1. Limbaugh’s comments generated an almost infinite quantity of mockery from the Left and even some handwringing from conservatives. For instance, leftist commentator Rachel Maddow devoted a segment of her television program to exposing the ludicrousness of Limbaugh’s conspiracy theory. Limbaugh himself noted that this statement occasioned more outrage than any of his other controversial claims, inclusive of his description of Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and “prostitute” for her testimony on behalf of insurance coverage for contraception. [return to text]

2. The political discussion surrounding The Dark Knight Rises after its release surely became muted due to the shooting in Aurora, Colorado on the night of the film’s premiere there. James Holmes fatally shot 12 people and wounded numerous others in the movie theater. This event triggered debates about violence in film and about handgun laws but also focused attention away from the political bent of Nolan’s new film. Holmes clearly took the Joker, rather than any character from The Dark Knight Rises (a film he hadn’t yet seen), as his role model. In fact, Holmes is as far removed from Bane as possible: whereas Bane’s voice functions as the source of his power, Holmes retreated into complete silence after his mass murder.

3. Karthick RM, “The Dark Knight Rises a Fascist?” Society and Culture (July 21, 2012):
See also Tyler O’Neil, “Dark Knight and Occupy Wall Street: The Humble Rise,” Hillsdale Natural Law Review (July 21 2012):

4. In a blog for the Washington Times, conservative columnist Eric Golub equates Bane with Occupy Wall Street. The terror that Bane unleashes is akin to that perpetuated by the Occupy protestors, despite the lack of violence in the movement. He writes, “The evil villain is Bane. He rails on about the powerful exploiting the people, and exhorts the people to rise up. They storm the stock exchange. In other words, they ‘Occupy Wall Street.’” Eric Golub, “George W. Batman: The Dark Knight Rises Against Occupy Wall Street, The Washington Times (August 7, 2012):

5. The head of Gotham’s Comité de salut publique is Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), one of the chief villains from Batman Begins (2005), which underscores the criminality of the revolutionists. With Crane in a position of power, the attack on Gotham cannot be one of emancipation.

6. The same eulogy is used for Spock (Leonard Nimoy) during his funeral in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicholas Meyer, 1982). In both cases, it indicates a forthcoming (and unforeseen) resurrection. Perhaps this is because Sydney Carton, who utters these words just before his impending execution in A Tale of Two Cities, is a double for Charles Darnay, who lives thanks to Carton’s sacrifice. It is as if Darnay suffers, through Carton, a symbolic death and he continues to live in the real, just like Bruce Wayne and Spock.

7. In a discussion of the film, writer Jonathan Nolan claims that A Tale of Two Cities functioned as the chief inspiration for the film. He lauds the novel’s “harrowing portrait of a relatable recognizable civilization that had completely fallen to pieces.” Jonathan Nolan, quoted in Emmanuel Itier, “Brilliant Filmmaking Duo Discusses Batman Trilogy and The Dark Knight Rises,” Buzzine (July 19, 2012):

8. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Penguin, 1976), 929.

9. Given the obscure Arab origins of Bane’s traumatic imprisonment, the film seems to target the Arab Spring for critique, as much as the French Revolution or Occupy Wall Street. (I am indebted to Anna Kornbluh [University of Illinois, Chicago] for this point.)

10. Andrew Barnaby (University of Vermont), private communication, August 8, 2012.

11. The theoretical insights of the film are neither the product of Nolan’s conscious intention nor that of an interpretation that seeks to exemplify certain concepts through cinematic models. Instead, it is act of filmmaking itself—like the dream work—that engages theoretical concerns. In other words, theory inheres in the work of art itself and even paves the way for the spectator’s enjoyment of the work, and the task of the critic is simply to bring it to the fore.

12. For an extended discussion of these and other deceptions in Nolan’s cinema, see Todd McGowan, The Fictional Christopher Nolan (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012). A description is available at:

13. One of the fundamental tenets of existentialism—the extreme situation strips us down to our authentic selves—seems explicitly confirmed by the cinema. The true heroic self of John McClane (Bruce Willis), for instance, comes out when he finds himself isolated amid a high-tech robbery and hostage situation in John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988). Prior to this extreme situation, McClane appears to be a failed father and husband, but the extremity allows him to prove his inner worth (and true love). In this sense, one could imagine Die Hard written by Karl Jaspers or Martin Heidegger.

14. Though Bane inspires more loyalty than the Joker, he is also a more compromised villain. Bane is ultimately trying to restore balance to civilization, while the Joker represents the failure of all civilizational balance. For a discussion of the disruption that the Joker occasions, see Todd McGowan, “The Exceptional Darkness of The Dark Knight,” Jump Cut 51 (2009):

15. The illusion that Bane is the film’s chief villain is tied to his image. Our attention to image causes us to miss the symbolic structure that the image obscures. Through its emphasis on the misleading image of Bane, the film functions like the early critique that Jacques Lacan makes concerning how the imaginary register obscures the symbolic order, which effectively runs the show. In an exemplary passage from his fourth seminar, he claims,

“The imaginary relation, which is an essentially alienated, interrupted, slowed, inhibited, and most often inverted relation, profoundly misrecognizes the relationship of speech between the subject and the Other, the big Other.”

Jacques Lacan, Le Séminaire, livre IV: La relation d’object, 1956-1957, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (Paris: Seuil, 1994), 12.

16. Though he doesn’t imagine the use of a nuclear bomb to wipe out all human life, ecologist Alan Weisman does envision how the earth would fare after the elimination of the human imprint. See Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (New York: Picador, 2008).

17. James Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 1.

18. Of course, not all ecologists are like Lovelock and believe in a natural balance. But it is difficult to be a committed ecologist and not harbor the belief that the natural world has an order to it that humanity lacks. This appears to be the position elaborated in James Cameron’s Avatar (2010), but the film has the virtue of showing nature itself take sides in a struggle and thereby gives the lie to the ecological notion of a natural balance. For more on this reversal in Avatar, see Todd McGowan, “Maternity Divided: Avatar and the Enjoyment of Nature,” Jump Cut 52 (2010):

19. The fact that Tate also seeks revenge for the death of her father, Ra’s Al Ghul, further associates her with the idea of balance. The partisan of revenge implicitly believes that the act of vengeance will restore the balance lost through some initial loss. By destroying Bruce, Tate hopes to compensate for the death of her father, but what the avenger fails to recognize is the primacy of loss, that there is no original balance to restore.

20. Jacques Lacan, Le Séminaire XIII: L’objet de la psychanalyse, 1965-1966, unpublished seminar, session of June 1, 1966. [return to page 2]

21. In Less Than Nothing, Slavoj Žižek explains the power of the voice through the contrast between gaze and voice as objects. He claims,

“the scopic object involves a desire addressed to the Other (to show itself, to allow to be seen), while the vocal object involves a desire from the Other (announcing what it wants from me)”

(Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism [New York: Verso, 2012], 701). Lacan famously notes that our desire is the desire of the Other, but this expression is completely ambiguous and must be taken in two different senses. Gaze and voice function as complementary objects associated with the two senses that the term “desire of the Other” has. The gaze is the object that tries to capture the desire of the Other, while the voice is the object of desire imposed on the subject by the Other.

22. Chion theorizes desire and the voice primarily in terms of what is heard offscreen. He says,

“it is the law of every offscreen voice to create this desire to go and see who’s speaking, even if it’s the most minor character.”

Michel Chion, The Voice in Cinema. Trans. Claudia Gorbman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 141.

23. Though Dark Knight Rises makes clear that the Dent Act has helped to rid Gotham of criminality, it also implies that the extraordinary penalties the act authorizes have helped to create a repressive society. To this end, the film offers a criticism of the previous Batman film, The Dark Knight, in which Batman’s final self-sacrifice and Gordon’s lie about the crimes of Harvey Dent led to this legislation. Just as Dark Knight opens with a critique of the vigilantism triggered by Batman in Batman Begins, Dark Knight Rises provides a critique of the new legal regime triggered by Batman in Dark Knight. Each sequel includes a critique of its predecessor.

24. Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 4.

25. The closest analogue to Bane in the cinema is Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991). In that film, Lecter’s voice not only terrifies Clarice Starling (Jodi Foster) and simultaneously leads her to the truth, it also coaxes a cellmate to his death.

26. The problem with the servant like Alfred is that he sees the hero as an ordinary person rather than as a hero. His entire mode of treating the hero will thus work to limit the hero’s heroism. Taking up a line of thought from Goethe and adding to it, Hegel contends,

“No man is a hero to his valet; not, however, because the man is not a hero, but because the valet—is a valet, whose dealings are with the man, not as a hero, but as one who eats, drinks, and wears clothes, in general, with his individual wants and fancies.”

G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 404.

27. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 117.

28. As Alexandre Kojève points out in his commentary on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, negativity is the break from human animality. He says,

“Negativity is liberty (the free or liberating action), the possibility that the human has to transcend its nature; it is what is properly human in humanity.”

Alexandre Kojève, Introduction à la lecture de Hegel, ed. Raymond Queneau (Paris: Gallimard, 1947), 64.

29. This is a point that Friedrich Nietzsche insists on throughout his work. In Human, All Too Human, he says,

“hope … is in truth the worst of all evils, because it protracts the torment of men.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 45.

30. Rebecca Comay, Mourning Sickness: Hegel and the French Revolution (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 125.

31. I owe this point to Adam Cottrel (Georgia State University).

32. Alain Badiou, Theory of the Subject, trans. Bruno Bosteels (New York: Continuum, 2009), 168. [return to page 3]

33. Sigmund Freud, “On Narcissism: An Introduction,” trans. C. M. Baines, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 14 (London: Hogarth, 1957), 94.

34. In The Ego and the Id, Freud notes that

“a differentiation within the ego … may be called the ‘ego ideal’ or ‘super-ego.’”

Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, trans. Joan Riviere, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 19 (London: Hogarth, 1961), 28.

35. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book I: Freud’s Papers on Technique, 1953-1954, trans. John Forrester, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (New York: Norton, 1988), 134.

36. When I saw the film on opening day at a cinema in Montréal, a devoted fan in the bathroom after the film screamed as loud as he could, “That fucking sucked!” I imagine this as a response to the film’s ending, which revealed Batman as finally losing, albeit to the fantasy of his butler.

37. All of these theories were proffered by fan discussion groups immediately after the film’s release, and all represent a refusal of Bruce’s fantasmatic retirement to a normal life in which he populates an Italian café.

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