John Blake: “Don’t you want to know who he is?”
Jim Gordon: “I know exactly who he is; he’s The Batman.”
He’s our point-of-view character for the film, not an “average Joe” but the most normal and baggage-free as you get in the now-mythical world of Gotham City. Young, idealistic, and looking with wonder at the Batman and even the police commissioner, actor Joseph Gordon Levitt gives us a fresh viewpoint of these now-aged characters in the final installment of Nolan’s trilogy and believes in them even when they’ve lost hope. We talked about the overarching themes of The Dark Knight Rises in our spoiler-free video review, but now we’ll careen into SPOILER territory (you’ve been duly warned) with these follow-up posts by looking individually at Alfred, Bruce, Gordon, Blake and Selina.
How many of us have idealized a person, or an institution, filled with hope and naiveté as we dive in like a “hothead” and find lethargy, lack of wisdom, compromise, corruption and even lies that have built the system? We’ve all had these moments of dismay when we see behind the curtain and really meet the wizard. John Blake obviously became a cop in light of events and heroism on the heels of good cops like Gordon and the actions in The Dark Knight. As the third film begins, we see he’s becoming burdened by the way people, and details, don’t add up like he thought. In light of this, what kind of man is he going to become? The question reflects back on the viewer as we often wonder what kind of person we’ll turn out to be in the topsy turvy cities we live in.
“Not a lot of people know what it feels like to be angry, in your bones… You gotta learn to hide the anger, practice smiling in the mirror. It’s like putting on a mask.”
I think a lot of us haven’t seen the specific tragedies Blake has – death of both parents, foster home upbringing – and yet his comments do resonate with ways we’ve felt, both pain and the way we conceal it and wear a false face in public. As he realizes the brokenness of the system he’s in, as the police force is oblivious and then humiliated, he puts his hopes in something higher: a symbol, a potentially redemptive force beyond the laws of the land. Not only does he feel the need for the Batman and literally calls out for it, he wants to be like him, to walk in his ways, to be “incorruptible”.
The talks Blake and Bruce have in the film, about how the younger man understands the need for Batman, and how Bruce tells him that “Batman could be anyone” all lead to a very curious parallel as the film’s curtain falls, or… well… rises. We see John, with much less power and ability, throw himself heroically into the fray and be willing to lay down his life for others. He’s become a disciple of the batman, and at the end of the film we see he stands ready to put on his armor.
Nolan’s ending, then, is both a nod to Batman mythos but complete with his own spin. No red and green spandex-wearing target would really fit in the narrative he constructed, but the man named Robin John Blake effectively becomes the Batman (as it’s always been assumed would happen in the comics, that the “boy wonder” would don the bat cowl when Bruce grew old or unable). It doesn’t make any sense for Blake to run around with his legal name (otherwise Wayne would have run around being “Bruceman”) and it’s a Bat that’s been restored on the GCPD rooftop, not a bird. While Blake won’t have Alfred to help and occasionally hound him, I suspect he’ll be able to reach out to Lucius Fox for some of those wonderful toys. In many ways Bruce is right: Batman can be anyone.
Except that, of course, they totally can’t.
It’s a cool discipleship scenario with curious parallel: John Blake is given tools that he could never have replicated, resources he could never afford, equipped with everything he needs to imitate his hero. Bruce was a unique person in a unique position to set everything up, and Blake can only imitate him because Wayne has given him everything.
“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” – Hebrews 6:11-12
Think about it: Bruce is a singular character, son of a father with seemingly inexhaustible resources who is only there in spirit. Through the son of Thomas Wayne this legacy is established so that our POV character Blake can put on the armor prepared for him. He heads out into the city of man bearing the mantle of his hero, the one who truly forged the path, established the ability, and equipped him (and who has now “gone away for a time”). Along with the entire city Blake has been saved, and now has been given an incredible gift, one that comes with accompanying responsibilities. Does this have a corollary in our shared story of life? An only son living out the will of his father, restoring and establishing a legacy by which we can all image that legendary example?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8-10
Of course, Bruce Wayne is just a man, not truly a transcendent or ultimate savior, so any deep spiritual allegory will fall short. Blake is imitating a fallible man who strived to be something more, to live up to a greater example and symbol. Like the apostle Paul, Bruce has invited Blake to imitate him, but the reality is they are both imitating something higher than either of them.
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:9
Lastly, it’s notable that Blake, unlike Gordon, felt it necessary to see past the symbol and know the real face of the hero. It’s one thing to live up to a symbol, or an ideal, but Blake knew that there needed to be a life and true story behind that mask. As you and I enjoy and admire Batman, or other fictional heroes, are we content with the fictional or mythical ideas and symbols they stand for? Are we content with “he’s the Batman” or should we be looking for a reality behind those examples, monomyths and metanarratives: is there a true face behind the mask of symbolic savior that saves the city of man and invites us to walk in his ways?
“Do you think he’s coming back?”
Mid-film, the special forces operative tells Blake he shouldn’t count on Batman, that he should put his hopes in something real, butBlake doesn’t give up hoping and in the end, his faith is rewarded. Similarly, Christians believe in the return of our world’s true savior and, like Blake, we do our best to image him until our true Knight returns.
Do you have anger and frustration like Blake you feel you have to mask, to conceal?
Are you dissatisfied with the systems and structures you once believed in, that ultimately fall short?
Are you eager to find a path that’s righteous and true, to walk in those ways?
Do you know the true savior’s face, or is this just an idea? A man-made symbol without reality?
Would you like to know who He is?
Of course, on the day I realized who that hero IS, I realized how short I fell of being anything like him, or anything like Robin John Blake. I needed some life change, I needed a clean slate, but we’ll save that for Selina in our final post.