FRIDAY FEATURE: The Dark Leviathan of Gotham City

DARKKNIGHT_SMALLIn this writer’s opinion, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy has been everything and more that a Bat fan could wish for, but there is a depth to his stories that add so much extra intrigue. In the final film of the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan explores the themes of Thomas Hobbes’ book The Leviathan. Is Batman anything but the illegitimate force of good that stops the criminals in Gotham city or did the Gothamites elect Batman as their protector?

Thomas Hobbes argued that in order to have a full life, people needed a leviathan to get out of the state of nature. The state of nature is where every society begins. Everyone has batman-begins-originalcomplete freedom but it is unruly, harsh and everyone is out for themselves. There are no laws to protect the individual from harm and they make the most of what they can. Hobbes describes life in the state state of nature as: ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’ In order to move forward the people choose a Leviathan who can lead them to greater things. In the Leviathan the people give up some of their liberties to accept the Leviathan as the leader of the state. From this position, the Leviathan can establish law and policy in order to make sure that people can have things such as property and if they are taken away from them unjustly, then punishments will be given.

The theme of the leviathan goes through each one of Nolan’s films but is felt the most in The Dark Knight Rises. In Batman Begins we are shown that the police are corrupt and although the law is on their side the people know that they have no real help from this police force. The city itself, Gotham, is portrayed as a city in which everyone is out for themselves. The only person any individual can rely on is themselves and the police are willing to betray the city’s civilians in order to help the mob bosses such as Flacone. This is clear in a scene in which Rachel Dawes is about to get mugged. The only person who is willing to step up against these people is Batman. By the end of the film, we feel that Batman and Gordon (as his sidekick) have started to make a difference: that order has begun to be restored to Gotham. Gordon himself makes the point that Batman is the reason that this change has occurred. The people of Gotham seemed to have taken Batman in as their Leviathan, their leader.

This theory gains resonance in The Dark Knight when Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne, Rachel Dawes and a Russian Ballet dancer are having dinner. Dent, Gotham’s District Attorney argues for the Batman and defends him in front of his dinner companions, stating that the people of Gotham elected Batman to take his post when no-one else was willing to do so. This is similar to what would happen in Hobbes’ state of nature: the people would realise that things could be better if they gave some of their liberties to a protector and therefore enshrine power into that Leviathan. So Gotham accepts Batman. Under their laws he is illegitimate but their laws mean next to nothing to the rest of the people in Gotham. Therefore by no police officer making a stand against Batman he is shown to have been elected into this position. In fact he is more legitimate than the police for this reason.

Finally in The Dark Knight Rises we truly see the state of nature come to pass and Batman take his rightful place as the Leviathan of the state. Batman starts the film having retired in order to bring peace to Gotham. Yet Bane has other plans which force Batman out of retirement. Before long, Bane has crippled Batman and deported him out of Gotham. With Batman gone, Gotham has no hope left. Bane has complete control where he instigates the creation of an anarchic world: everyone is out for themselves and is aware that they must do whatever they can in order to survive. Hobbes argued that when a state lost its Leviathan, it would revert to the state of nature. In The Dark Knight Rises, when Batman is gone, Gotham falls into anarchy illustrating both that Batman is the Leviathan of Gotham and that without him, it falls into the state of nature.

When Batman returns at the end of the film, he manages to restore order and get Gotham back on its feet before his eventual ‘death’. All of these things are crucial to illustrate Hobbes’ theory that in order to have a state we must give power to a leviathan who will take us out of the state of nature. In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman does not just lift Gotham out of the darkness mentally but also physically. He beats Bane and destroys the bomb that was going to explode over Gotham.

Further the actions of Gothamites after Batman’s ‘death’ illustrate his pull with the people even more. The Gotham people erect a statue of Batman to illustrate that he is the one true saviour of Gotham. He is the one that has pulled them back from anarchy and managed to stabilize their city in order for it to become a part of the twenty-first century once more. More telling however are the actions of Robin John Blake. Batman has left his mantle to him illustrating a form of government. Robin has been elected to be the rightful heir of the cowl and therefore takes the place of Batman as Gotham’s Leviathan. This is not much different to the way that a king would pass on his monarchy as Robin is Batman’s son that he never had. Therefore this system is no different to that what we have seen in our society. Whether or not Robin becomes Nightwing or a new Batman is irrelevant. What is important is that the people once more enshrine his powers and believe in him, making him the legitimate force.

Dark Knight Rises

Nolan’s Batman films illustrate how much Batman is needed for Gotham and that he is a legitimate force. Before Batman (and whenever it has not had Batman by its side), Gotham is portrayed to be in a state of nature. It is a short, nasty, brutish life without him and therefore the people of Gotham would rather give up some of the liberties they have in the state of nature in order to have a better life under Batman’s capitalism. Further as with elected officials and monarchs, Batman’s status as Leviathan will be passed down to his rightful heir, Robin, who is just as legitimate as Batman.

Reporter: Luke Halsall


• Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679). Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan. The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
• Batman Begins (2005) Dir. Christopher Nolan
• The Dark Knight (2008) Dir. Christopher Nolan
• The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Dir. Christopher Nolan

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