If you’ve read my review of The Dark Knight Rises, you’ll know that it’s my least favourite addition to The Dark Knight Trilogy. While I think it functions poorly as a movie as a whole; I have to admit that it has some of the best scenes in the entire trilogy. Today I’ll be discussing one of these scenes; which is arguably my favourite from the trilogy and certainly from this film.
Bruce Wayne has been imprisoned by Bane in a far-off prison in an unknown land. Alfred describes the prison as “a pit, where men are thrown to suffer and die”. The prison appears to have no guards and there are actually no locks on the doors. The prison is underground and all an inmate has to do to escape is climb up out of the pit. The task seems rather simple but between the prisoner and the ledge to freedom lays a chasm across which the prisoner must jump. It is a jump which has been attempted numerous times but only successfully completed once; by a child who we are led to believe is Bane.
Bane describes the prison as “the worst hell on Earth” for one reason and one reason only – hope. He says that every man who has languished there over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing out. It’s this hope of escape that leads to despair. As Bane so eloquently puts it, “there can be no true despair without hope.” So Bruce Wayne looks up to the challenge ahead of him – the climb and the leap to freedom. He deems it a simple one. After all he IS Batman and he thinks all that is required to escape is physical effort. So he trains his body and attempts the climb twice, failing both times. Despondent and at his will’s end, the prisoner next to him finally shares the secret to escape that Bruce has been too arrogant and ignorant to learn up until this point.
Blind Prisoner: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.
Bruce Wayne: Why?
Blind Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death?
Bruce Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there’s no one there to save it.
Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb!
Bruce Wayne: How?
Blind Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again
This is one of the most powerful scenes in the entire trilogy because it perfectly sums up the source of Batman’s power. Batman is a character controlled by his fear. Now I’m not implying that Batman is a coward, far from it. He is not confined by his fear, but rather defined it. Bruce Wayne is afraid of bats, so he decides to harness his fear and use it as a weapon. He witnessed his parents’ murder and fears another child having to experiencing that so he harnesses that fear and becomes a symbol for justice. Everything he does is motivated by his fear and that’s where his power comes from.
The Bruce Wayne we see in The Dark Knight Rises is a shell of the man he used to be. He has lost his purpose, lost the woman he loved and is more than a little suicidal. He wants to become Batman again, not so that he can help people, not to save his city but rather so that he can go out in a blaze of glory. He wants to die but not at his own hand. He’s lost his fear. He rushes into a battle with Bane that he’s ill-prepared for and even asks Bane after losing why he didn’t just kill him?
Throughout his imprisonment, the blind prisoner has been trying to explain to Bruce that the climb to freedom isn’t about physical strength but rather the strength of the spirit. Bruce continuously dismisses this, believing that if a child could make this climb, then there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to. On his third attempt, Bruce listens to the blind prisoner and changes his strategy. Prior to this – as all the prisoners before him had done – Bruce had attempted the leap to freedom with a safety rope to keep him from falling to his death in case he fails to successfully make the leap.
This time he decides to go without the rope thus leaving him no option but to succeed. His fear is reignited as is his strength and he successfully makes it across the chasm. Now as a person who’s lived his life with an unhealthy amount of suicidal ideation this scene resonated with me. I’d always lived my life with the idea that even if I fail at something it won’t matter because sooner or later I was going to kill myself. This led to me always half-attempting and never really pushing myself to be more than what I was. My impending suicide was my ‘rope’ so every leap I made was cushioned and never a true one. I had no fear of failure and, therefore, no will to succeed.
It took a while but I managed to find my fear and more importantly I’ve learned to control it. Many years ago I read this book called Waylander II: In The Realm of the Wolf by David Gemmell which details the adventures of an assassin seeking revenge on those who killed his family. In this book there’s a wonderful line about the power of fear.
“Fear is like a fire in your belly. Controlled, it warms you and keeps you alive. Unleashed, it burns and destroys you.”
This scene from The Dark Knight Rises has become etched in my mind and woven into my very soul. I have it saved on my phone and I watch before every test I write. I actually have a pre-test ritual that revolves around this particular scene. It reminds me what I’m working towards and that there can be no winner when half of you is striving for your success and another half is aiming for your destruction. In closing I’d like to quote a line from The Heart of Life by John Mayer,
“Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood”
Fear is not a sign of weakness. It is not something to be pushed down, locked away and forgotten. It is one of the most powerful forces that the human soul possesses and an emotion that rarely receives the respect it deserves. So I hope after reading this you rediscover your fear and learn to open your arms to it as you would an old friend.