The Dark Knight Rises Is a Pro-Fascist Movie

Noah Brand reveals his startled reaction to Batman’s latest foray into outright authoritarianism.

A note for clarity: I’m going to be using the words fascism and fascist a lot in this review. Since, as Orwell warned us, those terms have come to be used as synonyms for “stuff I don’t like”, I should pin down the sense in which I use them here. Fascism is a political ideology fixated on authoritarianism, militaristic imagery and action, and the use of authoritarian force against internal and external Others who are defined as threats to the continued existence of society. Fixations on nationalism and national or racial purity and unity are also common. Fascism is a phenomenon of the political right, and has always been fanatically anti-communist, communism being what happens when the political left gets equally douchey.

That said, there has always been an intrinsically fascist subtext to all superhero mythology. These stories, which I have grown up on and still love, are predicated on creating a situation of such exaggerated threat that fascist solutions, i.e. strongmen acting outside due process to restore order by violent force, become not only plausible but desirable. To put it another way, citizens of Metropolis might be uncomfortable with having a nearly-omnipotent alien living in their city, answerable to no authority but himself, but when a week can’t go by without a giant robot trying to level the city, you’ll accept the alien as preferable to the robots.

However, this is usually just subtext, and many superhero stories go out of their way to specifically eschew this reading. The Batman films of Christopher Nolan, however, embrace it, and never more explicitly than in the newest, The Dark Knight Rises.

SPOILER ALERT: Everything from here on in will ruin the last two Batman movies for you. On multiple levels.

Many people have read the previous Batman film, The Dark Knight, as an endorsement of the authoritarian, anti-civil-liberties policies of the Bush administration. (Policies that, dismayingly, the Obama administration has not reversed.) I wasn’t persuaded of this thesis until someone pointed out that one of the centerpieces of the film, one of Nolan’s superb action setpieces, is literally about the extraordinary rendition of a foreign national from his own country so he can be brought under American control for interrogation, and it didn’t have to be. That scene could have played just the same way in any skyscraper controlled by Bad Guys; the choice to make it legitimately sovereign foreign soil was deliberate, and creepy.

Even after that, I didn’t want to subscribe to a fascist reading of Nolanverse Batman, until I saw the new movie last night. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good movie in most respects. Severely weird structural problems, but each scene and line is skillfully and gracefully written in and of itself, and the cinematography is lovely. They’ve even fixed the unfollowable fight scenes of the previous two; the two major fights between Batman and Bane are gorgeous. This is probably the best overtly pro-fascist film I’ve seen since Leni Riefenstahl’s heyday. But whoa nelly, is it fascist.

The film opens eight years after the previous movie, eight years in which Batman has retired because there is no longer any serious crime in Gotham. After the events of The Dark Knight, the “Harvey Dent Act” was passed, which apparently authorized the police to lock up a thousand organized crime figures with no chance of parole… the details are deliberately vague (could the police not arrest people before?) but the expression is clear: Harvey Dent’s supposed martyrdom allowed passage of a law removing any restrictions on police authority, thus granting Gotham a crime-free golden age. Lest we miss the militarist undertones, characters go out of their way to specify that Commissioner Gordon is going to be forced out of his job because he was the right man for the “war”, but now it’s “peacetime.”

This entire time, Batman has been retired, and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse in Wayne Manor. In other words, mere ordinary fascist techniques have proven sufficient to handle the threat, and Batman’s super-fascism has not been necessary.

Now, however, a new threat has arisen, one mere normal fascism can’t handle. From some unspecified Other People part of the world comes Bane, a super-terrorist who has a number of clever and well-written connections to the mythos established in Batman Begins. He comes equipped with an army of “mercenaries” who turn out not to be mercenaries, in that they keep fighting after nobody is paying them, i.e. about halfway through the movie. This is a threat too great for the weaklings running the Gotham City Police Department, especially with strongman James Gordon in the hospital. The ultimate strongman, the Batman, must return to restore order.

Bane’s agenda is that of the Occupy movement as seen by people who don’t know anything about the Occupy movement. (Google “Dark Knight Rises” + “Occupy Wall Street” and prepare to sigh deeply.) He overcomes the current strongman of Gotham City and imprisons its police, thereby successfully taking over the city. This only makes any sense at all if we assume that government is solely comprised of a strongman and his enforcement apparatus, which… well, that’s a little fascist, isn’t it? The enforcement apparatus removed, the economic status quo is reversed, with rich people being turned out of their homes so the poor can take their stuff.

This is a key point: Bane keeps talking about The People, but the people of Gotham City do not appear in this film.

The People are entirely absent. Everyone we see dragging rich folks out of their homes, everyone we see freeing the men imprisoned under the Harvey Dent Act, everyone we see fighting the police in the big authority-vs.-rebellion showdown at the end, they’re all Bane’s staff members. The only character with a speaking part who expresses any support for Bane’s agenda and isn’t a known supervillain or paid-up member of the League of Shadows is Selina Kyle’s girlfriend Holly. It’s one of her three lines. Nobody got a SAG card playing a Gotham citizen in this movie; their only role was to cheer Batman in crowd scenes.

This is important: if the people of Gotham are present, then when the enforcement mechanism of the current power structure is removed, the people immediately rise up and overthrow the system. This would imply that Gotham citizens are so oppressed that only brutal enforcement keeps them from naturally rising against this oppression, which makes Bane the good guy. However, the people are not present; only Bane’s thugs rise against the rich. The people are so absent from this movie that, in every single vehicle scene, there are no civilian vehicles on the road. Everything on the road in every scene belongs to either Batman, the cops, or Bane, resulting in some rather odd-looking chase scenes down completely unused urban streets.

This point is inadvertently underscored toward the end, when Commissioner Gordon realizes Batman’s secret identity, a moment that should be powerful and instead is comical, because he is, at that point, literally the only significant character who didn’t already know Batman’s real name. He ends up coming off as the last kid to get the joke.

Bane’s “power to the nonexistent people” schtick is designed to echo vague impressions of Soviet communism, with its empty stores, kangaroo courts, and a lingering shot of a breadline, something American audiences have been conditioned to believe was solely a Soviet phenomenon. A similarly lingering shot of a tattered and torn American flag under Bane’s regime is there for people too slow to pick up on the other symbols.

In the end, of course, the police and the Batman triumph and order is restored by force, thus freeing the nonexistent people of Gotham to enjoy their existing system where the police can lock you up without parole at will.

All this would not be too bad, except for the little matter of cultural context.

Americans live in a society right now where fascism is trendy. We are more militarized, by money spent, than the entire rest of the world put together, and one of the men running for president has promised to increase that spending. We have more people imprisoned per capita, than any society in human history, including China, apartheid-era South Africa, and the Soviet Union. These are facts. They reflect a status quo in which fascist solutions for society’s ills are considered good ones by a portion of the populace, and it is to that demographic, the American political right, that The Dark Knight Rises is explicitly pitched. The entire film is peppered with conceptual catchphrases, like “peacetime”, “appeasement strategy”, “those who have too much”, and so on, designed to appeal to the worldview of people who think Fox News does journalism. A deliberate caricature of the imagined opposition is created, and then duly punched into submission in accordance with superheroic genre convention.

Some will argue, and have argued, that the film is more even-handed than it is, that it presents a moral dilemma between fascism and anarchy that Batman must resolve via a middle ground. It doesn’t. There is no anarchy, merely a choice of two dictatorships, and Batman doesn’t resolve it, he comes down very squarely on the pro-fascist side. Commissioner Gordon is presented as having doubts about the Harvey Dent Act, but he never speaks out against it, his words against it are stolen by bad guy Bane, and he is put in his place by new good guy John Blake, who dismisses his attempt to remain morally good as useless.

Again, in case the red meat for the right wing is too subtle for some, the film explicitly casts “sustainable energy” as a doomsday weapon. Nolan clearly didn’t want us to miss his point, so I feel it would be bad manners to pretend I did.

Fascism may not always be palatable or pleasant, the film tells us, but it is necessary and it works. At no point in the movie do fascist solutions fail, except in cases where they are not fascist enough. The strongmen who Do What Must Be Done, the classic excuse of the fascist, are always right. When the Gotham police are led into a trap, it is under the command of Gordon’s successor, who is shown to be a cowardly quisling who only redeems himself by putting on a uniform and shooting scruffy people.

In short, The Dark Knight Rises posits a conflict between the form of fascism some Americans currently favor, and a strawman version of their imagined opponents, and places the center of moral good firmly on the pro-fascist side. This isn’t even subtext, it’s just text in context. I’m sorry if this ruins the movie for anyone.

Oh, and Catwoman is in the film as well, but since she’s not called Catwoman and the plot wouldn’t be even slightly different if she were absent, I have omitted her in a failed attempt at brevity. Which is a shame, since she’s the best thing about the movie.

About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is an Editor-at-Large at Good Men Project, and possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.

Comments

  1. Jim Bowen says:

    You have no idea how much this has cheered me up. I’ve felt like the little kid in ” The Emperor’s New Clothes” since seeing it.

  2. Of course Nolan’s Batman films are fascist. They’re despicable. The real question is why human beings, and teens, so readily lap up fascism, or why human beings seem innately fond of the fascist.

  3. I find it funny how liberal progressives (actually read regressives) throw around the left and right terms. One of the liberal demigods, Woodrow Wilson, thought fascism was great. Conservatives believe in our country as constituted. We righted our original wrongs but are always conscious of too much government. Don’t confuse conservatives with Republicans. We believe the Constitution limits government. The Republican party is just demonrat lite. B. Hussein Obama is more of a fascist than any president since Wilson and FDR.

    • Matt,

      If you believe Obama, Wilson, and FDR are fascists, I believe you MIGHT just not know the meaning of the word… May I suggest a dictionary? But then again, if you believe Republicans aren’t conservatives, then may have bigger problems, specifically in recognizing reality, haha.

  4. Wow! I JUST finished watching the last half of that movie and the same thing crossed my mind, In fact I found this site by typing “Batman film Pro fascist”

  5. Pedro Serrano says:

    I spoke too soon.
    Weather The Dark Knight Rises is facist may depend less on my opinion then
    on what it inspires.
    Back in the mid 1990’s I attended a party that in attendence had a few men who
    were members of the White Power movement.
    On the TV was a collection of clips edited together as a kind of recruitment tool.
    The frist clip I saw was the Jeraldo Rivera Show episode with Nazi’s as guests
    and where violence broke out.

    Another clip was a group of young white, blond haired, blue eyed young men
    singing a song called “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” It was a scene from the film Cabaret.

    If the Dark Knight Rises is indeed fascist propaganda there will be brisk sales
    of the DVD among white racialists. If not…

    Now I’m going to watch “The Sound of Music.”

  6. Excellent review, couldn’t have put it to words better myself.

  7. When I was in high school I was shown “The Birth of a Nation.” Afterwards the teachers and students had a long discussion about it. In college I watched “Triumph of the Will” followed by a similar discussion. The Dark Knight rises is not, in my opinion, a Pro-Facist film.

    After The Dark Knight Christopher Nolan began work on the Inception which hit theaters in July of 2010. It was in late October of that year when the official title “The Dark Knight Rises was announced.

    I find it unlikely that “The Dark Knight Rises” references the Occupy movement directly. The occupation of Wall street took place last summer. Could “The Dark Knight Rises” have been written, cast, shot, and edited in a year while working around the Wall Street protestors? It seems unlikely to me. If anyone can provide some information that would be helpful.

    Also consider that people were, excuse my language, pissed off at the hubris of Wall Street before the film was in production. I can see Mr. Nolan incorporating that rage into his script.
    In TDKR there was no leaderless movement with “working groups,” general assemblies and drum circles. In the film I saw a chaotic crowd of conned pawns manipulated by someone committed to fulfill the “destiny” of someone else.

    The themes I’ve seen in all 3 of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series includes, justice versus revenge, Justice being defined in Batman Begins in the scene after the man who killed Bruce Waynes parents is assassinated:

    WAYNE: Maybe I should thank them.

    RACHEL: You don’t mean that.

    WAYNE- What if I do, Rachel? My parents deserved justice.

    RACHEL – You’re not talking about justice. You’re talking about revenge.

    WAYNE- Sometimes, they’re the same.

    RACHEL: – No, they’re never the same.
    Justice is about harmony. Revenge is about you making yourself feel better.

    And with those words from the public defender Rachel Dawes I feel I see Mr. Nolans perspective on revenge; it’s selfish.

    Another theme is service and ones personal mission in life and service to others.

    In Batman Begins –
    DUCARD: Why are you here?

    WAYNE: To strike fear in those who prey on the fearful.

    And in TDK –
    WAYNE AS BATMAN: It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.

    Then there’s the very sticky questions concerning human nature.
    The Jokers “social experiment” involving 2 boats., one with criminals the other with civilians, each with the power and motivation to kill the other.

    If the Batman series is about Fascism perhaps it’s about laying out to the audience the questions one should ask so as to know what to do when the authoritarian voice takes the megaphone to his lips and says that he’s set you free.

    One final point before I boil some water for a pot of tea. I see 2 distinctions between The Batman films and superhero movies in general.
    In Nolans world one doesn’t need to be from another planet, be bitten by a radioactive arachnid or have a destiny to fulfill while learning how to wield a magic wand. In the last words from Batman in TDKR, “A hero can be anybody.”

  8. wellokaythen says:

    Hmm, food for thought.

    I didn’t get that reaction from the last two Batman movies, but I DID see clearly fascistic themes in the recent _Green Lantern_ movie. I think it’s a much better example. All that simultaneous raising of fists, chanting together, being part of a powerful, elite class of people who have the mandate to do whatever they want to, and all of it powered by “the will.” The movie is literally about the “Triumph of the Will.” Not to mention the subsuming of the rugged individual behind the collective will of the powerful group that runs the galaxy. Modern militarized societies just love the myth of the heroic fighter pilot, of which Hal Jordan is one of many examples.

    Oh, and of course once Ryan Reynolds becomes his fully-fledged superior being, his eyes turn blue, instead of that ugly, untermenschen brown. [Yes, I’m brown-eyed, and yes I’m overly sensitive to this. Notice how in the recent Planet of the Apes movie the chimps who become “more human” change eye color from brown to blue? How convenient….]

    There’s been black-shirted fascism and brown-shirted fascism and “Red Fascism,” so why not “green fascism”?

  9. “Fixations on nationalism and national or racial purity and unity are also common.”

    I would really be interested to hear how you envisage a non-nationalist fascism would work. It’s never happened, and while I concede that it could theoretically be possible, I certainly can’t picture it.

  10. “Americans live in a society right now where fascism is trendy. ”

    Please, if only.

  11. Jamie Watson says:

    No, this critique hasn’t ruined the Batman movies for me; quite without any rancour, all I see when I read this is someone trapped in his own idealism. Left-wing feminist thinking can be as much a cult as any other ideology; if I have one overall reaction to your piece, it’s that you need to deprogram yourself a few notches. The world’s more complex than your philosophy allows.

    My take on the Batman movies is this. All stories are part of the human attempt to create mythology, to make sense of the world around them in a way that is, in the most basic possible sense, comforting. Something that fits into how they know things work. Your reading of this movie is an attempt to fit it into your personal mythology, which seems to be that of social justice, but I question whether that’s really where it comes from as a creative work. Since its reinvention as a “dark” comic, Batman has been deeply involved with examining the forces that act, interact and conflict within the human psyche – and it’s done that well. It’s become an enduring and popular mythology because it speaks to a lot of people: on that deep-down gut level, it feels real.

    Bane, in that light, isn’t a literal terrorist and anarchist in the sense you’re reading him. The people of Gotham don’t show up in this movie because nations, cities, the People, don’t exist within the human mind. Bane is that force within the psyche that seeks to respond to hideous situations with absolute destruction, without regard for discipline or control. Batman, throughout the darker mythos in both comics and movies, is a force which is no less dominant and dangerous, but which seeks to harness destruction rather than to be subsumed in it – to use it only as far as it must be used to restore peace and safety that can be used to rebuild. Batman is disciplined rage; controlled destruction. Rage, as a part of the soul, is anathema to many left-wing thinkers – but it is real. We all have it within us, and especially as men we all have to seek to come to terms with it in our society.

    New Batman is a dark and gritty myth because the reality of force and conflict is unpleasant whether it’s internal or external: full of grey areas, hard questions of responsibility, and life situations that make the right choice impossible sometimes. Bane is a character who comes from a world of absolute need and brutality. For him, his choice could even be construed as correct. Batman is a different being and reacts to the same situation in a different way: he is no hero in the bright and thoughtless original vein of comic books, his hands are bloody and his conscience stained. But he chooses to act to pull his own existence closer to the side of light than it was before – he maintains hope. He even becomes the conscience to Selina Kyle, an equally damaged soul, and gives her hope, the will to be unselfish, where there was none before.

    I’m beginning to think that the difference between right-wing and left-wing politics is that right-wing people are deeply, inherently unable to respond to change with anything but fear; and left-wing people approach it with optimism and hope. The fascism you’re seeing in this film is nothing more than that basic fear writ large – but there’s more of your own hope and idealism in Batman than you’re willing to admit, I feel.

  12. Wee…I’m slow. Finally watched. Funnily, I had opposite impressions of the third movie. In some ways, it almost seemed like an apology for the some aspects of the second, which did have some apologism for certain policies that were in the public debate at the time (although I’m not sure Batman nabbing Lau counts; it’s certainly not extraordinary rendition; simply taking a criminal from another state to the US is ordinary rendition).

    I took the utter lack of the people participation in Bane’s takeover as intentional on the part of the filmmakers. In one breath, Bane is claiming to be handing the city over to the people, in another he’s declaring martial law. Bane’s thugs are given a motif bringing to mind military, or paramilitary police. They even call out the stereotypical “show me your hands” when they’re seizing Gordon and his crew. The kangaroo court is presided over by Crane: Scarecrow. Symbolically, it’s a court ruled by fear. Remind you of any criticisms of the new national security apparatus? And let’s not forget that Bane is initially working as a private military contractor working for a corrupt corporate executive.

    As for the Harvey Dent law, my read was that it was intended to be shown as a mistake. It’s clearly insufficient, since, you know, it failed to stop the rise of Bane. And it seemed pretty clear to me that Blake wasn’t criticizing Gordon for (planning to) eventually tell the truth about Harvey Dent, he was criticizing him for lying in the first place; not for trying to remain morally good, but for failing so miserably to do so. It was somewhat unfortunate that so much of the issue was apparently about the truth of Harvey Dent as a person, rather than the content of the law, but people always make better stories than policy.

    The lionization of the police as representatives/protectors of the people is also somewhat problematic, given current reality. It sure would be nice if not everybody marching on Bane’s center of power in the one scene was in a police uniform. So the movie certainly isn’t perfect. But I’d still call it a long way from “whoa…fascist”.

    As for the power source/bomb, is it ever actually called “renewable”? I remember it being called clean, and a line about it using no fossil fuels. Also, it comes from a reactor, which in the wrong hands can be used to make a nuclear bomb. I don’t know what that sounds like to you, but it sure doesn’t sound like solar to me. I think the anti-nuke movement is stupid, too, but it’s not usually associated with the political right.

    • Also:

      While it’s true that Foley is in command of the Gotham PD when they’re lured into Bane’s trap, since Gordon is on his hospital bed at the time, the order to send to police into the sewers comes originally from Gordon.

      Batman is stabbed in the back by Talia al’Ghul while beating Bane, trying to force him into revealing the identity of the trigger man for the bomb (trigger person?). Torture, and in broader symbolic terms the entire set of new national security policies, distracting him from the real threat. Another common criticism of the new national security apparatus.

  13. L.Karamazov says:

    I just saw this fascist trash and yes, it was fascist. The whole point of the movie is to make you suspicious of anyone who seeks to free you from this crooked system we are currently living in. Bane frees the people using the threat that he will set off a nuclear bomb if anyone tries to recapture Gotham for the elites. That part is more or less o.k., but the real propaganda lies in the the fact that Bane knows the bomb is going to go off anyway. So the message is anyone who tries to save you has already planned for your destruction, so stick with the current fascist system. Nolan includes al qeada in banes mix, by having his Shadow stooges willing to commit suicide for the cause. He therefore equates Al qeada, to Occupy and and others seeking “redistribution” to the Liberty movement which is also against banker fraud. Theres no way to ignore this,it doesn’t take any real critical thinking, you can;t sit back and “just enjoy the movie” the movie is literally attacking your psyche,and has to be fought.

    • The script was finished a few months to a year before Occupy began.

      But again, I would say that it more closely resembles a standard military occupation, which is often presented as a liberation. When the US “liberated” Iraq, they were greeted with enthusiasm at first but as time wore on the Iraqis chafed under the occupation.

  14. I am now glad I haven’t seen the new Batman movie. At least in the other movies, the fascism was toned down enough that you could actually enjoy the movie–this sounds like it’s so front and center as to actually detract from the plot and awesome superhero fight scenes.

    Which is sad, because I always liked Batman as a kid.

  15. Thank you Noah- I sat through the movie confused…..
    I’m a fat white man in a suit & Bain seemed to be making some good points….
    On another level- where was the gore? Millions of dollars of CG effects, 100s of cops and Mercs beaten & killed and no blood.
    No wonder Holmes thought it was a video game.

  16. PsyConomics says:

    I always took Nolan’s Batman trilogy (especially these last two) as an exploration of exactly the type of man (or entity) needed to fight sort of extra-human threats using extra-human power.

    The reason we could trust Batman to wield such authoritarian power is that, well, he’s The Batman. He has the guts to build a machine that can spy on every person in Gotham, use it to capture just one, then burn it to the ground. He has the guts to build a new type of reactor that could make him rich(er) beyond imagination, and never turn it on because of a (at that time) vague threat of weaponization.

    The villains whom Batman fought used similar thematic/grandiose powers that Batman used (style, fear, hope, etc.), but the difference was/is is that the Batman can use them without corrupting. Without using said power to reign tyranny over the people. Batman is the only person who can use such powerful tools for only their intended purposes.

    The above is why I disagree with Brand on this issue. The movie’s aren’t pro-fascist, but they do show us really the only condition under which fascism might work: with an entity as powerful as Batman to keep the system in check.

  17. After seeing “The Dark Knight Rises,” I’m more convinced than ever that “Watchmen” handled all these big ideas better and more wittily.

  18. just saw it today and it was great.
    obviously your mad it attacks your hypocritical downright bogus ideology and has batman fighting on the side of good. Bane represents lenin and other commie dictators who love criminals and usefull idiots that will follow him to his death and instate a socialist system that will kill them all in the end. He uses their greed and envy as a tactical weapon to remove any institution he doesn’t want and ties up all lose ends. He holds show trials that are hosted by a batshit insane judge who just wants to eliminate those who will be tried. He is the definitive symbolic communist. His endgame results in the deaths of all who participate. He speaks of “oppressive institutions” that were never viewed as oppressive until he pointed it out. He wields power like a maniac and is cold calculated and ruthless enough to kill someone he considered an ally within the blink of an eye. He is what your ideology represents but claims not to. Why is capitalism compared to fascism? Batman merely wanted to protect the money he earned and the money earned by his colleagues? i guess you consider this fascist because you have no idea what fascism really is. Like a typical dumb brainwashed college student anything that defends the american tradition is “fascist” but what is real fascism anyway?
    fascism= socialism mixed with a strong racial ideology backing it up
    liberalism=socialism mixed with elements of racism

    • “Batman merely wanted to protect the money he earned”
      Earned…? By being born into the right family? And then ignoring the company the money comes from anyway while he trains for seven years, and then coming back and ignoring it again and running it into the ground? I don’t think that counts as “earned”.

      • While I don’t disagree about the earning thng, he did not “ignore t and run it into the ground.” in Dark Knight he reveals that he is observing everything about the company. It does start to decline after he has become a recluse.

    • Fascism bears absolutely no relation to socialism. As well, liberalism doesnt have anything to do with racism.

      • Alberich says:

        monkey,
        would you say that the “Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei” (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) was not fascist?

        • No, I would say that they weren’t really socialist.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_socialist

          This isn’t a No True Scotsman argument, BTW. Hitler didn’t even want the word “socialist” in the part name, and in any case his positions – anti-organized labour, pro-business – were antifthetical to actual socialism.

          Don’t take my word for it, though:

          :”Socialism is a fraud, a comedy, a phantom, a blackmail. ”
          “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”

          -Benito Mussolini

          • Alberich says:

            Here is the problem, your position on what “actual socialism” is, contradicts the common usage of the word socialism. For example the policy of the socialist eastern European countries were, according to you, antifthetical to actual socialism.
            Examples:
            1.Hitler was against independent organised labour, so were the socialist eastern European states (see the history of the “Solidarity” in Poland).
            2.Hitler’s pro business position was not pro free market, but pro big business just like the economic policy of any socialist eastern European country.
            3.Both National Socialism and Socialism (in eastern Europe) were anti individualistic and anti pluralistic.
            4.Both had a political system with a leading elite, which was supposed to know and represent the will and the interest of the people.
            5.In some of the socialist eastern European countries there was even some kind of “Führer-Kult” (see for example Soviet Union and Stalin).

            • Wikipedia lists 20 different variations on socialism. The eastern European variety is but one, and while it had many totalitarian aspects, it did not begin that way. Nazism, OTOH, had domination as its first goal.

              Italian fascism made no bones about the fact that it was opposed to socialism. Fascism is about the control of power lying with a elite. Socialism, at least on theory, concentrates power in the people. Even if it falls short of that goal, it is in no way related to fascism.

        • Of course they were fascist, but they weren’t really socialists.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_socialist_party
          This isn’t a No True Scotsman argument, BTW. The article states that Hitler (who didn’t come up with the name) actually hated the term socialist. in any case, their policies were against unions and worker’s rights – the core of socialism.

          As for Italy, Mussolini apparently called fascism “corporatism,” in that the corporation was merged with the government. In Spain, the civil war was between fascists and communists.

          • AnonymousDog says:

            Corporatism has nothing, or very little to do with joint stock companies. The fascists believed that the “Corpus” or body of society as a whole was more important than the individuals who composed it. The fascists were every bit as communitarian as the socialists. That’s why the whole argument of “fascism vs. socialism” is such a waste of time: for the individual. they work out the same in practice.

        • The NSDAP was not socialist in anything but name. In fact, a significant number of party members was killed in 1934 because they actually took the “socialist” part serious.

  19. Frankly, I’m more disturbed by Iron Man. A billionaire who flouts the law with his might but stays mostly within his city (and regards it as a grim duty) versus a billionaire who flouts international law and denies his technology to all governments because he know better (and is portrayed as a cuddly rebel)? No contest.

    I actually counted quite a few ordinary people. The priest who ran the orphanage, the fellow prisoners in the “Lazarus Pit” (I was thrilled to see Tom Conti), Lucius Fox, and Alfred.

    But there are a few things that I noticed on the second viewing that suggested to me that Nolan is subverting the superhero.

    The first is that in the arc of the three movies Batman realizes that his extrajudicial actions are wrong. His invasion of Gotham’s privacy to catch the Joker proved nothing: it was the people who saved themselves and Harvey Dent still wound up dead.

    The second (and this is what pissed off Harry Knowles) is that Wayne *wants* to quit. The end is a little like Toy Story 3 (which Knowles also hated): Wayne grows up and gives up his toys.

    The final thing is that the resemblance to Occupy is simply a coincidence, as Nolan wrote the movie beforehand. Nolan has been cagey about it, and I think it’s because he had a much more vicious and subversive point to make.

    Think about it: Bane introduces himself as a liberator, not an occupier. The occupation is total and goes on for months. Supplies are heavily controlled and the electricity goes on and off. That’s not the actions of a few dissenters, but an invading army.

    That doesn’t describe Occupy Wall Street. That describes the Invasion of Iraq.

    • Albert Cox Delano says:

      I think you nailed a good one right here. I will elaborate further but right now I have something in the oven and I don’t want to forget to give you rep.

  20. While I love this website and its message, I can help but feel a few key ideas weren’t considered when making this article. I was, like the author, skeptical at first, but open minded and willing to listen. Unlike the author, I am not convinced. The author makes a good case, but I find the following large holes in the logic. The article makes intelligent, thoughtful, academic analysis, but it oversteps the bounds of practicality. Obviously, art can make political statements, but if we look too hard, we can find a phallus in a cigar that was meant to be a cigar.
    The first, always important and always the first thing ignored, is context. The film is based on a comic book franchise. Though started in the late 30’s, the Batman franchise enjoyed a lot of success in the 50s and 60s. Naturally, it involved themes and thinking from that era; not art is created in a vacuum. It should come as no surprise then that elements of communism and authoritarianism arise. The article does acknowledge that superhero mythology contains these elements, but doesn’t accept this as an explanation for much of the content. Because it is a central theme to most comics, how can it not account for much of the undertones? They are intrinsic to the genre. Isn’t that a bit like watching science fiction and saying the director went out of the way to include technology and aliens?
    The second is director intent. The article cites the opening plane scene as evidence Nolan endorses interference with a sovereign state, which makes sense academically, but not in practice. In the medical field (I am a volunteer firefighter and former EMT) we have a bit of old wisdom we all hear often: “When you hear hoof beats in Texas, think horses, not Zebras” I don’t share the author’s conviction that the plane scene is a political statement. It makes a lot more sense that using the plane was to make an exciting, theatrical spectacle. When you see a Hollywood director making a huge spectacle, think ticket sales, not politics. The article suggests a skyscraper, but lots of the movie takes place on buildings, and it’s natural for an artist to want to avoid excessive repetition. It would also be far less theatrical. Again, Christopher Nolan makes his living (or many livings) selling movies. Having the plane crash on US soil would make for a much less convenient CIA write off as it would naturally draw more attention if the plane crashed in the middle of the US. It’s also worth noting that Hollywood is a largely left leaning institution.
    Another is the argument “Now, however, a new threat has arisen, one mere normal fascism can’t handle”. I believe this is simply a case of looking to hard for an academic element. The movie is about a hero fighting a villain. There needs to be a villain. If the police could handle the threat there wouldn’t be a movie.
    It does contain occupy themes, no one would contest that. But as I stated above, art isn’t made in a vacuum. As the comics contained elements of Nationalism and Communism, the new versions contain Occupy style social unrest.
    The article points out the image of the tattered American flag as a nod to the government themes of the film. There is a fair argument, but again, can’t someone (and isn’t it more likely) make a dramatic, theatrical decision they think will resonate with their viewer? Again, Nolan makes movies for a living; he is not a head of state. True, the movie contains violent overthrow of villains, themes of government and nationalism, and authoritarian heroes. That is to say, it’s a superhero movie.

    • Have you actually read the Batman comics? Communism, nationalism and authoritarianism are not actually a very common theme, and especially not “intrinsic”.

      “When you see a Hollywood director making a huge spectacle, think ticket sales, not politics.”
      Seriously? You should have more respect for Nolan than to assume that. Also, he’s a Hollywood director. He has more than enough money to never work again, so it can’t be said that he “makes movies for a living”. He does it because he wants to/has to. He’s an artist.

      • Thadryan says:

        I agree that Nolan is an artist. I have enjoyed many of his movies, and I really loved the latest Batman movie (Which I probably should have stated to give people a better idea of where I was coming from). I very much enjoyed the spectacle; I think he was trying to give fans something awesome to watch, and that he succeeded. My comment about ticket sales was a statement about Hollywood in general, simply telling the author he should probably look to tickets sales before politics when looking for motivation in Hollywood film. With a great director, art goes without saying.
        I simply meant, speaking generally, that many comics of the day contained those elements, so it wouldn’t be so unbelievable if a Batman movie drew of them as well, even if they weren’t all there to begin with. I state they are “intrinsic to the genre” of comics not to Batman.
        I wasn’t aware of any batman specific communist or socialist imagery, so out of curiosity, I googled it, and it turns up in Batman movies from the 60s, though no comic that I have seen. As for batman specifically, I do see aspects of the other two: I see Batman as a pro-authority figure due to his law and order mentality (which I don’t think is inherently flawed) and his loyalty to his city. He also operates outside the law in order to uphold it, which is an authoritarian trait. That’s where I’m coming from in terms of authoritarianism and “nationalism” (though most of it obviously refers to his city).

  21. Fascism continues to be dumb down.

  22. AnonymousDog says:

    “Fascism is a phenomenon of the political right”.

    Are you sure about that? What’s the definition of ‘political right’? Can you define ‘fascism’ without reference to Communism, or define ‘political right’ without reference to ‘political left’? Modernism and egalitarianism were also big components of Fascism, but you seem to have left them out.

    Is ‘Fascist’ really a useful term? Or is your use of it just a more sophisticated synonym for ‘stuff I don’t like’?

    • I agree with you. That is what the author is using Fascism for.

      “I don’t like it due to my Freedom and Liberalism. And anything bad in my eyes is evil therefore Fascist because it is authoritarian and anything authoritarian with a police state=Fascism. Even Bane’s ‘communism’ was truly authoritarian in nature and therefore Fascist.'”

      I think that is the new post-modern definition of Fascism: “Stuff I don’t like.” Made me laugh.

      P.S. Although I have to disagree with you about Egalitarianism being a big component of Fascism. Egalitarianism is not a component of Fascism. But another topic for another day.

    • Doug S. says:

      <a href="http://web.archive.org/web/20090303160442/http://www.reformthelp.org/marketing/positioning/models.php"There's a pretty solid sense in which fascism was centrist, instead of far left or far right.

    • “The Rise and Fall of Western Civilization” By Emmanuel Goldstein has the definitions you’re looking for.

      The author’s definitions are the standard accepted ones in academia, except they don’t usually teach them with the loaded descriptions (i.e. douchey) in the classroom.

      Basically, fascism is an extrapolation of right wing values and communism is an extrapolation of left wing values, but how both systems have been practiced on national levels in the past is basically similar – they have more in common with each other than they do with more centrist systems (centrist globally – the USA is classified as pretty far right of center).

  23. Peter von Maidenberg says:

    (Sorry about the open ended link – the last para is my position, not Douthat’s.)

  24. Peter von Maidenberg says:
  25. This movie was Batman going up against a prototypical James Bond villain wearing Hannibal Lecter’s mask with Darth Vader’s voice. It opened up like a spy movie and closed up like Star Wars. I half expected Bane to say, “Bruce, I am your father…” There were the obvious Islamist Terrorist themes, including the Blackwater Hangings over the bridge. A few times I almost expected Catwoman to say, “Who is John Galt?” This movie basically tried to throw everything at the audience to see what would stick. It’s hard to say. I even caught a little Passion Of The Christ in there.

    Fascism is not about lone vigilantes, it’s about political armies. But so is Bolshevism and anarchism. The League of Shadows and Bane’s army present a much more Fascist presence. Batman seems to fit much more closely into the Libertarian space, with Bruce Wayne portraying one of the mythical Job Creators. Notice how all the “good guys” were unsung misconstrued heroes who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and sacrificed themselves for society’s benefit.

    • What I will say struck me as odd is that towards the very end of the movie, it’s revealed that Bane actually became who he is while trying to save a young girl from being brutally gang raped. Well… that was… awkward? And 10 seconds later Catwoman takes care of that can of worms with one of the Batcycle’s cannons.

      • Also, if they wanted to blow up Gotham, why not just blow it up? Why establish some weird ‘anarchist’ society for a few months, giving the good guys time to build up resistance?

  26. I think this is a poor review, mostly because it misunderstands what fascism truly entails. Gotham’s leaders really have no goal other than fighting crime. They have no nationalist or ethnic goals in mind. And the citizens are free to move into and out of the city at will, that is until Bane comes and blows up the bridges.

    • Fascism is a mixture of authoritarianism and nationalism. The authoritarianism is obvious in third film, and the Noah’s arguing that the fascism is in the illegal/forced extradition that occurs in The Dark Knight. So, Batman could be said to be a fascist in these films. Bane seems just authoritarian, unless you take into account that he and the League of Shadows aren’t actually of American origin.

    • You don’t fully understand fascism. You’re only comparing it to nazism.

  27. You’re forgetting how focal the events of Batman Begins are to this story.  Here you have a fairly crime ridden Gotham city with its corrupt police force, transitioned over to a quasi fascistic authoritarian state of The Dark knight. 

    The problem with your analogy Noah is that the Batman is a metaphoric umpire preventing over reaches of the state as well as the individual. 

    And as for the villains… 
    I for one never really understood the cartoonish motivations of the league of shadows. Bane and his cohorts  intent wasn’t to establish anarchism, communism or even despotism.  His plot was a poorly conceived attempt at  mass murder for little other then payback against Bruce Wayne and what…the condemnation of Hope?
    There is no redeemable qualities of the supposed counter culture in this film. Order won over chaos just the way it’s supposed to be. Oh and a new umpire steps up to the plate. All’s right with the world.

  28. ~Spoiler

    You realize many of the civilian cars were used for the blockades of the tunnels, etc?

  29. “Bane’s agenda is that of the Occupy movement as seen by people who don’t know anything about the Occupy movement.”

    I would argue the exact opposite. The entire movie reminded me of this lovely demonstration in San Francisco this past May Day:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/01/mission-riot-san-francisco_n_1468352.html

    After an Occupy march devolved into the smashing of the windows of 30 small businesses (in a neighborhood where there are ONLY small businesses, it was not the financial district), and a literal assault on a police station, the Occupy protesters made several statements the next day to claim it “wasn’t them” but rather “some other group” who they “weren’t involved with.”

    There’s your context: the reality of Bane is not so far off. Groups who “aren’t really the people” are actually waiting in the wings for an excuse to loot and attack police stations once they think they have a shot.

    Block after block of smashed windows (to say nothing of the smashed dreams of small business owners and employees) is no “deliberate caricature of the imagined opposition,” rather it was the reality in the Mission District of San Francisco on April 30th, 2012.

    That is what Bane is: the anarchist taking advantage of the popular rage.

    It’s probably true that the vast majority of the Occupy protesters did not ever want to see a street of small businesses looted and a police station attacked. But their actions enabled the anarchists who DID want to see this kind of destruction. This is what Bane represents, and it’s very real.

    • The Wet One says:

      Mike, don’t forget the money men and the banksters. They were in the film too and look what they wrought. Only the billionaire recluse (whose family made their money honestly in the arms trade ) was a monied man who was a good guy. All the other monied types were scum.

      Don’t forget that little bit.

      I guess the best person to be is a butler….

    • Stop misusing the term anarchist. Get a dictionary.

      • Sigh,

        The group that Occupy blamed was “Black Bloc” a group of self-identified anarchists. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt by apply to them the title they asked for. Maybe next time you could do a little research before assuming that others don’t know what they’re talking about.

        • Just because a group identifies as something, it doesn’t make them so. If a man identifies as a pacifist and then assaults people/starts wars, you’re not going to let him use the title “pacifist”. Anarchism is defined as “order without power”, and destroying local businesses is obviously not facilatory to creating that, it’s rather a form of chaos.

          • I’m going to go ahead and keep giving groups the benefit of the doubt. The group’s methods do not necessarily define their goals, plenty of groups believe that “the ends justify the means.”

            At any rate, you accused me of “needing a dictionary” when it comes to using the term anarchy. Clearly I do not. Perhaps Black Bloc does, but you should take it up with them.

    • You are talking about the people who are most likely paid by those that want to discredit the non-violence of the Occupy movement. That’s an old tactic that has been used for decades. They sneak it, do something that could be called violent, all so the police can move in and arrest the non-violent people.

  30. I just spent 20 minutes typing up a detailed response to this explaining why the movie is actually anti-fascist because of your argument, and then the page refreshed and I lost all of it. Sigh.

    • What I was saying boiled down to this: Yes, Gotham City operates under a pro-fascist, authoritarian rule at the start of the film. This is what the lie established and maintained by Gordon and Batman at the end of The Dark Knight led to, but it’s established that both of them are completely uncomfortable with the fascist status quo. Sure, they don’t take matters into their own hands and destroy the status quo, but they aren’t necessarily as ‘for’ it as they were 8 years ago when they made it up.

      Bane arrives and presents Gotham with the opposite of their fascist status quo, but only in his paraphrased Occupy-style speeches. He’s presenting his own fascist and authoritarian rule as if it’s the opposite.

      Ultimately, Batman doesn’t return or fight for the status quo, because his return itself “ruins” the status quo. This is why his first fight isn’t really against Bane and his goons, but against the police force. It’s also why Gordon’s words ultimately inspire what Blake does at the end of the movie. He blatantly points out how their lie – and the authoritarian rule it helped to establish – aren’t worth it because they’ve become shackles on the city, rather than a means of freeing its people.

      In a weird way, Nolan seems to be suggesting that the status quo during the first and second acts of The Dark Knight is far more desirable, because it was police/authority figures against a common enemy, The Joker, whose motivations were clearly rooted in the status quo (he wanted to keep Batman in play so he gave him something big enough to keep fighting against, so he could never go away) while Batman served as a symbol of fear for criminals and hope for the people. That this middleground where people have the option to choose (literally seen in TDK’s ferry scene) is better than one where the police/authorities choose for them (TDKR’s status quo for its first two acts).

  31. Well, I certainly wouldn’t have called the Dark Knight Rises a pro-fascist movie. Indeed, you made more than a few assumptions that I wouldn’t have. But assuming they were true I can kinda see how you’d reach the conclusions you did.

    That said, has anyone ever told you perhaps you’re over thinking/over intellectualizing this movie? Just saying.

    • Please don’t ‘just say’. Given the choice, it would much better to ‘just think’.

      I don’t know what assumptions you think Noah made, but I’d like to hear them, otherwise your comment makes no sense since it’s epically vague.

Trackbacks

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  3. […] Batman has always been a bit fascist, as are all superheroes to some extent–their raison d’etre, after all, is fighting evil, not ameliorating dysfunction. As Noah Brand writes in “The Dark Knight Rises Is a Pro-Fascist Movie“: […]

  4. […] Batman has always been a bit fascist, as are all superheroes to some extent–their raison d’etre, after all, is fighting evil, not ameliorating dysfunction. As Noah Brand writes in “The Dark Knight Rises Is a Pro-Fascist Movie“: […]

  5. […] a dozen more moments as callous as that, all reflecting the same problem. Like The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel treats the everyday, ordinary people of the world with something between disregard […]

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  7. […] it’s been a little while since the movie came out, and by far I’m not the first person to say it, and I won’t be the last. The latest Batman movie was awful. I am a […]

  8. […] are those who have suggested that this final instalment is a pro-fascist movie  (although I disagree with most of that post and the author obviously  doesn’t have any real […]

  9. […] Heath Ledger, but that it’s a jumbled, incoherent mess. (It’s also explicitly fascist, as explained in this excellent article, but that’s a problem for political critique, not film […]

  10. […] The Dark Knight Rises Is a Pro-Fascist Movie — The Good Men Project. […]

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  12. […] Nolan’s Batman trilogy have some spooky fascist overtones? Sure. But, as this other really good essay argues (although I disagree with its ultimate conclusion), so does like every comic book ever: “These […]

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