Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Dark Knight

When Batman Begins was released and the entire internet was falling over itself, going on about the best superhero film ever and My God, the Realism, I found myself left out of the celebrations. I liked the film well enough, but I thought it was held back from greatness, or for that matter even very goodness, by the same flaws which, earlier this year, marred my enjoyment of Iron Man. The dialogue was atrocious, the villains forgettable, and the plot trapped in the well-worn grooves of the superhero origin story, and thus completely predictable. It was only at its very end that Batman Begins--again setting an example that Iron Man would later follow--made me sit up and take notice, in a scene in which Gordon uses the Bat Signal for the first time and makes a tentative alliance with Batman. Even as he chooses to tolerate Batman's presence in the city, Gordon notes that that presence is an escalation in the terms of the battle between law and lawlessness, and that its consequences will be that the other side will match it--producing the Joker's calling card as an example.

This scene was a rare example of a superhero film actually delivering what most of them claim to be trying to envision--realism, an actual exploration of what it means to be a superhero in the real world, and of what it is like to live in a world that is much like ours but also has superheroes in it. Most superhero films take these two elements--the superhero and his accouterments, the real world and its troubles--and treat them as two discrete layers. So that we get a Tony Stark who is shocked, shocked to discover that the vicious weapons he makes have ended up in the hands of America's enemies and yet also lives in the same world as the rest of us, in which America has for years been arming groups in one decade only to fight them in the next. When the tropes of any particular superhero show up in these films, they often feel like fanservice, or like the filmmakers unthinkingly ticking items off a list--Superman has to moonlight as a bumbling, four-eyed journalist; J. Jonah Jameson has to have ridiculous hair and a hate-on for Spiderman. What struck me about that final scene in Batman Begins is that it imagined the Joker growing organically out of the universe it had created, striving not for realism but for internal consistency, commingling Batman's familiar elements and the ones familiar from our lives into something new and all its own.

And now comes The Dark Knight, which the entire internet has already fallen over itself to crown the best film ever, period, and I have to admit that I'm impressed. The dialogue is still atrocious, though only at points (especially towards the end of the film), and these are counterbalanced by a few truly delicious lines (Alfred's dry 'You have no idea!' to Harvey Dent, and Lucius Fox's bemused response to attempted blackmail by a lawyer who figures out Batman's secret identity). The villains are anything but boring, and the plot is certainly not predictable--in fact, I could have done with a little more predictability, or perhaps simply a little less plot, as around the two hour mark it starts to feel as if things are happening on the screen simply for the sake of throwing even the kitchen sink at the audience.

Best of all, this is a film that manages to imagine the rise of two major Batman villains as believable responses to the events of the first film, to Batman himself, and to the bleak and corrosive environment in which they all move. The Joker, as the first film promised, arises as a response to the challenge issued by Batman, a madman to fight another madman (which is why I'm perplexed by the constant references to The Dark Knight being a crime drama, when surely the point of the film is that ordinary criminals, the kind Batman was created to destroy, are being replaced by beings of the Joker's ilk--as the film quite rightly calls them, terrorists). Two-Face is the result of the curdled idealism of a man who believes wholeheartedly in his ability to shape and control the world until a more powerful force shows him just how powerless he is. Both are successful not simply because they're believable portraits of their own particular brand of madness (as opposed to the campier Nicholson and Jones versions of previous Batman films) but because they make sense within their environment, because the film works so hard to show us Harvey Dent and the things he wants and cares about before it destroys him, and because it delves so deeply and devastatingly into the Joker's madness, never backing down from its vision of him as a man who wants nothing more or less than complete anarchy.

(One wonders which of the remaining Batman villains can withstand this kind of treatment. The only one I can think of is Catwoman, though if you thought Nicholson's Joker was a hard act to follow... That said, this is a series that could desperately use the infusion of powerful female characters. The tally for The Dark Knight comes to Barbara Gordon, who spends her screen-time weeping--for, admittedly, a succession of very good reasons--Detective Ramirez, who sells out to the mob but only for the heart-tugging reason that her mother is sick, and Rachel, who is blown up--the mind, incidentally, boggles at the kind of person who would let a character live when she's being played by Katie Holmes, then kill her off when she's played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.)

So, yes, The Dark Knight is an excellent film for supervillains, but what about its superhero? As my brother pointed out when we were leaving the movie theatre, Batman himself is almost absent from the film. The Dark Knight is the story of Jim Gordon and his attempts to clean up his city, the story of Harvey Dent and his tragic downfall, the story of the Joker and his war against anything decent or good. Batman observes them all, reacts to some of them and acts in service of others--the first half of the film has him dedicating his tactical and operational genius to the cause of Gordon and Dent's strategy; the second half, to securing their safety. Against the other characters' complicated negotiations between what is right and what is expedient, Batman's moral dilemma boils down to the same old same old--should he continue to be Batman? And is being Batman doing more harm than good? Given that no matter what the answer to the second question is, the first one will always be answered with a resounding yes, there's really not to watch for in the film's main character--I was most interested by the film's conception of him as playing not a double but a triple role, wearing, as the occasion merits, either the Batman's mask or that of a shallow and selfish billionaire playboy, but this is a minor note and hardly something to hang a film on.

It is possible, I suppose, to read The Dark Knight as describing the next chapter in Bruce Wayne's evolving commitment to life as the caped crusader. He spends the film, after all, thinking that an unmasked man is going to take his place, allowing him to hang up his cape, and ends it with the realization that this can't happen, and that rather than acting as another man's instrument he needs to take up the mantle of heroism in his own right. To my mind, however, this reading is undercut--firstly, as I've said, by Batman's reduced presence in the film, but more importantly by its ending, in which Batman agrees to become the scapegoat for Harvey Dent's crimes so that 'the people' won't be disheartened by Dent's fall from grace, and will still be able to embrace him as a symbol for everything that is good and pure in the world. Which is really just another way of saying that people need a handsome, white man to lead and inspire them, even if his perfection and goodness are a lie. This LJ post does a good job of articulating just why this is a pernicious and distasteful attitude (it also applies the same judgement to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, though in that case I think the author misreads Whedon's intentions):
what kind of person still seriously believes that Saving Us is some kind of legitimate job, and we just have to pick the guy who’s best at it? ... at best, it’s a hyperconservative worldview that seeks a return to some kind of imaginary top-down utopia, be it the family patriarch, the philosopher-king, or Caesar single-handedly defending the gates of Rome. To buy into the Dark vs. White Knight, you have to be the kind of person who can swallow the whole concept of “the hero Gotham needs and/or deserves,” in order to get to the paramount importance of preserving Gotham’s faith in that hero *even if said faith is built entirely on misinformation and lies.*
It's a particularly strange attitude for the film to take given that it comes right on the heels of what is, to my mind, the best and most moving sequence in the film, the two passenger ferries enacting the prisoner's dilemma. In it we see ordinary, petty, terrified people, some of whom are hardened criminals, who are faced with an impossible choice and rise to the occasion, showing true greatness of spirit even without a shining white knight to inspire them. The idea that these people now need Jim Gordon to promalgate the lie of Harvey Dent's perfection in order to achieve heroism--which is what Batman comes to believe, and which not only motivates his choice to assume the responsibility for Harvey's crimes but also helps to determine the kind of hero he choses to be--is downright offensive.

(It is also somewhat amusing to observe this scene and note its similarity to the climaxes of the first two Spiderman films, a series which, with its bright color palette, penchant for horrible puns, and overall silliness, stands for just about everything the new Batman franchise is trying not to be. This is not even to mention that the ending of The Dark Knight, in which Batman chooses to preserve the reputation of a flawed man in order to spare those who loved him, and ends up earning their enmity with that act, is merely a larger scale recreation of the ending of the first Spiderman film, and that given The Dark Knight's obsession with forcing its characters to make impossible, life and death choices, its theme might as well have been the Spiderman films' ubiquitous 'with great power comes great responsibility.')

I've levelled a lot of criticism here at a film that, at the beginning of this piece, I claimed to have been very impressed by. As a piece of cinema, I found The Dark Knight deeply enjoyable, but I'm not sure that it has achieved that gold standard of being a dramatically and thematically satisfying look at the idea of superheroism (otherwise known as the Incredibles standard). Though I find the article I quoted from above somewhat overstated (mainly because it doesn't seem to acknowledge the grain of fascism that lies at the heart of any superhero story), it is correct to argue that there are unexamined assumptions at the heart of The Dark Knight that a smarter, more savvy film ought to have taken a long, hard look at. It's one thing to argue, as Batman Begins did, that Gotham is awash with crime and depravity and only desperate measures will serve to clean it up. The Dark Knight, however, goes on to argue that Gotham's need for a hero is spiritual rather than practical, and then fails to ask itself whether this is really true, and what that need means, preferring instead to fixate on just what kind of hero--white or dark--the city needs or can get. That's a disappointing failure, and one that I'm not entirely certain the filmmakers are aware of. There is, however, enough intelligence in evidence in the film's other parts to give me hope that this question might be addressed in the series's next installment.

27 comments:

Raz Greenberg said...

I also thought that the biggest problem of the film was the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman, not just because of the limited screen time, but also because of how this screen time was handled. Batman turns out to be a rather incompetent hero - he fails to stop bad things from happening at almost every step of the way (the exception being the Hong-Kong sequence - and not surprisingly, this is perhaps the most well-crafted action squence in the entire film). It gives the whole film an unblanced feeling - it's difficult to accept that the Joker is doing what he does just as a response to Batman's actions, when the film itself doesn't protray Batman's actions as too successful.
Another part of the problem is Christian Bale. I liked his performance in the previous movie, and I really can't understand why it feels so tired in this one. And his performance in a suit still doesn't feel right - a problem with both the actor and the design department. I hope they'll do something about it in the next film.
There were also some interesting elements about the protagonist that the film didn't develop further - notably the Batman copycats (an idea lifted from "The Dark Knight Returns", I think).
All in all, I enjoyed the film, but I think the previous installment actually did a better job in discussing the character of Batman itself, instead of using a cool villian to divert the audience's attention.

DB said...

But if the creation of Batman somehow gives rise to the Joker, then why is that so? What's the connection, the cause-and-effect? The real reason is that to have a superhero fight ordinary criminals gets boring after a while; you need a supervillain to spice up the story. Hence, this too is what you call fanservice.

Superhero films aren't the only ones that ignore blowback, as you noted that Iron Man does. Look at "Charlie Wilson's War", which portrays war as easy and fun, and ignores what eventually happened to all those militants we enabled in Afghanistan. We're righting them today, and supplying a few schools (as the film meekly suggests) wouldn't have addressed this intractable problem.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Raz:

You're right that Batman fails consistently throughout the film, though I'm not sure I agree that this invalidates the Joker's animus against him. The Joker is infatuated with Batman because of what he is and what he stands for, and so long as Batman is even moderately competent - which he is - I don't think the Joker cares that much whether Batman is good at what he does. This isn't the kind of villain, after all, who wants a worthy opponent - he just wants the right kind of opponent.

DB:

Placing the Joker in the film might be called fanservice, but having him emerge as a reaction to Batman (and I can certainly see the argument that this is a madman who is inflamed by the image Batman presents, though the film works hard to suppress any hint of his backstory, preferring to present him as an Anton Chigurh-esque figure of pure evil) is an internally consistent development of the story, which is what pleased me.

I take a less dim view of Charlie Wilson's War. Though it's true that the film chooses to believe that our present problems in Afghanistan are a result of the US 'screwing up the endgame,' rather than considering that the very act of arming militants and fanatics (and apparently, favoring religious extremists over their more moderate, but left-leaning and therefore potentially communist, adversaries) is what created the present crisis, I do believe that the point of the film is to say that that crisis is of our own making and a result of our own mistakes.

ad said...

what kind of person still seriously believes that Saving Us is some kind of legitimate job, and we just have to pick the guy who’s best at it?

It seems to me tht a lot of people think that is what a President or Prime Minister is for, so I suspect that the answer to that question is: quite a common kind of person.

At least when it comes to elected offices.

Peter Hart said...

I thought the 2nd movie much better than the 1st - which was hideously dull - but it was still overlong and badly miscast - Bale is terrible as Wayne/Batman, and who on earth is gary Oldman playing Gordon? Also, most action sequences are badly done - some directors just don't have this knack.

As to the question of the 'people', the movie was incoherent. When the Joker threatens hospitals, a crowd instantly appears to lynch the target. And a similar response is given when the Joker wants batman to unmask himself. But on the boats, people choose unselfishly? I agree, though, the boat scenes were effectively put together.

I couldnt even follow the conversations at the end about what Gotham needed and wanted or whatever. Partly because the whole thing went on so long I stopped caring! The length also meant the emotional charge of killing Maggie G etc., and the Joker escaping, was dissapated.

For a really engaging and surprising superhero movie, I recommend Hancock.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

ad:

Well, as the person I was quoting goes on to say, this kind of belief goes hand in hand with a conservative worldview and a craving for clearly delineated hierarchies, neither of which are exactly absent in the real world.

Peter:

I'm still waiting for Bale to get the chance to impress or aggravate me with his Batman. In the first film he had all that awful dialogue to get through, and in The Dark Knight he's hardly there. I am, however, a big fan of Gary Oldman as Gordon - apart from Ledger, he's the actor who most disappears into his role.

Peter said...

Hi again:

I agree Oldman is good - it just doesn't seem to play to his strengths, and its a role others could play just as well.

Is Bale perhaps playing Wayne as a cipher - an empty shell apart from his life in the suit? If so, its a mistake I think. He should at least be believable as a charming playboy in the new and approved Tony Stark manner. Ah, there's only one Michael Keaton - the Connery of Batmen.

I would be very curious as to your opinion on Hancock. And, in general, I'm a big fan of your blog - long may it continue.

Dale Mellor said...

Great review, Abigail! I agree with all that you say. I am, however, glad that now we've got past the superhero genesis stuff, that the film kept a distance from Batman's own philosophising and just let him get on with the job (the business about hanging up the cape was an important part of the plot, not really back-filling); instead the film used its ample time to give us some wonderful characters and explore them instead (I thought Gary Oldman was great, just a bit skinnier than I imagined Commissioner Gordon and a bit too similar in appearance, if not attitude, to Spiderman's boss). On balance, I'd prefer this to a film which concentrates more on the spiritual/practical question which you seem to think is important. Surely if something like the Batman comes along it will not really matter if it is spiritual/practical, dark/white, male/female -- the interest is in the impact on the environment?

M. said...

I think the ending of The Dark Knight is actually a bit of a fakeout. It took me forever to come to that conclusion; my first response was that it was a tedious and skin-deep way to set up the third film. But I found myself surprisingly aggravated with people who read it — and the surveillance issue — as surface-level support for misuse of power, so I stewed over it a little longer and decided that I think the point is that it's the wrong choice. Gordon wants to believe in it, in Batman, so he gives that sort of tangled speech, but I think even he knows that it's the wrong choice to try to protect the not-so-delicate sensibilities of Gotham's citizens with a lie. In making that choice, Batman doesn't just take on the image of a villain; in a way, he truly becomes one. It's played for heroics and nobility, but it's so much darker than that.

Niall said...

m:

Gordon wants to believe in it, in Batman, so he gives that sort of tangled speech,

I think it's notable that he's giving the speech to his son.

Abigail:

As my brother pointed out when we were leaving the movie theatre, Batman himself is almost absent from the film.

On one level, yes. On another level, no, not at all -- it seems to me of a piece with Joker-as-response-to-Batman. the Dark Knight is about the whole of Gotham's response to Batman; pretty much everyone's actions are defined by Batman. It didn't bother me at all that the film was such an ensemble piece because the idea of Batman was so clearly central.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Dale:

I think you misunderstand me. I agree that the question of dark/white knight, practical/spiritual need for a savior is less interesting than the actual effect that Batman has on Gotham, and vice versa. But it is precisely these questions that The Dark Knight focuses on, to the detriment, in my opinion, of the film.

M:

It would be nice to think that Gordon has doubts about Batman's choice, but I don't see anything in the film to suggest this. On the contrary, the fact that he's given the big, closing speech, culminating in the film's title (and, within Nolan's universe, the first use of Batman's moniker), suggests to me that we're supposed to believe he gives it with conviction, as does the fact that he goes along with Batman's plan.

Niall:

the Dark Knight is about the whole of Gotham's response to Batman; pretty much everyone's actions are defined by Batman

I'm not sure I'd go that far. The Joker is a response to Batman, as is the mobsters' decision to hire him, but from that point on, everyone in the film is reacting to its villains - in the first half, to the mob, and in the second half, to the Joker. Towards the end of the film it's the Joker who is pulling everyone's strings.

More importantly, Batman himself is, as I've said, completely reactive and subservient to the will and wishes of others. Add to that the fact that he seems to have no personality and almost no emotional arc, and you're left with a character with very little weight.

Niall said...

Towards the end of the film it's the Joker who is pulling everyone's strings.

But the Joker is a consequence of Batman...

More directly, I think the presence of Batman has a clear effect on Gordon's methods, on Dent, and on the good people of Gotham. I'm not saying this makes Batman a deep character -- I'm saying that it doesn't matter that he isn't deeply characterized, because the film isn't about him as a character, it's about him as an icon.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I agree in general that the point of the film (and to a lesser extent of Batman Begins) is that Batman shapes his environment as much as he is shaped by it, and that in fact he and Gotham are caught in a feedback loop, changing and being changed by one another. But when you've got a powerhouse like the Joker and a character so clearly aimed at our sympathies like Harvey Dent on one side, and the blank space that is Batman/Bruce Wayne on the other, I think it's safe to say that the balance has been lost. It's all very well to say that Batman is an icon, but he has to a sufficiently powerful one.

E Kelly said...

On the question of Bruce Wayne, I have to disagree that he's absent or a cypher. Bale gives a tremendously tight and interior performance, the exact opposite of Ledger's giddy, explosive evil. It seems this had to be intentional, because the two characters are explicitly opposites. What we see of Bruce Wayne in his first scenes is a man who denies himself everything - he says that he can't afford to know his limits, and he doesn't care who Rachel is seeing. This all changes when he comes to believe in Harvey Dent. The subtle expressions on his face and movements of his eyes during the restaurant scene are telling. Suddenly he sees a way out, and in his quietly obsessive way, he will follow it to the end.

If Joker is a dog chasing cars who doesn't know what he'd do with one if he caught it, Bruce Wayne is presented as a bloodhound, who'll follow quarry right over a cliff before he'll give up. Both men are so wrapped up in their particular quests that they don't care if they're killed along the way, so long as their point is made - especially to each other.

As for the ending, it seems to me it is entirely tragic. Yes, Gordon desperately wants to believe in Batman, so he perpetrates the lie that Batman commands. The speech at the end I thought was a cleverly subversive way to make the point that Batman is a tragically flawed hero in the classical sense, while still allowing the movie to be read in the way of affirming more simplistic ideas of heroes so precious to the superhero genre.

Batman sprang from a lot of the same sources as film noir, and has been heavily influenced by noir since the 1970s. The Dark Knight may be the first noir superhero film. No one wins at the end - Joker's caught, Dent's corrupted and dead, Gotham has been traumatized, Gordon and Batman are trapped in a lie, Bruce Wayne has lost the love of his life. The idea of One Man Saviors (that is the entire foundation of the genre) is indeed undercut by the simple heroism of one convict, which turns out to be the single light of hope in the entire story, where heroes fail and lie.

Batman Begins was based in many ways on a comics story called "The Man Who Falls". Batman is, in many incarnations, the man who falls, and he falls hard in this film. Bruce Wayne has a character arc in this movie, it's just not the one anybody expects because it's straight down and there's no triumph at the end. That's not unusual for a Batman story, but it's bizarre in a superhero movie.

Devlin said...

Terrific, thought-provoking review.

"the best and most moving sequence in the film, the two passenger ferries enacting the prisoner's dilemma. In it we see ordinary, petty, terrified people ... faced with an impossible choice and rise to the occasion."

Also my favorite part of the film. You see a contradiction between this example of common noble effort and the implied helplessness of a city in need of shining heroes. But in its details, the ferry dilemma is complex. The people on the regular ferry vote to pull the trigger, then fail to act on their decision mostly out of timidity. It's the hardened criminals who make a clear, strong moral choice. It's not obvious (to me at least) that the "good citizens of Gotham" are perfectly ok on their own. What's the old saying? "Without a vision, the people will perish."

"that people need a handsome, white man to lead and inspire them, even if his perfection and goodness are a lie."

A fascinating and unresolved theme within the story is the question whether crusades like that of Dent and Batman (forget the "dark/white" distinction for the moment, theirs is a joint project) are feasible, wise or even ethical. The Joker turns Harvey to madness in part by asking why "nobody panics" in the face of carefully chosen categories of evil. Our cities live in a rough truce with certain kinds of crime and desperation.

Batman stands for the near-blind refusal to accept such compromises, but is his position tenable? The film shows him inspiring a greater evil in the form of the Joker. Rachel dies -- collateral damage, Caine explains --, Harvey, the Great White Hope himself, abandons the crusade, and the remaining heroes conspire (scheme, the Joker would say) to lie about his legacy.

Naturally, Batman remains unswervingly dedicated, but I'd argue that the script is more ambivalent than its reputed protagonist. It's a cliche by now that the Joker steals this show. Nolan and co. are offering questions, not answers.

Si- said...

Just a thought, but the Joker and the way he is portrayed in the Dark Knight reminds me a lot of 'Chugur' in No Country For Old men, in the way that he is a totally new figure in the system of law and crime.
As the first commenter said about Batman:

'Batman turns out to be a rather incompetent hero - he fails to stop bad things from happening at almost every step of the way'

Not only does the Joker explode many of the expectations we have of 'bad guys' in certain narratives, just as Chugur does, the Joker plays with the idea of anarchy through manipulation. We are used to seeing the followers of anarchy being punished by their own systems in films, but Chugur and Joker seem to go beyond this and surpass the anticipations of the protagonists in their systems of violence . (see the hospital scene in Dark Knight, and the game of life and death that Chugur uses.)

Pete said...

A few thoughts to add:

- Batman and Gordon don't lie about Dent because it's what Gotham "needs" or because the people can't handle the truth, they do it because preserving Dent's reputation helps their cause, and as others have pointed out these are both very determined men. It's distasteful, but they're trying to salvage their war on crime from a bad situation and have to make a tough choice. It's not that Gotham *needs* a handsome white male to save it, but if having one will help then they might as well use him.

- I thought the discussion about this being the first noir superhero film was spot-on and very astutely put.

- The thing I liked best about the boat scene was how it's ultimately very ambiguous whether the average people of Gotham really did "rise to the occasion" After all, they voted (overwhelmingly!) to blow the other ship up, and the captain gave the detonator to the convict fully expecting him to use it. It was everyone's lack of guts as much as anything that saved the day; I don't think anyone will be bragging about the experience.

- The final monologue was indeed a bit cringeworthy, and IMO should've been replaced with a snappy one-liner. There's far too much talk in the film (and in discussions of it) about capital-S Saviors, which always seems to lose track of the crucial point that Bruce Wayne stepped up and became Batman because nobody else was both willing and able to deal with Gotham's crime problem. I don't think he has a Messiah complex or believes that only a Strong Man can lead society to glory, I think he just got fed up with the status quo and recognized that he had the resources to make a difference. Does Gotham need Batman or Harvey Dent or any of them? Of course not. But if they're the only ones willing to tackle the atrocious crime problem, then how is that anything but admirable?

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Devlin:

The people on the regular ferry vote to pull the trigger, then fail to act on their decision mostly out of timidity

I'm not sure that's the word I'd use. Or rather, if it is timidity, then I wish more people in the real world would feel it when they came to take a life.

It's the hardened criminals who make a clear, strong moral choice

I saw the difference as being one of practical experience. As the prisoner says, ordinary people don't know how to kill, and therefore also don't know just what a toll killing takes on the killer's soul. He, having presumably had the experience, can treat it as something concrete rather than an abstract, which is why he's more decisive in his choice.

Si:

Yes, I made the comparison to Chigurh in one of the comments here. I agree that both he and the Joker represent a different kind of evil - pure and unconcerned with petty matters such as profit or personal gratification. Between them and There Will Be Blood's Daniel Plainview, it's been a good year for on-screen villains.

Pete:

Batman and Gordon don't lie about Dent because it's what Gotham "needs" or because the people can't handle the truth, they do it because preserving Dent's reputation helps their cause

I just don't see this. There's almost no hint of pragmatism or distaste in the film's final scene. It seems to me - on the characters' part, at least - entirely earnest.

Does Gotham need Batman or Harvey Dent or any of them? Of course not. But if they're the only ones willing to tackle the atrocious crime problem, then how is that anything but admirable?

As I've said, I think the film does conclude that Gotham needs a hero - of whichever variety - and part of the point of the film is that it's not enough to solve the city's problems but that they have to be solved the right way. My problem is that, in the film's universe, the solution is never empowering the people to think and make informed decisions. They always need to be saved. That's defensible when the problem in question is, as you say, an overpowering organized crime apparatus or someone of the Joker's caliber, but less so when, as the film's ending concludes, what Gothamites need to be saved from is the truth.

surliminal said...

've just watched the film (incroyable, I know) and have been tussling with very much the same kind of feelings about how Nolan gives us the perfect example of instinctive goodness in ordinary people, and then loses faith in it in his ending. Except that it now occurs to me that perhaps Nolan isn't saying that *Gotham* needs its white knight and thus its dark knight must take the rap, but that that is what *Batman* thinks.

It is after all Batman's film, and as you say, his only real plot point in this film is to highlight the fact that he needs Batman as much as Gotham does - that is why Rachel won't commit to him. (And the point of the Two face threatening Gordon's family scene is also partly to press home the fact that *all* our heroes are flawed as moral decision makers- they made choices which lead inevitably to deaths. Batman is mad in many ways, and do we believe the instinct of a madman?)

So maybe the film is internally consistent after all but it still fails as great art in the sentiment it leaves you with I agree(with great responsibility comes, um, the need to lie for other people's good? possibly true tho y'know..), which is a shame as it's bloody good, over all.

IMDB notes quite cleverly I thought btw that Nolan makes a habit of this - his flawed but likeable brother-magicians in the Prestige lie similarly to their beloveds, apparently for the beloveds' peace of mind but actually because their own selfish needs for fame and perfectionism demand it. The character in Memento has similarly been lied to in his own interest. There is something interesting going on in his head here, methinks.

Anonymous said...

The Dark Knight seems designed to appeal to the authoritarian personality type: whilst flattering the common man by telling him that he is fundamentally decent (the ferry-boat scene) it also claims that the best thing for a community is an idealised leader. "We" can't fight crime for ourselves, "we" need to be saved from it by a superhero.

It also seems very geeky: the dialogue is atrocious, with every character talking like a Batman fan obsessively interested in the moral status and role of Batman.

Ender said...

Dualism was proclaimed a heresy in Catholicism many centuries ago.

Anonymous said...

Batman has blood on his hands - he begat Joker, and let 5 people die. This lie is one way of being punished for his 'sins', and also to repay Dent for taking his place earlier in the film.

The Joker's caught - but he's still very much the winner. He doesn't care if he winds up in jail, plus he's likely to escape anyway. And his evil runs through the Two Face/Gordon family standoff... So Batman realises the only way to hold Joker in a checkmate and take away his victory is to uphold Dent's image. It really is the only way, plus it'll ensure no more Batmen are inspired to risk their lives and shoot guns Gotham, and plus it wont inspire any other madmen to gun after Batman in a bid to taint his innocence, and, indeed, he now isn't the God of Gotham. Being the heroic God started all the trouble in TDK to begin with - desperate criminals, madmen etc...

With Batman as a murderer, he can spit in no more faces like a messiah, and Gotham's criminals will - wrongly - think they're safe, and thus more vulnerable to a Bat attack to clean the streets for good

jack said...

Like Dent's saga proved, the better you are, the more vulnerable you are. Batman is now a killer and has escaped Dent's fate

Ricky W said...

I can't believe how much you have slated such a great film.

I like the fact that we see less of Batman, as it allows us to get involved with the other characters and how they are affecting Gotham, therefore seeing how Batmans actions increace or reduce that affect.

The Jokers appearance, as i thought was made very obvious in the film, was not to be a terrorist or to be pure evil. He is there because he sees himself as a good killer and he can make a good living if he knows the right people are ticked off at batman. How did you miss this? HE EVEN SAYS IT HIMSELF. During the "Disappearing pencil" scene when the mobsters ask why the joker hasn't killed batman he says "If you're good at something never do it for free". Further reinforced during the interview scene "I don't want to kill you! What would i do without you?!".

For someone to spend the first half of the film ripping off the mob just so they realise he is good enough to kill batman and then when they pay him expose that although he reckons he could, he never will because they will keep paying him to be considered a sub standard villain is absolutely ridiculous.

I won't go into the rest but to me it seems this review has been written by someone that didn't even watch the film, just skim read a first edition of the script.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the "(mainly because it doesn't seem to acknowledge the grain of fascism that lies at the heart of any superhero story)" comment. I think the movie does make the point that Batman's actions (which I guess you find fascist) have negative consequences with Alfred's speech about how things got so far off the rails.

Not for nothing, but if your larger issue is that society should be about complete honesty and run by the people in harmony, I think that's charming but not at all realistic and a bit surprising given where you are from.

Without trying to equate a silly comic movie with real life, I think people with strong liberal bias should be careful about how easily they demonize the people running things. Try not to take offense, but your country was founded on removing people from their homes at gunpoint and is ruled by a government that stockpiles nuclear weapons in secret and since it's start, has fully sanctioned the assassination of "war criminals" without trial for decades. Nevermind invading its neighbor on a regular basis, using military force to attack civilians in international waters, and "occupying" a holy city of no less than three religions, which could all be characterized as "fascist" activities.

And for what? To preserve the security of the State of Israel and protect its people.

Does the average person see these things as fascist? Not from what I have heard and seen. Do they really want to know what goes into the sausage or how the sausage is made? Of course not and even when they do find out what's going on, they support these actions as a necessary evil because the people they are being attacked by are more evil or something along that line.

Cliche' or not, I would say it's a dangerous world and there isn't always a good, moral way to fix the problems that exist (at least not without a fundamental shift in the nature of human beings and the way every society functions and that, if ever, is a long, long way off). If Israel didn't do some of the things it does, it wouldn't exist, it's enemies would have destroyed it a long time ago. Simply having nuclear weapons has kept it safe for decades against invasion or say, long range chemical attack.

It's not a perfect world and people should be careful about blithely stating that lies aren't what people want. We choose the people who run things and more to the point, hold them responsible because ultimately, we are responsible. If we aren't, if we ignore what is going on because we want to be safe without knowing what is sacrificed to make that happen, knowing that it won't make us happy or safer to have the truth, then that's the way it is. Fascist or not, societies (and some more than others) are not run by the people and with due process and in accordance with international law, and they aren't kept safer by good intentions and abstract theory.

Whether it's telling someone they look good when they don't as a matter of social convention (white lies) all the way up to Mossad agents taking out a terror cell in a "friendly" country, society accepts and tacitly supports "lies" and actions that are less than legal for a greater purpose or good.

It shouldn't be this way and it does lead to abuse and worse, but pretending we are better off knowing everything and second guessing how we are kept safe, not allowing the people who make the hard choices or take the terrible actions to do what they have to, I don't know that's a better option in the long term especially in a world where a single person can carry a suitcase nuke into any city and kill millions of people in the blink of an eye because he doesn't agree with where people are living or what they believe.

Sometimes a flawed hero or heroes or solutions are, in fact, what the city and the world needs. At least till there is something better. - KeeperOTD

Maverick said...

Can I just say this, how many of you guys actually thought about all of this when you watched the movie? Chances are, no one, I understand where you guys are generating these ideas from, but in all honesty, you are trying to get way too in depth, what do you get out of discussing this? I'd like to see one of you write a well rounded script for a Batman movie that isn't as good as The Dark Knight's

Maverick said...

Is as good or better*

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