Christopher Nolan Explains His Open-Ended Finish To The Dark Knight Rises

Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The recent rumor that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is being considered for the Batman role in Warner Bros.’ planned Justice League of America movie had fans speculating about how the open-ended conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises might tie in to that superhero ensemble film. Is D.C. trying to build a universe the way Marvel managed to do with origin stories that lead into a bigger film? Was Nolan doing the studio a favor by setting JGL up as the next Batman, as some have floated this week?

No. Well, at least, not exactly. The director sat down for a lengthy conversation with Scott Foundas of Film Comment, where they stretched all the way back to the days before Batman Begins to discuss what decisions influenced the storyteller over the course of the trilogy. And when it comes to the end of TDKR, Nolan says that the ending meant to just reiterate the notion that Batman was more of a symbol than a man, and the idea of JGL entering the cave was to suggest that the symbol was going to live on.

For me, The Dark Knight Rises is specifically and definitely the end of the Batman story as I wanted to tell it, and the open-ended nature of the film is simply a very important thematic idea that we wanted to get into the movie, which is that Batman is a symbol. He can be anybody, and that was very important to us. Not every Batman fan will necessarily agree with that interpretation of the philosophy of the character, but for me it all comes back to the scene between Bruce Wayne and Alfred in the private jet in Batman Begins, where the only way that I could find to make a credible characterization of a guy transforming himself into Batman is if it was as a necessary symbol, and he saw himself as a catalyst for change and therefore it was a temporary process, maybe a five-year plan that would be enforced for symbolically encouraging the good of Gotham to take back their city. To me, for that mission to succeed, it has to end, so this is the ending for me, and as I say, the open-ended elements are all to do with the thematic idea that Batman was not important as a man, he’s more than that. He’s a symbol, and the symbol lives on.”

Interesting. So, according to Nolan, he doesn’t necessarily believe what most fans have been saying, and that’s the fact that Batman isn’t Batman if it isn’t Bruce Wayne. And to go one step further, it feels like Warner agrees with this notion, if they’re exploring the idea of letting John Blake continue as Batman, the “symbol” protecting Gotham from evil.

Now, Gordon-Levitt’s reps have come out and denied the rumor, so there’s a chance Warner will go in a different direction with Justice League. But if they do extend what Nolan started in his trilogy, it’s clear that the director didn’t intend it, and he certainly didn’t rework his ending to accommodate the studio. We’re still anxious to see how this story plays out, but it gets more interesting by the day.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.