(Spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises follow.)

When a recent rumor cropped up that Joseph Gordon-Levitt had been tapped to play the new Batman in Justice League, it seemed like a logical narrative extension of The Dark Knight Rises. The end of the film set up Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake as a successor to Bruce Wayne, so it only made sense that the character would carry over into Warner Bros.’ efforts at a DC cinematic universe.

However, Nolan says that was never really his intention — that he left the door open on his way out of Gotham for thematic reasons, not for studio franchise purposes. In a thoughtful new interview, Nolan discussed why, exactly, The Dark Knight Rises ended as it did and what the Batman meant to him. Hit the jump to read on.

Given that Nolan’s spent most of the past decade trying not to give away too much about his Bat-plans, it must be a relief for the filmmaker to finally speak freely about the trilogy. His recent interview with Film Comment is worth reading in full, but for now we’re just focusing on his comments about the ending:

For me, The Dark Knight Rises is specifically and definitely the end of the Batman story as I wanted to tell it, and the open-ended nature of the film is simply a very important thematic idea that we wanted to get into the movie, which is that Batman is a symbol. He can be anybody, and that was very important to us. Not every Batman fan will necessarily agree with that interpretation of the philosophy of the character, but for me it all comes back to the scene between Bruce Wayne and Alfred in the private jet in Batman Begins, where the only way that I could find to make a credible characterization of a guy transforming himself into Batman is if it was as a necessary symbol, and he saw himself as a catalyst for change and therefore it was a temporary process, maybe a five-year plan that would be enforced for symbolically encouraging the good of Gotham to take back their city. To me, for that mission to succeed, it has to end, so this is the ending for me, and as I say, the open-ended elements are all to do with the thematic idea that Batman was not important as a man, he’s more than that. He’s a symbol, and the symbol lives on.

This doesn’t shed any new light on the Gordon-Levitt rumors (which probably hadn’t even caught on by the time the conversation took place), but it’s an interesting interpretation of an iconic character. It’s one that makes sense on a symbolic level, if not necessarily on a practical one; as Collider points out, Wayne’s rigorous training and endless resources don’t exactly make him an everyman.

It’s not up to Nolan whether Gordon-Levitt appears in Justice League, but it’s pretty clear that the director, at least, has no intention of following up on that particular plot thread. That means that even if Warner Bros. does continue the Blake storyline, it’ll be with someone other than Nolan. Do you want to see Gordon-Levitt return anyway, or would you rather Warner Bros. left Nolan’s Gotham City alone?

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