Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061




"People Show You Who They Really Are": A Lacanian Reading of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy

You have learned to bury your guilt with anger. I will teach you to confront it, and to face the truth. You know how to fight six men. We can teach you how to engage six hundred. You know how to disappear. We can teach you to become truly invisible.

(Henri Ducard/Ra's al Ghul, Batman Begins)


Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can't savor all the... little emotions. In... you see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way, I know your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?

(Joker, The Dark Knight)


This city needs Bruce Wayne, your resources, your knowledge. It doesn't need your body, or your life.

(Alfred, The Dark Knight Rises)

Days after the release of Christopher Nolan's finale of The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Huffington Post's Mike Ryan noticed that The Dark Knight Rises "follows a lot of the same key plot points as [the trilogy's first film,] Batman Begins": We waiting a long time for Batman to appear on screen, Batman visits Gordon in a ski mask, there is a mass terror threat against Gotham, prisoners are released, the real villain turns out to be an Al Ghul secretly in charge of the apparent villain ("The Dark Knight Rises: Batman Begins, Again"). This paper suggests that not only do the two films mirror each other, but they do so in a special way for a specific reason that is revealed through the interpretive lens of Lacanian psychoanalysis. While Batman Begins explores the fundamental fantasy of overcoming the primordial fear of individual death and social dread of civilization's entropy as Batman faces off against not just The Scarecrow's phobia-inducing hallocinogens but also (really) Ra's al Ghul's League of Shadows that would raze the degenerating Gotham, The Dark Knight Rises exists on the other side of desire in the realm of the real: the Batman fantasy that has ravaged Bruce Wayne's real body for eight years finally pits him against the venom-pumping Bane who ultimately breaks his back; moveover, the villain behind the villain, Talia al Ghul, driven to execute her father's death sentence for the city, both occupies and terrorizes Gotham not with fear-inducing drugs that would tear the populace apart but rather a nuclear bomb that would level the island. While Batman Begins focuses on what Lacan calls the Imaginary (the orphaned Bruce Wayne identifies with, or is lured by, the specular image of the death-dealing bat), The Dark Knight Rises examines the Real (the traumatized and broken Bruce Wayne is nonetheless driven beyond his corporeal breaking point by the dreaded and grim reality of an unknowable, unassimilable, and unrepresentable nuclear blast). Finally, The Dark Knight serves as the Trilogy's lynchpin. The central film in the cinematic triptych addresses both how Bruce Wayne's Batman fantasy is broken by the traumatic reality of irrational death and how Gotham's criminal organizations are devolved into state of terrorism: The Joker represents the force of anarchy that burns the face of justice, District Attorney Harvey Dent, as well as the underground hoard of money accumulated by Gotham's crime families. The film is a study in what Lacan calls the Symbolic Order: Joker's chaos challenges Batman's vigilante justice, Dent's principles of law and order, and the criminal code alike. He leaves the city devoid of a criminal hierarchy; he leaves Dent with a personality split between ideal order and fatal destruction yet stitched together by a chance coin toss; and he leaves Wayne not only questioning what his desire for justice has wrought but also on the run from what remains of Gotham law enforcement. The Dark Knight is the Symbolic lynchpin of the Trilogy that transforms the Imaginary fantasy of Batman Begins into the violent trauma and terrorism of the Real of The Dark Knight Rises.


This abstract summarizes my presentation, "People Show You Who They Really Are": A Lacanian Reading of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy."Southeast Coastal Conference on Languages & Literatures. DeSoto Hilton Hotel, Savannah, GA. 4 Apr. 2013.