If you haven’t yet seen “Dark Knight Rises”, SPOILERS AHOY.
I found the conclusion to Dark Knight Rises very fitting for many reasons. One of them concerns John Blake. He’s like Batman in many ways - Blake is street smart, resourceful and dedicated to a higher cause. Like Bruce Wayne, he lost his family at a young age due to violent crime, and he’s channeled his rage and grief into crime-fighting (albeit as a police officer). There are so many ways in which Wayne and Blake resemble each other … and then suddenly they diverge. A lot.
Although both men have been forged by tragedy, Wayne ultimately purges his demons by becoming the Batman, caves in on himself, becomes a hermit. His outlook on life is bleak. His romantic and sexual relationships are either shallow or result in death and betrayal. It sucks to be the Batman … because that’s really who this man is. As Rachel Dawes laments early in the trilogy, Bruce Wayne is the mask.
Watching John Blake, I actually had a lot of hope for him. He’s scarred, yes, but he retains his humanity and idealism. When he shoots two of Bane’s thugs, his reaction is refreshing. Instead of treating the bodies like trash (which is what nearly every other American action film does), Blake’s reaction is of shock and horror. It lasts a fraction of a second before he regains his professional demeanor and calls into headquarters, but the humanity is there. This is a police officer in one of the most dangerous cities in the world - now a war zone - and who has seen awful things in both his childhood and adult working career. But he still has a degree of feeling as well as a high appreciation for life. Batman doesn’t. The latter doesn’t even care about his own life.
Blake rises up the ranks under Gordon’s tutelage because he’s smart, driven and believes in a higher cause. Watching Wayne in the wake of Rachel’s death, I get the feeling that he honestly doesn’t believe life will ever get better, that he’s just trying to delay the final tumble into the abyss. Blake doesn’t operate that way. When he’s stuck on a destroyed bridge with a busload of orphans, he orders them to get back on the bus to protect themselves from the nuclear weapon that’s about to blow. Another adult tells Blake he’s full of shit. Blake’s response is to snap back, Don’t you dare take their hope away from them! There’s always hope! Here they are, 30 seconds away from becoming a grease spot, and Blake is still talking hope.
I suddenly realized that Gotham had its White Knight, something it never had in Harvey Dent (a man with his own demons, made visible by the explosion that claimed Rachel Dawes’ life). John Blake has to become the new face of Gotham. Batman and Two Face were indicative of a terrible, bloody place where there was no hope. When it comes to being the savior of the city, Blake blows these other two men out of the water. He’s also a damaged soul, yes, but his traumas inspire instead of breaking him.
I knew in that moment when they’re standing on the bridge that Batman was going to die. Batman is the symbol of a bleak Gotham. In order for the new era to usher in, all of the old has to go.
I thought that John Blake would find the Batcave and become the new Batman. I was only partially right. He does find the cave, hidden beneath Wayne Manor, but we learn in the film’s last minutes that this man we’ve been watching the last three hours is actually Robin.
Which is brilliant. Every other Batman film with Robin always takes the stereotypical route of showing Robin as a young kid whose parents are murdered and gets taken under the wing of Batman to fight crime. In this film, Batman very much does serve as a mentor to Robin, but in a way that is fresh and more realistic. Batman instructs Robin by being what the latter doesn’t want - and Robin makes it very clear that he’s his own man. There’s none of the lip service or submissiveness that has made Robin such an unpalatable character in so many movie or comic versions of the Batman mythology. (In general, I don’t find Robin an appealing character at all, for all these reasons.)
At the conclusion of Dark Knight Rises, you have Bruce Wayne secreted away in Europe somewhere with Selina Kyle, which is a fitting sort of retirement for a man who was never interested in riches or fame, who only wanted a happy life with people he loves. It’s also fitting because:
a) He’s finally managed to do what Rachel Dawes thought was impossible: purge himself of the Batman (his real self, and his dark side). It’s almost a shock to see Wayne sitting in that cafe, because it’s the first time in the trilogy we see Bruce Wayne not as a mask for something sinister, but as a normal person who’s in love, anonymous and allowed to be happy.
b) Selina Kyle steals his mother’s pearls in the beginning of the movie, a small detail that I thought had particular meaning. In a way, Kyle is inheriting the role of Wayne’s lost parents and taking the place of Martha Wayne. How Freudian. Nolan’s trilogy begins and ends on the same note, with Bruce Wayne as a happy, carefree person surrounded by people who love him. Batman really is dead, and Bruce Wayne is finally free.
Meanwhile, back in America, Robin has taken over as Gotham’s protector. Unlike the scary, violent, dark angel known as the Batman, however, Robin represents things that Gotham has needed for decades: idealism, humanity, hope. Batman was the Dark Knight; Robin, not Harvey Dent, is the city’s White Knight and will lead Gotham into its new dawn.