The Dark Knight Trilogy and Intertextuality: Stallone, Dumas, Hugo, and Dickens

I’ve always loved intertexuality. I especially love the interplay between books and film.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is a great example.

The movies have many resonances. For instance, the trilogy is intentionally based upon Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. Most obviously, when Commissioner Gordon reads from the book:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

But there were other allusions as well. Some outside of French literature. For instance, there’s an almost plagiarized line from Rocky III in the film:

“I was wondering what would break first…your spirit…or your body!”

And then:

“If I can’t break your spirit, I sure enough can break your back.”

And then, of course, the movie also follows the pattern of Rocky III as well as the Rocky III theme song, Eye of the Tiger:

So many times it happens too fast
You change your passion for glory
Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive

And again:

“Peace has cost you your strength. Victory has defeated you.”

While Thunderlips couldn’t break Rocky’s spirit, Clubber Lang did. But his former opponent, Apollo Creed invites Rocky into a dangerous and new training environment in order to come back and attempt one last fight against Lang. Similarly, Bruce Wayne, after having his body and spirit broken by Bane ends up in a prison filled with the criminal element of the world (Wayne’s primal enemy). But it is the criminal element that understands the fear of death and the desire for life and freedom that allows the Batman to fight Bane with renewed vigor, “Rising up to the challenge of survival.”

But aside from Rocky and the Tale of Two Cities, what other literature adds meaning to the films? Two examples are Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

The character Bane, is essentially a combination of Javert from Les Miserables and Dantes from Monte Cristo.

For instance, Javert and Bane are both born in prison. Both are deeply obsessed with the idea of innocence. To the extent that both are willing to die rather than be implicated in actual wrong doing. Bane is willing to die in a nuclear blast in order to cleanse Gotham of evil as well as for the sin of allowing Batman to escape prison. Similarly, Javert ends his life when he realizes the contradiction between the law and his own life. Also, in Javert’s confrontation with Valjean (I’ll quote the musical for familiarity’s sake), he claims that he can easily understand and defeat Valjean despite Valjean’s superior strength because of his personal familiarity with the scum of the earth:

Valjean

I am warning you, Javert
I’m a stronger man by far
There is power in me yet
My race is not yet run!

I am warning you, Javert
There is nothing I won’t dare
If I have to kill you here
I’ll do what must be done!

Javert

Dare you talk to me of crime
And the price you had to pay
Every man is born in sin
Every man must choose his way

You know nothing of Javert
I was born inside a jail
I was born with scum like you
I am from the gutter, too

This is essentially Bane’s line when the Batman attempts to use the power of the shadows to defeat him:

“I was born in the darkness…the shadows betray you because they belong to ME.”

Both Bane and the Batman are painted with shades of Edmond Dantes. For instance, in the comic books and in Bane’s backstory in the movie, he was trained in prison by a priest who taught him deeply in philosophy, mathematics, science, and linguistics. And Bane, in the film, can perform advanced nuclear physics in his head, not only so, but he was picked up and trained by the League of Shadows partly due to his already considerable fighting prowess. But this training is what Edmond Dantes received when he was wrongly imprisoned, with the addition of fencing. Bane, after further training from the League of Shadows, seeks to do anything possible to cleanse civilization from any elements which are dangerous or corrupting of children. But Bruce Wayne is also an allusion Dantes. When Bruce Wayne is wrongly imprisoned, he sinks into despair and wishes to simply die until a wise sage-like character (perhaps Bane’s teacher) who encourages him to regain his strength and escape and gain vengeance upon the man who broke his spirit and left him to languish unjustly in prison. This is, of course, very important in the Nolan Trilogy, because Bruce Wayne becomes the Batman from prison in the first film, for there he means the leader of the League of Shadows.

While I doubt anybody still thinks about those films, they really are rich with intertexts as well as archetypal figures (remember, in the first film the penultimate villain is a Jungian psychiatrist!). The key archetype is the relationship of vulnerable humanity to the chaos and danger in the world. For Bruce Wayne (or Bane) to overcome evil in the world, they must descend into the depths of the underworld as well as their own souls. This is analogous to the Christian discipline of confession. One must truly discover one’s own filth and admit it in order to take any steps to clean up the world. Or, to put it another way, one must gain the cunning abilities of the serpent, but only use them innocently in order to avoid becoming the serpents prey (Matthew 10:16). You have to have the teeth of the predator in order to be a protector, etc.

Because the movies touch on such universal themes, they will remain significant to any who watch them regardless of whether their legacy will endure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *