simple as that. Here's what I sent to a friend in an email about themes of this trilogy.
Theme 1: FEAR
In Batman Begins the central theme is FEAR. It begins with the murder of his parents. They find themselves in the alley where they were killed because of Bruce’s apparent weakness, his fear of bats. In that alley, he realizes a new fear of “the criminal.” At first he tries to confront this fear by gunning down Joe Chill but someone beats him to it. It’s at that moment that he realizes that the fear is indeed a weakness and begins traveling the world to understand and find the drive behind the criminal. As Falcone says, “You don’t know desperate…you never understand. And you always fear what you don’t understand.” After facing this first fear, he begins to understand that the criminal is not anything complex, and this comes to a head when he meets Henri Ducard, Later Ra’s while in prison. Ra’s tells him that he is still missing something. Once he makes it up to Ra’s fortress with the blue flower, ironically an instrument of fear, he states his purpose: “To turn fear against those who prey on the fearful.” This is why he adopts Batman and why Batman Begins. He realizes once again that his fear of bats is a weakness he faces it (scene in the Batcave) and embraces Batman, the element of fear that criminals will face. (Bruce to Alfred: “I guess now they can share my dread.”) Fear births Batman and its out of fear that Gotham needs him, i.e. fear is intrinsic to Batman’s existence.
The Agent of Fear
This is why Scarecrow fits perfectly. Scarecrow/Crane and Ra’s are the extreme embodiments of a villain preying on fear, ever enhancing it so that it is more exploitable. Scarecrow obviously is a foil to Batman. Where Batman wants to use fear of himself to scare criminals, Scarecrow wants to use fear of himself to inspire mass terror. This makes Scarecrow and Batman very similar, which is one very cool thing about all the villains in Nolanverse (I’ll explain how all of them are the same as Bruce as I go). So, Batman’s first obstacle is seeing if he can overcome the fear in himself before striking fear into others, seeing if he can indeed handle the responsibility taken him before becomes a “legend.” He must once again triumph over his fear, but this time it is fear manifested as a villain: Scarecrow. Fitting don’t you think.
The Consequence of Fear
Ra’s is a very interesting addendum to the theme of FEAR. He isn’t so much the agent of fear as Scarecrow is, but the consequence of fear. Just as Scarecrow is a pawn, the agent of fear rarely is as effective as the consequences that he evokes. Ra’s is that set of consequences. He is the embodiment of the ramifications of terror and craze when it reaches a large scale and spiral out of control. This is a tad ironic. This is ironic in two ways: He sees himself as an agent or order yet he is letting Gotham “tear itself apart through fear,” and also because it serves as the antithesis of the TDK’s Joker.
As a side note, it is interesting that Nolan chose Ra’s because in the comics he is immortal. Obviously Nolan-verse isn’t going to do that because it is too unrealistic, so instead, Nolan made him immortal by proxy. His constant identity switching allows him to be “immortal” because you never really know who he actually is. He is a legend, more than just a man. Just as Bruce begins to become. He makes himself a legend. Here again Nolan shows how similar the two characters are. He has to show that Bruce is just on the other side of a very thin line that could make him a criminal, and this is why he doesn’t kill (this becomes a problem in TDK).
(Honestly i think there are arguments for Ra's being the agent and Scarecrow the consequence but I chose this one because I felt like it)
At the very end of BB, we hear the first mention of “escalation” the overarching theme for the entire trilogy. Gordon says “Well, what about escalation?” to which Bruce responds “What do you mean?” Gordon goes onto explain how if the police buy Kevlar, criminals buy armor piercing rounds, etc. and how Batman has inspired his own brand of escalation. And then he hands him a Joker card.
Theme 2: CHAOS
The Dark Knight is all about chaos. Batman is slowly restoring order to Gotham City after the destruction of the Narrows, however, picking back up on the escalation theme, the different mobs have stepped up their game hard in order to get around the Gotham PD’s new toys. Luckily, Batman has a person to help him, someone “who doesn’t have to wear a mask,” Harvey Dent. It is first apparent just how effective Dent can be when he, with the help of Batman (flying to Hong Kong), brings down the entire mob in one fell swoop. Batman sees this as the beginning of a Gotham that doesn’t need him, i.e. a Gotham that is in order and looks up to a man instead of a legend. Sadly, it doesn’t last long.
The Agent of Chaos
The Joker. Like Scarecrow was to fear, the Joker is a living testament to everything that is chaos. He is the perfect villain, he is crazy yet incredibly sane, he is contradictory, he is unpredictable yet elegant and intelligent, and most of all he is the first version of an escalatory rival with a “taste for the theatrical” like Batman. The Joker is nihilist, meaning that he sees our society and how it is structured and orderly as a façade, much like the façade his character uses. He sees each person as out to privately and subconsciously justify their own selfish means. He mocks order saying that the norms are preconditioned and that everything goes according to plan people are fine, “even if the plan is horrifying. But if one tiny mayor has to die, then everyone loses their minds!” SO, he sets out to make it apparent to everyone. He wants these everyday people who “when the chips are down, will eat each other,” to see that that’s exactly what they will do. A perfect example of this is when he gives the order to kill Coleman Reese or he will blow up a hospital. Suddenly, everything becomes crazy as civilians premeditate and attack Reese (eating each other) in order to saved their loved ones in hospitals (justifying selfish means. His entire goal is to strip of the façade of society, by making Bruce strip off his façade as Batman.
The Consequence of Chaos
No other villain embodies the warped, eating each other mentality more than Harvey “Two-Face” Dent. He is the perfect version of something so orderly, he’s the DA for Christ’s sake, turned by chaos into something twisted. This is perhaps an even better agent/consequence relation then in BB, because the Joker directly creates Two-Face on purpose. Much like Scarecrow, he is a pawn to the original agent, but instead he used as an example instead of a set-up. Chaos take’s a hold of Dent and turns the “White Knight,” the “best of Gotham,” and shows how utterly corruptible it is. As the Joker sees it, it is a symbol and example for all of humanity.
He once again showcases how crazy and selfish people are underneath. The watershed moment for the Joker’s influence over Dent is the scene in the hospital where he is explaining that people are schemers. “I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. You were a schemer and, well, look where that got you.” This his lead in to the thing that will make Harvey turn into Two-Face: “It’s nothing personal. It’s just chaos. And you know the thing about chaos……IT’S FAIR.” This is when Two-Face gets his M.O., where his two headed coin becomes his very own agent of chaos of “unbiased, unyielding, FAIR: chance.” Much like Ra’s Two-Face is a subtle agent of fair and order but is truly the face(s) of everything chaos can do to a person.
As I already stated, the Joker is the first villain that we see that is purely escalation inspired. The “unstoppable force” to Batman’s “immovable object.” The entire reason that chaos is the theme in this movie is it makes Batman doubt himself, just as Bruce doubted himself when he was fearful. It makes him weary of Batman and makes him question the usefulness and morality that he has come to hold true, the fact that Gotham may not need a protector becomes a struggle he endures. Harvey is the escape. He’s the hero without a mask. Yet, through escalation he is turned into an example, a foil for a city “ready to believe in good *growl*.” That good truly is Batman…BUT it has to be Harvey. The city can’t know of the example the Harvey had become. Thus, Batman becomes the scapegoat. He becomes “The hero Gotham deserves, but not the one they need right now.” It escalates to a point where Batman “will be hunted” and is no longer the symbol he used to be. “You either die a hero or live to see yourself be the villain”…Harvey died a “hero,” Batman lived to be the villain.
Theme 3: (potentially) PAIN
Gotham is grieving. Harvey Dent, the shining ray of hope for Gotham has been killed by the Batman. Here you have the pain over the stuffing-out of the light that Dent was supposed to be, and the pain of the loss of Batman as a positive, helpful protector. It could be seen as Batman hurting, i.e. paining, the city. So he hangs it up for little bit. About 8 years or so.
The Agent of Pain
The man who wears the mask: Bane. Not only is Bane very large, he is also very intelligent. He is the most physical villain Batman will face, able to cause pain to Bruce by battering him, and able to hit Batman where it hurts by destroying the city he has sworn to protect. He does this by inciting even more pain, exposing Harvey Dent for what he was. He takes something Gotham believed in and crushes the little remaining hope Gotham had left. This fosters contempt and unrest in the city and divides it into two sides, a class war, Banes inmate army, and a huge rift between those that follow Batman and those that side with Bane. Bruce ends up hurt, Gordon ends up hurt, no telling who else Bane causes pain too. Even more appropriate, Bane’s mask administers him an anesthetic that helps control, none other than, his PAIN. Quite fitting, huh?
The Consequence of Pain
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