The Dark Knight Trilogy – A Hero’s Journey
The Dark Knight Trilogy – A Hero’s Journey
Batman Begins was all about fear, mastering it, manipulating it and its overall power. The Dark Knight was about chaos, how it is fair and equalizing, how it can turn a city against itself. The Dark Knight Rises was all about pain, not necessarily just physical but spiritual and mental, that life is pain and pain is necessary for life to exist.
Nolan’s trilogy is unique and will never be outdone, because the man decided to take this comic book hero and put him in the real world, with real problems and interacting with real people. Nolan’s villains weren’t silly or campy, they didn’t have giant lasers or unbelievably silly minions, they were human and that is why they worked, why they were so terrifying. Nolan’s Bruce/Batman wasn’t just a billionaire with too much time on his hands, he was a flawed and truly damaged man with scars that shaped him into the masked vigilante. I believe the reason Nolan will forever be thanked for his Dark Knight Trilogy and should be given a great deal of praise is because he treated the subject matter with respect, he didn’t give us a comic book movie, he gave us an honest to goodness film series with bite.
What makes a trilogy truly a masterpiece that will withstand the test of time is how it is structured and presented, it is one film, one story that has been split into three sections. Each segment is not complete without the other two, and each of those pieces helps create a cohesive story with great emotional impact. The man who gave us a true understanding of this structure was Joseph Campbell, if the name rings a little geeky bell in the back of your mind it is because he is the man who helped shape George Lucas and so many others. He is the genius who looked at myths, legends, and famous novels and saw a common outline that makes each of them connect with the audience. Sounds a bit heady doesn’t it, well I swear it is about to get really interesting. Let’s look at Campbell’s Hero’s Journey outline and compare it to Nolan’s trilogy, it is great to see that Nolan must have been a fan of Campbell’s work because Bruce Wayne’s saga fits so nicely.
[IF YOU HAVE NOT SEE ALL 3 FILMS - BEWARE! - THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!]
Act I: Departure – Batman Begins
1. The Ordinary World – Here we see the man who will become the hero in his normal environment, there is a problem that is just begging for a solution. In Batman Begins we see a Gotham that is stricken with poverty and overrun by criminals and corruption, Bruce has grown up in this and has even lost his parents because of it. Gotham is crying out for anyone to fix things but it is so beyond saving the feat seems impossible. Bruce is driven to act rashly to avenge his parents, he doesn’t act as a hero but as a coward who would shoot a man and not care about the consequences, he is numb to the world.
2. The Call to Adventure – Something changes so drastically that it calls the hero into action, he feels a need to become something other than just a man. When Bruce doesn’t succeed in killing his parents’ killer he seeks out Falcone who shows him just how powerless he really is. Bruce then sets off on his own and joins the criminals of the world, a small step toward fighting for justice.
3. Refusal of the Call – The hero doesn’t want to be a hero, doesn’t want the responsibility, he is afraid of what lies ahead. Bruce finds himself in prison, hiding from the world and not wanting to take on any responsibility, he would rather “practice” fighting people who are all ready locked up.
4. Supernatural Aid/Meeting of the Mentor - The hero meets someone who will help take him from ordinary man to hero, he is the mentor, the wise man who teaches the man more about himself than he ever knew. Bruce is lost in prison until Henri Ducard comes by to take him in and teach him how to master his fear, master his own fate and become the man is was always meant to be.
5. The Crossing of the First Threshold - The hero accepts that he must leave his ordinary world behind, that he must enter a new world and become a new being. Bruce puts on the cowl and goes after the mob, he returns to Gotham to help rid his dear city of evil.
6. The Belly of the Whale/Tests, Allies, Enemies - The hero is now at his height, he is fighting his enemies, being tested physically, emotionally and spiritually. The final battle for Gotham in the end of Batman Begins forces Bruce to fight his mentor and fight fear itself.
Act II: Initiation – The Dark Knight
1. The Road of Trials cont. – The hero still soldier’s on and fights for his principles. Batman is at his height, he is trying to take out the mob, even goes over seas to bring in Lau. He hasn’t yet met the Joker however the Joker’s power and influence is being felt.
2. Approach – This is when the hero gathers up allies and prepares for a final battle, the battle that will change everything. The hero learns that he cannot save the world alone. Batman sees that he cannot save Gotham on his own, he reaches out to Gordon and Dent seeing that they may be the only legitimate way to bring Gotham back to its former glory. The best example of this is chase in downtown Gotham when all three men work together to bring in the Joker.
3. The Ordeal - The middle of the story when the hero must face their greatest fear, often death, and learn that from death comes new life. This begins in the interrogation scene when Batman loses his temper and his mind when he finds that his love has been taken, that he must somehow save Rachel but then fails. Batman and Bruce are emotionally broken and must deal with Rachel’s death and cannot find the strength to carry on.
4. The Reward/Apotheosis- The hero, having faced death, has become more than just a man, he is able to fight evil like never before and is rewarded, often by deification. This is where Nolan plays with us a little, because it isn’t the hero Batman who gets deified or gets the reward, it is Harvey. Bruce must sacrifice himself to save the city he loves, he must become the villain so there can be true peace in Gotham.
Act III: Return – The Dark Knight Rises
1. Refusal of the Return – Having reached his goal, having saved his people, the hero doesn’t see a need to return to normal life and pain. When The Dark Knight Rises begins, Bruce is now a recluse hiding in his manor, a source of stories and tales of him being disfigured and decrepit. Bruce doesn’t want to rejoin the world because he did what needed to be done for Gotham, he doesn’t see anything wrong with the city, everything worked out as it was supposed to.
2. The Magic Fight – Something is threatening the reward the hero has gained, something threatens to take back everything that created the peace, usually a magical being or god. Bruce is convinced to return to the world by Blake and others who see that something is coming, something that is threatening to bring Gotham down. Bruce realizes that Batman must return, however he is met with a man who is too strong, too powerful and just too much for this old hero to handle. Batman is broken spiritually and physically by Bane and thrown back into a prison, paralleling the very beginning of his journey.
3. Rescue from Without/The Road Back - The hero needs help returning home, he must fight his way back, often a chase scene is involved. The entire section of TDKR where Bruce is locked away in the prison he is forced to watch his city burn, he must fight his way back by mending his body and his spirit, by finding that fear that drove him from the beginning. He has the help of fellow inmates who teach him that a man cannot live without pain and fear, he must embrace it because that is what makes life worth living. Bruce finally reaches the top of the wall and heads back home, where he joins forces with Selina and Blake.
4. Resurrection/Return with Elixir – The final climax of the story when the hero is tested one last time, this isn’t quite like any other fight he has had before, it pushes him to his limits and makes him use all the knowledge he has gained over the years. The hero is finally transformed. The final battle to save Gotham, Batman and Bruce return and force the city to take back control, he must fight against time and the ultimate destructive force. Not only must Batman face his most terrifying opponent in Bane, but he must also deal with betrayal by Talia, until finally he must finally sacrifice himself to save his city. Batman is no longer a villain that Gotham needed at the end of the The Dark Knight, he has been finally transformed into the ultimate martyr for justice, a true hero.
5. Freedom to Live - The hero’s journey is done, he can finally live happily knowing that the world is safe. Batman is dead and gone, allowing Bruce to finally live the life he never knew he could have, quiet and in love we see him just living in the final scenes of the film. We also get a possible glimpse of another hero taking his place…but that is a completely different story (we hope!).
The hero of The Dark Knight Trilogy is not Batman, it is a flesh and blood human being who goes beyond himself and moves to save his city. Bruce is flawed, damaged and scarred and he becomes more than a man during his journey but we never forget that he is flesh and blood. He journeys from the normal flawed world, into a completely different world until he returns back to him home to solve the major problems. A hero doesn’t think about himself, or at least at some point he learns that selfish goals are not what is important, a hero realizes that the world is bigger than he is and that the world deserves more than just a man, it needs a hero. Bruce’s story is strikingly similar to Gilgamesh, Hercules and even Frodo, men/hobbits who started as nothing different from us to become a symbol of strenghth, justice and sacrifice. It is clear that Nolan respected men like Campbell, Tolkien and Homer and I hope that one day he will be studied along side them. He is truly a master of his craft, modern story teller at its finest.
Well, I hope you all enjoyed taking this journey with me, now let’s watch it again!