THE CITY AND ITS HERO: DICKENS AND THE DARK KNIGHT

By Avinash Antony and Somak Mukherjee

Abstract

This paper proposes to establish the thematic similarities in the city as portrayed by Charles Dickens (in Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities) and Christopher Nolan (in his Batman trilogy). In both cases, the portrayal of chaos and the quest for order is what drives their narratives. The order desired is sometimes economic, sometimes legal, and sometimes political. But such order is shown to be ultimately impossible, both in the works of Dickens as well as Nolan. The order imposed in Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities and that imposed in The Dark Knight Rises is similar because they are clearly in conflict with false sense of redemption of their heroes. Is this a Dickensian way of telling us that individuals really do not matter in an ordered universe? We propose to analyse whether and why this is so and, in doing this, try to prove that this pessimism arises not out of a nihilistic world-view but is, rather, a result of the way in which the city has been socially constructed. Towards this, we will use Henri Lefebvre’s notion of the production of space (in this case, the city-space) and show how it is the Polis that creates the personnel and not the other way around. We will also utilize Bachelard’s phenomenological and topographical interrogation of space, establishing the presence of the house as something that creates an existence that is simultaneously within yet beyond the city space.

 

Towards this, we shall try to understand how the city has been imagined through history as a voluntary conglomeration, based on the idea that hierarchies provide stability. We will explore how the lack of stability can often arise out of conflicting hierarchies within a closed city-space.

 

We shall also consider how heterogeneous, mutually exclusive spaces within the city can exist –if not in harmony, then, at least, in denial. The problem arises when these spaces are forced together and compelled to notice each other. And if the city is cut off from the rest of the world, these internal contradictions lead, ultimately, to anarchy. In this light, we shall consider Gotham city, which is literally isolated from the rest of the world in The Dark Knight Rises, and Dickens’ portrayal of London in Bleak House. While the London of Bleak House is the center of a vast and continuously growing empire, there is a remarkable absence of the outside world in the novel. This is made even more evident by the fact that the only place of prominence (or mock-prominence) in the novel, other than London and its suburbs, is the fictional Borrioboola-Gha. We seek to analyse the Dickensian portrayal of the decay of isolation in contrast to that of Nolan.

 


 

As the nuclear dawn fades over Gotham, and we see its inhabitants start to raise their heads, and helicopters and boats converge on the island, we hear a voice. Jim Gordon.

 

GORDON (V.O.)

‘I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss…’

Blake pulls out his badge, throws it into the river.

GORDON (V.O.)

‘I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy…’

EXT. GARDENS, WAYNE MANOR – DAY

 

Gordon is reading from A Tale of Two Cities. Opposite is Fox, arm in a sling, and Blake, grim. Another figure is there, whose face we do not yet see…

GORDON

‘I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…’

(Gordon closes the book, looking down at Bruce Wayne’s grave)

 

‘It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’”[1]

 

 

It is not surprising to see Batman laid to rest with a quote from Dickens if one considers the thematic link that unites the two. Like Dickens’ social critique, Batman’s vigilantism is impelled by his love for his city, and his desire to care for it. There are also striking similarities between the two cities: similarities based not on a conscious representation but rather on the way in which socio-economic conditions leave their impression upon the space within which they occur. Nevertheless, despite the similarities, these cities are remarkably different with respect to the way in which their citizens behave. This paper proposes to illustrate this difference by comparing the Dickensian characters in A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, and Great Expectations with those in Nolan’s Batman trilogy (as well as others in certain key storyline arcs like No Man’s Land). We will show that these differences arise from the different ways in which space is produced and represented in these texts. However, we must clarify that in our comparison, we do not seek to analyse either the institutions or the socio-economic conditions of the cities. Neither shall we consider any historical or political issues the texts might address. Rather, this paper will try to analyze how Dickens’ London, as a space produced and imbued with certain qualities, differs from the space of Gotham City. We claim that as a result of their production, these cities give rise to characters that operate in differing ways. The different constructions of space give birth to different sets of heroic ideals in the protagonists. We seek therefore, to understand characters by observing the space that gives birth to them. It must be noted that we shall restrict ourselves only to the way in which London and Gotham city have been portrayed in the texts mentioned above.

 

The dream that Commissioner Gordon refers to in The Dark Knight Rises, one shared by both Batman and Dickens, seems unrealized in both sets of texts. Although in both, the characters might achieve what they had desired or what they had set out to achieve, the city in question remains largely unchanged. This observation becomes pertinent when one realizes that the sense of purpose these characters possess, moral or otherwise, is constantly at odds with the structures that have embedded themselves within the city. In the case of Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities, this structure is legal; in the case of Great Expectations, it is socio-economic. In all cases, these structures are an integral part of the order imposed upon the city. The heroes of these texts wish to re-order and re-structure the space of the city – or at least establish an order they think is correct. The city then becomes a contested space: a space they either fight for, or must come to terms with.

 

In his study, The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre argues that space is not a neutral, vacuous container within which entities are placed and upon which entities act. Neither is it a conceptual abstraction used to understand ‘reality’ (whatever one means by the term). Furthermore, space is not the sum of various methods of analysis: it is not the sum of geometric spaces, social spaces, political spaces, literary spaces, etc. According to Lefebvre, space is a produced, ideologically charged, locus which gives rise to the entities that inhabit it, which affects them, and which, in turn, is affected by them.

 

…is it conceivable that the exercise of hegemony might leave space untouched? Could space be nothing more than the passive locus of social relations, the milieu in which their combinations takes of body, or the aggregate of the procedures employed in their removal? The answer must be no … I shall demonstrate the active – the operational or instrumental – role of space. How space serves and how hegemony makes use of it in the establishment … Of a ‘system’.[2]

What Lefebvre means is that the practice of power, political or otherwise, will invariably involve a reconstruction or perpetuation of space. And as its inhabitants come to terms with this power, they are either vying for or establishing an order upon it.

 

Towards this, it is instructive to note how Dickens constructs (or produces) the semi-fictional London in his novels. The portrayal of London is nowhere more palpable than in the first few paragraphs of Bleak House:

 

As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full grown snow flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better, splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper and losing their foot-hold at street-corners where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke) adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

 

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex Marshes, fog on the Kentish Heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of colier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.[3]

 

Presented here as dirty, decadent, and desperate, the city-space of London shows three characteristics. The first is the incompatibility between the city and its citizens. The jostling, slipping, sliding, and general infection of ill-temper that the citizens feel is indicative of the disagreement between the entities that inhabit a space and the space that encloses them. As Lefebvre puts it (about spaces in general) ‘[t]he subject experiences space as an obstacle, as a resistant ‘objectality’ ….’[4]

 

The second characteristic is that the streets are muddy, murky, and congested, betraying a certain physical impenetrability i.e. a difficulty in traversing space. This difficulty is also evident in the slow, cold, and weary plodding in the second chapter of A Tale of Two Cities. Furthermore, this lack of movement (this stagnancy) is uncannily mirrored in the workings of the civic institutions of London. A prime example of this is the Chancery Court, where the nature of bureaucratic and legal perversity holds Justice hostage for years. Speaking of one such case (the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce suit) in Bleak House, the narrator says ‘Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers … there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.’[5]

 

The third characteristic is opacity: the visual impenetrability of the city-space. Victorian London, the industrial black-hole, is concealed by fog, smoke, and soot. This is a fog that not only ‘rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city …’ affecting the ‘eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards,’ but also one that is ‘cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of [a] shivering little ‘prentice boy.’ The concealment of parts of the city in this manner works on both a symbolic and a practical level. On a symbolic level, it indicates that the ones in power are blind to the needs of the citizens. On a practical level, the city can afford to delude itself about its progress precisely because the eyesores which arise as a result of this are hidden. As Dickens says about Tom All Alone’s ‘it might be better for the national glory even that the sun should sometimes set upon the British dominions than that it should ever rise upon so vile a wonder as Tom.’ The city, then, often acquires a split personality and there are two kinds of spaces (sometimes conflicting, sometimes complementary) that arise as a result, with each kind either ignoring or trying to consume the other. One example of this is Bleak House and the Chancery. Here, the two conflicting spaces are in opposition, with the Chancery attempting (through the Jarndyce suit) to consume Bleak House, and Bleak House becoming a refuge against the ills of the Chancery. Another example, and one where the spaces are complementary, is that of Krook’s shop and the Chancery.

 

This curious relationship between spaces is present in Nolan’s Gotham as well. Take, for instance, Crime Alley and compare it to Wayne Towers and Wayne Enterprises. These spaces are in topological as well as economic conflict. Crime alley is a ghetto street, characterized by dark alleyways and closely knit houses; Wayne Towers and Enterprises are skyscrapers. Both skyscrapers are symbols of wealth, Crime Alley is a symbol of poverty. But more importantly, the skyscrapers exist in order to deal with the problem posed by Crime Alley. Thomas Wayne built Wayne Tower to help the citizens of Gotham, and Bruce Wayne uses Wayne Enterprises to provide him with his gadgets to fight crime. But the poor, the out-of-work and the criminal element of Gotham is located predominantly in Crime Alley. Further, the denizens of this alley are a threat to those associated with Wayne Enterprises and Wayne Towers: not only are they employed in organized crime, they also engage in freelance theft and the occasionally murder. The murder of Bruce’s parents is only one such example. It is evident, therefore, that these spaces are in continual conflict to overcome each other. It is not surprising that this split personality in the city gives rise to characters that are similarly either doubles or opposites of each other – characters that belong similarly aligned spaces. In Dickens, examples of such characters are Krook and John Jarndyce (who are opposites), and Krook and the Chancellor (who are complementary). In Gotham city, Batman and the Joker are opposites, and Two-Face and Ra’s al Ghul are complementary.

 

Returning to the issues of darkness and concealment, let us note that the visual impenetrability (that gives rise to the sense of darkness and despair) in the city is accentuated by the presence of dark alleyways and shadows. In Bleak House, Esther claims that they ‘drove slowly through the dirtiest and darkest streets that ever were seen in the world (I thought) and in such a distracting state of confusion that I wondered how the people kept their senses’. In his Sketches of Boz, Dickens writes about the seven dials neighborhood, describing ‘streets and courts [that] dart in all directions, until they are lost in the unwholesome vapour which hangs over the house-tops and renders the dirty perspective uncertain and confined.’ Again, the Jellybys live on ‘a narrow street of high houses like an oblong cistern to hold the fog’.[6] Narrow streets and dark alleys are also a typical representation of Gotham city. Indeed, the fictional poet Lincoln Killavey (in one of the Gotham Knights issues) says Gotham is ‘as if the city itself were an engine whose hot breath rained soot and despair upon its immigrant workers.’[7] This comment, which might well have been about London, indicates the socio-economic reasons behind the production of such spaces: industrialization. The effects of industrialization in London are too well known to mention here, but Gotham too suffers from the same malady. Of course, unlike London, Gotham is not industrial, but urban. Nevertheless, Gotham’s poverty is still a result of a depression caused by unsustainable industrialization. In the first part of Nolan’s trilogy (Batman Begins) Rachel Dawes tells Bruce Wayne ‘People talk about the depression as if it’s history. It’s not. Things are worse than ever down here.’[8] The fact that Bane wishes to give the city ‘back’ to its citizens in The Dark Knight Rises indicates the disempowered nature of the majority of the citizens. The inability to maintain jobs, and the resultant rise in crime rate, was what  Thomas Wayne was fighting  by using Wayne enterprises to create employment as well as provide public services (the train services, for instance).

 

Like Dickens’ London, Gotham city too gives rise to its own denizens. The malevolent, dark alleyways, dilapidated houses, and abandoned, decaying gothic structures with gargoyles atop give birth to a unique breed of super-villains. Unlike his fellow in Metropolis, or Keystone city, the Gothamite super-villain does not engage in crime for purely personal ambitions or reasons. Their lust for lucre, though present, is secondary to their need to establish the city as their own. Their love for Gotham (if only, in some cases, to see it burn) is evident when, in No Man’s Land, they (with the exception of The Riddler) refuse to leave the city despite having been released on the condition that they would. They stay in Gotham in order to ‘take over,’ even though in most cases it would be more profitable for them if they left. This attachment to the space of their origin is indicated in their origin itself. The Penguin, for instance, comes from and operates underground – in the sewers of Gotham city. It is from here that he became a major threat to Gotham. Waylon Jones, or Killer Croc, also lives and operates in the sewers of the city. Their emergence out of the ground (therefore, out of the city itself) indicates their relation to it. In the Batman continuity, Harvey Dent works tirelessly for justice as the DA of Gotham. When he becomes Two-Face, he retains his obsession with both justice and Gotham. Only now, his idea of justice is based on a random binary choice, and his obsession is to take over the city. But his attachment to the city is evident when, in No Man’s Land, he attempts to rebuild it. In Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Two-Face is shown to be more interested in revenge than in the city. But here too, he is unequivocally linked to the city due to the Dent Act. The idea of belonging is interesting if we now consider the Joker. The Joker has no past, no identity, and no origin: he seems to emanate from the subconscious of the city itself. It is as if the Joker is born out of the inherent chaos in the city. And all he wants is to make the city his playground. This is clearly evident in the scene in The Dark Knight where, escaping in a police car, he sticks his head out of the window and (as it were) soaks in the city. Unlike the other villains who see Gotham as a space they wish to possess and order, the Joker sees Gotham as a space to ‘dis-order.’ But this too indicates an attachment that isn’t unlike love. The Joker is obsessed with Gotham city – an obsession comparable only to what he feels for Batman. And Batman is the only character who, more than the Joker, is born out of and born for Gotham city.

 

The fear of darkness and the unknown is present in A Tale of Two Cities as well (as is evident in its second chapter). And the similarities between London and Gotham have been established. This leads one to question the absence of a Batman like character in Dickensian London. Of course, the notion of a vigilante presupposes a civic police force against which the vigilante works; in Dickens’ time such a force was in its infancy. Nevertheless, the very city of London, in A Tale Of Two Cities and in Bleak House, seems to be crying out for someone to watch over it and deliver justice despite the law. The notion of law is important here because in the texts we have considered, the characters are always constrained by the law (be it juridical or social). In fact, the purpose of most of the characters is to overcome the pernicious effects of a biased, stagnant, and incessantly voracious institution that seeks to consume them. In Bleak House, for instance, every event occurs under the shadow of gloom and futility that is created by the Chancery. John Jarndyce tries to oppose this by creating an atmosphere that is friendly, kind, and honest. It is clear that he is struggling to overcome the state of affairs established by the civil and property law. By helping Jo and Jenny, both Esther and Allan Woodcourt oppose a social norm: that of the inequality of classes. In A Tale of Two Cities, Carlton works towards the subversion of a corrupt and blind judicial system. In all these cases, the heroes refuse to be overcome by that against which they struggle. Even when they are consumed by it, they ultimately see it for what it is. Pip, in Great Expectations, is constantly disappointed by a social hierarchy (or social structure) that is not inclusive. His desire to be a gentleman, his continual expectation, is indicative of a system that (like the modern commodity) creates desire but refuses to satisfy it. But by the end of the novel, he recognizes the pernicious nature of this hierarchy and disavows it.

 

Batman is anti-Dickensian precisely because of the space he inhabits. He does not work from within the institutions he wishes to change; rather, he exists in that curious state of indeterminacy that lies between law-making and law-preserving violence. In his essay, ‘Critique of Violence’, Benjamin analyses violence as being of three kinds: law-making, law-establishing, and divine violence. Law-making violence is that which seeks to create a structure or establish a nomos – for instance, the violence of Two-Face, who wishes to create a system of spontaneous justice based on random chance. Law-establishing violence seeks to preserve the law by combating law-making violence. Examples of these are the violence of Falcone in the Batman Begins, and that of the police force in The Dark Knight Rises. Unlike these kinds of violence, divine violence is not violence committed as a means to an end. It is violence that seeks to overthrow the very notions of ‘means’ and ‘ends’ – destroying boundaries and breaking the cycle of law-making and law-preserving. It is arguable whether Batman’s, or even the Joker’s, violence falls under this category. But what is clear is that Batman’s violence is neither law-making, nor law-preserving: he neither works for the law, nor against it. But unlike other vigilantes, he does not have a structure that he wishes to impose upon the city. His dream for Gotham is not a systematic plan to improve it. Rather than engage in an institutional overhaul (as suggested by Ra’s Al Ghul), Batman seeks to work locally – combating particular instances of crime and wrongdoing as and when they occur. This makes Batman’s endeavors similar to the Foucauldian critique of power. Also, in combating law-preserving violence, but not with law-making violence, Batman situates himself in the space between the two kinds of violence – a space from which he openly launches an attack against anything that threatens his city.

 

Having established the difference between a Dickensian hero and Batman, let us approach the issue of the city-spaces from a different angle. Let us ask: what, in the creation of Gotham as a space, results in inhabitants who want to openly fight to conquer it? How does Dickens’ creation of London differ? Towards answering these questions, we must first note that the basis on which actions are judged is different in London, as compared to Gotham. In London (in all of Dickens’ novels), the basis of judgment is social, economic, juridical, and civic. For instance, the Chancery’s actions are wrong because they are both economically wrong (they rob people of their property) and juridically wrong (it is a perversion of justice). Similarly, Pip is socially wrong in snubbing Joe. Therefore, to set things right does not require extravagant actions: a simple rectification would suffice. In Gotham city, however, the basis of judgment is not right and wrong, but good and evil. This explains the overt gestures of rebellion in both the comics as well as the movies. But how can two similar spaces demand different yardsticks – different methods of judgment? To answer these questions, consider Lefebvre’s method of analyzing space. Lefebvre uses three concepts to analyze space as a product: Spatial practice, representations of space and representational space. ‘The spatial practice of a society secretes that society’s space …’[9]; the representation of space creates conceptions of it and knowledge about it; and representational space is a ‘space that is directly lived through his associated images and symbols’ (therefore the space is inhabited and used). It is the representational space that contains objects that signify its nature.’

 

It is obvious that the cities under consideration differ with regard to their spatial practices and their representations of space. This is a result of one being semi fictional (and semi historical) and the other being a completely fictional construct (that is being continuously created). Despite this, the similarities we have discussed still obtain. What interests us is to compare the representational spaces of both these cities. It must be noted that London of Bleak House and A Tale Of Two Cities is not an accurate or completely realistic representation of the ‘real’ London of 1790s or 1850s. Dickens imbues the city with an atmosphere that is semi mythical. For example take the reference to the Megalosaurus in the first chapter of Bleak House (‘ it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill’) and description of the age – the best and worst of times – in A Tale Of Two Cities. As a result of his intention to satirize what he describes, Dickens adduces an element of the fantastic (and fantastically absurd) to the city. However, his novels being particular accounts of particular events in lives of particular citizens, the city-space is represented but not much explored. It generally forms the background against which things happen. Even his non-fictional accounts of London explore the city from a journalistic, rather than mythic, perspective, concentrating on spatial practices rather than establishing a representational space. In contrast to this, Gotham city is almost always presented as an exploration of its representational space. It is a place with a mythical past of ritual worship. The city is now situated where the Miagani tribe once lived. Led by their Chief Palebear, they revolted against the fiery shaman Blackfire. Failing to kill him, they had entombed him in a cave, marking the location with a mystic totem. When the crops started dying, the Miaganis recognized it was due to Blackfire’s ill will: his influence was thought to have permeated the very soil of the city.[10] (Much of this constitutes the storyline of the first issue of Batman: The Cult). Gotham’s history is also irretrievably linked to the histories of the Wayne family and the Arkham family. Every event involving these two families adds not only to the mythology around them, but also to that around their city. Far from being the background to certain events, Gotham city participates in them. Consequently, there are places in the city that symbolize its mythic origins (the best example being that of Arkham Asylum). It is this preservation of mythology in the city-space that permits us to view Gotham as a battle-ground between good and evil.

 

The last point we would like to make is to notice a curious contrast in Dickens’ novels and Nolan’s Batman trilogy. In Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, there is a movement away from the city, and its institutions, towards a ‘safe place’. In the first novel, this place is Bleak House – first Jarndyce’s house, then Esther’s. Esther’s journey to the first Bleak House, and then to the second (which is in Yorkshire, even further away from London) seems like an escape from London and its decay and despair. Pip’s return to decency is established by his return from London to Joe’s house. Even Darney, saved at the end of A Tale of Two Cities, returns from another pernicious city: Paris. This is in keeping with the nature of the Dickensian hero who, though embedded in the institutions he combats, seeks to retreat to a safer place. The reason these characters achieve happiness by the end of the novel is precisely because of this retreat. The only Dickensian hero who contradicts this notion is Sidney Carton. Carton’s sacrifice is much like Batman’s: he goes into the city (Paris) to save Darney. But he too is retreating from another city: London. Carton’s dissatisfaction with London is evident in his behavior prior to his last act of nobility. He wastes his life precisely because the city of London (it’s judicial and social structure) does not appreciate talent. This is why he can judge his life as being less valuable than Darney’s. But does this movement away from the city imply that the individual is powerless in the face of institutions? Is Dickens’ outlook pessimistic? We argue that it isn’t. Dickens makes it abundantly clear that individuals can effect a change, precisely by influencing other individuals. Each of the Dickensian heroes discussed here saves another character from the despair spread by the city. John Jarndyce rescues Ada, Pip gives Estella hope, and Sidney Carton saves Darney. Thus Dickens too believes in the power of small-scale, or local, social changes. But this social change, more akin to the Christian notion of charity than to a critique of power, is accomplished by a movement out of the city.

 

In Nolan’s trilogy, on the contrary, there is a movement into the city. Wayne Manor, on the outskirts of Gotham, is not Batman’s refuge from the city: it is where he prepares himself for the city. It is not surprising that there is a secret tunnel connecting the Batcave to the sewers of city: the foundation of Wayne Manor is directly linked to the foundation of the Gotham. Every time there is a threat to Gotham, Batman moves into the city to fight it. This motion into the heart of the adversarial structure is remarkably indicated by the transformations of the bat-signal in the movies. In Batman Begins, the Bat-signal is a makeshift one created from a harbour-light and the unconscious body of Falcone. This signal indicates Batman’s entry into the city, and establishes a unique symbol of his protection. In The Dark Knight, the Bat-signal is firmly established on the roof of the police department building. Even Harvey Dent uses it. This symbolizes the acceptance of Batman by Gotham’s police: Batman’s violence is viewed as law-establishing violence. But by the end of the movie, the Bat-signal is broken, symbolizing Batman’s rejection by Gotham. His violence is now declared law-making violence. As is evident, the law enforcement and judiciary of Gotham city are insistent on classifying Batman’s actions as either one kind of violence or another. However, Batman continues to behave the way he always did, and his actions are independent of such classification. Only Gordon knows the truth: Batman will be whatever Gotham needs him to be. This is clear from Gordon’s conversation with his son at the end of The Dark Knight.

 

In The Dark Knight Rises however, Batman’s relationship with the law is problematized. One cannot classify Batman’s violence now precisely because Gotham is a lawless city: it in a state of exception. This is why Batman feels it imperative to reassure the city, and to signal that it is still under his protection. The Bat-signal here is not in the sky, but blazes on the face of a building. The symbol of Batman has become inseparable from the city he protects.

 

There is one last transformation, and we would like to conclude with this. All this while, the symbol of Batman’s protection was a non-material phenomenon that did not occupy physical space. It was a shadow on a cloud or a fire in a building – symbols that cannot be objectified and kept within the city. This illustrated his unique position of being beyond the city, yet guarding it. At the end of The Dark Knight Rises, this symbol becomes a graphite statue of the dark knight established within the city. Here is the passage from the screenplay:

 

EXT. PLAZA, DOWNTOWN GOTHAM – DAY

(Gordon, on a platform with dignitaries, watches a statue being unveiled. The curtain parts: Batman, immortalized in granite. We move in on the stone face…)[11]

 

Batman is now a city hero – its public protector. From vigilante to messiah to outlaw and, finally, to an institution – Batman has been assimilated into the very structure that he opposed. And as is the case with the Dickensian city, nothing changes. We have no indication that Gotham City improves. Further, Batman (as its protector) is rendered ineffective: even if he were to return, no one would fear him. This is precisely why Bruce Wayne leaves Gotham; this is why Gotham needs a new hero. This hero must be unknown, and unappropriated. This hero too is born in Gotham and rises from within it. This is why the trilogy concludes with the rise of Robin.

 

 

 

 

 

NOTES

[1] Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises (http://alexcassun.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/tdkr.pdf, accessed on 15 October 2014)

 

[2] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. by Donald Nicholson Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), p. 57.

 

[3] Charles Dickens, Bleak House (http://www.online-literature.com/dickens/bleakhouse/2/ ,

accessed on 16 October 2014)

 

[4] Lefebvre, The Production of Space, p. 57.

 

[5] Dickens, Bleak House (http://www.online-literature.com/dickens/bleakhouse/2/ ,

accessed on 16 October 2014)

 

[6] Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/882/882-h/882-h.htm , accessed on 16 October 2014), Chapter V.

 

[7] Robert Greenberger, The Essential Batman Encyclopedia (New York: Del Rey, 2008), p.128.

 

[8] David Goyer, Batman Begins (http://www.raindance.org/site/picture/upload/image/general/movies/batman_begins.pdf ,

accessed on 16 October 2014)

 

[9] Lefebvre, The Production of Space, p. 37.

 

[10] Greenberger, The Essential Batman Encyclopedia, p.128.

 

[11] Nolan and Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises (http://alexcassun.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/tdkr.pdf, accessed on 15 October 2014)


 

Somak Mukherjee is currently a PhD Scholar in Department of English, Jadavpur University as well as the Research Fellow of the EQUAL Project. Previously he worked as the NAAC Project Fellow at Jadavpur University between 2013 and 2014. . He received his Masters and Bachelors degree from the Department of English, Jadavpur University. His area of interest lies in the fields of urban studies, Modernist poetry and theater.

Avinash Antony is an independent researcher. He received his Masters and Bachelors degree from the Department of English, Jadavpur University.

 

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