Secrets of the Masked Man Bane

Dark Knight Rises poster‘Movies Mockingbird’ is a blog series dedicated to uncovering the core ideas behind movies – the core ideas that are visible yet hidden. In it, I will attempt to dive into the sea of social sciences to reveal the whole iceberg of movie plots and not just the small tip visible on the surface.  Movies Mockingbird is the graceful antithesis of glamorous adrenaline and spice that pervades the movie screens.

In this post, I will examine The Dark Knight Rises (2012), the third Batman film by director Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale as Batman, and Tom Hardy as Bane.

It has to be made clear here that social sciences should not be used as glorified and elaborate excuses meant to justify criminals and those who cause violence. Nothing can justify harming other humans and other similar serious crimes. The best way to deal with evil is to understand the context that encourages its growth. The best way to combat evil is to be aware of the system that creates it (Philip Zimbardo). This is what we are going to do here.

Social Insights from Bane and the Dark Knight Rises

(Bane talking to Batman after breaking his back and stuffing him into a hell-on-earth prison)

Bane: Home, where I learned the truth about despair, as will you. There’s a reason why this prison is the worst hell on earth… Hope. Every man who has ventured here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So easy… So simple… And like shipwrecked men turning to sea water from uncontrollable thirst, many have died trying. I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope. So, as I terrorize Gotham, I will feed its people hope to poison their souls.

I will let them believe they can survive so that you can watch them clamoring over each other to “stay in the sun.” You can watch me torture an entire city and when you have truly understood the depth of your failure, we will fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny… We will destroy Gotham and then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die.

Masked BaneBane is applying a very central psychological principle to torture Gotham here; giving them hope over and over again only to realize in the end that there is actually no hope. Martin Seligman elaborated this important concept of ‘Learned helplessness’. Learned helplessness is when we have bad things being done to us, and we have no control over the situation, that after breaking of our hopes again and again, we finally give up and do nothing about it. Even if our situation improves, or there is an escape from the misery now, we have become so conditioned to helplessness that now we do not even try.

Learned helplessness unfortunately is all around us. Poverty presents ever continuous pangs just to survive, so we lose the hope that we can ever be fulfilled or happy in our lives. Learned helplessness is better explained by the sociological idea of ‘hysteresis’. Hysteresis is that one significantly negative event can have a profound and lasting impact on our subsequent actions and thinking.  Those who get unemployed might be bitter and distrustful of others even after they get a secure job. A lover might be insecure from his/her current partner not because he/she is not trustworthy but because of the person’s negative past experiences. A catastrophe like an earthquake can send whole communities into such hysteresis. Here, breaking soul of Gotham is the catastrophe that Bane is implementing on Gotham that will poison their souls.

(Blake and Gordon reacting after Bane publicly read Gordon’s letter to let the world know what a traitor Harvey Dent was)

Jim Gordon: Gotham needed a hero…

John Blake: It needs it now more than ever. You betrayed everything you stood for.

Jim Gordon: There’s a point, far out there when the structures fail you, and the rules aren’t weapons anymore, they’re… shackles letting the bad guy get ahead. One day… you may face such a moment of crisis. And in that moment, I hope you have a friend like I did, to plunge their hands into the filth so that you can keep yours clean!

Structures are all around us. The institutions like police, education, welfare, government etc. Within these institutions, we have specified social roles to play like policeman, student, teacher, governor etc. We often play the social rules by imitating others to fulfill our goals, but find that the inner kernel of such structures, its radiant essence, remains mysterious. Such a condition happened with Batman and Gordon when structure was not only silent, it was actually a barrier to Batman and allowed the bad guy to get ahead. Gotham needed a hero, but they knew Harvey Dent’s last murderous acts would lead to a thousand criminals to not getting captured. Hence, they had to invent a hero and Batman had to take the blame for Harvey’s actions.

Catwoman(Selina [aka Catwoman] talking to Bruce in order to obtain the cleanslate device she was after)

Selina Kyle: You don’t get to judge me just because you were born in the master bedroom of Wayne Manor.

Selina Kyle: I started out doing what I had to. Once you’ve done what you had to, they’ll never let you do what you want to.

Bruce Wayne: Start fresh.

Selina Kyle: There’s no fresh start in today’s world. Any twelve-year-old with a cell phone could find out what you did. Everything we do is collated and quantified. Everything sticks.

There are huge challenges of living in today’s postmodern world. Everyone can do background searches of others and a lot of information about yourself is out in the open. Everything sticks because it is public, but also because of ‘information determinism’. This is the machine learning algorithms that for example, once you like some pages, Facebook recommends ‘other pages you might like’, ‘other people you might know’ etc. So if my initial tendency is to love Marvel comics, so many other pages and people with similar interest will pop up that later onwards I will potentially become a Marvel fanatic. So my initial tendencies can get significantly magnified due to such algorithms. One who initially hates studying will likely become more averse to studies and one who loves studies will likely love it even more. One who initially disregards social norms can become more anti-social once exposed to such algorithms over a long time.

Michael Foucault sheds more light into this issue through his observation of the ‘surveillance society’. We are continuously being monitored; online, smartphones, through surveillance cameras, sensors and so on. This induces the psychological feeling inside our minds that we are being watched and should behave responsibly. In effect, our own mind becomes the police. Hence, there is an immense social pressure to conform. A thief like Selina who deviates from normal path is seen as an aberration because she deviated from the path our police-mind tells us.

The surveillance society magnifies the ugly effects of labeling. Labeling is for example, ‘You will always be a thief’, ‘you started stealing when you were a kid’, ‘you will never be good at studies’ and so on. Since now we can know so many things about others online, it has made it easier for people to make such labeling comments. We are all imperfect and do embarrassing things once in a while, but a Youtube video or posting it online by friends etc makes such labels much more a part of our identities.

Self-improvement lessons from Bane and the Dark Knight


(Alfred to Bruce when seeing video footage of Bane in action in the stock exchange)

 Alfred: Take a good look. His speed, his ferocity, his training. I see the power of belief. I see the League of Shadows resurgent.”

(Bane while fighting with Batman)
Bane: [to Batman] Peace has cost you your strength! Victory has defeated you! 

Bane: You fight like a younger man, with nothing held back. Admirable but mistaken.
(Bane when capturing Dr Pavel)
[Bane wrecks the CIA plane and grabs Dr Pavel]
Bane: Calm down, Doctor! Now’s not the time for fear. That comes later. 

CIA Agent: At least you can talk. Who are you?
Bane: It doesn’t matter who we are, what matters is our plan.
[the Agent removes the hood]
Bane: No one cared who I was until I put on the mask. 

(Bane talking to Daggett just before killing him after Daggett’s usefulness ended)

Bane: [puts his hand on Daggett’s shoulder] Do you *feel* in charge? 

[Stryver leaves]
John Daggett: I paid you a small fortune.
Bane: And this gives you *power* over me? 

Bane is not just muscle but someone who has conquered his mind and body. He is controlled, strategic but not impulsive; he gives all he has; but strategically (no fighting like younger men, do you feel in charge?) and patiently (Now is not the time for fear); he waits years to build an underground army, network of tunnels from absolutely scratch. All that for a cause, for a mission that defines purpose of his life. He relates closely to the superman/ubermensch ideal of Nietzsche as he wills with all his might to achieve something bigger and more lasting than himself. The person is not important, the plan is important. Like Batman, Bane shunned his private identity and life where he was regarded as nobody, into a symbol ‘masked man’. Symbolic identities have far more influence over others then an individual identity. This is because a person can be killed or replaced, but an idea and a symbolic representation of that idea can be donned by anyone.

Bane and Batman(Fight scene between Bane and Batman)

Bane: Oh, you think darkness is your ally. But you merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, moulded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but BLINDING!

Bane had remained in a stuffed underground prison until he was a man. There, he faced the darkness of helplessness and dark nature within humans ruled the prison. This made him stronger rather than weaker; he got to know how to survive in unbearable conditions.  Bane applied ‘What does not kill me, makes me stronger’ by Nietzsche to its utmost spirit. The light of everyday hopes of common people like living without risks, studying, getting a job, getting married, saving for retirement was not kept by Bane because he had embraced himself completely, both the positive of fulfilling Ra’s Al Ghul’s destiny as well as the negative of his suffering. Risk averse living never really reveals how strong we actually are. ‘We are stronger than we think we are’ of Marcus Aurelius is hardly ever applied in practice as well as Bane does.

The stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius say that hope is the root of all anxiety; but if we do not have hope, we will not do anything. It is only the anticipation of something beneficial that moves us to think and take action. How can then we shun hope and still perform? On a closer look, the stoics have more truth hidden in their words than meets the eye. The answer lies in removing illusions from our hopes, and not hopes altogether. Bane is not a mental slave to imaginary sufferings and anxieties, he has accepted worst case and challenges them instead of running away, and he thrives in risky environment and situations.

(Miranda while going with Bruce in the rain at his home)

Miranda Tate: Suffering builds character.

Perhaps the most eloquent, simple and beautiful dialogue is this dialogue of just 3 words. It is suffering that shows us how temporary everything actually is. No happiness is long lasting, no suffering is permanent, we born we die and nothing is permanent in human affairs (Socrates). We continuously cling onto fragile-as-glass hopes but when these shatter and shatter deeply enough (as it does with Bane and Miranda), only then do we manage to transcend our personal suffering. Only then do we get a glimpse of ‘satori’ which means ‘seeing into one’s true nature’. thich-nhtt-hanhIn effect, samsara (continuous cycle of suffering) is a necessary prerequisite to achieving enlightenment or Nirvana because we have to realize that we are a part of the whole, the whole of humanity, where everyone suffers in their own ways (Thich Nhat Hanh).

Similar ideas are detailed in western philosophy as well. In his masterwork, Being and Nothingness, Jean Paul Satre notes that we suffer because we live in bad faith. This essentially means that we suffer because we are not aware that we are living in-authentically and by knowing our internal unconscious conflicts, we can transcend our troubles. Benedict Spinoza, The most loveable of philosophers, notes that suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.

In a nutshell, ‘better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace ’(Buddha) and this dialogue is such 3-worded route to eventual peace.

In conclusion,

(Bruce while talking with Alfred over how to handle Bane)

Bruce Wayne: Bane was a member of The League of Shadows.

Alfred: And then he was excommunicated. And any man who is too extreme for Ra’s Al Ghul is not to be trifled with.

Bane and his ideas and actions are definitely not to be trifled with. Dark Knight Rises (2012) is indeed a profound movie and has much to instill in us as our review here shows.


 Danish studied for the BSc Sociology in Pakistan. The BSc Sociology is not available to new students, however you can still study for a Diploma for Graduates in Sociology.

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