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The Dark Knight Rises

by Jake Mynatt

This is the latest entry into the continuing Guy Living In Your Walls series. Click here to read the other entrants in this movie review/narrative continuity.

Ronnie’s world went dark, and it stayed that way for a while.

There’s something to be said for stability, even when that stable state is just maintaining an all-time low. The last time he’d been outdoors was a couple weeks back when the new pizza delivery guy couldn’t find his house and needed Ronnie to guide him in. He stood out on the curb, displaying his underwear and heavy growth of beard, looking for a shitty hatchback with a magnetic sign for Dr. Fong’s Pizza and Sushi Fusion to bring him his only comfort: a medium pepperoni unagi with wasabi marinara on the side. Since then he doesn’t even bother with the underwear and answers the door wrapped in a sheet.

Besides the accumulating cloud of funk filling the house, the biggest down-side of Ronnie’s adopted lifestyle was a detachment from the latest movies playing in theaters. He’d planned on seeing The Dark Knight Rises premiere all year with Gary. They’d each be dressed as a Joker: he as the Heath Ledger version, Gary as the Jack Nicholson. In recent years they would repeatedly assure each other that of all the childish things they would put away as childhood ended, this was not one of them.

The date had arrived without Ronnie even realizing it despite being bombarded by e-mail reminders from Gary for days. Since he’d avoided any outside communication while in his self-imposed exile, I took it upon myself to be a good steward of his mailbox. I further took the liberty of accepting the invitation on Ronnie’s behalf. He wouldn’t mind. He only knew that the sun rose and set, and that his fingernails and hair were growing. The rest of the world would still be there when he bounced back from this.

Luckily, my outward appearance was as disturbingly unkempt as Ronnie’s. A lifetime spent in walls doesn’t leave much opportunity for personal grooming. So a healthy dose of Joker face paint and green-dying of the hair made me virtually indistinguishable from Ronnie. A swig from a pocketed flask of whiskey, a few knocks on the bong and a splash of bong water, and I was able to meet Gary at the theater eyeball to eyeball without any suspicion.  His only hesitance was at first when I didn’t respond to Ronnie’s name. I was able to pass it off by explaining that I was very, very high.

I shared in Gary’s “Woo hoo!” howl as the film began. We’re introduced to Bane right away, sounding like Sean Connery rolling on ecstasy with a large metal cooking pot over his head. Where the opening heist of The Dark Knight was tense and quirky, DKR’s opening sequence was tense-ish. While I enjoyed Bane, his introduction pretty much gives you everything you’ll learn about his personality. And it’s … it’s not bad. Just somehow lacking. But maybe the comparison to Joker was just too present.

I could definitely feel that vibe in the audience. Gary and I caught the eye of a couple of lovely Catwoman-clad fangirls two rows back who seemed to be Joker enthusiasts. In the front row, the goliath in the most film-accurate Bane costume of the crowd subtly looked around for nods of approval only to come up short. I looked back at the Catwoman who was more of a “traditional beauty,” in that she exposed a great deal more flesh than her more conservatively dressed companion, and gave her a wink as we sank comfortably into the plot of the film.

We learn that the events of The Dark Knight took place eight years ago. And Bruce Wayne has been a recluse ever since. And everyone idolizes Harvey Dent and thinks Batman’s a real pile of crap. We learn all of this through exposition that is about as on-the-nose as the previous sentences in this paragraph. Exposition has never been Christopher Nolan’s strong suit. As a bulk-loader of plot detail, it’s used here with great efficiency as it was in Inception, but the result is like cliff-notes. Maybe delivering these points through subtler subtext would have added to the already considerable running time of the movie.

This is a big, gargantuan movie with several threads, just as its predecessor was. But unlike its predecessor, this film makes poor use of some of those threads. The stock exchange heist was overly complicated, including a confusing array of bad guys and shady business rivals to Bruce Wayne’s fortune who are in cahoots with Bane for some reason. I’m sure that it’s possible to go over the strands of plot painstakingly laid out early on, but for the short chase and fist-fight that follows it’s just too much build-up for too little pay off.

The wildly woven plot of the first half of the movie is spent making sure that one-percenter Bruce Wayne becomes one of the ninety-nine percenters. This is all part of Bane’s master plan. In retrospect, with Bane’s plan being the ultimate destruction of all of Gotham he could have just left Wayne alone instead of pissing him off and bringing Batman’s wrath. But, that happens and we’ve got no movie. The math of the plot doesn’t really add up very well with all things considered, but while watching it I was hooked. Bane’s smarmy intellectual bad-guy is entertaining. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is spot-on. And Christian Bale’s vulnerable and broken Batman/Bruce Wayne is one of the more touching portraits of a masked vigilante you’re likely to see.

The second half of the movie goes into overdrive, sinking Bruce Wayne and Gotham City into untold depths of terror and anarchy. Bane gains the upper hand and maintains control of Gotham for months, releasing the city’s criminals into the streets and turning the city into an occupied war zone. This entire sequence, up until the final confrontation with Bane, is a movie unto itself and makes good use of Nolan’s tendency to layer his plots on top of each other.

While the grandeur of the second half impressed me, there was something that just didn’t sit well. What was Bane’s motivation? Chaos and insanity for its own sake was the domain of the Joker. Like Ra’s al Ghul, the villain of Batman Begins, Bane just really dislikes Gotham to the point that he wants it to suffer deeply before he destroys it; no satisfying reason is given as to why. It’s explained away as if it’s the natural conclusion to the ideology he clings to, but in the end even that ideology is exposed as a cover for something even less convincing. Like Batman himself, the story uses theatricality and deception to manipulate our perception of it.

Gary invited me to a bar for a drink after. It was frequented by other late-night costume-clad movie goers, including the flirtatious Catwomen from two rows back. Gary took his scotch neat with a beer chaser, and I took my tequila in rapid-fire succession. He was treating, after all.

“Why the fuck would anyone move to Gotham?” I slurred out, nodding to the bartender for a reboot on my beverage. “In the timeline of the movie, ten years ago you got the riots caused by the Scarecrow’s insanity gas. A year later, the Joker holds the city hostage and blows up hospitals and shit. And now Bane turns it in to ‘Escape From New York’ with nukes.” I tilt back the next shot and slam it down with a “Fuck Gotham!”

“That’s the point.” Gary shrugged and took a sip of his drink. “Batman’s about not giving up. About standing up to fear and inspiring others to stand up to it.”

“Then why’d he shit all over the guys dressing up as Batman in Dark Knight’?” All he could do is shrug to that. Boom. Nailed him. 

“Point is, the character is about the hope that there is something that stands between the innocent and the evil.” He hesitated and licked his lips, measuring words. “I think that’s why we liked it so much growing up. You know. With Dad and everything.”

He avoided eye contact like the plague.

“Yeah. Dad.” I looked to him for any kind of hint about how I should feel about that. “That’s fucked up, yo.”

He smiled and patted me on the shoulder.

“I know things have been rough for you. But I’m here.” Another reassuring slap on the shoulder. “We’re in this together. You got that?”

“I got that, bro. I’m with you one hundred percent.” After a moment of silence, I added “How’s things with Penelope?”

He smiled as he pondered the question. “About as good as they’ve ever been.” He swirled his drink during a moment of thought, then held it up in a toast.

“To family.” I held up my own shot and we clinked them together and tossed them back.

He stood up, declaring, “I gotta drain the dragon,” then made off for the rest rooms. Once inside, I downed my last shot and went out the front door.

“Hey!” A woman’s raspy cry called out as I walked through a cloud of cigarette smoke. I turned around and there was the scantily clad Catwoman puffing away on a cigarette near the entrance of the bar. “What’d you think of the movie?”

I smiled and walked toward her, pulling the cigarette from her lips and taking a drag. “I think it satisfactorily rounded out the series.” I blew the smoke back in her face seductively. And she coughed. Seductively.

“You think they’ll make another one? They kind of left it open for a sequel.” She took the cigarette back and took a drag, then registered a level of disgust at the flavor profile of unbrushed teeth, movie concession nachos, and alcohol greeting her.

“I think that anything that takes place after the ending is just back where it all started. Unnecessary.” I took the cigarette back, and the dance continued with another deep drag. As I offered it back to her she cringed and pulled away.

“You smell like feet if feet had an unwashed ass.”

“And tequila.” I winked and walked away puffing her forfeited cigarette.

“Hey, is your friend still inside?” She shouted to my back.

“He’s my brother. And he’s taken, honey.” I flicked the butt into the gutter, never looking back.

When I got back to the house, Ronnie was passed out cold, a couple bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 across his chest. It was relatively easy to dress him up in the Joker outfit and makeup. That continuity would help when Gary inevitably came to check in on him later in the morning.

The Batman trilogy, and specifically The Dark Knight Rises, is about conquering fear and fighting through the darkest times. It inspired these two brothers through whatever the fuck that situation with their dad was and left a mark on them that they’ve carried into their adulthoods. It’s deceptively optimistic, touching on the goodness within all humans by embracing the dark.

Things will probably stay dark for Ronnie for a while. Inner virtue is little match for external circumstance. But in Gary he has a ray of hope. A fellow traveler on the shadowy road of their lives. Ronnie will understand that sooner or later. And in time, he will rise.

Illustration courtesy of the author

 

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Jake Mynatt is a writer as Charles Manson is a singer/songwriter. By trade, he's a computer guy. He's married, and loving it so much he hopes to start dozens of secret families all over the country. That's just a joke, unless you're interested. Send headshots and a signed pre-nup to jake.mynatt [at] theinclusive.net