I've always been lured into the pleasures of watching movies already made sense of by a piece of writing, but it's always folly. Whether it's the gentler stuff of movie reviews, or the cocaine of academia, either I'm miffed (because the movie failed to live up to the exemplarity it was made to be in writing), or I keep up the same irritatingly mimicking zeal that the article sent me to the theater with. Well, okay--usually it's a queasy cohabitation of the two. Any kind of synthesis is out of the question.
While I was sent off to "Brave" with the promise of a smile by an analysis that tied the whole movie together, I hung to Batman (I mean "The Dark Knight Rises", if you can swallow that) by the thread dangling off the end of Anthony Lane's review. (Unlike Batman himself, who, while perilously strung throughout the movie for dramatic effect, is that which wins, we know. Surviving a nuclear blast, as he does at the end of the film--appearing like an American Jesus of The Good Life to Michael Caine, who makes a good stand-in for Mary Magdalene--is surely confirmation of this definition.) Having since the second movie petulantly rolled my eyes at the high-falutin seriousness that plagues this trilogy, Lane had given me high expectations for Cat Woman as precisely that element of ridicule. She is fun, but it occurred to me about the time she straddles Batman's motorcycle in skin-tight black, that Lane's article simply needed a closing twist, and the movie needed female eye candy. However, Anne Hathaway is the most entertaining part of a movie that otherwise does little else but beat drums in your ears for two hours. She has the cleverest lines, for one thing--maybe the only speech that's even written to engage us. While every other muscle-bound orator drones on (or, as the case may be, whispers, or speaks into a malfunctioning loudspeaker) about souls, fear, privilege, and power, she's amused, and almost leaves the doomed little island that Gotham becomes to save herself. There, there's my imitative little fit.
It sounds vaguely believable, but honestly I couldn't even follow most what she was saying, either. The plot was hazy to me. I think there was some big twist toward the end, as Marion Cotillard's knife twisted in Christian Bale. Turns out it was her who as a child escaped the prison, instead of Bane, the gurgling, mouthless villain. Okay. So I guess her and Bruce Wayne's little fling was a farce, but we knew that, in different terms. In any case, what, after all the explosions, dystopia, growling (and did I mention the drumming?), was the denouement?
There is for the first half a thick sense of portent brewed around Bane, while he remains underground the city. I don't mean so much the bits of dialog in which everyone worries about that crazy man in the sewers, but how the movie seems to cinematically strain to build this man's threat to a mysterious extreme. His mission is occluded enough at first that some sort of event seems sure to come, as if Nolan is screaming at us "SOMETHIN' GONNA HAPPEN HERE!" What happens? He gets himself a nuclear bomb. Any emergence this movie's emergency may have had just vanished. It is as this point I lost interest.
The "darkest" part of the film, then, coincided with my lowest. Bane became a surface-dweller, and proceeded to tear shit up like an adolescent's fantasy of revolution (release the prisoners! kill the rich!). Indeed, beside me, my brother was aping all this. He giggled, I think, at the shots of torn-up American flags, as if this was some profound ideological statement. He acknowledged it was all silliness when the lights came on, but as it unfolded in the dark I could tell he was thinking like one of those people whose idol is Tyler Durden.
Meanwhile, the on-screen gunfire sent me into paranoiac imaginings of the sensation of a bullet entering my skull. When the lights were dimming and the movie began, the man in front of us turned conspicuously around, seeming to inspect the platform from which an Aurora imitator might target the theater. Perhaps this fear is why the movie's attempts at terror disconcertingly struck home.
So what's left? Should we look to the wisdom of Robin's take on all this? He resigns from the police, saying to the commissioner by way of explanation "you know what you said about structure becoming shackles? You're right--I mean, who's going to know who saved Gotham?" The trouble with the Law, apparently, is that it prevents (super) heroes from public recognition.
The only conclusion I can possibly come to is that "The Dark Knight Rises" has abandoned the project of adding up to anything. The noise, the darkness, the talk of class and privilege, the violence, the tests of mettle, the mushroom cloud, the resurrection: it doesn't mean anything. Stepping out of the theater, my brother said it was awesome.