Is the Ending of The Dark Knight Rises A Lie?

Do I have to say this article contains spoilers? Fine. It contains bloody spoilers.

As Christopher Nolan’s epic blockbuster winds down, Batman (Christian Bale) makes the ultimate sacrifice. With no other option, he flies off into the sunset dragging a nuclear bomb behind him. It explodes. Batman dies. All the little cute kids on the school bus stare wide-eyed at the blast, because staring wide-eyed at a nuclear blast is what you’re taught to do in grade school.

Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt eulogize Bruce Wayne, the unsung hero of Gotham. Michael Caine does what Michael Caine does and cries with all the raw emotion a father who has lost a son can show.

But wait.

Bruce Wayne fixed the auto pilot, even though he indicated otherwise. The Bat Signal is restored (I still don’t get that one). John Blake, whose first name is Robin, finds the Bat Cave. And good ol’ Alfred returns to the cafe in Italy he always goes to and lo and behold, Bruce Wayne is sitting nearby with Selina Kyle, presumably thinking about how awesome it is that he’s in Italy having sex with Anne Hathaway.

Game over. Or is it?

I read an interesting article over at today where author Katey Rich proposes that Bruce Wayne did die at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, and that the scene in Italy was merely a figment of Alfred’s imagination.

Uh, yeah, no.

She makes some valid arguments. Christopher Nolan doesn’t just show the Batwing flying off into the sunset. He shows Batman sitting in what is presumably the aircraft seconds before it explodes.

Actually, that’s the only really valid argument, because comparing The Dark Knight Rises, which has always dealt in a reality-based world, to Inception, which was all about dreams and obtaining the ultimate dream – of going home – doesn’t hold up. Let me counter:

  1. It’s been pointed out multiple times that the movie isn’t as well assembled as most of Nolan’s other movies. The short time line between Batman’s last appearance and the bomb exploding could, and probably is, nothing more than typical Hollywood editing to take things down to the wire.
  2. Ending The Dark Knight trilogy with a dream sequence just doesn’t fit with the rest of the franchise.
  3. There is just enough foreshadowing early on to indicate how it’s going to end, namely Lucius Fox mentioning early on that the auto pilot needs to be fixed and, of course, Alfred talking about the cafe where he’d like to see Bruce some day. Neither of these moments suggest a dream sequence.
  4. The final scene is too established to just be in Alfred’s head. The scenes directly preceding it – the discovery that the auto pilot was indeed installed (by Bruce Wayne), for instance – are not in Alfred’s head, and Nolan wouldn’t have included them had he not intended there to be a concrete resolution.
  5. As “realistic” as the movie is, The Dark Knight Rises is still a comic book movie, and Batman is nothing if not a survivor. And a crafty survivor.
  6. The fact that Bruce Wayne leaves a will that leads John Blake to the Bat cave, gives away Wayne Manor and who knows what else implies that the man never intended to return to Gotham. Sure, he might have expected to die, but nothing about his actions leading up to the climax suggests that he truly wants to die.
  7. Warner Bros. didn’t want to have what is for the most part a depressing movie end with Bruce Wayne of all people biting the bullet.
  8. And, what is most telling to me: The Dark Knight Rises is an amalgam of Knightfall and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which is about an aging Batman who comes out of retirement to rescue Gotham from incredible misery. At the end of that series, after a nuclear explosion that nearly kills Superman, Batman has a heart attack and dies. Superman bids him farewell, but just as he’s almost out of earshot, he hears the faintest of heartbeats and realizes that his old friend faked his death to live out the rest of his life. As soon as Batman flew the nuclear bomb toward the ocean, I knew exactly where the movie was going.

Having watched the movie twice, it is definitely suspicious that Batman’s face is edited into the final moments before the nuclear bomb detonates, but nothing suggests that this is anything more than Hollywood being Hollywood. Still, the thought that the ending to The Dark Knight Rises is a lie is an interesting one, and for that I give credit to Ms. Rich for allowing me to entertain the idea.

What do you think?

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Action Movies, Comic Book Movies, Movies, Science Fiction Movies
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