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The Dark Knight Rises

THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Summer 2012)


The world today hangs by a thin thread; and that thread is the human psyche.


These frequently quoted words from Jung resonate for us this summer. As I was preparing to formulate the newsletter, I decided to wait until "The Dark Knight Rises," the third and final installment of the Batman movie trilogy by director Christopher Nolan came out. Last year I wrote about some of the figures from the 2011 summer movie fantasy/adventure films, Thor, Green Lantern, and the final installment of the Harry Potter films.

Having seen "The Avengers" and "Spiderman," I caught up on the first two Batman movies by Nolan on DVD in anticipation of seeing his third. One of my sons went with his girlfriend to one of the first midnight showings, and when I heard of the tragedy that happened in Colorado, I was horrified, hit by how easily the power of the archetypal unconscious can take us over, and how vulnerable we all are.

Jung's statement comes from his deep sense of the vulnerability related to our connection to the archetypal psyche, and how easily it can possess an individual or a collective. Recently French president Francoise Hollande apologized on behalf of his country for its part in the World War II roundup and deportation of than 13,000 Jews from Paris seventy years ago. (This event is the historical background for the movie "Sarah's Key.") He acknowledged that this police operation was a "crime committed in France by France." He added: "But the truth is also that the crime of Vel' d"Hiv was committed against France, against its values, its principles, its ideals." Hollande made a commitment that this would never happen again. Individuals and collectives can become overcome by powerful, destructive archetypal forces. This is one of the painful reality of the depths of the human psyche.

After seeing "The Dark Knight Rises" it struck me how sad it was, not only for the victims of this terrible psychic eruption, but for the young man who became possessed by the dark, destructive impulses that took him over. I wished he could have held on to see the end of the trilogy, and the resolution of the trauma caused by the Joker in the second film. The key characters in the new film, Gotham's best, were working diligently against not being taken over by such dark destructive forces. The movie picks up where the last one left over, with everyone pushed to the limits that the Joker took them, the trickster archetype in its most destructive manifestation. He is a "comedian" who has gone way over the line; he doesn't help us laugh at ourselves, but leaves us cringing in terror. How does one hold on to one's humanity in the face of such a mocking, cynical force? Harvey Dent, the DA Bruce Wayne had supported as the "white knight" that might rid the city of crime, could not. Those who knew this, Batman and Commissioner Gordon, feared letting the truth that he had murdered several people be known less hope be destroyed. Batman took the blame and Bruce Wayne had to withdraw into the shadows.

With so many nuances in the new film, I would like to address one, the symbolism of the Selina Kyle character, aka Catwoman. She is a clever thief, and thus also a trickster figure, one who gives all appearances of only looking after herself. As he gets to know her Bruce Wayne/Batman sees something else, even after she has unwittingly betrayed him, and trusts that she won't use the opportunity he gives her with the Batpod, his motorcycle, to save herself. In a mythic/movie moment much like Han Solo returning at the last moment in the original Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, she does return at a critical juncture.

The second movie in the trilogy ended with the death of Rachel Dawes, a childhood friend, who Bruce Wayne loves. Her death symbolizes the lost the anima, the soul figure, in the film: the feeling, relational, feminine principle that has no meaning to the Joker, a character who has no personal history. (In "The Dark Knight Rises" even the sinister Bane, has a personal history, one that involved love followed by betrayal.) So at stake in the third movie is whether the "soul" can be returned, to Bruce Wayne, and to Gotham. (We might say that the French President Francoise Hollande, in his apology, is helping France to continue to regain its soul.) The transformation of Selina Kyle is in a sense the return of soul in the context of the whole trilogy and the key figure in Bruce Wayne rediscovering himself. Catwoman becomes a positive, transformative trickster figure.

The early summer movie fantasy event that gripped the collective imagination was "The Avengers." Curiously the villain is also a sinister trickster, Loki, the trickster Norse God, adopted brother of Thor (who we discussed last year). The Avengers each have unique gifts and weaknesses, but the key to fighting the dark galactic race unleashed by Loki, will be that they work together, and not get caught in their own agendas. New York is being flooded by invaders coming through a portal created by Loki to another, darker realm. In true heroic fashion, much like Batman at the end of "The Dark Knight Rises," it is the often self absorbed Tony Stark as Iron Man who will make the sacrifice to close the portal. We can only take so much from the unconscious, and these heroes' cooperative effort helps restore the balance. The whole of humanity is worth more than selfish ends. We see this in its most human form as the community of Aurora, Colorado bonds together after this horrific assault on their community psyche. Like France, or the people of Gotham, they work together to hold onto the integrity of their own souls.

Editor: Steve Galipeau

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