Does ‘Dark Knight Rises’ Contradict ‘The Dark Knight’?

Published 3 years ago by , Updated July 25th, 2012 at 6:12 am,

 Does Dark Knight Rises Contradict The Dark Knight?

While writing my review of The Dark Knight Rises, I found myself doing a lot of self-reflection in regards to why I felt less enthused by Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy finale than I did about the previous installment, The Dark Knight. The performances in The Dark Knight Rises were excellent; it was a more visually sophisticated film, and the action set pieces were bigger and more frequent than ever before. The epic conclusion to the film left a lump in many throats, and by all accounts the movie should’ve been the most rousing and exciting chapter in the trilogy (no doubt some will say that it is).

My issue with TDKR  has since come into focus as I’ve had further time to reflect: It’s the story that screenwriters Chris Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer chose to tell. While the story of The Dark Knight Rises is interesting and engaging in its own right, the issue is:  it contradicts the thematic points of The Dark Knight.


I have always been a fan of the Nolan Bat-films, but what truly blew me away about TDK was the boldness of the climax (that last half-hour of the film some (mistakenly) believe to be irrelevant), which posits the theory that sometimes, a noble lie (that inspires hope) is more important than the truth in its ugly detail: “Sometimes truth isn’t good enough – sometimes, people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”

Alfred Burns Rachels Letter in The Dark Knight Does Dark Knight Rises Contradict The Dark Knight?

Batman stops the Joker’s rampage, sure, but the real battle – establishing Harvey Dent as the “proper” symbol of hope and justice in Gotham City – is ultimately won by The Joker, who pushes the maimed and scarred lawman to forsake his morals in a murderous quest of vengeance. With all the good they’ve done about to slip through their fingers, Batman and Gordon decide on a lie – that Batman committed the Two-Face murders – in order to protect the fragile hope that Gotham is holding onto. On a personal level, Alfred burns the break-up letter the deceased Rachel Dawes left for Bruce Wayne, so that Bruce has the hope he needs to continue on as Batman.

That theme is quite profound; it’s something that can be applied to real-world politics, our notion of history (the “facts” vs. the established mythology), and even notions of faith and religious belief (if you’re so inclined to open that can of worms). As a (quasi-)comic book movie, TDK is even more profound: the heroes don’t “win,” per se, so they craft victory out of a lie. Whether you agree with the theory or not, it’s undeniable that The Dark Knight serves up food for thought that can be mulled over and debated in a way that few other films in the genre can.

But along comes The Dark Knight Rises, which totally contradicts that deep and unorthodox idea that Nolan and Co. previously put forth.

 Does Dark Knight Rises Contradict The Dark Knight?

In TDKR, we find Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon eight years later, being crushed under the weight of the lie they created. That so-called “noble sacrifice” on their part provides the illusion of prosperity and progress for Gotham, until (in a development that is both wonderfully literal and figurative) the ugliness that Gordon and Batman tried to bury literally explodes out of the bowels of Gotham’s sewers up to the surface, as Bane appears on the scene and forces the Commissioner and Bats to reconcile with the fact that their lie was only a superficial accomplishment. In the case of Bruce Wayne/Batman, Bane’s reign of terror forces our hero to suffer through a painful and perilous journey to truly become the symbol of hope and justice he wanted to be in the first place (i.e., what he sought to become in Batman Begins).

While this arc works well in making The Dark Knight Rises an epic and resonant tale, it also leaves The Dark Knight diminished in terms of its aforementioned uniqueness and profundity. Looking back from the ending of TDKR, TDK is transformed into a story about all the ways in which Batman and Gordon screw up – from who they trusted (bad cops), to how they dealt with The Joker (ignored him at first) and how they resolved the issue of Two-Face (a lie that cost them their spirits). The Dark Knight basically said “Sometimes a lie that inspires is better than a truth that defeats,” while The Dark Knight Rises basically says, “Hope and inspiration cannot be falsely earned, they have to be fought for through blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice.” It’s not every day that a movie uses a sequel to contradict the thematic conclusions of its predecessor.

batman vs bane1 Does Dark Knight Rises Contradict The Dark Knight?

[Of course, it’s only fair that I act as my own Devil’s advocate: there is a scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Bane is sitting with Bruce Wayne in the cell where he’s imprisoned him. As Bane explains Bruce’s situation, he makes the point that the prison’s greatest weapon is the false hope it continuously inspires, via the sun-lit opening at the top of the pit. The message is that hope – in the right context – can become the most deadly poison of all. Interesting point, but one that TDKR doesn’t fully and firmly connect to the events of TDK, in my opinion.]

Do you agree that The Dark Knight Rises contradicts The Dark Knight? Or do the chapters of Nolan’s Batman Trilogy all fit together perfectly (narratively, thematically) in your view? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. It may be that the lie they told in TDk did serve its purpose by allowing them to lock up tons criminals under the dent act. Then fact that they had tobdealbwith the lie eventually may not mean that it was wrong but just that it could not last forever

  2. I don’t think that The Dark Knight Rises contradicted The Dark Knight at all; it was a continuation of the themes put forth in The Dark Knight. At the end of the Dark Knight, I believe the characters knew what they were doing was merely damage control and not a best case solution which set up the theme in The Dark Knight Rises that a house of lies has a shaky foundation and that eventually, privately or publicly, you have to face the truth or have those lies come back to haunt you. This theme has been told in cinema and literature before, be it Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart or Luke Skywalker/Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in Star Wars. Kudos to The Dark Knight trilogy for telling the story so well!

  3. The ‘white lie is justified by the result’ theme of Dark Knight really bugged me, and I was glad that with the passing of time to DKR, that the mistruths were shown to be ultimately destructive. To me it was less profound and more profane, especially since a brilliant theme in Batman Begins was you are defined by your actions. I feel that whatever the consequences are of letting facts be known, falsehoods will ultimately prove more harmful.

  4. I believe you make a good point and that TDKR does contradict TDK in that respect, but I think that this was a necessary contradiction and an important step in the finale of the Dark Knight Trilogy. It is still a hero series after all, and ultimately I want to see the good guys win. I enjoyed the way both movies ended, with TDK obviously setting up a sequel where all those lies would be revealed, and even the way TDKR ends setting up what might be a new installment in the series (JGL as Batman or Robin anyone?). Ultimately, I agree and disagree with you. There is a contradiction, but I don’t have a problem with the contradiction.

  5. The reason you felt “less enthused” by the dark knight rises is because that movie suckedddd.

  6. While TDKR does seemingly contradict TDK, It also sets up the series for a 4th insallment, if ever the need arises.

    “Sometimes truth isn’t good enough – sometimes, people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”

    Did you notice how Joseph Gordan Levitt has been faithful to Batman for the 8-year period he dissapeared?

    I wonder if he’ll become a new symbol of faith for Gotham (Robin). Or take the reigns of the previous symbol, Where ‘Batman returns’

    *wink, wink*

    • I don’t know if Nolan truly set up for the franchise to continue for a new person (not Bruce Wayne) to be Batman but they aren’t going to continue on what Nolan left anyways, as they are setting up to reboot the whole franchise to set up for “The Justice League”. Quite disappointing.

    • he going to be the next batman

  7. Consider the effects that Alfred burning the letter had on Bruce during the 8 years. Alfred spared Bruce immediate pain by not telling him the truth about Rachel. However, in doing that, it caused Bruce to misinterpret his duty and not focus on what he should have been focusing on (moving on, letting go of the Bat and his past).

    Gordon also suffered for the lie, as we know that the wife left him and took the kids. No doubt that honouring the man who tried to murder his children did not sit well with her in the long run. It’s almost a vomit inducing thought.

    In the end, they DO recognize that, yes, they “won” at the end of the Dark Knight. However, this lie laid out a weak foundation that was taken advantage of by Bane in order to motivate the (obviously) enraged prisoners of Blackgate prison, and (some) of the disenfranchised people of Gotham.

  8. Seriously, I noticed this the instance they decided to reveal the secret. I loved TDK’s ending, and ESPECIALLY that quote you put, “Sometimes, the truth isn’t good enough.” Having heard nobody else address this, I felt like the only one who had TDK’s ending completely diminished by TDKR. Although I love both films incredibly, I still can’t help but feel let down on that aspect. You hit the nail on the head with this article for me.

  9. It’s quite simple. TDK left both Batman and Gordon, obviously, in state where they have lied for the greater good. TDKR reveals the lie. I believe the theme derived from both of these continuous stories is quite simple. Don’t lie to achieve greatness, it must take hard diligence. Quite simple once you think about it, and Batman and Gordon just happen to obtain the rough part of this process.

  10. It’s supposed to contradict it. The point of the movie is to show that the world goes on and the pressure of a lie, however noble, remains a lie. At the end of Alan moore’s watchmen Ozymandias tricks the world into working together, but Rorschach’s journal is displayed and the truth will be revealed. Gotham needed its faith rewarded while the wounds were fresh, but only the truth could ultimately help them rise

  11. It’s supposed to contradict it. The point of the movie is to show that the world goes on and the pressure of a lie, however noble, remains a lie. At the end of Alan moore’s watchmen Ozymandias tricks the world into working together, but Rorschach’s journal is displayed and the truth will revealed

  12. even if it contradicts, then what is the problem.

  13. I just read the scripts to both of these movies (the whole trilogy actually), and I stumbleg upon one line in particular that, for me at least, answers this question overwhelmingly with an undeniable, “No, The Dark Knight Rises is not contradictory.” I suspect some people will still choose to disagree or argue, but let that be beside the point.

    Ra’s Al Ghul, when Bruce perceives him as immortal, says this,”You yourself fought the decadence of Gotham for years. With all your strength and resources, all your moral authority. And the only victory you could achieve was a lie. Finally, you understand… Gotham is beyond saving…” The crushing weight on Gordon and Bruce’s shoulders is the truth that Gotham bares no good in it’s people, even the best among them could fall – to use Batman’s words from The Dark Knight. Could Gotham really be inspired to save itself? If it could it needed a hero, a shinning knight – to use Gordon’s words from The Dark Knight Rises – they could look to for hope. But that is just the hero Gotham needed, clearly not the one it deserved. Gotham deserved a hero that truly was incorruptible, but it needed a hero that could show his face freely without compromise or without any ambiguity of it’s purpose. A man that dresses up all in black as a bat that strikes a primal fear into people looks more like a symbol to coward from – which, ironically, is the point – and not to be embraced as a sign of hope. If anything it might more easily be interpreted as a sign of an even deeper psychopathic corruption (like Two-Face). The truth is, Batman and Gordon didn’t win, and in The Dark Knight Rises they still had the chance to actually pull through this time and come out victorious. I think maybe the contradiction you perceive comes from falling for the lie that Batman had won at the end of The Dark Knight, but you have to remember that was actually a lie.

    As you said, “The ugliness that Gordon and Batman tried to bury literally explodes out of the bowels of Gotham’s sewers up to the surface, as Bane appears on the scene and forces the Commissioner and Bats to reconcile with the fact that their lie was only a superficial accomplishment.” But I think that is where your logic falls. It wasn’t an accomplishment at all if you think about it. They just flat lost that time and lied about it. In The Dark Knight Rises the lie is revealed and the hope that was inspired becomes meaningless and the truth that hurt Batman and Jim so much is left to hurt Gotham as well. Maybe The Dark Knight doesn’t actually say anything about if lying is good or not, but poses more of a question maybe… Can good come when there is no hope? Then, I think, it answers it’s own question with a yes. So long as someone is willing to take the sacrifice and choose – even when it is not the easy choice! (as Alfred explains in The Dark Knight) – to do right anyway because… “It’s what NEEDS to happen… Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough… sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” “This city deserves a better class of [hero], and I’m going to give it to them.” The lie is so easy to believe… Because goodness really can prevail, even if it doesn’t always.

    I would love to hear what you think of what I had to say, Kofi Outlaw. Even if not from anything I’ve said, has your opinion changed? It would be very awesome if you did a follow-up article. I think, maybe, a lot of people in these forums are curious.

  14. Just to be clear and leave no confusion, the sacrifice being made is for someone to bare the pain for us anyway and and continue giving good when their actions have no hope.

  15. The thing about it is at the end of the film something better happened. They no longer had a false idol (Harvey), but a real one (The Batman) and the people of gotham could live under something that was true and just. Just my opinion. TDK needed to happen so that the victory in TDKR was all the sweeter.

  16. “The no longer had a false idol, but a real one, and the people of Gotham could live under something that was true and just.”

    Could not have said it better myself. I struggled to say that as well as you just did.

  17. What the 3rd and final movie shows, is that a lie will eventually grow. It will spread and when the lie(s) have grown large enough to the point that the false perceptions that a system has been built upon begins to crumble. And that’s where Bane and the league of shadows comes in, to tear down the lie of Gotham as a a healthy city.

    That’s why Robin as in the end of the movie needs to take on the role Batman/Nightwing so that the lie can be protected, because the “hero side” don’t use lies as a tool for greater truth. They keep hoping and lying for the sake of artificially keeping alive the lie that is Gotham. And that is why Bane’s true justice was right all along, the corruption is in it’s roots.

    My favourite was the 3rd anyways, sort of a semi-prophecy about western civilization as Bane himself proclaimed.

  18. THe way the 3 movies are constructed is in one single narrative. You can clearly understand it if you listen for the score by Hanz Zimmer, where in the first you hear dream-like, opening and exposition music most of the movie. In the second it tense and reminescent of action, of a fight, a conflict. THe thirs one is the climax, the last stand, with an epic score that never-ever slow the pace of the movie. THe reason why i point to that is because you can’T say that one contradicts the other. One says something in the middle of the narrative, which is proven wrong by the end of it all. IT shows that batman wanted to inspire good for the people’S sake, not by vanity, and it always did what he thought he should. The real point of the whole narrative is to ask what do you do for justice.Do you trust society or do you choose for them; do you break the law to catch some truly guilty people, or do you stand by it no matter what to be able to justify the difference between you and a criminal. I think chris nolan is a smart writter, that wanted to make people think about the morality of justice, about what is good, bad and the difference between the two, and all this thru the character of batman which is flawed but means well for the people. So no, it doenst contradict, it only goes further

  19. “It doesn’t contradict, it only goes further.” Damn fine analysis.

  20. I do not believe that TDKR contradicts TDK if you look at the story as a whole. From beginning to end, cause and effect. Its all small pieces to a final, inevitable result.

  21. what this movie reveals , is that when a director loses interest in a project. he should move on and let someone else take over rather than make a movie half heartedly and soooo disappointing.

    • Since both the third film and the trilogy as a whole were so brilliantly accomplished, then, no. Nolan not only didn’t lose focus or interest…he made a superb film that makes it that much harder for other comic-related films to measure up. He raised the standard.–the bar–for such films.

  22. TDKR does go against what TDK displayed in terms of hope, but there are reasons for it, and the reasons are justified right there in TDKR. At the end of TDK, the entire city of Gotham is left with a sense a hope; only a few people know that this hope is actually fake. Despite the fact that this hope is based off of a lie, the people who know it is false choose to let the city have their hope, thinking that it cannot be anything but positive for the city. This hope continues through the years until Bane emerges from the sewers and takes Gotham over. Bane told Bruce in the Pit that there cannot be despair without hope, justifying why he gives the people of Gotham hope before his plan to destroy it follows through. That is when Bruce realizes that he must take action against Bane in order to restore true, honest hope in the people of Gotham, causing him to go against what he initially believed in 8 years prior. In reality, TDKR does contradict TDK, but justifies it so smoothly and perfectly that it results in an overall better plot, and I am impressed with Nolan for his work.

  23. TDKR was essentially the Occupy Wall Street movement meets Batman, and I hated it. Did it have to be that way?! Why Chris Nolan, WHY?!

  24. I find the question interesting considering the author overlooks the very answer he wrote down: TDKR takes place about 8 years after the TDK. The author mentions this, but then moves on without realizing its significance.

    The trilogy is one of chronology, and whenever you have chronology with human people, you must allow for human change. TDK ends on a false hope, which Batman and Gordon erect from a lie. They hope that the lie will allow Gotham to rise above its evil since it has just seen Dent, a normal person and not a superhero, create a considerable dent in the criminal population. The rationale is that if Dent, a normal man, can set back crime this much, then maybe we don’t need Batman and can do it by ourselves–a goal Bruce Wayne hopes for even though Batman has become more of his identity than Bruce Wayne himself.

    TDKR then shows that after 8 years of a lie nothing changes because the foundation for the hope was built on an insecure base: a lie. Thus, the necessity for truth is shown: the truth about Dent and Batman. As a result, Nolan accounts for human change. The experiment that Batman and Gordon concocted failed. Truth is the only and great prevailer. Once Batman realizes this, he returns to take the emblem of hope that Gotham assigned him before he artificially bestowed it to Dent. Thus, we see from the TDKR that people see their mistakes over time, they see the necessity of repairing their lie and restoring truth, for truth is what brings harmony back to the world.

    So no, the movies don’t contradict because it shows the human realization over time and the human desire to rectify a mistake of predicating hope on a lie.

    As for Ammon, your comment reeks of ignorance. Nolan demonstrated the evils of pure democracy–something that Occupy Wall Street is premised on. Pure democracy is nothing more than mob-rule and the very reason our Founders established a Constitutional Republic rather than a pure democracy. Nolan shows that a pure democracy is also predicated on a lie: that in a pure democracy there will always be rulers over the people (Bane) despite the fact that those rulers claim that “the people” are the rulers.

    Be grateful we have the checks and balances we do and go read a history book.

    • Captain…

      Excellent reply both to the thread AND to Ammon.

    • I would, however, change ONE word in the portion of your response dealing with a pure democracy: I would trade “naivete” for “evils”. A true democracy in the modern world for anything bigger than (at best) a very small city or large town is a pipe dream. It, like the CONCEPT of Communism, seems practical and even favorable…THEN, human nature comes into play.


  25. I think that Bruce faking Batman’s death at the end of “The Dark Knight Rises” creates the same situation that Harvey-Dent-as-White-Knight at the end of “The Dark Knight” created: inspiration based on a lie. “Rises” doesn’t rescind that part of “Dark Knight”—it amplifies it.

  26. Wow, you missed the even bigger contradiction. Bane’s plan is basically the same as The Joker’s, put the citizens of Gotham in a bad situation, but tell them if they become murdering monsters they will be okay (except Bane is still going to kill them after he breaks them down). Even the criminals of Gotham won’t resort to barbarism in TDK, but in TDKR everyone abandons civilized society almost instantly.

  27. I might have said this before, but I think The Dark Knight might say that there is such a thing as a noble lie, but Rises comes is and says that that’s not true; any lie is just a form of manipulation. So, morally, it’s a grey area really. After I’ve seen both of these movies so much I find it just annoying that people feel that they contradict each other because I just don’t understand how it can be viewed as such. It’s a matter in which I can’t sympathize really. I think Rises just goes deeper and, in terms of writing, challenges the characters more. It takes the climax and decisive moment of the previous film and doesn’t move one but dwells on it.

  28. i agree that tdkr essentially contradicts the ending of tdk. but i’m not mad at that. batman and gordon essentially atoned for their sins, and, as stated in the article, became the embodiment of the original idea of batman begins, the beacon of hope that inspires gotham. tdk was probably the best individual movie of the series, but tdkr was the perfect ending IMO. plot holes and nit picking aside, this is easily the best super hero series ever made, and probably one of the best trilogies/narratives told in recent film

  29. I think the only constant is change, one has to live and adapt to the present, to bend one’s pre-conceived notions cause the world is constantly changing. In batman begins, bruce got the teaching (also reflected in TDK) that criminals aren’t complicated. This was contradicted by the joker’s character. The whole trilogy sits on the ride to changing values and giving contradictions, and at the same time growing a fully crafted plot with human spirits celebrated across a superhero platform.