Director Christopher Nolan apparently looked on in bemusement as The Dark Knight Rises was co-opted by, or opposed by, political activists and factions on the left and the right, because he and his crew had set out specifically to make a movie whose politics were larger than life and not an endorsement or indictment of anyone in particular.
Whether it was Rush Limbaugh claiming that Bane was a stand-in for Bain Capital and that the liberal Hollywood establishment were demonizing Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney or members of the left who argued that Nolan’s Batman presented a harshly conservative, almost fascist, approach to civil liberties, it seemed that everyone was upset with the film at one point or another.
By the same token, the Bain Capital thing took off with some liberals and Occupy Wall Street — a movement often compared to Bane’s terrorist/revolutionary movement — adopted a giant, grotesque puppet playing on the very connection that Limbaugh was concerned about.
What was Nolan, who directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay, thinking at the time?
“If you look at the three of [the series's villains], Ra’s Al Ghul is almost a religious figure, The Joker is the anti-religious figure, the anti-structure anarchist. And then Bane comes in as a military dictator. And military dictators can be ideologically based, they can be religiously based, or a combination thereof,” Nolan told Film Comment.
More directly to the point, there was a direct question that addressed the issue, and Nolan’s answer is telling.
It was interesting to see the spectrum of reactions to The Dark Knight Rises, with some arguing that it was a sort of a neoconservative or very right-wing film and others seeing it as being a radical leftist film. And one of the things the film seems to be talking about is how easily the political rhetoric of one extreme can be co-opted by the complete opposite extreme.
Absolutely, and then you get into the philosophical question: if an energy or a movement can be co-opted for evil, then is that a critique of the movement itself? All of these different interpretations are possible. What was surprising to me is how many pundits would write about their political interpretation of the film and not understand that any one political interpretation necessarily involved ignoring huge chunks of the film. And it made me feel good about where we had positioned the film, because it’s not intended to be politically specific. It would be absurd to try to make a politically specific film about this subject matter, where you’re actually trying to pull the shackles off everyday life and go to a more frightening place where anything is possible. You’re off the conventional political spectrum, so it’s very subject to interpretation and misinterpretation.
So, basically, “If you try to apply your own political frame of reference to a world where a reasonably sane person dresses up like a bat and beats the crap out of people, you’re likely to run into conflicts.”
The Dark Knight Rises will be on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday.