Batman can survive Nolan's version of Gotham City, because Batman has to survive Gotham City. But Bruce Wayne can't, doesn't and won't survive it. Bruce Wayne is just flesh and blood. He can and will be destroyed, because Nolan isn't telling a bunch of Batman and Bruce Wayne stories. Nolan is telling the Batman and Bruce Wayne story. In short:
"Bruce Wayne creates a symbol of fear and justice, Batman; Bruce Wayne becomes Batman; Batman just Batmans the fuck out of Gotham City; Batman becomes more of an ideal/symbol than a bat/man; Bruce Wayne dies; Batman lives on as others don the cowl." -- Me, hi!
That's the story we've been watching in this trilogy. Nolan has even recently said, "It's really all about finishing Batman and Bruce Wayne's story ... Perhaps surprisingly for some people, our story picks up quite a bit later, eight years after The Dark Knight."
No, that's not surprising at all. Eight years is enough time for Batman to solidify his place in Gotham as The Goddamn Batman. Eight years is enough time for Bruce Wayne to solidify Batman as the Legend of the Dark Knight we know. If I can briefly quote The Sandlot (I can and am about to): "Heroes get remembered; legends never die." This Hero's Journey may end with the death of Bruce Wayne, but the Legend doesn't stop after that. When the Dark Knight falls, the Dark Knight must also rise ...
It could be argued that if -- I mean when -- Bruce Wayne dies, he will just come back thanks to a Lazarus Pit, which you may know from the Batman comics. Used by Ra's Al Ghul (Liam Neeson in Begins), a Lazarus Pit can breathe new life into the dead. However, aside from there being no indication of their existence in either films, the mere idea of them is far too magical for the world Nolan has constructed. And the film is called The Dark Knight Rises, not The Dark Knight Rises Just Like Jesus With Magic Because We Don't Get Enough Jesus Imagery In Films But Seriously Magic Sounds Great And As We All Know, Christopher Nolan Is Terrible At Movies. Catchy title, sure, but not likely.
Batman was awesome for your sins.
Alfred (Michael Caine) often talks to "Master Wayne" about how "we fall... [for the sole purpose of picking]... ourselves back up." Like, he says it a lot. And it rings even truer when Alfred is no longer talking to a man, but a symbol. Bruce Wayne sacrifices himself and The Dark Knight picks itself back up. But who will rise as the Dark Knight? Someone has to, because even though this Batman Universe is over, it can't just have Bruce die and then a title card that says "Then everyone was bummed forever. The end." Nolan has said that he will never include Robin in his Batman films. Robin, after all, isn't necessary for the Dark Knight Legend. But if there's no Robin, who will put on the cowl? He's brought us this far, there's got to be someone who's up for the job, and it had better not be some 12-year-old acrobat or some Chris O'Donnell-aged acrobat. Oh, here he is.
This officer's name is John Blake, and not much is known about him. He's "a Gotham City beat cop assigned to special duty under the command of Commissioner Gordon". He's played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He's a brand new character in the Batman Universe, created by Nolan for this film. Except that John Blake has actually shown up, just once, in a single page of a Batman coloring book:
It's already been pointed out that Nolan potentially incepted the idea for Inception from an old Donald Duck comic. It appears that once again he is a sneaky bastard. No, the kid's parents didn't die, but that's not a requirement for Batmannery; it's just the origin of it. Here we have a beat cop named John Blake. He's tough, he has a heart of gold and he's committed to justice. He's tight with Commissioner Gordon, who had a close relationship with the currently-dead Batman. And Gotham still needs someone to its Batmanning. The Prestige ends here, but the legend of the Dark Knight has just begun to rise.
Or Bruce will come back from the dead thanks to a magical Lazarus Pit because a Prestige is supposed to make you believe in magic so I guess the best way to accomplish that is to basically say "Yup, magic."
Maybe that's the joke.
For more from Cody, check out How to Make Jokeless Comedy: Studying the 'Epic Movie' Guys and Most Horrifying Writers Room Ever.