Gotham and Batman will share a parallel story ark, they will both be reduced to broken form and have to pick themselves up to show they shall not go gently into that good night. As said in the movies, “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up again.” His dying is not learning to pick himself up again, but accepting defeat. If he does “die” it will be as commenter Peyton Sonnefeld said, “Bruce will have to “kill” himself in order to preserve the symbol
    (meaning simply faking his own death, only for his triumphant return as
    the Batman).”

  24. Vikassays:

    this batman’s 3rd part i think is not an epic conclusion but its an epic rebirth

  25. Having seen the film and then seeing the trilogy the past two nights, it is quite remarkable how spot on this essay is. As I was watching the film, I saw the slight difference in what actually happens to Levitt’s character coming and it drew an audible response from the person next to me. The interesting thing is that with how things turn out, Nolan could be true to his word and do another movie in this franchise. It just wouldn’t be a Batman story.

    1. SPOILER (quick kids, look the other way if you haven’t seen the film!!!): same thought passed my mind too!!! he’s keeping to his word…it wouldn’t be a “batman” movie…but come on…he should have cut on that smile before revealing what was seen! do you agree?

      1. Is it bad I wasn’t 100% satisfied by Nolan’s ending? I totally agree with you Candy. Would have totally loved it if Nolan ended TDKR Inception style and cut away like you said. But that’s just me.

  26. very interesting! …I always thought that Batman was Wayne’s true identity, and that Bruce was our protagonist’s mask to Gotham, the fabricated persona for the people to see and distract from his truest form. But after watching the film, one realizes that he is only man. The Batman needs a host, whether it be one man or many, and he lives for as long as he is remembered.

  27. smeethsays:

    plese make batman next part ………………………….

  28. jove bobsays:

    Actually you’re quite wrong. You’ve forgotten one of the most freaking things about Batman. He doesn’t die and always finds a way out. Seriously that is almost a thing about Batman, he just loves to freaking fake his own death. Seriously Batman always fakes his death. In one comic Batman f***ing fakes his death 2 times in a freaking row. Also TBH there can never be a *good* batman live action film. It has to be cartoon iMO. The combat in the dark knight movies just don’t feel like batman combat. And Bane is WAY overpowered. And there are a MILLION plot holes in this movie. Why didn’t they go to Batmans lair to get the weapons, the radiation from the nuke would create mutations and bad guys (come on it always happens). Maybe it’s just me after reading the comics and reading the games and watching a couple animus and cartoons.

  29. billysays:

    he cant die due to the fact even though this was a separate trilogy these 3 movies take place before the other ones so he can not have died it would not work with the batman series as a whole.

  30. hollywood506says:

    wow it is really crazy how bang on you came with your prediction. kudos for really diving into the batman mythos throughout these films. i agree with every point made here. and as much as i wanna see the world continue and see where JGL would take this, it was a very very satisfying ending

  31. Mikeysays:

    So is there going to be a fourth part?
    Because at the end bruce is still alive and roben

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