Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Selina Kyle’s Intended Role in Nolan’s Gotham: Part One

Dec 05 2012 by Brendan Shick 2 Other Takes

You missed something important.Selina Kyle, master jewel theif

During The Dark Knight Rises (2012) theatrical run, you didn’t catch the real importance of Catwoman’s appearance in the film.

What follows is a character analysis to give you a dissenting take on her place in Nolan’s Batman universe – just in time to compare against the Blu-Ray and DVD release.

In this part, we’ll cover some poorer interpretations and what doesn’t work about them. In part two, we’ll take a look at the more subtle interpretation – the part I think most people missed the first time they saw the film.

(Note: Should you have still not seen the film, the rest of this post is SPOILER HEAVY. Do not continue.)

It Was All Lost in the Rumors…

If you’re like me, you avoided all the rumors your could in the lead up to The Dark Knight Rises hoping to stay spoiler-free.

However, you probably still heard the more prevalent ones. Before names were even announced, it was known that Warner Bros was casting for two female characters,

…A Love Interest and a Villain…

Miranda Tate, played by Marion CotillardIt was later announced that Anne Hathaway was cast as Selina Kyle and Marion Cotillard as Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate. Note the lack of specificity in these roles.

Much of the public naturally took the official announcement to an extreme that wasn’t warranted.

We were left to believe that Selina Kyle was intended to be Catwoman (thus the villain), which left the obvious conclusion that Miranda Tate was the love interest. Even on first viewing, this seems to be the case while watching the first two-thirds of the film.

Yet, Cotillard is not listed as Talia. Hathaway is not listed as Catwoman.

This fact was quickly lost in the hype; however, it was important that no one from Warner Bros. call out the obvious misunderstanding before the film’s release. Hiding Tate’s true identity preserves a double twist in the ending, as does hiding the fact that Kyle is actually the real love interest. The fans also are a lot more hyped to see “Catwoman” than the relative no-name “Selina Kyle.”

Selina Kyle ≠ Catwoman, Per Se

Unfortunately, few have noticed that Hathaway’s character is never referred to as Catwoman.

Within the context of the film, the character is always called Selina Kyle in person and simply “the Cat” in newspaper clippings. This, along with other minor details of the character, is consistent with the early comic book appearances.

Likewise, to my knowledge, Warner Bros. never officially referred to the character as Catwoman, always opting for Selina Kyle instead (merchandising campaigns and Hathaway’s personal comments to the press not-withstanding).

So, it’s simple to conclude that Selina Kyle’s role is not meant to be taken directly as Catwoman, or even that of a villain.

Good? Bad? Or Misunderstood?

Director Christopher Nolan marks Bat symbols on a wall for The Dark Knight Rises

It’s often hard to qualify Nolan’s characters to begin with because they are always so dynamic. The perceived heroes are often not actually any better than the perceived villains.

(e.g. Who’s responsible for the events of The Dark Knight (2008), Batman or the Joker? Who’s the villain in Inception (2010) if the bad guys are all in Cobb’s mind and he keeps breaking all his own rules?)

Each character he writes has a healthy dose of positive and negative traits, regardless of alignment. We’re led to feel positive emotions toward the character(s) who are performing the worst actions – sometimes this is even the protagonist.

Just to name a few examples less likely to come to mind, we’re rooting for Cobb in Following (1998), Detective Dormer in Insomnia (2002), oh, and don’t forget Batman, the quintessential lawless vigilante.

Selina Kyle is no exception

It’s not hard to find bad qualities in a jewel thief and she’s proven an apt one in her very first scene.

So, she’s one of the bad guys, right?Batman pauses during a chase with police after the stock exchange attack in The Dark Knight Rises

The rest of the film doesn’t support this interpretation very well at all. In the last five minutes of montage, we get to see nearly every character’s story neatly wrapped up. The two for whom we feel happiest are Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. In fact, these are arguably the only two who are actually happy at all, unless you count Alfred’s vicarious happiness – directed toward them as well.

On a surface level analysis (which I will challenge in part two), Bruce spends most of his scenes with Selina vetting her intentions for wanting “the clean slate” – which is an archetypical metaphor as much as it is a mythical computer program. He only provides her with this dream at the end because he deems those intentions worthy and longstanding.

So the question is raised: does Selina Kyle’s motivation change over the course of the film? Or has her character always hated the idea of being a jewel thief at her core? That is, do her intentions change, or do her circumstances change?

I’ll leave that debate for the comments. Check back tomorrow for what we’re still missing in Part Two.

This post contains affiliate links. That means making a purchase costs you nothing extra, but I may receive compensation for referrals. It helps me keep the site running. I never recommend products that (a) I don't actually like or that (b) I wouldn't recommended without a commission. You can read the full details here.

All images used in this post are taken from The Dark Knight Rises press kit and are used courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.

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2 Other Takes

  1. JR Madill Forasteros says:

    Nice analysis. Looking forward to Pt II.

    FWIW, the Selina of the Nolanverse hews pretty closely to the Catwoman of the last 5 years or so. She’s much more ambiguous – definitely a theif, but also often a hero. She’s definitely a love-interest for Bats and is at this point established as part of the Bat-family.

    • “Nolanverse” – now there’s the word I was searching for when I was putting this together…

      Discovered your blog recently – love your perspective on faith and media.

      I don’t consider myself very well-informed on Batman lore outside of the recent trilogy, so it’s nice to have input from someone who knows more about such things than I. Part Two should be up later today.

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