Viewers familiar with the works of Christopher Nolan know that he has a tendency to be rather ambiguous with the conclusions for his films. Take one look at the comments for ourInceptionending andInterstellar ending explanation posts for proof that moviegoers enjoy discussing the finales of Nolan movies months, or even years, after its original theatrical premiere. One instance where that open-endedness hasnt been used to full effect is NolansDark Knight trilogy, where he and Christian Bale teamed up to revitalize the Batman film property by earning critical praise and billions of box office dollars.
Early on in the trilogy-capper, Alfred (Michael Caine) tells Bruce his one true wish for his surrogate son. Instead of coming back to Gotham and reliving the pain and grief from his parents’ deaths, the butler wanted Wayne to never come back and instead move far away and perhaps start a family somewhere. This bit of dialogue plays over a scene where Alfred, on vacation visiting a cafe in Florence, sees someone he thinks is Bruce before realizing it’s someone else.
Fast-forward to one of the last scenes in the movie, and the setup is identical to that previous Florence sequence, only this time the man Alfred sees actually is Bruce, who has settled down into a nice peaceful life with Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), far away from the memories of Gotham City. Because everything seemed a little too perfect (and since Batman was seemingly caught in a nuclear explosion), some speculated that the ending was a dream of Alfred’s and not something that really happened.
Shortly after The Dark Knight Rises first came out two years ago, Caine himself explained that what we saw “was no imagination” and Bruce was there, in the flesh. While promoting Exodus: Gods and Kings on Sirius XM Town Hall (hat tip EW), Bale chimed in, essentially echoing what Caine said previously in a response to a fan question:
“I find it very interesting and with most films, I tend to say, ‘It’s what the audience thinks it is.’ My personal opinion? No, it was not a dream. That was for real and he was just delighted that finally he had freed himself from the privilege, but ultimately the burden, of being Bruce Wayne.”
In the pre-release phase for The Dark Knight Rises, many speculated that Bruce’s death could happen, which is something that probably fueled the conspiracy theories about Batman’s demise. However, it appears all that hypothesizing was for naught, as multiple key figures in the film have said that the sequence is decidedly not a dream, but rather a happy ending for the trilogy’s protagonist. That should be enough to convince even the most stout dream believers.
Given that Nolan’s series helped usher in an age of dark, gritty Hollywood pictures, it’s easy to see why the tone of such an upbeat, emotional conclusion would seem out of place in the overall series, but that’s what made it so satisfying when it happened. We had seen Bruce endure so much over the course of the three films that it was a nice relief to know that he was ready to move on with his life and have something resembling a normal existence.
Admittedly, seeing Bruce at the same exact cafe that Alfred frequents does make it all seem a tad coincidental, but that’s Hollywood sometimes. That said, it doesn’t really matter how he got to Florence and knew his old friend would be there. The point of that scene was that Bruce had made peace with everyone and everything around him; he had inspired the people of Gotham to stand up for justice and accomplished what he set out to do. From that perspective, the end sequence is touching and poignant – and a perfect way to end his story.