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The Ending Of The Dark Knight Rises Explained

Almost a decade later, the capper to Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy remains a bamboozling, multi-hued opal of pop culture peculiarity. It is the work of an auteur director at the height of his talent, boasting a vision so inarguably impressive and universally head-turning that a multibillion-dollar studio handed him a narrative blank check and said "do whatever you want with our punchy animal cosplay guy."

And do whatever he wanted he did. In the confines of the Nolanverse, Batman's most endearing quality — his resolutely un-godlike humanity — is brought to its logical conclusion: Bruce Wayne's knees are shot, which happens when you jump off of enough buildings with nothing but a cape to slow your fall. What's worse, the people of Gotham still aren't over the "Mean Girls" Burn Book-style self-takedown that the Dark Knight pulled on himself at the end of the last movie. Eight years on, they're still under the impression that Batman killed Harvey Dent.

Luckily for the local constabulary, "there's guys dressed as bats murdering our district attorneys" is the kind of fib that shady law enforcement officers go their whole careers waiting to bump into, and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and company have glommed onto the legend hard. Pointing at the death of a public official at the hands of a vigilante, they've stripped Gothamites of civil liberties, expediting court proceedings and piling a ton of bricks onto Gordon's conscience.

And that's just the preamble. Man, Nolan really knows how to pack the story in.

The Bat and the Cat in The Dark Knight Rises

No longer taking up the mantle of the Bat, a tired Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is robbed by an astonishingly lithe housekeeper (Anne Hathaway) with a suspiciously Eartha Kitt-like cadence to her voice. Meanwhile, some cat named Bane (Tom Hardy, possibly voiced by Henry Kissinger) has started nabbing nuclear physicists and doing a Ninja Turtles home makeover in the sewers of Gotham. He and his crew bust up the stock exchange, using Bruce Wayne's fingerprints — stolen during the robbery — to bankrupt the reclusive gajillionaire.

Crabby and with a renewed sense of purpose following an attack on Commissioner Gordon, Batman goes to Catwoman for help taking down Bane. He dons his old going-out wear, proving that he truly is more than human when he manages to fit into his clothes from eight years ago on the first try.

In one of those funny little developments that they'll no doubt tell their kids about one day, Catwoman betrays Batman and traps him in a room with Bane, who proceeds to snap his spine, cave in his skull, and provide him with a ride to an unspecified second location. There, Batman gets dropped into a real bummer of a prison. Bane, meanwhile, heads back to Gotham, takes the city hostage with a nuclear bomb, traps the police in the sewers, and sets up a dystopian nightmare town with a literal ticking time bomb hanging over its figurative head.

The fights and the tights in The Dark Knight Rises

Batman has his spine repaired through the magic of alternative, punch-based medicine. He does push ups for a few months until he thinks he's ready to jump out of jail. A few false starts later, he's out and about, grateful for the visual symmetry inherent in being stuck in a prison that looks like the well that he fell down as a kid and ready to figure out a way back across the ocean and into a city under 24-hour armed surveillance.

Back in Gotham, he teams up with Catwoman once again. Alongside a plucky young police officer by the name of John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), they rescue the police from the sewer and try to get as many kids out of the city as they can.

Fighting happens. Batman beats up Bane, but gets those pesky tables turned on him when he finds out that his old girlfriend Miranda was actually running the whole operation. Catwoman kills Bane, Batman vehicular-manslaughters Miranda. With moments to spare before the bomb goes off, Batman flies off with the explosive zip tied to the back of his new plane, which he's been careful to point out is 100% autopilot-free. Could this be the end for the caped crusader?

The final Caine and the spinal pain of The Dark Knight Rises

Sort of.

In the closing moments of "The Dark Knight Rises," we learn several things. Firstly, Bruce Wayne is probably the kind of guy that you tell about a surprise birthday party for a coworker and then he starts dropping what he thinks are subtle hints for the rest of the day, because that autopilot that he couldn't stop talking about was definitely working. Bruce and his new Cat lady friend wait around in Italy for Alfred to show up, which is exactly why you should never tell your boss where you're going for vacation.

Meanwhile, back in Gotham, John Blake finds himself at the business end of a call to adventure. In the will of Bruce Wayne, who is presumed dead as a result of the city's rough couple of months, Blake is left with a sack of cool spelunking gear and a geocache location that takes him into the Batcave. What's more, we learn that his real name was Robin all along, leaving many viewers to wonder if he's planning to go out crime fighting with his legal given name as his secret identity. It's a bold move, but so is becoming the Boy Wonder in your 30s.

In the end, "The Dark Knight Rises" is another in a long line of Christopher Nolan movies that task the audience with making up their own minds as to what the ending meant. Did Bruce really survive, or was Alfred only dreaming? Was Cobb still asleep, or did the top start to wobble? Was "Tenet" possible to understand, or was your roommate lying about having it figured out to try to seem smart? It's up to you, viewer.