(Warning: May contain spoilers!)
With the release of The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy has come to an end. As we examine this film, there are things that are sure to stay with us long after the credits roll. Nolan has crafted a story that is about so much more than a man in a mask. There are significant themes and principles woven throughout the film that are sure to resonate within the hearts and souls of viewers whose spiritual eyes and ears are open to seek out the deeper meaning in Nolan’s brilliant screenplay.
Early on in the film we discover that, in the years since Harvey Dent’s death, Bruce Wayne has shut himself away from the world and become a recluse. Bruce has essentially lost all hope; everything that he once lived for has been taken away. Having devoted himself so completely to the role of Batman, the city has now rejected and maligned the caped crusader as a villain. Having lost the love of his life, Rachel, and what he perceived as his only chance for a normal life with her, Bruce is lost. There remains no reason for living in his eyes, and so he has resigned himself to the life of a shut-in.
Bruce here is a picture of us. When put our ultimate faith and hope in things that are finite, even when they are truly good things, eventually they will fade and be lost. Even the people we love the most dearly are finite and can be taken away from us without warning, If we have defined ourselves completely by things that are fleeting, there won’t be anything left but a shell when those things are gone from our lives. Bruce, in his heart, died with Rachel. All we see remaining is a shell of a man, void of passion and fading into oblivion.
A turning point comes for Bruce after the appearance of a new maniacal villain who calls himself Bane. Bane is the most terrifying kind of villain; one who has completely justified their actions in their own mind. He calls himself “a necessary evil,” in that his actions are wrong, but they serve a greater purpose. He is completely devout in his belief that the destruction of Gotham City must happen, and that every man, woman and child within the city must die. There is no cost too heavy, no death toll too high that could dissuade Bane from his cause and purpose. As Machiavelli proclaimed, “The ends justify the means.” It is easy for us to look on in horror and ask how someone could become so evil. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, the basic concept of self-justification is already within us all, albeit hopefully less developed. How often do we knowingly choose to do what is wrong because justify the act within ourselves? Whether we break a law or simply a promise, every day each of us makes decisions with solely the end of self-gratification in sight. We justify our sins in our own minds, and that is frightening and dangerous place to be.
Once Bane’s evil plan comes to light, Bruce is forced to take up the mantle of Batman once again. He throws himself back into the role with a ferocity and determination that is both impressive and disturbing. Despite not training for the last eight years, and disregarding a number of permanent injuries, Bruce attempts to pick up right where he left off. When Alfred tries to explain to Bruce that Bane is younger, faster, and stronger than he can hope to be, Bruce shrugs it off flippantly, seemingly convinced of his own ability to combat his new enemy. It is not entirely clear if this confidence is sincere, and therefore rooted in the arrogant notion that he has always won in the past, so this time will be no different. Or, if it as Alfred believes, Bruce is knowingly walking head first into failure because he has nothing left to live for and nothing holding him back from a fight that he can’t win.
After his defeat at the hands of Bane, Bruce is given a choice. He can finally succumb to his hopelessness and just wait to die in obscurity, or he can find something worth living for and move on from the pain and loss he has been trapped in. Instead of giving up, Bruce rises from his figurative grave, and returns to his city to save his people. Finally we see Bruce relinquish the pain was his prison, and begin a new life.
Like Bruce, it is possible for each of us to devote ourselves to something – a hope, an idea or a person – but we can go on living once that person or thing is gone. The things of this world will all eventually fade away. If we put our hope and faith in these things, our life and purpose will die with them. Put your faith in what will never fade or die, in the living God, and your hope will survive even the blackest night.