To many, The Dark Knight Rises marked the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, one that followed Bruce Wayne through the tortuous but rewarding journey of losing his parents, saving Gotham, and finding his purpose (aka, becoming Batman). But when viewed through the lens of academic advising, this film becomes much more than Batman’s farewell; in fact, the characters of Bruce Wayne, Bane, and Selina Kyle all offer examples of how to advise students to success.
After surviving the murder of his parents, the betrayal of his mentor, Ra’s al Ghul, and the loss of his love-interest and childhood friend, Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne is once again put to the test in The Dark Knight Rises. Specifically, he is taken to a remote prison – which tortures its victims with the possibility of escape – while Bane ransacks Gotham. Additionally, this prison mimics the very well that’s haunted Bruce since childhood, calling forth unforgiving memories that choke him with fear and hopelessness. Still, Bruce does not capitulate to his circumstances. Instead, he spends day after day in this prison building strength and cultivating hope, never letting the darkness that surrounds him define his capabilities. Not surprisingly, his perseverance begets success, allowing him to escape from the prison and return to Gotham. Once there, he restores order, sacrificing himself yet again on the altars of selflessness, justice, and social responsibility.
Now, while I certainly don’t expect my advisees to spend their nights as caped vigilantes, I do expect them to care about their university, its surrounding location, and the people who inhabit both. In other words, I expect them to follow in Bruce’s footsteps regarding service, philanthropy, social responsibility, and a belief in the greater good. I want them to be involved students who matriculate into global citizens. I want them to graduate in four years not just with degrees but with a sense of fulfillment and purpose. I want them to be the very students who impact Elon in meaningful and sustainable ways. But most importantly, I want them to be the kind of students who endure. Through tests of intelligence as well as character, I want them to embrace honesty, integrity, responsibility, and respect, drawing inspiration from the character of Bruce Wayne. As any advisor can attest, a college education will challenge the very core of who you are, but like Bruce, I want my students to emerge from these challenges with an even stronger sense of self.
Though Bane’s character is certainly flawed, he is not without redeeming qualities. For example, Bane may attack Gotham with unrelenting violence and derive pleasure from the mental anguish of Bruce Wayne, but this same character risked his life to save a child and isn’t afraid of challenging the status-quo. In fact, much of what drives his revolution is the grotesque discrepancy between Gotham’s upper and lower classes and how those with power suppress the success of others.
Still, I’d never suggest my advisees approach any situation with violence; it is rarely – if ever – the answer. I would, however, encourage them to take stock of the political arena of their university, their nation, and their world. Though resentful and determined to enact revenge, Bane is also politically engaged and no stranger to the oppression of others, and I believe this kind of political engagement and social awareness should be a part of every student’s college experience. To that point, I hope my advisees not only recognize inequality but stand up against it, ready to fight for justice. I hope my advisees not only long for change but bring it forth, gaining unparalleled experience in the process. Lastly, I hope they are brave enough to challenge structural injustice, the kind that adulterates tradition in favor of its own perseverance.
Though Selina spends a great part of this film as a capricious thorn in Batman’s side, she also undergoes noteworthy character development, realizing the greater good for all outweighs the self-righteous demands of any individual. Furthermore, like Bane, she abhors the disproportionate structure of Gotham’s economy and how it’s sustained by those who wield power for nothing but selfish, inflated agendas. However, what really distinguishes Selina’s character is her adaptability. Like someone fluent in two languages, she can travel between the realms of the wealthy and the slums of the destitute, practically going unnoticed. This ability, though engendered by unsavory intentions, is what allows Selina to connect with Bruce, make amends, and finally understand why Gotham is worth saving.
Like Selina, some college students can and do fall victim to the “me” philosophy, never wanting to part with their time or energy unless the opportunity in question will provide foreseeable benefits. And while this makes sense, it also opens the door for talking with students about servant-leadership, and Selina’s character offers a great example of what can happen when people look past individual solutions to structural improvements. Moreover, her character learns the importance of remaining open-minded and versatile in the face of change, especially considering change is inevitable. Lastly, she epitomizes the empathy and humility necessary for establishing relationships among different “cultures,” taking ownership of one’s mistakes, and collaboratively righting wrongs. That said, I hope my advisees follow her transformative example, for adaptability, social responsibility, and humility are critical to a successful college experience as well as a successful life.
Till next time,
(P.S. I totally know what movie I’ll be watching tonight!)