Occupy Gotham City

Be warned: spoilers after the fold…

So, last night I saw the concluding part of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. This isn’t a review, but I thought it was excellent and probably the best of the series. (In a side note, I’ve come to the conclusion that the much lauded middle act “The Dark Knight” (whilst also excellent) is probably my least favourite entry).

Anyhow, of all the talk around the film, one of the interesting themes has been its politics. It’s alleged that “Rises..” has a strongly right-wing, conservative pro-capitalist message. It’s outlined quite succinctly here in The Guardian; Bane and his goons talk of returning Gotham to “the people” and literally attack the stock exchange, and the comparison is made to the Occupy Wall Street movement. In contrast, the hero of the hour is a philanthropist billionaire or as its put:

the new film demonises collective action against capital while asking us to put our hope and faith in a chastened rich.

It’s also been mentioned that Gotham appears to have no social welfare program, and its most needy citizens live off handouts from rich people. In fairness, its hard to deny this reading of the film – Bane and his movement do espouse the ‘take back your lives from the wealthy’ rhetoric of Occupy, and violently attack the literal heart of Big Finance, whilst Catwoman also waxes lyrical on how the rich have gotten away with ‘living so large for so long’.

So, I agree, you can definitely spin the movie that way. But I think many of these observations are made after a surface reading of the film. If you actually think about it, things are not so clear.

(Here be the spoilers)

First of all, what is never mentioned is that two of the main antagonists of the movie are old school greed driven capitalists, one of whom will use terrible violence and destruction of life, to help him take over a corporation. This is an extreme ‘hostile corporate takeover’. Comparisons have been made with Bruce Wayne and Mitt Romney, but no one has mentioned John Daggett as an avatar of the worst excesses of violent capitalism.

Secondly, all the readings of Bane and the League of Shadows neglect the fact that it is revealed that he is not the leader of movement – he is the brawn but not the brains, so how much should we read into his own politics? I think it is clear that the entire setup of Gotham ‘taking back what’s rightfully yours’ is a complete smoke screen. Indeed, Bane’s motivation turns out to not be ideological at all, but he acts out of loyalty to his own master.

(Also – it is mentioned that Bane successfully staged a coup in Africa to hand control of the diamond industry to a wealthy industrialist – not very left-wing, is it?)

It is unveiled that the leader is Talia al Ghul, who is trying to complete her father’s mission from the first film – namely the complete destruction of Gotham City. But this is a total annihilation (literally); not a revolution of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie. All will perish in the fire. This is no left-wing cause. The talk of ‘liberation’ isn’t even used to try and get citizens on their side because they enlist an army of violent criminals anyway, and subject the masses (of all socio-political backgrounds) to brutal terror – its a sideshow concocted by Bane.

Still, as I said though, it is hard not to see that the film can be read on the surface, as being about the fight between individual private capital and anarchistic violence who want to spread the wealth by force – but underneath it is not so clear. Bane/Talia have no ideological drive beyond the complete destruction of everything, they merely use rhetoric as one of their weapons, so I don’t think you can hold them up as being representatives of anything on the left. On the other hand, John Daggett represents much more closely something we can point to in the real world – a man who will cause destruction and misery for his own accumulation of wealth and power.

To be honest I don’t think the film really has a political message – it’s a Batman movie – but that these readings of it as being pro-Capitalist fail to fully think about the motivations of the characters involved.