There’s an unspoken agreement between Christopher Nolan and his most die-hard fans: He will continue to be one of Hollywood’s few contemporary sources of original blockbuster filmmaking, and in exchange, we will concede that we might not understand what the hell is going on in most of his movies. This trade-off with the Time Daddy has yielded undeniable sensations like Inception—even if, let’s face it, the movie’s dream heist plot is a total mindfuck—and The Prestige, which features the best of Nolan’s signature twists. It certainly appears that Tenet, whenever it’s safe to grace movie theaters, will continue the auteur’s penchant for messing around with the concept of time—and with his audiences.
But what happens when Nolan’s ambitions don’t reach the massive expectations of his fan base? Well, you get something like The Dark Knight Rises. As a sequel to what is considered by many to be the greatest superhero movie of all time, The Dark Knight Rises was already facing an uphill battle to meet the hype. The movie isn’t unwatchable, by any means, but it’s hard to square how a Batman trilogy can pivot from The Dark Knight, a Michael Mann–esque crime epic, to Bruce Wayne recovering from a broken back by doing makeshift CrossFit workouts. With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan admirably went for a Hail Mary, but what transpired was about as disastrous as Hines Ward’s kickoff return.
There’s also the smaller matter of the big guy, Bane. Tom Hardy cuts an impressive (masked, as per usual) figure as Bane, and while his gonzo performance is a perfect prelude to the campy, lobster tank-jumping nonsense of Venom, some of Bane’s menace is immediately undercut from The Dark Knight Rises’ ridiculous opening scene. In the place of the Joker’s bank heist that gave true meaning to “no honor among thieves,” Bane’s introduction provided a much richer, and unexpectedly sillier, text. As a result, the only thing this film gave rise to was the absurd yet committed art of Baneposting.
As defined by Know Your Meme, Baneposting is when the internet takes the awkward dialogue from Bane’s introduction/planned kidnapping in a plane by a CIA agent, played by Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen, and just runs with it. There’s a few layers at play: One is that Gillen’s character is never given a name, only introducing himself as “I’m CIA.” (This has led some Baneposters to spew elaborate theories that “CIA” is so wholly shaped by his work that he’s lost all sense of personal identity. This is why the internet is sometimes good.) Then there’s this exchange between Bane and “CIA” (we’re just gonna call him that from now on):
CIA: If I pull [the mask] off, will you die?
Bane: It would be extremely painful.
CIA: You’re a big guy.
Bane: … FOR YOU.
There’s been a heated online debate about the meaning behind Bane’s “FOR YOU,” with two leading theories. The theory I ascribe to is that Bane is telling CIA that, by pulling off his mask, it will be a painful moment for CIA. The other theory is that Bane is teasing CIA, suggesting that he is only a “big guy” by CIA’s standards; thus, a pointed dig at CIA’s comparatively slim figure. The scrutiny of the true meaning behind this moment—and the sheer commitment of weirdos on the internet—led to a Tom Hardy 2014 Reddit AMA about his movie Locke being flooded with inquiries about the CIA exchange, and other inane questions referencing The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy, for what it’s worth, is Team Big Guy even though he says the dialogue was meant to be Team Pain.
Thanks, Tom, that doesn’t help at all!
Baneposting has other offshoots—including unsavory ones, like the alt-right co-opting the Gillen character’s look for protests, further proof that nothing online is totally impervious to toxicity. The more innocent and sillier extensions of Baneposting, thankfully, do come in abundance. The whole sequence has been dubbed—basically a YouTube subgenre—to ridiculous effect. Many have obsessed over Gillen’s butt in CIA’s dad pants—a “CIAss” if you will. And in what may be the pinnacle of doing it for the bit, one inspired YouTuber made a song about Bane and CIA, set to Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” I can’t do the song justice in words; please listen to it for yourself.
While I fear what will happen by opening up this challenge to the internet, I genuinely believe there could be even more layers to the nonsense of Baneposting. Not enough attention has been paid to Gillen’s actual performance, in which the actor strains through every syllable to hide his thick Irish accent. (Gillen has never been good at hiding his Irishness; why he was cast as an American CIA agent with no name is beyond me.) Further, there’s the wild sequence that follows the confusing mask talk, in which Bane’s master plan to escape is revealed: crashing a plane (with no survivors!). Bane’s goons pull off what is—no surprise—a move that doesn’t pass the scrutiny of aviation experts, as a bigger plane attaches itself to CIA’s plane and hooks up Bane, nuclear physicist Dr. Pavel, and additional henchman before the tiny plane falls from the sky. But as an opening scene that has stood the test of time for all the wrong—albeit hilarious—reasons, a big plane dramatically engulfing a smaller one is a perfect metaphor for the internet swallowing the discourse around a whole movie.
Baneposting has since outlived one of Nolan’s less acclaimed films—he’s gone on to make Dunkirk and Tenet, and is doing just fine for himself as one of the few directors who can get a blank check for an original idea in the 21st century. But the opening scene’s ignominy was perhaps ignited by the weight of expectations. We assume the brain behind Memento, Interstellar, and Inception would make a compelling, challenging film, not stumble through stilted dialogue that is prone to misinterpretation and mockery. Again, it’s not like the rest of The Dark Knight Rises covered itself in glory—in lieu of another punch line about the opening scene, I’ll just note that Nolan cowrote the film with his brother, the cocreator of HBO’s Westworld.
But the fact that the internet latched on to, and obsessively pored over, six minutes of a superhero movie that’s nearly three hours long speaks to the unpredictable nature of how even the biggest blockbusters can be consumed. As much as Nolan exerts control over his largely celebrated films, ones in which grand ideas are matched by the massive scale of their productions, he ultimately has no power once the movie is in the public’s hands. There was no way of knowing that Baneposting would become one of the sillier narratives to come out of The Dark Knight Rises—not unless the filmmaker had access to a time machine. (Given how obsessed Nolan is with time, I wouldn’t put it past him!)
Whether a similar fate befalls Tenet remains to be seen, and may depend on if one exchange between John David Washington and Robert Pattinson with Nolan’s haircut raises a few eyebrows for its awkwardness, or if a particular plot point isn’t up to Nolan’s extremely high standards. Only the filmmaker’s biggest obsession—time—will tell. In the meantime, Christopher Nolan, we hope this lesson from The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t very painful—FOR YOU.