The Final Scene looks at the last few minutes of some of the most well-known movies of the past fifty years. This week, it's Christopher Nolan's follow-up to 'Batman Begins', 2008's 'The Dark Knight'...
When 'The Dark Knight' was released in 2008, there really hadn't been any comic-book movie before that looked like it. Borrowing liberally from Michael Mann's 'Heat', Nolan created a grounded, realistic approach to comic-book storytelling that's pretty much defined all of it since. 'The Dark Knight' is, for better or worse, the benchmark against which all comic-book movies are set. It's why the Marvel Cinematic Universe had to pivot to more a more colourful take on their material, in order to contrast against it.
The ending of 'The Dark Knight' sees Jim Gordon, injured but alive, explaining to his blonde-haired, blue-eyed son why Batman is now on the run as a fugitive, even though "he didn't do anything wrong."
As the strings of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard rise, Gordon tells his son that they'll have to chase him "(because) he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now, so we'll hunt him. Because he can take it because he's not a hero." As he leaps onto his Bat-pod, escaping the police and riding off into the night, we're led to believe that Batman will go on to do what he does, without the need of thanks or appreciation from the city, because it's his duty.
Reading into the allegory and subtext of movies is always a tricky game because sometimes things are just about what's on screen and nothing else. You can't look at 'The Dark Knight' now and not immediately draw a parallel between post 9/11 America. It's all there on the screen, barely masquerading as subtext. You have a terrorist who doesn't play by the rules. You have a populace increasingly stoked by fear, eager for retribution. And, finally, you have a dark protector who's ready to do whatever it takes to protect his people.
Throughout 'The Dark Knight', we see Batman snatch up criminals and violating extradition treaties, spying on the entire city to catch The Joker, and beating confessions out of people like it's nothing. When we get to the finale, we know that Gotham is - for the moment, anyway - safe from harm, and it's all thanks to Batman's extrajudicial behaviour. Gordon basically lays it out that his actions were wrong, that he's not a hero, but that they can hunt him because "he can take it."
Since 9/11, the horrors of Abu Ghraib and waterboarding have been revealed, along with the NSA's warrantless-wiretapping, not to mention the forced renditions that were run through Ireland via Shannon. In a lot of ways, 'The Dark Knight' and its ending bear an eerie resemblance to another ending from another Christian Bale movie - Adam McKay's 'Vice'.
Bale, as the US Vice President Dick Cheney, is questioned about the Iraq War in a television interview. After giving a standard answer, he turns his gaze directly to the audience and stares down the barrel of the lens. "I can feel your recriminations and your judgement and I am fine with it," he snarls. "I will not apologise for keeping your family safe, and I will not apologise for doing what needed to be done so that your loved ones can sleep peaceably at night." Imagine that speech with the same music at the end of 'The Dark Knight' and you've basically got the same scene.
There really is no difference between the two speeches. 'The Dark Knight' just happens to be approaching from it the viewpoint that it's a righteous thing, whereas 'Vice' is the same but we know what it's cost in human lives.