While this writer found the ending to Christopher Nolan's just-released Batman finale The Dark Knight Rises to be basically perfect, that doesn't mean it didn't leave some things open to interpretation. While some of the answers seem obvious at first glance, all one has to do is scour the Internet for about ten minutes to learn that nothing is as clear as it seems.
Here at ComicBook.com, we wanted to take a look at some of the questions surrounding that ending, and see where we came up.
John Blake's Ending
The question that seems to permeate much of the discussion of Robin Blake's role in the end of the film is whether, in the absence of Bruce Wayne, he will take over the mantle of Batman or whether he would turn out to be Nightwing. Since those final moments in the Batcave happen out of sight, with Blake heading off to his new beginning without the viewers, anything is possible.
It seems more likely to me that he would be Batman, as it would support the theme (established in Batman Begins and carried through to this film) of Batman as an icon, a symbol of the people that cannot be destroyed. For Batman to reappear with little interruption and no obvious change in appearance would be a great way of building that into the fabric of the identity--everyone saw him "die" and there's a statue in the town square...yet there he is, busting bad guy heads. It would re-establish Batman as something more than human, something that can't be driven into hiding by a murder accusation, something primal and never-ending. An urban legend with a cool car.
There's an interesting story at i09 that deals with how a sequel might play out, and focuses quite a bit on Blake. It basically talks about the difficulty that he would have, and the ways he could differentiate himself from Bruce, as a result of operating as Batman without living in the Manor or having the resources at his disposal that Bruce did. Even Lucius Fox would likely be unavailable to him, as it was Wayne's "name on the door" that helped Batman get access to all of Wayne Enterprises' "wonderful toys."
Bruce Wayne's Ending
We've seen that Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle end up together, and that it's pretty clear this is supposed to suggest that Bruce has finally allowed himself to let go of his tragic past and move on with his life.
Well, mostly. I mean, he still remains connected to Alfred, and even if they don't make eye contact, it's clear that Bruce was either observing him until he knew that Alfred was ready to head to that Italian cafe, or he's been hanging around that place pretty often, waiting until the day Alfred shows up so that he, too, can have his happy ending.
In any event, there's been some speculation--I think by Slashfilm, but I'm not sure--that "of course" Bruce Wayne won't stay retired. I hope, and I'd like to think, that this is wrong.
At San Diego Comic-Con International's DC Entertainment: Meet the Publisher panel, Jim Lee spoke to why. He described the difficulty of writing monthly, periodical superhero comics and the idea that, ultimately, you can't really ever give the characters closure.
“The hardest part [of working in comics] is separating the professional from the fan,” he said. He explained that while every fan wants the happy ending, serialized storytelling mandates keeping the ball rolling, whereas when you’re a fan of the character you want to give them a happy ending.
Not only is that true, but I think the beauty of a series like Nolan's trilogy is that you can do that. It's almost a mission statement of the thing, to me--this isn't serialized monthly comics. It's a series of original graphic novels: The Life And Times of Bruce Wayne. It starts with the death of Bruce Wayne, that night behind the theater, which gives birth to The Batman. And it ends with the death of Batman, in an explosion over Gotham harbor (just like in Batman: R.I.P., by the way), giving birth to someone else who's not quite Bruce Wayne but not quite not. Bruce Wayne is gone, and Batman is immortal, but as far as Bruce Wayne is concerned, he's gone, too. I like the idea that Bruce can compartmentalize his pain, and his responsibility, and that he's able to sit back and appreciate Batman as an urban legend, like everybody else, without worrying himself about what John Blake might be up to these days.
And I like the idea that at one point in the film, Selina tells him that he doesn't owe the city anything else--that he's given them everything. "Not everything," Batman replies, and then he goes on to do so. Having done so, I like to think that his psychological hangups are satisfied and, by leaving the city in good hands, he can turn his back on that life and start a new one--just as he did the last time everyone thought he was dead.
Alfred Pennyworth's Ending
The most touching and perfect aspect of an ending that was full to bursting of touching and perfect endings, Alfred lived his life taking orders and, in the end, finally got to issue one. He told Bruce Wayne how he wanted it all to end, and Bruce managed to make that ending happen exactly.
He also redeemed his biggest regret in life. He always felt like he somehow failed the Waynes in the way he handled Bruce's care after they passed away, which came to a head when he believed that by deserting the boy, he had in some way caused or failed to prevent Bruce's death. Sobbing, he apologized to the coffins of Thomas and Martha Wayne...only to discover later that he hadn't killed Bruce at all, but that he had saved him. It seems unlikely that without that painful hallway confrontation with Alfred, Bruce would have had the clarity to see what he'd done to his life. Without that, he undoubtedly would have died in the Batman costume eventually, the "one ending" that Alfred thought Bruce could see for himself.
Jim Gordon's Ending
The Commissioner and Batman have always had an interesting dynamic in the comics, and they managed to give the relationship some closure in this film, while still retaining what makes that relationship special.
I've always preferred to think that a cop as smart as Gordon would already know who Batman is, and while we didn't get that exact ending, we got to a point where he was able to intuit it without Batman actually unmasking, or telling him directly.
He also may not know what happens next, but he knows that things aren't what they seem, when he returns to the headquarters to find the bat-signal restored and ready for action.
I can't imagine a world where his first act that night isn't to turn it on, just to see what happens...and that could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
One thing I'd love to have known? What happened to his wife and kids after they left. Certainly having them gone and having a bad relationship with Gordon all around suggests that there's little likelihood of his daughter coming back and putting on the cape and cowl. Absent that, would there even BE a Batgirl? If so, who? Cassandra Cain would fit nicely into this continuity, but there wasn't anything suggesting that she or her father exist here.
Gotham City's Ending
The city's physical structure is shattered. Its infrastructure and government is damaged--if not beyond repair, then certainly beyond anything we've experience in the United States in the modern era. In the world of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, Gotham City ends the series better off than it was during the darkest moments of The Dark Knight Rises, but worse off than it has been in years.
What could happen? Lots of things, but it seems pretty clear that the U.S. Government would have to come in and clean it up, given the fact that the police commissioner has been discredited and may not command the same kind of loyalty he used to, at the same time that the mayor and deputy commissioner have both been assassinated by gang warfare that will continue even without Bane and Talia. The criminals put away in the years between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises have escaped, after all, and it's unclear whether the extraordinary powers granted Gordon under the Dent Act will continue to hold water.