My readers deserve a better class of article. And I’m gonna give it to ‘em.
You will never look at Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy the same. This one is a real doozy. Remember my Cinematic Chiasmus on the entire Back to the Future Trilogy? This makes that one look like child’s play.
I am going to show how meticulously crafted Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises are that they perfectly mirror each other from beginning to end. I’ll discuss all of the points at which they intersect and then explain the significance of this chiasmus at the end.
Normally I would list the entire chiasmus for you here to see how the films compare with each other. But it’s simply too long to do that in this article. The first Cinematic Chiasmus I did was RoboCop (1987), and it had 17 parallel points. This one has 67!
Extreme cases require extreme measures. So I have written out the chiasmus on another page, which you can find here: Dark Knight Trilogy Chiasmus.
Feel free to go over there and check it out. But now, let’s continue on with my explanation of the chiasmus:
A. Falling Down and Rising Up
The first thing we see in Batman Begins is young Bruce Wayne falling into a cave, and the last thing we see in The Dark Knight Rises is the new Batman rising up in that same cave. It’s a perfect metaphor for the start and end of a chiasmus to show a character moving down and then up. They’re opposites and yet closely related in the same location. Both characters are beginning a journey.
B. Nameless Bruce Wayne
The first and last time we see Bruce as an adult, he has shed his identity as Bruce Wayne and is living off the grid. At first he is alone and in a Chinese prison, but at the end he is free and joined by Selina Kyle. He has clearly progressed and is happy in the end, so he is no longer lost but has chosen to live anonymously.
C. Becoming a Legend
Ra’s al Ghul tells Bruce that he must become more than a man – he must become a legend. After Batman disappears in a nuclear explosion, Gotham City unveils a statue of Batman, immortalizing its hero for all time. Batman (not Bruce Wayne) has become a legend.
D. Here You Will Face Death
Bruce climbs a mountain to join the League of Shadows. He’s exhausted, but he’s not shown any mercy by Ra’s, being told “Here you will face death.” Those words prove true when Batman, despite being stabbed and exhausted, flies a neutron bomb high into the air and faces death in order to stop the League of Shadows
E. Gordon and Bruce
This one is really clear. Sgt. Jim Gordon comforts young Bruce the night his parents were murdered. Just before taking off with the neutron bomb, Batman reminds Gordon of that encounter.
F. Water Tricks
Bruce fights Ra’s and is about to win when Ra’s sends him plunging into a frozen lake. Ra’s daughter, Talia, pulls a similar trick when it looks like Batman has beaten her. She floods the chamber where they could have stabilized the neutron bomb.
G. Killed in Front of His Eyes
This is absolutely incredible. Bruce is about to kill Joe Chill when a woman shoots Chill dead. And when Bane is about to kill Batman, Catwoman shoots Bane dead. Coincidence? I think not.
H. Assassins Revealed
Bruce shows the gun he was going to use to kill Chill to Rachel Dawes and she slaps him. Later, Miranda Tate reveals herself to be Talia, the daughter of Ra’s, and stabs Batman. Bruce and Talia both reveal themselves as assassins who are ultimately prevented from getting the revenge they wanted.
I. Facing Crime Lords
Bruce faces Mob boss Carmine Falcone for the first time and gets kicked out of Falcone’s restaurant. Batman returns to fight Bane a second time and he kicks Bane into a building. Nice reversal.
J. Beating the League of Shadows
Bruce single-handedly destroys the League of Shadows’ hideout and scatters its members after being told Gotham is beyond saving and must die. Later, Gotham’s police force joins Batman in an all-out war against the League of Shadows and other criminals after it is revealed that the neutron bomb will blow up no matter what. They prove that there are plenty of good people willing to stand up to evil.
K. Returning from the Dead
Bruce surprises his butler, Alfred Pennyworth, after being gone (and presumed dead) for many years. Batman surprises Gordon and John Blake after being absent for several months (and they weren’t sure if he was still alive). His return signifies a turning point in the fight for Gotham.
L. Talking Tactics
Bruce and Alfred talk about Bruce’s plans while flying in a private jet, and later Bruce and Lucius Fox discuss tactics while surveying the Bat aerial vehicle. Alfred and Fox fill similar roles as they guide Bruce in his quest to save Gotham.
M. The Batcave
One of the first things Bruce does after returning home is to start setting up the Batcave. Immediately after Bruce rescues Fox, he goes to the alternate hideout he used when the Batcave was being repaired. In both cases, Bruce is focused on finding a base of operations.
N. Crane’s Sentencings
Dr. Jonathan Crane and Falcone discuss killing Rachel. Later, Crane sentences Gordon to “death by exile.” In both cases, Crane is sentencing someone to death, though he doesn’t actually carry out the execution himself.
O. Bruce, a Girl, and Fox
Bruce comes back to Wayne Enterprises and meets Fox. Rachel hears about Bruce’s return through the grapevine. When Bruce returns to Gotham from prison, he first approaches Selina and tells her he needs to find Fox. In both cases, Bruce’s first priority is to reach Fox, and his love interest isn’t necessarily the most important part of his plan.
P. Refusals and Uniforms
This is a subtle point, but I still think it’s important. Bruce, in his prototype Batsuit, invites Alfred to come inspect the waterfall, but Alfred refuses. Gordon later tries to convince a cop named Foley to put his uniform back on, but he refuses. In both cases, a brave character is trying to inspire someone else to take a risk. Bruce is already wearing his uniform, but Foley is too afraid to put his on until he’s inspired by Batman later.
Q. Leap of Faith
On his first night out, Batman jumps off a building without a rope and barely manages to make it onto the fire escape of another building. On his final attempt to escape his prison, Bruce jumps off a ledge without wearing a rope and makes it to the other side. This is so cool. This is Bruce’s test to see what he’s made of, and he comes through just fine both times.
R. Gadgets and Good Advice
Realizing he needs to improve his jumping ability, Bruce goes to Fox and gets memory cloth and other devices that help solve his problems. After failing a second time to jump out of his prison, Bruce gets some helpful advice from a blind sage to not use a rope, which helps him finally escape. After the focus on obtaining cool gadgets in Batman Begins, it’s interesting to see in The Dark Knight Rises that sometimes raw instincts are all he needs.
S. Sending a Message
Batman beats up Falcone and his henchmen and then ties Falcone to a spotlight to send a message to all of Gotham. Bane kills a U.S. Special Forces team and hangs their bodies from a crane for all the world to see. Batman doesn’t kill, but Bane certainly does. Stringing people up, whether alive or dead, is their way of announcing their presence and power to the world.
T. Sharing Information
Batman saves Rachel from getting mugged and then supplies her with evidence to start saving Gotham from corruption. Some Special Forces men arrive in Gotham with the goal of gathering intelligence for the outside world. They fail and are killed by Bane. In one case, the hero succeeds in supplying valuable information to people and in the other they fail to do so.
U. Getting Bruce Out of Bed
Bruce is still sleeping late in the afternoon after his first real night as Batman. Alfred has to force him to get out of bed. After days of lying down, a wounded Bruce crawls out of bed onto the floor. A fellow prisoner pushes his spine back into place to help him stand and eventually walk again. It’s not laziness that keeps him in bed in both cases, but exhaustion from all that he has endured. It’s nice to have someone nearby to help him.
V. Stealing Wayne Enterprises Property
The League of Shadows steals a microwave emitter, designed by Wayne Enterprises, from a ship. Later, they place a stolen nuclear core, also designed by Wayne Enterprises, into a truck. Bruce’s company makes things that his enemies want to use in order to destroy Gotham.
W. Tearing Down the Rich
Bruce acts like a worthless big shot, buying restaurants on a whim and engaging in other foolishness. Bane encourages the poor of Gotham to steal from the rich. Bruce is putting on that act to deflect attention from himself being a vigilante while Bane is allowing Gotham citizens to loot others’ property to distract them from the fact that they’re going to die soon.
X. Terror and Prison
Scarecrow drives Falcone crazy with fear and has him transferred from prison to Arkham Asylum. Bane terrorizes all of Gotham and forces the release all of the inmates in Blackgate Prison. The villain gets what he wants through fear and intimidation, and he gets prisoners released to do what he pleases with them.
Y. Strung Up
Batman strings a crooked cop upside down and wrings information from him. Bane psychologically tortures Bruce as he lies helplessly in a prison cell. Batman is gleaning information while Bane is sharing information, but in both cases their prey are at a significant disadvantage.
Z. Dead or Alive
Gotham’s District Attorney is killed when he gets too curious, and when Rachel hears he’s gone missing she assumes he’s probably dead. Selina Kyle is arrested when she gets too desperate to flee Gotham. When asked if Bane killed Batman, she says she’s not sure.
AA. Breaking Batman
Batman gets poisoned by a weaponized hallucinogen, which causes him to face his primal fears and puts him out of commission for days. Later, Batman is literally broken, and while he’s incapacitated he witnesses his worst fear as his enemies take over his armory. After that he is out of commission for several months.
BB. Dropping by to See Bruce
Rachel visits Bruce on his birthday. Once she’s gone, he gets suited up for action. Miranda spends the night with Bruce. Once she’s asleep, he puts on the Batsuit and heads out. Rachel visits Bruce on a happy day, and she only stays a few minutes, while Miranda visits Bruce knowing full well that it is a terrible day for him, and she stays for several hours.
CC. Clean Slate
Batman rescues Rachel from Scarecrow and then proceeds to give her an antidote to the poison in her system. Bane kills a shady businessman named Daggett while Bruce tells Selina he can get her the Clean Slate to clear her criminal record from the system. Rachel was used to seeing Dr. Crane in court, so his sudden turn into a monster took her by surprise. Daggett had been giving Bane money and resources for months, so he was not expecting to suddenly be killed by him.
DD. Kicked Out
After discovering the presence of Ra’s and his men at his birthday party, Bruce tells all of his party guests to leave. After going broke, Bruce is forced to leave his own board meeting. The League of Shadows is the cause of both of these dismissals. Again, it’s a reversal where Bruce is the only one to stay the first time and he’s the only one to leave the second time.
EE. Join Me
Ra’s invites Bruce one more time to join him in his crusade against Gotham, but Bruce refuses. Later, Bruce has no other option but to give control of Wayne Enterprises (and a neutron bomb) to Miranda. He doesn’t realize it at that moment, but Bruce just did what he said he would never do and joined forces with Ra’s, or at least his daughter. He even handed her the weapon to destroy Gotham.
FF. Wayne Manor
Ra’s exacts revenge on Bruce by burning down Wayne Manor. Bane exacts revenge on Bruce by taking everything from him except Wayne Manor. These villains have an eye for poetic justice. Bruce burned down Ra’s house, so Ra’s sees it as justice to destroy his. And Bane seeks to tear down all the wealthy in Gotham, and it’s fitting that he begins with Bruce.
GG. Alfred’s Promise
Even with everything falling apart around them, Alfred tells Bruce he’ll never give up on him. Just before everything falls apart for Bruce, Alfred leaves him. The only reason Alfred abandons Bruce is because that’s the only way he can think of to save him from self-destruction. So he actually kept his promise, even as he walked out on his beloved master.
HH. Criminals Get Away
The criminals being held in Arkham Asylum get released while Bruce is distracted by Ra’s and his men. Bane gets away from the police because they’re focused on capturing Batman. Again, the heroes fall right into League of Shadows’ trap and allow dangerous criminals to run loose.
II. Gordon and Batman
Gordon receives the antidote supplied by Batman. While wearing a disguise, Bruce goes to see Gordon in the hospital. Batman’s antidote helps Gordon save Gotham, and Gordon’s words inspire Batman to return and help save Gotham.
JJ. Secret Identity Revealed
Batman swoops in and saves Rachel when she’s surrounded by hordes of hallucinating thugs. He then reveals his secret identity to her. Gordon manages to escape from dozens of Bane’s men and is found by Blake. Gordon’s brush with death inspires Blake to go tell Bruce he knows he’s Batman. It’s interesting that Batman tells Rachel he is Bruce and Bruce is told by Blake that he is Batman.
KK. Exploding Manholes
When Ra’s escapes from Batman with the microwave emitter, manhole covers start erupting on Gotham’s streets. When Bane’s men escape from the police, they set off an explosion in the sewer, which erupts out of an open manhole. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that these two things are so similar. The fire rises, indeed.
LL. Fight and Flight
After a lengthy fight, Batman defeats Ra’s in combat and foils his plan. Then he flies out of the back of a train. Selina barely has to lift a finger to beat Bruce in a fight, and he is unable to prevent her from stealing from him. Then she gracefully does a backflip out of a window. One fight takes a long time and the other is over in a flash. Bruce succeeds in stopping his enemy one time, but is pretty helpless the other time. And it ends with a graceful jump. Pretty good fit.
MM. You’re Fired
Wayne Enterprises CEO William Earle is surprised to learn that he is being replaced by Fox. Foley is surprised to hear that Gordon is going to be replaced as Police Commissioner. Gordon is never actually fired the way that Earle was, but he almost gave a speech at this point in which he would have announced his resignation.
NN. Building Up and Tearing Down
Bruce begins the process of rebuilding Wayne Manor. Bane sets his plan in motion by destroying an airplane. This provides a nice contrast to the two characters. One is constructive and wants to help build Gotham up while the other is destructive and wants to tear Gotham down.
Rachel tells Bruce that she can’t be with him after she has learned about his mask, referring to his playboy persona, not his Batman alter ego. A mysterious figure tells a U.S. official that no one cared who he was until he put on a physical mask and became known as Bane. I know this point is subtle, but it links Batman and Bane even further by giving them mental and physical masks that they put on and can’t take off.
PP. The Batsignal
Gordon unveils a Batsignal to call Batman for help. Then he is forced to destroy it. The first time we see the Batsignal Gordon is alone with Batman during a clear night, but when Gordon shatters the Batsignal he’s surrounded by other cops in the pouring rain.
QQ. Promotion and Demotion
Sgt. Gordon gets promoted to Lieutenant for his part in helping Batman. But Batman goes from Gotham’s protector to pariah when he takes the fall for Two-Face’s murders. Batman doesn’t get the credit he deserves for saving the city in these two instances, but Gordon comes out on top both times, no matter how reluctantly.
RR. Gordon Says Thank You
Batman tells Gordon he’ll never have to tell him, “Thank you.” But Gordon definitely finds a reason to thank Batman after he saves Gordon’s son from certain death at the hands of Two-Face. Batman even repeats his line that Gordon doesn’t need to thank him, but Gordon stresses, “Yes, I do.”
SS. Killing Clowns
The Joker tricks his men (who are wearing clown masks) into killing each other during a bank heist. Later, the police figure out not to kill the hostages (who are wearing clown masks) in the nick of time as they raid Joker’s hideout. The police would have killed the clowns because they thought they were Joker’s men, but Batman prevented that tragedy and gave them enough time to figure out Joker’s scheme.
TT. Batman Fights Both Sides
Batman breaks up a drug deal involving Scarecrow, fighting both mobsters and “Batmen” who claim to be helping him. Before fighting Joker, Batman fights both criminals and the police. The “Batmen” are using guns, which Batman disapproves of and the police are targeting the wrong people, and Batman doesn’t have time to explain the situation to them.
UU. Harvey’s Punches
A mobster tries to shoot District Attorney Harvey Dent, but the gun fails to fire and Harvey responds by punching him in the face. After Harvey has transformed into Two-Face, his coin flip prevents him from shooting a Mob-affiliated cop named Ramirez, so he punches her in the face, instead.
VV. Becoming the Villain
At dinner with Bruce, Harvey says, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” We see that come true when Harvey aims a gun at Ramirez and forces her to lie to Gordon’s wife in order to take her and her children hostage. At that point, he goes from attempting to avenge Rachel’s death to sadistically hurting innocent people.
WW. Joker’s Bomb Threats
Joker walks into a meeting of Mob leaders and threatens to blow them up if they lay a finger on him. Later, Joker calls the people on two boats and threatens to blow them both up if one doesn’t destroy the other. They both have detonators, which Joker claims are for the other boat’s bomb. In one instance, he wants to avoid violence, but in the other he wants to incite it.
XX. Missing Persons
Harvey says he’ll get a Chinese bookkeeper named Lau to “sing” about his connection to the Mob if Batman gets him back to Gotham from Hong Kong. When Gordon tells the mayor that Harvey is missing, the mayor asks him how long he can keep it quiet. In both instances, an important person has disappeared, but the people trying to get him back have different intentions for him once they get him back.
YY. Killing Mob Bosses
Joker kills a Mob boss named Gambol after telling him how he got his facial scars from his father. Two-Face kills a Mob boss named Salvatore Maroni after asking him if he loves his wife. The two main villains of the film kill two Mob bosses. I’d say there’s definitely a connection there.
ZZ. Cell-Phone Sonar
Fox gives Bruce a cell-phone sonar device, which helps him capture Lau in Hong Kong. Later, Batman reveals his city-wide sonar surveillance system to Fox, which he hopes will help him triangulate Joker’s location. In one case, Fox gives Bruce access to a single cell phone to scan an area and figure out exactly where Lau is inside a building. Batman gives Fox access to every cell phone in Gotham in order to find Joker. They are only used once and for a very specific target.
AAA. Taking the Law Into His Own Hands
Harvey uses the RICO Act to arrest and sentence all of Gotham’s mobsters at the same time. Two-Face gives up on the court system altogether and just kills based on the flip of a coin.
BBB. You’re on Captive Camera
Joker promises more murders in a video of him torturing and murdering a “Batman.” In another video, a captured news anchor is forced to read a “news story” written by Joker that promises more mayhem. The videos even start with the person on camera identifying himself and end with Joker appearing briefly on screen and laughing maniacally.
CCC. The Face of Gotham’s Future
When Bruce arrives at a fundraiser, he describes Harvey as the “face of Gotham’s future.” When Gordon arrives at the destroyed Gotham General Hospital, he is distraught to learn that a disfigured Harvey has disappeared. Both Bruce and Gordon understand that all of their hopes of defeating the Mob are pinned to Harvey, so when his fate is uncertain, the city’s is also.
DDD. Joker’s Explosions
Joker kills Commissioner Loeb with acid and a judge with a car bomb after which we see his unsuccessful attempt to take down Harvey Dent. He later blows up Gotham General Hospital right after destroying the heroic Harvey and turning him into the villain Two-Face.
EEE. Fall from Grace
Joker threatens Rachel with a knife and a gun before dropping her out of a window on the top floor of a skyscraper. Later, he puts a gun into Two-Face’s hands and lets Two-Face threaten to kill him in order to convince him to give in completely to his dark side. Both times, Joker manages to get away without a scratch while his victim falls either literally or figuratively.
FFF. Joker and the Bandit
Alfred tells Bruce about a bandit who just wanted to watch the world burn in order to help him understand who Joker is. Joker explains what he wants to Two-Face by describing himself as an agent of chaos. His only goal is to thwart other people’s plans. Alfred describes someone like Joker, but Joker is able to cause harm to people on a much bigger scale than the bandit.
GGG. Killing Harvey Dent
Joker kills two men with the last names Harvey and Dent. He later proceeds to destroy what’s left of the good man Harvey Dent and replace him with the evil Two-Face. In the first instance, Joker makes it sound like he’s killed Harvey Dent in a call to the police. In the second instance, he makes good on his threat by burning Harvey half to death and making Harvey change what he believes.
HHH. Blackmail and Mr. Reese
Mr. Reese learns Bruce is Batman and attempts to blackmail him. But Fox shows him the error of his ways. Later, Reese attempts to reveal Batman’s secret identity on live TV, but Joker threatens his life, and he eventually changes his mind again about revealing the secret. Reese decides not to out Batman the first time after being told he didn’t stand a chance against the most powerful man in the world, but the second time he decides not to because Bruce saves his life.
III. Everything Burns
Bruce arrives too late to prevent Joker from shooting at the mayor. The police are too late to capture Joker as he burns the Mob’s money and kills their last remaining leader. Joker had telegraphed his intention to kill the mayor, but he still managed to surprise everyone. The police knew exactly where Joker was when he burned the money, but they still couldn’t get to him fast enough.
JJJ. Fruitless Interrogations
Harvey attempts to interrogate a captured member of Joker’s gang who refuses to talk. Gordon tries to get information from a badly wounded Harvey, but he is unwilling to talk to Gordon. Harvey uses his two-headed coin to try to loosen the criminal’s tongue, and he discovers his half-burned coin shortly before Gordon talks to him.
KKK. Sparing Bruce Pain
Harvey claims to be Batman in order to keep the real Batman safe. Alfred withholds a letter from Rachel in order to spare Bruce pain. In both cases, good people act selflessly to protect a person they believe in.
LLL. Rachel’s Letter to Bruce
Rachel gives a letter to Alfred and asks him to give it to Bruce when the time is right. Alfred reads the letter a little later and learns that Rachel wanted to marry Harvey, not Bruce. Rachel leaves her letter unsealed so Alfred can read its contents before giving it to Bruce. He reads it as we see the devastating results of Rachel’s death.
MMM. Rachel’s Farewells to Harvey
Rachel tries to get Harvey to admit he’s not Batman moments before he is locked up in an armored car. Later, Rachel admits she wants to marry Harvey moments before she is killed in a giant explosion. It’s a sad way to say goodbye. Harvey throws her his lucky coin, which she has on her when she is blown to pieces, thus the burnt side and the clean side.
NNN. The Chase and the Race
Batman engages in a chase to save Harvey and capture Joker. Soon after, Batman races across town to save Rachel while Joker escapes from the police station. Joker intended to be caught during the chase, and he used the distraction of Harvey and Rachel to get away. He even mixed up the addresses, so Batman wound up saving Harvey instead of Rachel.
OOO. Good Cop/Bad Cop
The turning point of The Dark Knight and the entire Dark Knight Trilogy comes when Joker is interrogated first by Gordon and then by Batman. They both want to know where Harvey is. Gordon goes about his questioning calmly and rationally while Batman gets increasingly violent and desperate. Joker savors every minute of their squirming and delights in taunting them about their inability to threaten him.
What This All Means
What is the point of all this? It could be that Christopher Nolan set up his three films this way to emphasize the duality of Batman and Joker or the inner conflict of Harvey Dent or the outer struggle between Bruce Wayne and the League of Shadows. Or maybe all three.
Nolan didn’t plan on creating a trilogy when he set out to do Batman Begins. He just tried to make a great film with each entry in the series. And he not only succeeded on an individual basis, but when we look at all three films as a chiasmus, the true beauty and grandeur of Nolan’s achievement becomes clear.
Very few films or film series can boast this kind of astonishing symmetry. Thanks for joining me on this incredible journey.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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