There will forever be discourse about ambiguity in film and the idea of darker stories maintaining superiority to more hopeful conclusions. Yet, there’s a massive audience for romance and positive forms of storytelling like Apple TV’s Ted Lasso. At the same time, there’s a good chance that the studios will try to replicate what we had with Barbenheimer for years. Still, the heart of the celebration might never occur again unless everyone in the industry collectively accepts that hopeful, positive narratives don’t equate to lazy or inferior choices. With this idea in mind, years later, Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight Rises remains the best possible ending for the titular caped crusader and the man behind the mask.
Like all superheroes, Bruce Wayne’s vigilante motives stem from his tragic childhood. In most instances, these characters survive, even when darkness continues to follow after they defeat the villains in their path. Yet, in some cases, like with the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Iron Man, redemption or ultimate hero status often equates to a grave sacrifice. There’s either death or pain, but there’s seldom true freedom. And while The Dark Knight Rises includes bountiful sadness, it’s undoubtedly one of the more hopeful endings in the genre.
The Dark Knight Rises’ Ending Sends a Hopeful Message
Throughout the trilogy, Nolan’s films don’t miss a beat in showcasing the darkness that capes Bruce Wayne—physically and figuratively. At the same time, Christian Bale carries grief like an acute weight on the character’s shoulders, often exhibiting how much he’s going through without saying a word. That ever-present tinge of desolation that consistently follows the character thus proves that since his parents were murdered, he’s been walking with shadows all around him. One bad thing after another, yet a new villain following in the footsteps of the one who came before—much of his life is dark, hopeless, and heartbreaking.
The Dark Knight Rises is the culmination of all the heartaches, ultimately taking us to a place where this version of Gotham might finally be free from the influx of people trying to tarnish the light. Yet, presumably, the titular knight makes a grand sacrifice, dying for the people who ultimately lost faith in him. Only he doesn’t die, and instead, Alfred Pennyworth’s hopes of seeing him outside of Gotham come true, resulting in one of the most outstanding moments in cinematic history. There are few theatrical moments I remember as vividly as the tears I shed during my first viewing of the film.
Christian Bale and Michael Caine’s Performances Add Tremendous Depth to the Final Scene
There’s plenty The Dark Knight Rises leaves on the table, like the revelation that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake’s name is actually Robin. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox thankfully understands that someone (Bruce Wayne) fixed the auto-pilot. James Gordon finally learns Batman’s identity. Yet, it’s Alfred’s realization that he didn’t fail Bruce Wayne or the entire family—he saved him. By loving the boy more than anything else in the world, Alfred’s love for Bruce Wayne ultimately brought him happiness and freedom. While the city of Gotham immortalizes Batman, it’s Bruce Wayne’s legacy that eventually saves orphaned children just like him.
At that moment in the café where the two men look at each other from a distance, the scene showcases the best, most vulnerable outcome that could come from their lives. The understanding that they’re both now free to live their lives as they hoped they one day could. The chemistry between the actors from day one has made the trilogy feel that much more comforting, and this last scene cements that idea gorgeously with the proof that they’re going to be okay. Bruce Wayne doesn’t have to die for his sacrifice to be palpable, and the characters don’t have to suffer with little hope in their lives. Each character who’s ever cared for Bruce, and simultaneously, Batman, is given a chance to move forward knowing he’s okay. He’s out there—living his life for the first time in a long, long time.
It’s a small scene, far too brief, yet it’s everything necessary to encapsulate that though these films are about the darkness that follows grief, characters don’t need to stay marinating in the pain for the film to leave its mark. Instead, Nolan crafts something that one day can be revisited again. The ambiguity is with a hopeful twist that allows a bit of reprieve, even if it’s bittersweet. This way, it’s a story worth its salt because the nighttime leads to a sunny afternoon in a way that feels organic, subtle, and indescribably hopeful. We can argue day and night about which film in Nolan’s trilogy is best, but ultimately, it’s all of them, solidified by the detail that every moment in this final scene feels earned and thoughtful.