by Levi Rogers
“We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you... the people.”
So says Bane, the mercenary villain in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment of his Batman trilogy. While Heath Ledger’s The Joker is perhaps the best villain of the series (or perhaps all time of any superhero movie), Bane’s role in leading a takeover of Gotham City by his armed mob turned out to be one of the most prescient aspects of Nolan’s Trilogy, culminating and captured unnervingly in the armed rioted of the U.S. Capitol Insurrection on January 6th, 2021.
I watched this movie the other night, for the first time in several years. An ice storm in Portland, Oregon had knocked out our internet and there was nothing to watch except old DVDs. I flipped through them before landing on The Dark Knight Rises and it just felt right. I’d seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight too many times and I loved Tom Hardy and his portrayal of Bane. It’s a big blockbuster-turn-your-brain off type of movie, right? So, I poured a drink and began to watch. Well, boy was I wrong. This wasn’t no Marvel, haha-funny-jokey movie. I was immediately struck by how eerily similar Bane’s takeover of Gotham (and the language he uses within the takeover) were to the scenes that unfolded in the Capitol on January 6th.
A quick recap of the film: Batman (Christian Bale) is in hiding because he has taken the fall for Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight. He becomes the “villain” so Dent can become the face of decent Gotham. Bane (Tom Hardy) is a member of the League of Shadows with a mysterious past who has come to bring Gotham its “reckoning.” Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) is a burglar in deep with the wrong people, and Miranda (Marion Cotillard), who we think is helping Bruce Wayne and his foundation and cares about renewable energy and such, is actually in league with Bane.
Towards the middle of the movie, after he has kicked Batman’s ass, sent him to live in a prison somewhere in the Middle East, and taken Batman’s armory, Bane leads an army of mercenaries to storm Blackwater (the jail) and take over Gotham. He gives a few speeches, one in a football stadium, the other in front of the Gotham Courthouse and Blackwater. What I find most striking about the speech is the language Bane employs. Bane makes it seem like an armed fascist coup is actually restoring the city to the people, i.e., the same language employed by those who stormed the capitol and initially whipped up by members of the GOP and Trump, i.e., the perceived threats on “freedom,” and “individual liberties” the election “fraud,” the call to “Make America Great Again,” and so forth. It’s all primer for a takeover from the “Corrupt” in the name of “liberty” and taking back the country.”
“We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you... the people. Gotham is yours. None shall interfere. Do as you please. Start by storming Blackgate, and freeing the oppressed! Step forward those who would serve. For and army will be raised. The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests, and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure. Courts will be convened. Spoils will be enjoyed. Blood will be shed. The police will survive, as they learn to serve true justice. This great city... it will endure. Gotham will survive!”
In The Dark Knight Rises, once Bane has declared Gotham free from the “oppressors,” we see an image of folks rioting through Gotham government buildings as papers flutter through the air. We see images of them smashing windows, breaking into rich people’s houses, and looting from the wealthy as people hide under desks and tables.
On January 6th, another group of armed people led their own assault on a government building, the U.S. Capitol. The loose “protest” was led by The Proud Boys, Alex Jones, the Oathkeepers, and followers of Qanon spurred on by (or at the very least, riled up by) the President himself. Once inside, these Capitol Insurrectionists shouted, “Our House,” and began to pilfer and loot the desks and offices of those in Congress. Nooses were constructed. Selfies were taken. Worship hymns were sung. These people thought of themselves as “the people” that the government was being returned to. The mix was a diverse one, depending on your idea of “diverse” in a right wing extremist faction: conspiracy theorists; Evangelical Christians; Nazis; militia-men; cops; everyday MAGA supporters from all walks of life and incomes.
Some of the rioters were made up of law enforcement and ex-military. Others were old ladies. It seems at least some of the Capitol Police Officers let people in and were sympathetic to the message of the MAGA rioters. Other Capitol Police officers defended Congress and got the shit kicked out of them for several hours by people holding Thin Blue Line Flags.
After all, one of the many messages that propelled DT into the office was his call to “drain the swamp,” and that he was a businessman “outsider,” i.e., not one of those “corrupt” politicians. For four years the DT’s rhetoric steadily escalated until the President asked his protestors to “Fight” and “March Down Pennsylvania Avenue,” encouraging them to “take back” the country as a last ditch effort to “stop the steal.” Who knows if Trump really thought anything would happen. As we’ve seen many times before, he’s too incompetent of a leader to actually pull anything like a coup off. Yet he is a cult-like strongman and an expert con who demands absolute loyalty. As soon as someone turns against the President (in this instance, Mike Pence) they were deemed a “traitor.” Hence, “Hang Mike Pence” the insurrectionists shouted.
In the end, five people died, yet the stunt ended with very few arrests. Many of these insurrectionists even seemed surprised they had made it this far. Much as been made of The Capitol Police, lawmakers, and other members of the government above them in the chain of command (at the Pentagon and beyond) not being prepared for such an event taking place, despite concerns that this was a real threat. There’s even some speculation that these insurrectionists had help from the inside by members of Congress themselves who had shared floor plans or members' locations. Had there been an even more coordinated and planned attack, it’s very likely the election results could have been tossed and members of Congress taken hostage or killed. It was bad, but it could have been much more terrifying.
Bane’s takeover of Gotham was much more efficient and orchestrated. He had been dumping explosives into the Gotham underground for months, and when the time was right, he blew the bridges and tunnels for any escape, took over the courthouse, and held the city hostage from the federal government with the threat of detonating an unstable nuclear reactor core. He then convened a court in which the people decided “exile or death” for various member of the Gotham aristocracy, members of the police and courts, and so on.
The “trigger” Bane holds is supposedly given to an average citizen. This keeping in line with Bane’s use of language and rhetoric to reinforce that he is not taking over the city and taking it hostage per se, he is giving it BACK to the people. He employs fascist tactics but with the message that the others are the “oppressors” and he is the “liberator.” And, as often in history and politics and humanity, the accusations of corruption are true to some degree. Jim Gordon had lied to Gotham about Harvey Dent, something he supposedly did for the city’s protection. Batman and Jim Gordon are part of the wealthy elite. We see this exhibited in the stark contrast between how Bruce Wayne lives, versus say, Selena Kyle (Catwoman). Bruce Wayne’s own parents were murdered by a low level thief who just wanted some cash.
Gotham City has historically been plagued by crime (hence the whole reason for The Batman’s existence) but throughout the comics and movies we also see that the crime is rooted in the inequality of Gotham. Initially, many of Gotham’s people are sympathetic to Bane’s “liberation,” including Selena Kyle.
“Maybe I like it this way,” she says to Batman when he returns to Gotham to help get rid of Bane.
Yet she can see that the initial promise of “freedom” and “liberation” from the so-called “oppressors” is its own form of terrorism and fascism. Gotham is far from perfect, but Bane, after all, is a terrorist. And of course, Bane has not given the trigger to some average individual as Jim Gordon points out, he’s holding it himself. Bane cares nothing for Gotham, he came to destroy Gotham. He uses mercenaries and strong men to enforce his rule. (Throughout my viewing of the film I could literally see zero visual difference between Bane’s mercenaries and the militias and terrorist organizations like the Oathkeepers and the Proud Boys.
There is a terrifying future one can imagine in which the Trump and the GOP continue to label their opponents (even members of their own party, as we saw with Mike Pence) as so-called “traitors” and the liberals as “communists” and so on, until they one day undertake another, more successful takeover of the the government wherein they use police, military, and other militia type forces sympathetic to their cause to enforce an overturn of a democratic election. This was not far from happening!
Bane is a terrorist but he is also a more noble threat because he doesn’t care about power or money. The force of Bane answers to no one. He snaps the neck of his rich “benefactor,” who thinks he can control Bane because of the money.
“And this gives you, power over me?” Bane asks him before killing him.
Bane is a part of the League of Shadows, whose goal, as Ra’s al Ghul states:
“Crime. Despair. This is not how man was supposed to live. The League of Shadows has been a check against human corruption... for thousands of years. We sacked Rome. Loaded trade ships with plague rats. Burned London to the ground. Every time a civilization reaches the pinnacle of its decadence... we return to restore the balance."
Batman, of course, for all his black clothing—is an optimist. He believes in the good of the people of Gotham and doesn’t want the city destroyed. Yet he is also culpable, for in his exile early in the movie, he’s let Wayne Enterprises be run by the Board and his donations to the many boys' homes in the city have dried up. But in the end, Bruce Wayne comes out of hiding, defeats Bane, re-ups his donations to Gotham’s vulnerable, leaves his Batcave to Robin (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and perhaps escapes to somewhere in France to live out his days with Selena.
Real life is not so tidy, however. Cynically, I can think of no better time in the United States History for there to be a League of Shadows type “check” on the inequality and injustice plaguing the United States of America. (Unfortunately, we sort of restored the balance on ourselves with our response to the coronavirus.) Whereas today, the politicians and Ex-President’s use of "us vs. them" language and stronghold tactics to remain in power is done for no philosophical reason, but for age-old ones—power and wealth. There are no lofty ideals of good versus evil. Just power and money, pure and simple. The people are still exploited. Inequality and injustice continue to reign.
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