Wednesday, August 8, 2012

TDKR About Actual Knight

Medieval Robots' London correspondent, JB, directed me to this excellent piece on TDKR by Gavin Mueller over at Jacobin. Mueller rightly dismisses the vague nods to Occupy and the 99% as smoke and mirrors and makes a far more interesting assertion about the underlying ideology in the film: it is a critique of capitalism in favor of neo-feudalism. 

You should read the whole essay; it's quite good. I have only a few things to add to his reading of Bruce/Batman as a feudal lord. Bruce's anti-capitalist (and anti-Dagget) stance and his role as Gotham's benefactor go hand-in-glove. In BB, Bruce's father tells him (and the audience) that the Wayne family is responsible for the water supply and public transportation system in Gotham. While I'm not a true fanboy, and am sure that others can recite chapter and verse about the ins and outs of Wayne Industries, it does seem that, until Bruce's parents' death, Wayne Industries and the Wayne family are pretty entwined. This supports the feudal reading that Mueller proposes: a wealthy family with a lot of influence steps in to provide basic services that the State cannot. Bruce continues this tradition as Batman, initially as a corrective to the famously corrupt GCPD and an alternative provision of public safety. But it's because Bruce is so wealthy and because of his position of authority in Gotham that his role of Batman is more like that of a feudal lord than a masked vigilante. A constant thread running through all of the Nolan films is that Batman is protecting his fiefdom city from internal and external threats. 

Mueller's take focuses more on the feudal trappings of the ancien regime, which is fitting, given the overt references to A Tale of Two Cities in TDKR. Yet core aspects of the plot within the trilogy actually reference medieval lordship. Feudalism is a problematic term within medieval history these days. Yet the idea of the more powerful (economically and militarily) lord or castellan stepping in to control (or protect) a geographic area or group of people in the absence of a more powerful central authority is, at the macro level, a good place to start when thinking about economic, military, social, and political structures in the eleventh century. This is exactly the role of the Wayne Family/Wayne Industries and, later, Batman. But, as Mueller also notes, there is a strong element of medievalism to Nolan's films, as well. Batman is, in the last two films, the Dark Knight. Batman and Bruce have specific notions of honor, and BB and TDKR feature Bruce on different quests--to conquer his fear, to find R'as Al Ghul, to become Batman, to rise up as Batman once again.

Medieval is the new modern, indeed. Believe it.

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