Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Lessons from The Dark Knight Rises

[Warning: Some movie spoilers]

Unlike your typical Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises covers a few issues besides the usual battle of good versus evil.  Of course it's about saving Gotham City, but many sub-themes ensure this isn't a linear movie.  For instance Alfred (Bruce Wayne's butler), being far from the yes-man he traditionally used to be in older iterations of Batman, opines that money channeled correctly can effect much more change than a caped hero trying to physically save the city one person at a time.  Gotham City needs Bruce Wayne, not Batman, he argues.

The movie also demonstrates what could happen if the people were just left to govern themselves without any government, police or army in place: suffice to say it's chaos.  Director Christopher Nolan insinuates that a catalyst for such chaos would be rising inequality and a madman to capitalize on people's frustration. Some places in the world are not far off from such a scenario.

Most curious though was how much of the movie's running time involved Bruce Wayne trapped in Bane's prison.  Badly assaulted by the villainous Bane with a resultant broken back, Bruce Wayne must heal and then escape if he is to save Gotham from destruction.  See, in his prison Bane provides his 'inmates' something more torturous than solitary confinement.  Look up and there's a high wall (pictured) leading to freedom, if you can climb it.  This wall has few protrusions decent enough for your hands to grip.  And at one point in your climb you need to jump from one ledge to another, and this jump is where most trying to escape fail.  Freedom is so close, yet nearly impossible to attain.  Only the daughter of Ducard (the man who trained Bruce Wayne) escaped when she was a child.

Bane is generous enough to permit anybody wanting to climb a safety rope too, so should you fall you will be fine barring any painful rebound against the circumference of the wall.  After numerous failed attempts with the safety rope, Bruce Wayne learns from another prisoner that Ducard's daughter escaped without any safety rope at all.  This fear of death, says the wise prisoner, rather than Bruce Wayne's absence of it, is the strongest driving force existent in man.  You can guess what happened when Bruce Wayne grew a pair and decided to climb and make that critical jump without the rope.

So it seems as if the lesson is you need to go for broke, to do something as if it's a matter dying if you fail.  But on the other side of the coin it's also about the complacency that sets in when there's a safety net.  Often we try hard, but we don't give it everything.  People doing part time businesses hoping to leave their jobs and become independent often make half-attempts at their ventures.  Their salaries pay for their mortgage and food, so they're not forced to make it work: they are merely mildly motivated in most cases, much less compelled.  If on the other hand you resolve to hand your resignation in no matter what within 12 months, you will perform with more urgency.  Hand your resignation in tomorrow, and you will run your business like Emily Rose possessed.  Resigning tomorrow would be risky, yes, not to mention stressful, but nothing will extract maximum performance out of you like the fear of losing everything.

Safety nets are a good thing strictly speaking; it's just our resultant complacency that makes them a hindrance to achievement.  So can one keep their safety net yet perform like their life depends on it?  Only the most conscientious can.  You need to pretend you are doing something to save your life and that of your family.  The possibility of failure must become unpalatable.  While the dream of a better, more comfortable life can be motivation, it is not quite as powerful as the fear of loss.  That's the way we're wired: for survival.

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