Spoilers! A word on The Dark Knight Rises ending

Feature Simon Brew
21 Jul 2012 - 14:36

Spoilers! Can we have a quick chat about the ending of The Dark Knight Rises?

We're going to reiterate the obvious here: this is going to be a spoiler-filled post. A very, very spoiler-filled post. We've tried desperately hard not to spoil this film for anyone, hence not posting this until The Dark Knight Rises has been out a few days.

Basically: don't read this until you've seen the film. Please.

Still here? You sure?

Well, we're talking about the ending of The Dark Knight Rises. Specifically, whether it's a lot more ambiguous than it might first appear.

Let's trace what we saw on screen. Batman takes the bomb over the water, it detonates. It detonates in a way that, realistically, leaves you thinking nobody could ever, ever survive that (even appreciating that this is the movies). The long shot of the explosion doesn't leave much obvious doubt there. Common sense suggests that he couldn't get away in time, and thus you get the statue of Batman, people mourning his loss, and the graveyard scene.

Then, we learn that Bruce Wayne applied the oft-talked about autopilot patch to The Bat. And then we get to see Alfred's dream realised, with Bruce alongside Selina in the cafe. A perfect, happy ending.

But is it? Because let's look at it again.

We saw the countdown on the bomb into its final seconds, with Batman still in the cockpit (and we assume, the cockpit of the same craft - there wasn't another version of The Bat with the same sized cockpit tucked away somewhere, was there?). If all is what it seemed, there's no way, surely, he could escape. The blast radius was massive, and unless there's some piece of technology tucked away that we've never seen in Batman's armoury, or unless we missed something, Batman simply couldn't get far enough away in a matter of seconds to escape. No matter what kind of bomb it ultimately was.

I don't recall there being a shot, even from afar, of any kind of ejector device being used (although some online have suggested so). Thus, it seems - and this is all open to interpretation - that it'd be more likely that even if the autopilot was fixed, Batman didn't use it. And off he want to his doom.

After all, Batman's death brings Gotham back into line once more. He made the ultimate sacrifice to save the city. He left the building blocks in place for others - John Blake, most obviously - and everything fell into place, in a calculated way. He could then go off and lead a new life somewhere else, seemingly with Selina.

But did he?

Ultimately, that seems to come down to how you interpret the scene with Alfred in the cafe. We're a bit in Inception territory here, granted, but isn't it just as likely that it's a dream sequence of sorts? That it's in Alfred's head, that he got the ending for Bruce Wayne that he always wanted? Alfred, after all, was parted from Bruce and Batman by this point: was this a man wracked with mourning, trying to find some way to cope? After all, as James Clayton has pointed out, there's already at least one dream sequence in the film, when Ra's al Ghul appears.

There certainly seems to be an argument there. And, given that there's little doubt that Christopher Nolan densely plots and plans his films, you have to assume that everything is in here for a reason, and that Nolan hasn't deployed a cheat. That's not his style.

One point that counters it, though (and thanks to @gingerninja78): why would Alfred imagine that it was Selina Kyle sitting there with Bruce? Why her specifically, when he didn't really come into contact with her? Does that, then, hint that it was all true? Is the world - and us - reading too much into this? The excellent Clothes On Film, incidentally, has an interesting viewpoint on Selina's appearance, related to the dress she's wearing at the end, and where that all fits in. You can find that here.

Once again, Christopher Nolan has seemingly deliberately left his ending a bit more ambiguous than you might first think. At the very least, there's two different ways this one can be read. Leave your own thoughts in the comments below...

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