*If you haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises, don’t read this article (spoilers).
The biggest surprise in The Dark Knight Rises for me wasn’t Miranda’s double-cross or the last-minute return of Bruce Wayne. It was Catwoman. Specifically, I was surprised by how large her role was, and how much gravitas her character was imbued with. In part, Anne Hathaway should be given a lion’s share of the credit for how seriously she took her role, but the script too deserves to be applauded and analyzed, and that’s just what this article will be about.
The Dark Knight Rises does what no other TV/Film medium has managed to do: take Catwoman seriously. In the past, her role has always centered around two things: sex appeal and kitsch. In the campy 1960s series Batman, a host of actresses including Julie Newmar and Lee Merriweather made Catwoman out to be a light-hearted femme-fatale while Eartha Kitt took it a step further and mastered the kitsch aspect, perfecting the purred Rs many of us have now come to associate with the character. In Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, Michelle Feiffer has some fun with both sides, wearing the tightest leather outfit yet while consistently adding a feline quality to her physicality. From what I remember, Halle Berry’s performance was more like a tomcat; even though she’s a talented actress, I don’t recall her playing Catwoman as a seductress or even remaining cat-like in her movements (I much prefer Halle Berry as Storm in the X-Men series).
In the Batman mythos, Catwoman has to be taken seriously. Why? For one thing, she’s been there almost since the very start. Her first appearance was in Batman issue 1 in 1940. Batman himself had debuted a short time earlier in Detective Comics issue 27, but it was in the Batman series that Bruce Wayne became defined as how we now see him. To give you some perspective, the Joker also made his first entrance in Batman 1. In the comics, Joker has always remained a staple of the series, while Catwoman tends to drift in and out. That doesn’t defeat the fact however that it seems entirely possible that Catwoman is the only woman Batman could possibly have a solid relationship with.
The Dark Knight Rises gets Catwoman right, as does Anne Hathaway. Her character is by no means tacked on or written into the script at the last minute. Catwoman is a large part of the story–without her, there may not have even been an adventure at all.
When The Dark Knight Rises opens, we see Bruce Wayne as a broken man, puttering around Wayne Manor and is in every sense the epitome of the billionaire recluse. When Selina Kyle (Catwoman’s secret identity) slips in disguised as a maid, she inadvertantly acts as the catalyst, spurring him into taking the actions that eventually lead him to donning the cape and cowl again.
How does she do this? In the film, she steals a necklace once belonging to Bruce Wayne’s mother (Freudians would have a field-day with that one). At the same time, she does something more important: attracts Bruce. In the intervening 8 years since The Dark Knight, we’re led to believe that just about all Bruce has done is mourn for Rachel. If he’s seen any other woman in this time, it’s not hinted at. As Alfred himself tells Bruce, “It takes a little time to get back in the swing of things.” By showing up out of the blue, in a French maid outfit no less, Selina Kyle re-introduces desire into Bruce Wayne’s life. Desire can be an animating force–without it, who’s to say if Bruce would have ever left the mansion, Bane or no Bane?
Bane is, in the end, a less important character. He’s there as a plot device, to a degree. It’s as if he exists just for Bruce Wayne as Batman to prove himself to Selina. You’ll notice, shortly before every climactic moment in the movie–Batman fighting Bane in the sewer, confronting Bane near the end on the street, and finally when Batman flies the bomb out of Gotham–Batman talks to Catwoman first. It’s the desire to prove himself to her that prompts him to take such risks–it’s also her response that foretells how successful he will be.
Early on, when Bane manages to nearly cripple Batman, the fight occurs minutes after Catwoman apparently back-stabs him and sells him out. Later, when Batman nearly defeats Bane on his own, it happens right after Catwoman has dropped her icy demeanor and showed some actual affection for Bruce. It’s as if by finally getting a hint that she likes him Batman is able to find the confidence to confront Bane head on. Lastly, when Batman takes on the ridiculously dangerous chore of disposing of a bomb, it happens right after she kisses him (again, Freudians have a lot to work with here).
It’s fair to say then, at least from my point of view, that The Dark Knight Rises is, above all else, a romance.
–If you liked this article, make sure to read my analysis of Catwoman’s role in the comics.
Also, you can read my review of The Dark Knight Rises, a short essay about the hype surrounding the movie, and a few of my thoughts on the tragedy following its premiere.
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Here’s a Youtube video showing the previous actresses who have played Catwoman (not including Halle Berry or Anne Hathaway).
Coming Soon: a deeper analysis into just how the love story of Catwoman and Batman comes about in The Dark Knight Rises.