Warning: Possible spoilers for "The Dark Knight Rises" ahead.
COMMENTARY: Director Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman has always been darker, grittier and more realistic, but now he and his fellow series creators have told Empire magazine that "The Dark Knight Rises" may come to a definitive end. Will Batman have to die to bring closure to the trilogy?
The director’s brother, Jonathan Nolan, certainly makes it seem that way.
“It’s the right way to end it -- to blow the whole thing up!" he told Empire. "It’s better than trying to spin the thing out indefinitely and make it into the Bond franchise.”
Batman’s possible death, however, is inherently problematic. Superhero stories don’t end in tragedy. Batman is stronger, more courageous and has all the right gadgets and sidekicks. If he cannot defeat evil, then what does that say about the rest of us? Imagine if Voldemort defeated Harry Potter or if Frodo and Sam hadn't destroyed the Ring. If even the greatest, the anointed fail, then certainly that means we are helpless to the evils of the world.
Still, some tales are meant to be tragic. What if Romeo and Juliet had run off and lived out their days in love and happiness, or if Humphrey Bogart’s Rick had stayed with Ilsa in “Casablanca”? Tragedy in film helps position the moral compass of society, exposing the natural vulnerability and flaws of people through on-screen characters.
To see misery unfold unrelentingly on screen or in text is one of the greatest forms of catharsis we can experience. For a hyper-affluent, handsome, righteous hero like Batman to die would be a blow to the good-triumphs-over-evil trope that is so thoroughly ingrained in Western cultural and religious traditions. The good figure -- the Christ figure -- must always rise after being beaten down; yet, as anyone struck by tragedy knows, this is not always the case in real life.
Batman’s death would be the only satisfying conclusion to this trilogy that has seen its own fair share of heartbreak with the death of Heath Ledger, who played The Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
Still, his death would upend the first rule of superheroes: They are beyond human and therefore out of reach of death’s mighty grasp. Batman as a symbol of good over evil is forever immortal. The character Bruce Wayne's fate, however, is up in the air.
But is his death absolutely necessary for a satisfying ending to Nolan's series?
“You’ve given them everything,” a distressed Catwoman says in the trailer, whereupon Batman forebodingly replies: “Not everything. Not yet.”
"The Dark Knight Rises" hits theaters July 20.
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