SUPPOSEDLY, with The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan has finally arrived at the end of his “Batman Trilogy,” which began with Batman Begins (2005) and continued with The Dark Knight (2008). If only! For the one thing you can count on about him is that Batman, like God, can never die. There is a moment in the new film when Mr. Nolan appears to want to make his audience think that the end of his Batman Trilogy is also the end of Batman, but—spoiler alert!—he knows that we know this would not be a permissible liberty for him to take with the franchise. He is only its temporary custodian, as people are said to be custodians of the earth, and must pass it on undamaged to his successors in generations yet to come. If Batman died, he wouldn’t be Batman. For the same reason, The Dark Knight’s attempt to give him a “darker,” more human side was doomed, in my view, to failure. Batman is not human because he’s not mortal—and the immortals, as everyone knows, are not bound by the same rules that apply to everyone else.
ALL CULTURE begins with commemoration of the past and honor rendered to the dead. The oldest literary monuments in the Western tradition, the Iliad and the Odyssey, seemed to their original audience to be historical accounts, in suitably decorative form, of events they believed should not be forgotten by those who would be born long after all who fought at Troy were dead. Probably, the cave paintings at Lascaux, six times older than the Trojan War, were meant to commemorate a particularly memorable hunt, a kind of memory of whose victims has outlived by 17 millennia anyone's memory of the hunters. Such irony--by which I mean the tendency of meaning to change with context--is routine. Shelley's Ozymandias, whose "shatter'd visage" and "vast and trunkless legs of stone" were all that remained of those works upon which that hero had once invited the mighty to look and despair, is rather the rule than the exception for those in the commemorative trade, given a long-enough perspective.