The courage obtained from not fearing death or the wisdom that comes with fearing it?

One of the reoccurring themes in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises is the value of the fear of death. Bane, the antagonist, is wreaking havoc everywhere in Bruce’s beloved city, claiming to be “Gotham’s Reckoning.”Bruce Wayne decides to end his 8 year retirement, and resurrects The Batman. Trying to prove to himself and everyone else that he is indeed the same courageous, fearless, Batman that Gotham’s criminals had come to fear and citizens had grown to love. Alfred cautions Bruce, telling him that he doesn’t have anything to prove and that he as an individual must move past this misguided “fearlessness”. Against Alfred’s advice, he decides he wants to take Bane head on and believes he can beat him. He’s always risen to the challenge before, and believes he will do so again.

                        “You think darkness is your ally?”                            Bane, The Dark Knight Rises

                        “You think darkness is your ally?”
                           Bane, The Dark Knight Rises

Batman valiantly goes looking for Bane with the help of Cat-Woman, only to find out that she has set him up. In an early brawl between Bane and Batman, Bane notices how fearless Batman is– not even fearing death. He addresses this and believes it to be a mistake.

You fight like a younger man, with nothing held back. Admirable, but mistaken.


After Bane breaks his spine, Bruce is thrown into a prison where he is left to die. There are many prisoners but unlike other prisons, this one has an intentional exit; climbing out an insurmountable pit. This known exit represents unattainable hope. Only one person, a child, has ever successfully climbed out. Bruce, on two different occasions, tries to escape out of this pit and fails both times. He doesn’t die during these attempts because he has a rope attached to him that catches him when he falls.

In trying to understand how a child was able to escape, Wayne discovers that the child climbed out without a rope attached to him. Wayne explains to a fellow prisoner that he isn’t afraid of death. The prisoner scorns him for this, claiming that he is disadvantaged because he doesn’t fear dying.

Blind Prisoner: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.
Bruce Wayne: Why?
Blind Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit; the fear of death.
Bruce Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there's no one there to save it.
Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb.
Bruce Wayne:    How?
Blind Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.

This got me thinking.

Had Batman succeeded in his first fight against Bane, would we have labeled him brave and courageous? Where is the line that separates courage and wisdom? Are these two things mutually exclusive? Can you be one without the other? Is it when a courageous person tries and fails that they are unwise? Is a persons hesitation a sign of wisdom? At what point does fearing death become crippling and cowardly? At what point does fearing nothing become unwise? Does understanding the potential end of your life cause you to be wiser? Is courage understanding the potential end, and still choosing to move past that? If so, can you be courageous while not understanding the potential dangers? Can we only tell the difference between the two after the event has passed? Is one trait more valuable than the other?

If a person rushes to a burning car, ignoring the potential dangers, and successfully saves someone’s life, they are courageous. If the car blows up while in the midst of trying to save someone, that person is unwise. If the car never blows up, but someone chooses not to react because they understand the potential danger, they are a coward. If someone decides not to react and the car blows up, they are wise.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebu