Christopher Nolan is an iconic director, but one who has a tendency to make films with complex narratives that leave the ending up to interpretation. His most notorious films that leave the audience guessing are Inception, Memento and The Prestige. But the most recent question involving Nolan is from the new Batman film – did Batman really die?
The Dark Knight Rises is the third and final instalment of Nolan’s trilogy, opened on the 16th July 2012, and has become the 7th highest-grossing film in history. It deals with Batman having to come out of retirement to save Gotham and sacrificing himself by taking a nuclear weapon out to sea in order to save the city. Or does he?
After the bomb explodes there are a series of clips that put doubt into the audiences mind: Bruce Wayne’s funeral is seen, his will is read and it is revealed that he left the location of The Batcave to Robin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) discovered that Bruce (Christian Bale) fixed the autopilot system of The Bat six months prior to his death, Bruce’s mother’s pearls are reported as missing, Alfred (Michael Caine) is then finally seen in a café and spots Bruce at a table with Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway).
After the film was released on DVD Caine said to the LA Times that Bruce was alive: ‘they were real and he was with Anne’. The type of bomb that was used keeps changing throughout the film, from a nuclear to an atomic to a neutron bomb. If it was a neutron bomb then Bruce could have lived: a neutron bomb is stopped by water and a mushroom cloud is seen after its explosion, which wouldn’t have occurred if it had exploded out of water indicating that the bomb had been dropped. Also a neutron bomb only harms living things; it doesn’t damage buildings, which is why The Bat looks relatively intact when it is seen in the closing scenes. When Batman is last seen a shadow falls across his face. This could not have happened if he were flying out over the sea due to the angle at which the sun is in the sky so this could only be if he wasn’t over the sea. For this to be true The Bat must have an escape pod, similar to The Batbike leaving The Batmobile in the 2nd film. If this happened then The Bat’s autopilot could have flown it out over the ocean and dropped the bomb at the last second.
But then again it shows Batman in The Bat with 5 seconds left on the bomb, which has an explosion radius on 6miles. His vehicle is never mentioned to be supersonic and so there is no way that he could have escaped that, even if he had more than 20 seconds left. Hathaway’s character says towards the end of the film “you’ve don’t owe these people anymore. You’ve given them everything” to which Batman replies “not everything. Not yet”. This clearly implies that he intended to give them everything, even his life, just so that they could be safe. He would have no reasoning for faking his death and running off to France as, before the events that transpire in the film take place, Bruce had been retired for 8 years and so it would be simple enough for him to just retire again. But he can’t. In The Dark Knight Bruce’s love interest, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, leaves him a note stating “I’m sure the day won’t come when you no longer need Batman’ which leaves the audience to suggest that Bruce cannot live without Batman. If she can see it then it should be apparent that Bruce can also see it meaning that if he left Batman he would forever feel empty.
Christopher Nolan has gone on record by stating ‘we’re finished with all we’re doing with Batman’. He and his team will never be returning to the Batman universe. With no chance of a 4th film, as Bale will only do it if Nolan is helming it, it would seem as if the death of Batman would be a fitting end as it would complete their story arc. Although if Alfred truly saw Bruce it would also be an acceptable end as Batman would technically be dead, Bruce Wayne would no longer need it. However since the film is too rebooted in 2015 with Batman appearing in Justice League either is possible.
The real reason where people’s views become divided is Alfred’s sighting on Bruce in Italy. Earlier in the film Alfred says that he always hoped to see Bruce in a café in Florence that he used to visit by the Arno River. The entire city is divided by the Arno meaning that the odds of them being in exactly the same café on the same day are astrologically small. Tom Hardy’s character, Bane, says during the film ‘there can be no despair without hope’ leaving us to think that this is just Alfred hoping to see Bruce. And it is. The scene is shown through Alfred’s P.O.V. so he could see what he wants to see and it would be a metaphor that Bruce had finally found peace having been filled with guilt at the loss of Gyllenhaal’s character 8 years previous. Then when Alfred sees Bruce he isn’t emotional at all, not what you’d expect having recently been at a person’s funeral who you’ve known for their whole life.
Bruce Wayne is dead.
Batman however is alive.
He is an enigma of hope, a means of change to Gotham, and a symbol of justice and that symbol will always live on.
….Unless Superman arrived at the last second and saved Bruce.