We all know already about the whole emotional and long-winded story behind The Dark Knight Trilogy, after all, it is pretty simple: it's the story of Bruce Wayne, a man behind a mask who learns to battle the forces of evil with the powerful force of truth and justice. But what if Christopher Nolan, director of all three films, had another, much darker, story hidden in plain sight?
While it may seem that, while the films do have their plot twists here and there, that the overall narrative is pretty straightforward and uplifting in the long run, it has been time and time again that our favorite films are never what they seem. Take any Disney or Pixar film you grew up with, could these films be any more different?
So, what if every action performed by the trilogy's most prominent antagonists, the League of Shadows, was a lie? A big lie.
An Introduction To The League of Shadows
First of all, who are The League of Shadows?
Well, in the comic books, The League of Assassins are an international terrorist organization hell-bent on ridding the world of the decadence that it created for itself by all means necessary, despite any and all implications.
In the film trilogy, The League of Shadows is more-or-less the same thing. Ra's al Ghul's master plan in Batman Begins is to bring Gotham to its knees, exposing the city by showing it its true form. In the film, Ra's justifies his actions with an allegory:
When a forest grows too wild, a purging fire is inevitable and natural.
The forest symbolizes civilization, and a "purging fire" a necessary cleansing of the decadence that follows. Ra's sees himself and his company as this cleansing fire, as it is referred to in The Dark Knight Rises, hence the term "The Fire Rises".
How Is This All "A Lie"?
This plot-point may not seem very unusual at first glance. That is until you consider the fact that the organization in question is, in fact, classified as a "terrorist organization".
Where else would you find this term thrown around?
While the term is used quite commonly in popular culture, the whole idea of an infamous organization quite like The League of Shadows existing in real life has never been more frightening rather than exciting purely from an entertainment perspective in real life. Real-world organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS are mentioned most frequently in the media and in politics. But how does all of this relate?
Batman Begins was released in 2005, four years after the 9/11 terror attacks and two years after the start of the Iraq War. The entire nation was in a frenzy. Politicians and intelligence agencies scrambled to gather intelligence, and the Patriot Act became a reality.
While nothing really stands out about the parallels in the first film, it is to be noted that the struggle between Batman and his former master does seem to parallel the struggle between the American people and the American government, using force to 'right the wrongs'.
The Dark Knight was released three years later, and the war in Iraq as well as the war in Afghanistan were still raging.
The parallel between former US President George W. Bush and Batman is made more obvious. Like the real world Patriot Act passed during the Bush administration, Batman utilizes the people he's sworn to protect in order, without their consent, to catch a wanted man he has no hope of catching.
Finally, The Dark Knight Rises was released in 2012. This is where it gets interesting...
Parallels Of The Dark Knight Revealed
While The Dark Knight Rises was released in 2012, a preliminary outline of the film's story was already being written right after The Dark Knight wrapped production.
Over the course of four years, Nolan was sure to perfect his third and final script to best suit the current situation... right?
On the contrary, The Dark Knight Rises does not provide us with a very clear political allegory to follow, as it provides something much more in-depth and shocking.
The first point to make here is the very obvious 9/11 imagery shown in the image above as well as other sequences seen in the film:
But why so prominent in a film released eleven years after the attacks even occurred? The answer is simple: it was a reminder and also a warning.
Over the course of five months, Bane and The League of Shadows hold Gotham hostage. Over the course of this period, we see widespread disaster and mayhem take place throughout Gotham City. But is this 'cleansing' really make The League of Shadows any better than the Joker's reign of terror on Gotham in The Dark Knight? Does this prove that Nolan really supports the Patriot Act?
What Of The League Itself?
Look at how The League of Shadows is portrayed in The Dark Knight Rises.
No fancy get-ups, no uniforms, no ninja costumes, just regular everyday clothing. Quite unlike the uniforms and coverings sported by Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
This prompts the notion that these men are part of a PMC, or private military company and are supposed to look inconspicuous (this point comes up later). This makes perfect sense as they are later revealed to be backed by Daggett Industries, working as mercenaries. In the novelization, it is revealed that they were behind a coup in West Africa. The reasoning behind the coup? Diamond-mining rights.
But doesn't this conflict with The League of Shadows' viewpoint on the dangers of corruption and greed? Why would this cult-like organization want to supply rights to mine diamonds in a foreign country?
The answer is simple: They work for the US government.
Of course, this brings up a good point. The US government has been widely mocked for the Iraq War as a means for them to get a hand on Iraqi oil, with the war being a backdrop made to justify the invasion. But where does this line lead us? Back to 9/11.
The 9/11 terror attacks have often been criticized as an "inside job" and a "false-flag" countless times. And this makes sense. What more perfect opportunity to both obtain more oil and gain support of a libel Act of Congress? But who is the single most associated group with the "9/11 conspiracy"?
The Curious Case of Operation Northwoods
The Central Intelligence Agency is the American agency responsible with acquiring intelligence around the world, whether they actually do combat real terrorism is beside the point, the fact of the matter is that they are known to operate exclusively out of the law in order to get what they want.
But how does this relate to mercenaries and, more importantly, The Dark Knight Rises?
First of all, as it is widely forgotten, the CIA plays a (very) prominent role in the overall narrative of the story as they make several appearances in the film and help the plot to move forward. However, the portrayal of the CIA in the film is quite different from how they are portrayed in other popular culture.
Rather than gung-ho American heroes as they are portrayed in films and television shows such as Covert Affairs, the operatives seen in the film are portrayed as lacking in their ability and incapable of making a correct statement despite being in possession of an rather large amount of intelligence and firepower.
This intelligence and firepower, however, cannot be fueled simply by operatives detaining and torturing suspected terrorists (as seen in the film). It also requires public opinion and action.
Turn your attention to Operation Northwoods, a proposed government operation incepted during the Kennedy administration that allowed for the CIA and other agencies to commit acts of terrorism against American civilians and military targets. The proposals were rejected, but that doesn't stop the CIA.
When again was Northwoods both proposed and rejected? The Kennedy administration. Now what happened to Kennedy himself? Is it so hard to believe that Operation Northwoods was simply put on the back burner?
Here's where it all connects. In our ever-growing world of technology and the Internet, someone is bound to discover that the CIA had carried out acts of terrorism. That is unless they got someone else to do it for them.
And the best candidate to do this? The League of Shadows.
The Early Bird Catches The Worm
(Keep in mind that the whole torture sequence is very likely social commentary on Nolan's part and not truly a part of the puzzle).
To be fair, the opening scene does show Bane and his men completely dominate a CIA aircraft as well as the operative in charge of the operation.
Given in the ARG elements as a viral marketing campaign for the film, the operation is aptly named "Operation Early Bird". This implies that the phrase "The early bird catches the worm" makes Bane the "early bird" and Dr. Pavel (Alon Aboutboul) the "worm", with the lowly and rather naive CIA agent (Aidan Gillen) representing the "late bird". But how did the CIA know that Bane would show up? Simply, only the agent himself was made unaware, as his contact reminds him.
Strangely enough, the agent's contact is none other than Bane's lieutenant, Barsad (Josh Stewart).
This implies that the League of Shadows is in some sort of contact with the CIA itself, or perhaps the CIA is in contact with the League's contractor, Daggett Industries, whom the CIA is completely aware of yet strangely decides to ignore throughout the entire film.
One strange thing to point out is that, while the agent is completely inept, at least three of the USASOC operatives seem to know exactly what they are supposed to be doing at exactly the right time. Namely, the younger, more decorated sergeant and the two larger corporals who always keep together. All seeming way too invested in the detainees, namely Bane.
On the other hand, the two other soldiers seem just as inept, if not more so, than their tactical leader. It is practical to assume that perhaps these three men were given some kind of bonus for their work in the operation and that they were actually trying to save the detainees on board.
This is shown in how the man sporting the military cap handles the prisoners so delicately and why the bearded soldier gives his comrade a glance when Bane is unmasked for the first time, telling him that their boss has arrived and that orientation was about to change.
While it looks as if they are attacking them, upon closer inspection, it seems as if they are about to untie them (that quick 'punch' being a slip made during a stressful situation), explaining why the next frame showing them has them magically untied and their hoods removed.
But why were they killed off like the others?
It's possible that they simply ran out of use, just as Daggett and his friends are taken out later in the film, creating a reverse cinematic echo effect.
On a side note, the entirety of operatives and analysts seen later in the film occupying the Pentagon command center are determined to stop Bane's reign of terror, with the general ordering for reconnaissance flights and intervention of the US army. What this could potentially mean is that the CIA's employees are so inadequate at their jobs simply because they are left in the dark about what they are actually up to (similar to the way the extent of the NSA's capabilities was found out the following year).
Why All The Trouble Then?
The media. The news media is the single most prolific example of the truth gone askew in our modern culture, and Nolan knew this.
The news media is featured extensively in The Dark Knight Trilogy, but their appearance and relevance in the plot of Rises is very underrated. In the film, the media, like the analysts at the Pentagon, are watching everything. Every horrible atrocity committed by The League of Shadows is portrayed in the media as an act of evil against the American people by, you guessed it, terrorists. Much like how Al-Qaeda and ISIS are portrayed as 'evil' Muslims trying to bring about the end of the world.
The public is pretty much guaranteed to listen to what the media has to say and interpret it as fact as opposed to an opinionated perspective of the truth. All of this and more can be seen in Fox News and CNN, the most infamous news outlets running today.
The government knows the power that media has over the public opinion and it will not pass up an opportunity to exploit that power. Not to get what they want: more power. The media can make out what may very well be CIA operatives in disguise attempting to steal resources from foreign countries and to insure that the people don't have enough power to stop them as something completely different.
And back to the fact that The League of Shadows is shown to wear mostly usual and casual clothing shows that the enemy that the government attempted to brand was the people themselves. They showed how easily they could be corrupted by corrupting them themselves and blaming it on a scapegoat: The League of Shadows, a proxy for something that Bane only mentions in passing:
People of their status deserve to see the next era of Western civilization.
That next era, you may ask? An era of decadence and the powerful people's struggle to retain order by ridding the world of critical thinking.
That, in its own, is a pretty big lie.