The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

“The reactionary . . . is likely to start from a profound conviction of the evil of the natural man.  Instead of worrying because people do not get enough freedom, he is obsessed by the need for police — authority, discipline, order.  How else can you keep the Devil under control?”

Edmund Wilson on Joseph de Maistre, 1932

“The Dark Knight” is “Dirty Harry” stripped of Don Siegel’s ambivalence and ambiguity.  Here again, one madman (Christian Bale’s Batman/Clint Eastwood’s Harry) is posited as the only effective way of combating another (Heath Ledger’s Joker/Andy Robinson’s Scorpio).  The two figures are identified as morally equivalent (“You complete me,” says Ledger to Bale, nastily referencing “Jerry Maguire”), but where Siegel’s camera literally recoils in horror at the moment Harry leaps into madness (when he steps on Scorpio’s wound in the football stadium), Nolan seems to embrace, and even romanticize, his hero’s obsessive, abusive behavior.  Is the Dark Knight just George Bush with a better outfit, demanding that he be allowed all of the available “tools” to combat terrorism, even if they include torture and eavesdropping?   Like Bush, Batman has his own warantless wiretapping program, but Nolan is kind enough to assure us that, once his goal is accomplished, the superhero will blow it up.  Is he suggesting that we can count on the Dark President to do the same?

UPDATE:  The Wall Street Journal concurs, and is down with it: “A paen of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war.”

189 comments to The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

  • Hunter Harris

    Well, it didn’t gross $500 million dollars, but Dirty Harry was pretty successful at the time, and wouldn’t you describe it as having an ironic, disapproving attitude to its protagonist? And wasn’t its success due, at least in part, to the fact that many (mis)read it as right-wing?

    I will concede your point on the rendition, but I’m not so sure the wiretapping system was shown to be ultimately successful. While it allows him to swiftly locate the Joker, it arguably gives him too much information too quickly, and not all the information he needs. It does not at all discover that the Joker has switched the hostages with his accomplices. And Gordon, due to his mental stress at having not saved Dent, is itching to have his snipers fire on what he thinks to be Joker’s thugs but are really hostages. As a result, Batman has to spend the entirety of the time fighting off the S.W.A.T. team so that they don’t unwittingly kill the hostages. He is thus weakened before his encounter with the Joker, where the Joker ultimately gets the upper hand, because the wiretapping system blinds him. In the end he saves himself, as well as the ferry captives, by using Lucius’ wrist-blade projectiles. I’m not sure what *that* says, but you could argue that the wiretapping system itself put everyone in more danger.

    Another point about the system is that to call it “warrantless”, while technically true, is not entirely accurate. What is Lucius, as someone who thinks the whole thing is inherently wrong, but the vigilante’s equivalent of going through the courts, if not the ideal person to use such an unsettling system? Batman refuses to allow anyone else, including himself, to use it. That seems to be saying something about checks and balances, unlike the current administration.

  • Hunter Harris

    Okay I think I may have changed my mind on the rendition. It’s precisely this event that causes the mob to turn to the Joker, and their next move is to “use” him to kill the police commissioner, the judge, and almost Dent and Rachel. Bruce complains to Alfred that the mob crossed the line, but Alfred retorts that Batman “crossed the line first”, basically by being too effective in his vigilantism, forcing them to turn to the Joker. And it’s made very clear that Alfred’s understanding of the Joker is superior to Bruce’s, because of the whole bandit in Burma story. Which Batman still doesn’t understand (because he of his self-deception?) until after Rachel’s death.

  • Alex Hicks

    Kent,

    You are a gentleman and a scholar; and I can voch for the excellent role you play in cinematically enriching people’s lives.

    However, I regret to inform you that I would decline a request to recommend you for a position in the NYRB/Kinopolitik seminar at the Gymnasium.

  • Kent Jones

    Alex, that’s very funny. I do want to say that I feel that the relationship between politics and art is monumentally complex. It’s very difficult for me to discuss it in this forum, where there’s such certainty about the political content and/or charge (or thrust, or undercurrent, or…pick your metaphorical term) of a film like THE DARK KNIGHT. The warring certainties about that film contained within this thread – it’s conservative, it’s reactionary, it’s enlightened,it’s ironic – are indicative of a type of flux that I believe exists with all blockbusters if not all films (except something like SALT OF THE EARTH on the one hand, JUD SUSS on the other). I take it that you believe it’s all a matter of correct and incorrect politcal interpretation. I believe that art is more slippery than that.

    And then, I have this lurking feeling that you think I’m apolitical, or at least that I believe politics and cinema (if not all art) have no business with one another. Such is not the case, and if it appears to be, then such are the limitations of the blogosphere as a forum for discussion, at least from my perspective. I think it’s enormously important to speak of cinema in relation to politics, as Raymond Durgnat did, probably with more brilliance than anyone else. But he did it by tirelessly cross-hatching political, sociological, psychoanalytic, stylistic and numerous other perspectives until a portrait of the film or filmmaker or moment in question emerged. And while Durgnat and I are very different (we were going to work on a project together, but he passed away before it came to fruition), I think he would feel just as uncomfortable with the label “neo-fascist” for a film like OUR HITLER as I do.

    All of which is a prelude to saying that I appreciate your posts, which are always enriching.

  • Hunter Harris

    Kent,

    You weren’t addressing me specifically, but I have the same view as you regarding the complex relationship of politics and art. I certainly don’t think it’s 100% certain that THE DARK KNIGHT has an enlightened or ironic perspective. In many ways I agree with Dave that the movie romanticizes–particularly on the level of how it’s shot–Batman’s questionable behavior (though I think that’s probably as much a function of the Nolans’ reverence for the source material as it is for their political leanings, if not more so). If I am making the case for a liberal reading strongly, it is only because I think that that interpretation is at least as viable as the interpretation that it is conservative and reactionary.

  • dm494

    The biggest problem with the entire art/politics issue is the difficulty of acknowledging an autonomous sphere of the aesthetic. There are many, many people on the Left who, at bottom, conceive of art as a form of political propaganda–worthy of approval when it promotes Left-wing ideologies, and of condemnation when it expresses a conservative attitude of some kind or other. Similarly, partisans of the Right tend to regard art as if it were a means of imparting moral lessons: good art espouses conservative values and cautions us against the consequences of violating (traditional) ethical injunctions.

    What makes this complicated is the fact that, though the aesthetic is a separate sphere, it is not completely independent of morality and politics, which play an undeniable role in how individuals and groups of people are represented in works of art. A reductive politics (like Riefenstahl’s fascism or Soviet communism) has a tendency to produce diminished art because it promotes a dreadfully simplified way of looking at life and people. Maybe what happens in these cases is that art really is reduced to the moral/political propaganda many Rightists and Leftists take it for, and what remains in it of the aesthetic proper, if anything at all, is nothing but a manipulative veneer.

    At the same time, I think an artist can so aestheticize certain positions that, though many find them morally or politically abhorrent, they still command one’s assent to them aesthetically. It’s a question for me whether such art is more objectionable on moral/political grounds than ineptly made art evincing the same attitudes and views.

  • MCSB

    It’s a question for me whether such art is more objectionable on moral/political grounds than ineptly made art evincing the same attitudes and views.

    The way I look at it is, if a film is extremely well acted, and has an interesting screenplay, something contrary to the “abhorrent” politics and morality seeps through and complicates the overt intent of the filmmakers.

    To make a parallel with literature, I find the dogmatic, tendentious Christianity Dostoyevsky espoused in his journalism to be quite tiresome and repellent (especially the anti-Semitic component). In Dostoyevsky’s novels, however, his reactionary ideology is complicated and frequently undermined by some sort of cross-current. His artistic side is simply too honest and too complex to promote in an uncomplicated fashion the sort of reactionary conservatism he does straightforwardly promote in his journalism. It’s as if his aesthetic sense was so sure he couldn’t promote any particular political position in his novels without considering the other side of the coin (often presenting “coins” with half a dozen or more sides).

    This is why I love his novels, even though I’m not a Christian and don’t consider myself a conservative. Simple-minded, sledgehammer apologetics for Christianity, on the other hand, make me sick.

  • Kent Jones

    “His artistic side is simply too honest and too complex to promote in an uncomplicated fashion the sort of reactionary conservatism he does straightforwardly promote in his journalism.” Very well put. Alex’s commentary is always very astute, but I believe that good films, novels, plays, etc. can never be tagged with one single political program for exactly the reasons you’ve articulated here. OUR HITLER definitely does present as “neo-fascist” at moments, at other moments not. Good art is slippery, because unless you’re making something like BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, your commitment is to the flux of life, which is obviously going to be at odds with the realization of any political program.

  • dm494

    MCSB (and Kent), I agree that art is complex and slippery as to morals and politics, at least when those making it are functioning as artists. What I had in mind though with the comment you quoted was moments when an artist successfully aestheticizes an attitude which I find morally offensive–e.g., the rape in “Straw Dogs”, which seems more appalling than a similarly misogynistic rape sequence filmed by an inept director.

  • Kent Jones

    STRAW DOGS is a particular case, of a director single-mindedly, self-consciously and, I think, perversely illustrating a “thesis” that he doesn’t really believe in the first place, about the savagery at the heart of every man, and so forth (it’s different from his good movies, closer to the lousy ones, in my opinion). I think it’s a pretty dopey movie myself, a little like watching a talented but badly prepared debater at work. Pauline Kael wrote very well on that movie. A more interesting case: THE FOUNTAINHEAD.

  • dm494

    I have very mixed feelings about “The Fountainhead”, which is the sort of film guaranteed to set off arguments between visual-style-only people and viewers who think dialogue and ideas (and acting) matter a great deal. Ayn Rand’s philosophy is absolutely ludicrous, and I suspect that Vidor, who had a very strange but populist sensibility, made it even more stupid and schematic for the benefit of the mass audience. But you could argue that he presents a more sophisticated version of Rand’s ideas through his images, such as the great final shot of Cooper atop the building and against the sky. Likewise, it could be argued that, even if Rand’s ideas are absurd no matter how refined their formulation, in art what matters is artistry, not content, of presentation. In that case, maybe the images are so good we can only be grateful that Rand’s views “inspired” their creation.

  • Scott K

    Thank you all for your very well-reasoned and articulated commentaries on “TDK,” and beyond. This thread has been the most stimulating reading that I’ve had in some time.

    Below are some random thoughts that I mostly wrote 48 hours after seeing “TDK” one week ago, so please forgive me for not refining them too much. I have been as disturbed by the general cultural euphoria over the film as I have by the intense antagonism directed at the few brave negative reviewers that I have managed to find.

    I haven’t really attempted to answer the questions that came up for me in the aftermath of the viewing; I’m not sure that the answers are as important as the questions themselves.

    Here’s the obligatory *Spoiler Alert*, although it should not be necessary so late in the game.

    What is it that is so disturbing about “The Dark Knight?” Is the Joker character intended to be a metaphor for Osama bin Laden? Is he a 21st Century version of Hitchcock’s birds? Is he a reflection of the post-911 world, and therefore emblematic of faceless, nameless “terrorism” with no motive in sight? What does it say about the use of torture, when the victim has such a lack of redeeming morality that torture inevitably debases the torturer more than the victim? One is reminded of Bush’s ideological oversimplification: “They hate us for our freedoms.” Does the Joker despise society because it has Order, because it has Rules? Why is the film so mean-spirited and sadistic? And why are so many people enamored with it, and finding so much value in it, applauding it as a “masterpiece” and “the best Batman movie ever” and “one of the best movies ever…period” (as I was told by an acquaintance)? And, what does it say about us that we collectively find so much value in it at this time in history?

    The examples of this film’s sadism are numerous: bombs implanted in bodies and then detonating (a sick twist on suicide-bombers); the murder of the leading lady (with my apologies to Hitchcock, who infamously was (one of?) the first to do this—but for very different ends); the unforgivable torture perpetrated by law enforcement officer Gordon on his own family by faking his death and funeral—and withholding this from the audience as if we were his family, who, by the way, apparently forgave him with but a slap on the cheek. Are these devices to be admired as acceptable behavior today? Is this what “moral” people must do to combat “amoral” people, like Americans waging a “War on Terror” by terrorizing not one but two nations? If so, doesn’t it portend terrible things for our society as a whole? What does this worldview offer when it is without any redemption? Is it a metaphor for the end of (Western) Civilization? What about the implications of its many defenders’ arguments that, “it’s just a comic book?”

    The film is an impressive, state-of-the-art technological feat, with brilliant production design that is photographed handsomely and micro-surgically edited. I happen to be one of the admirers of Ledger’s swan song, which was, without a doubt, the highlight of the film. Like others, I, too, found Batman’s voice ridiculous, and the score monotonous and droning.

    At the 90-minute mark, I was more than willing for it to end there, but had to endure another HOUR of mayhem and violence. The major problem I’ve always had with “The Deer Hunter” is that, despite it’s technological brilliance, it is a sadistic exercise, playing Russian roulette with the audience’s emotions in a shameless attempt to manipulate, effectively torturing the viewers as the characters themselves are tortured. What does “TDK” share with “Deer Hunter’s” disdain for the audience’s implicit trust in the fundamental morality of the storyteller? Why are viewers not only willing to put up with this, but glorify it as some sort of ideal? What traits does this adulation share with Fascism and its allure in the 1930’s and 1940’s [Disclaimer: I don’t use the word ‘Fascism’ lightly]? Are the filmmakers enticing (suckering?) the audience into becoming surrogate Fascists for 150-odd minutes, without reflecting back to that audience that to actually enjoy, and glorify, this moral worldview, the audience must have themselves become pseudo-Fascists?

    Are we to accept the filmmakers’ apparent thesis that our modern world is one without redemption, where everyone acts out of their own, self-centered motivation — even when that motivation is ostensibly “for the greater good?”

  • That’s a very interesting formulation, Scott. Maybe “The Dark Knight” allows the audience to “play” at fascism the same way films like “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Se7en” allow the audience to “play” at being serial killers — to enjoy a fantasy of power that they would never consider in ordinary life.

  • Scott K

    Well, Dave, your interpretation of the film’s dynamic with the audience as “play” is more benign than my perspective. In my experience over the years of the Bush administration, I know many people that endorse the hegemonic use of power by the USA in the “War on Terror,” so, I’m not so sure that “they would never consider [it] in ordinary life.” Perhaps what you mean is that the audience is vicariously participating in something that they themselves would not actually engage in, but are content to have others engage in–ostensibly on their behalf. I had a discussion with a co-worker just the other day (not in the context of “TDK”), and he was more than content with the Bush administration’s (unconstitutional) warrantless wiretapping, so long as it meant we weren’t attacked again. The lack of another domestic terror attack was justification for him of Bush’s policies. Whether or not my co-worker would himself engage in torture is doubtful, but I’m sure that he’s more than happy to have other agents do it for him. In that sense, I suppose that agrees with your statement about “never considering in ordinary life.” The fact is that the administration’s policies are not possible without the complicity of the citizenry, and maybe the film’s politics mirror this?

  • Hunter Harris

    Scott K,

    I think you make some good points. For one thing, I am disturbed by the audience reactions to a lot of the movie. (Though after years of enduring modern audiences snickering through repertory screenings of Sirk and other Golden Age melodramas, I’ve [perhaps mistakenly] trained myself to just tune this out.) And, as I suggested before, I think the movie’s success is due in large part to many people seeing it as right-wing.

    I happen to think the movie *is* a masterpiece, but by no means do I begrudge anyone their opinion to the contrary. I guess I feel more compelled than usual to express my own because I seem to be in a *very* small minority that: a/ takes the movie’s politics seriously (rather than even many of its fans who dismiss it as “just a comic book movie”), b/ finds Batman’s actions odious in many ways (unlike Klavan and other conservatives), c/ finds the movie to be implicitly critical of these actions (unlike Dave), and d/ ultimately, in spite of the intense violence, finds the movie to be hopeful rather than cynical (unlike you, if I read your take properly).

    Nolan’s camera does not seem interested in passing judgments on the characters’ questionable actions, and in lieu of that, it’s quite easy to default to the image of Batman as an unambiguous hero, embedded in the collective consciousness for 70 years. But I think it would be a mistake to read that as an endorsement, particularly since all the major civil liberties violations perpetrated by Batman–the torture, the rendition, the wiretapping– are shown to backfire in some severe way, which I elaborated upon in previous comments.

    You ask a lot of questions about the Joker, and I don’t think the movie has an answer. Do you think that it should? (I don’t intend that to sound sarcastic, I genuinely am curious. I may be more sympathetic to ambivalence and unresolved mysteries in movies than you are, though.)

    Also you cite Rachel’s death as an instance of the movie’s sadism, but doesn’t it make it more than just a mere cruelty when it serves to put two of the main characters to a test of their morality? A convenient plot device perhaps, but it seems integral to the drama in a way that makes dismissing it as sadism seem reductive to me. I may be misreading you, though.

    You cite the “unforgivable torture” perpetrated by Gordon on his family by faking his own death, and I definitely see where you’re coming from. I don’t know if I agree that everyone would be unable to forgive this, though. I could see why some people would not, but I can also see why some people would (when it’s clear that Gordon was trying to protect them–whether misguidedly or not). Honestly, I don’t know what I would do in that situation, either Gordon’s or his wife’s.

    The theme of deception in the movie (as it is in Christopher Nolan’s other movies) seems fairly central. We also have Alfred burning Rachel’s note, the conspiracy to deceive the public about Harvey Dent at the end, plus numerous instances of Batman deceiving himself (e.g. that he has no limits, that he understands the Joker’s motivations, that he can shirk his responsibilities in dealing with the consequences of becoming Batman in the first place). I don’t think the movie ultimately has comment on whether or not these are for the best. To me, these questions don’t have easy answers, so I don’t see this ambivalence as a bad thing.

    To make a point about something Dave said earlier:

    “Both the ferry boat and the wrong-rescue scenes are typical of “The Dark Knight”’s strategy of setting up impossible, “Sophie’s Choice”-like moral dilemmas for its hero, and then resolving them through sleight-of-hand”

    I would argue that these dilemmas are not really Batman’s dilemmas. He has no choice in who to save, the Joker merely makes him, as well as Gordon, Rachel, and Harvey, think that he does. Likewise on the boats, Batman isn’t making the choices, the people on the boats are. I think the real conflict going on in these scenes is the battle for psychological insight between Batman and the Joker. In the first dilemma, Batman loses this battle, arguably because he doesn’t understand the Joker (and can’t know that he’s lying to him), debases his moral code, and a result Rachel (immediately and Harvey (eventually) die.

    In the second dilemma, Batman wins over the Joker in his bet of faith in the people of Gotham. Conceivably because he’s learned something valuable over the course of the movie (hopefully that torture doesn’t work), and conceivably partly because of his code of refusing to take (the Joker’s) life. Sure, this is kinda hokey, but I really don’t see how that supports your idea that the thesis of the movie is of a modern world without redemption. So while I agree with you that THE DEER HUNTER is a fascist (a problematic term, as discussed above) film–and even the way many people are experiencing THE DARK KNIGHT could plausibly be described the same way–that wasn’t really the movie I saw when I watched THE DARK KNIGHT.

    A couple of other pretty irrelevant notes:

    Batman’s voice was something I didn’t really have a problem with due to the suspension-of-disbelief factor. It made sense to me that a well-known billionaire would *have* to disguise his voice if he was running around in a bat helmet and interacting with key civic individuals at night. As far as the score goes, I am a fan of minimalist drone in general, so I totally disagree, but different strokes and whatnot.

  • Ziparrow

    I think the argument is kinda settled by this:

    http://br.youtube.com/watch?v=5SBoAz9Gr2I

    A Verizon dark knight ad. Ridiculous hype, paid critics of magazines whose owners are easily traceable, ridiculous lack of dissent, continuous “news” coverage (CNN has a article on Batman’s voice, for fuck sake!)…

  • Hunter Harris

    Ziparrow,

    Yeah but which argument? That late capitalism has created a product that has made hundreds of millions of dollars and plugged it into its endless advertising loop of fake news and marketing-posing-as-criticism in order to pad its own pockets and propagate the reactionary status quo? Believe it or not, I find this just as disturbing and pernicious as you, and probably 90% of the posters on this thread.

    The only trouble is, I don’t think this has any bearing on the cinematic object itself, which I think fairly clearly (if subtly) presents a world in which transgressing civil liberties only makes things worse, even if that’s a minority interpretation.

  • Hunter Harris

    Er, that should be “as you *do*”… Didn’t mean to imply that I find any of the commenters on this thread disturbing or pernicious. (Except for maybe a couple who will remain nameless.) Overall, I think this has been a pretty interesting discussion, and, like Scott K, I am grateful that I have been able to read everyone’s thoughts on this.

  • gooddog

    Hi,

    Just saw BATMAN — The Dark Knight.

    To review, here’s a baker’s dozen for the Co-in-kee-dink Theory Buffs:

    (1)  The Bat emblem has been re-designed to look like the nazi eagle. Let’s just get used to steroid psychos with masked faces and black body armor busting in and kicking anybody’s butt with plenty of arrogance, and anonymity. Overt government will wink and look the other way… who doesn’t know that ?
    (2)  Scenes abound of smoldering terrorist aftermath, complete with protruding I-beams, elevated fire hoses watering the rubble, etc.
    (3)  Justification is inserted for torture & police brutality.
    (4)  Total wiretapping of everybody’s cell phones? Not to worry, all the info is in the good hands of a very limited, one-man elite who erases it when he’s done —- rrrriiiiggghhttt.
    (5) Oil is used as a weapon by the terrorist (Joker).
    (6) Classic Von Neumann game theory ( the “Prisoner Game”) is used to put the audience in a state of moral confusion: Joker, the terrorist, is not at all like our regular criminals who turn out to have values similar to those of Albert Schweitzer. This is why police work will not suffice: we must do highly unethical and illegal things … from the Dark Side, with our Dark Knight, in our Dark Movie.
    (7) The public is portrayed as needing to be placated & manipulated
    with a convenient myth ( the Straussian “neo-con-man” way as in
    Plato’s “Republic” ) to wit, that Batman is a bad guy when he really isn’t — he simply had to work in Chenney’s “Dark Side”.
    (8)  The bad guys have no values or morals — they are simply
    anarchistic psychopaths — no need to try and understand them — that
    would be silly and futile.
    (9)  No one can be trusted and we are surrounded by “sleeper” agents who have been turned and made two-faced by the evil doers;
    especially those who have high ethical values regarding government and law enforcement : they are easily turned via their own silly
    principled ways.
    (10)  The CIA provides neat toys and the funding is hidden behind multiple corporate layers.
    (11) If the warrior from the Dark Side has inadequate body armor, not to worry, the CIA soon provides an upgrade and all is well.
    (12) If a bad guy is in a country without extradition, not to worry: the CIA has a skyhook plane and the Dark Side warrior just goes into that country and renditions him with not a peep from the country’s armed forces. There is no need or time to even consult that government. This can not have unintended consequences.
    (13)  The evil doers keep getting away and , in fact , the war
    is perpetual (hear the Joker’s final dialog as he says so while
    in his upside-down world — literally hanging upside down with camera play that confuses the viewer as to who it is that is upright).

    Well, you get the picture….. all just a silly co-in-kee-dink.

    – – – gooddog

  • Ziparrow

    Oh sorry Hunter, I wasn’t really pushing any solid well-thought argument forth (I mostly thought the film was, in terms of politics, a confused knot of many threads — although the surveillance strand seemed to be ultimately presented as a “necessary evil” that can be trusted to someone, if they’re ‘trustworthy enough’). In a drowsy state I basically just went for a half-assed mingling of the final act of the film (and its allures to gadget surveillance sexyness in China) with the current FISA situation that Verizon finds itself in, but nothing deeper or more valuable than just that video I felt I needed to drop.

    I think it’s better I refrain myself from further conversation since I’ve watched the film only once weeks ago, and it didn’t made an impact enough for it to become immediatly memorable for me to make arguments about it. But I did leave the theather with a vague bad taste in my mouth towards some aspects of it, but that doesn’t say much about the film itself.

    And, off topic, just want to say this: I just found this site. After spending more time than I should in the late hours reading this fantastic conversation (and some other posts), I might have found a new favorite film criticism site. So thank you all.

  • cwm

    Yes, it’s true the film’s Batman is wary of abusing his own power. Or–at least–he agonizes over it, before going ahead and doing it anyway.

    This only makes it a much more effective polemic for the Bush administration’s assumption of extraordinary powers. We can’t depend on Cheney, Rove and Rumsfeld et al to possess intelligence and a conscience (or either). Unlike the comic-book character. But you’re not supposed to think about that.

    Which isn’t to say we should trust extraordinary powers to anyone, even if they did have unusual gifts of intellect or ethics. Power corrupts. Haven’t we seen enough evidence of that? (Not only in the past eight years, but throughout history.)

  • Hunter Harris

    cwm,

    I think part of the reason Batman should not be read as a unambiguous hero is that he *doesn’t* agonize at all about abusing his power in this movie. When does he ever wonder that what he’s doing is crossing the line? At no point that I can remember. Alfred, Lucius, and Rachel all express serious reservations about his actions (though not his character). Gordon at the end of BATMAN BEGINS, as well. But Batman doesn’t seem to even hear what they are saying at all, and then he goes and crosses the line, and makes things worse.

    I almost think that Nolan cast Patrick Bateman as Batman (hey look the names are practically the same! I just realized that) to emphasize this disturbing quality in Bruce Wayne. One of the most telling moments (to me, anyway) is when he, allegedly jokingly, tells Alfred he would spy on him if he ever took a day off. It barely registers as a joke to either character, and I think the Nolans put that in there to trigger alarm bells in the audience. It did with me, at any rate.

  • Ben

    Here’s some technical info about the film that “Nolan shot footage for the major visual-effects sequences with IMAX cameras, making The Dark Knight the first feature film shown in IMAX that wasn’t originally shot in 35mm.” It’s push the envelope of scanning film at 8K resolution! Scary!
    http://www.studiodaily.com/main/news/headlines/9703.html

    I finally saw the movie the other night and I can’t say anything that hasn’t been covered on this thread already. It’s overlong and takes itself way too seriously. It’s disturbing in its political implication – I’m with ya on this one, Dave. On this matter, check out David Walsh’s review: http://wsws.org/articles/2008/jul2008/dark-j25.shtml

    My biggest complain is that with all this technology and post-production craft cannot hide the fact that Nolan is a hack as an action director. Graceless and predictable editing, especially whenever he has more than two characters in the scene he wouldn’t know how to orchestrate a coherent action sequence. The lower Wacker chase sequence with its non-stop cutting back to the police reaction shot – when things get too chaotic for Nolan to handle – is about as annoying as anything I’ve seen this whole summer. The man cannot direct traffic out of the lot of a shopping mall. Heath Ledger performance is one its few redeeming qualities.

  • Hunter Harris

    gooddog,

    I enjoyed your coincidence theorist’s guide to THE DARK KNIGHT. I do think these things were intentionally put in the movie, though I disagree that the movie is endorsing them.

    (3) Justification is inserted for torture & police brutality.

    Except that in the world of THE DARK KNIGHT, the consequences of torture are utterly disastrous. Like the world we live in as well.

    (7) The public is portrayed as needing to be placated & manipulated with a convenient myth ( the Straussian “neo-con-man” way as in Plato’s “Republic” ) to wit, that Batman is a bad guy when he really isn’t — he simply had to work in Cheney’s “Dark Side”.

    I think the movie is ambivalent on this. I do think it’s suggesting that if you start a project (e.g. becoming Batman) fundamentally based on deception, it only begets more deception (and other consequences as well). I agree that Batman and Gordon think the way you are describing, but I don’t think the movie is necessarily endorsing that viewpoint. Both characters have made too many mistakes to have their judgment completely trusted.

    (8) The bad guys have no values or morals — they are simply anarchistic psychopaths — no need to try and understand them — that would be silly and futile.

    I actually disagree pretty strongly here. It seems to me that the Joker *does* have a (warped) moral code, which he hints at when he suggests that a killing a busload of soldiers or a gangbanger is a “horrifying” plan. His stated motivation is to turn everyone’s (pathetic, in his view) attempts to control their surroundings on themselves. It is only once Batman understands this that he is able to win against the Joker.

    (9) No one can be trusted and we are surrounded by “sleeper” agents who have been turned and made two-faced by the evil doers;
    especially those who have high ethical values regarding government and law enforcement : they are easily turned via their own silly principled ways.

    Except I don’t really think Harvey Dent’s justifications in the dinner scene for entrusting power to Julius Caesar or Batman are indicative of high ethical values. Or rather, it seems to me that someone inherently sympathetic to the viewpoint that dictatorship can ever work is someone most likely to be corrupted (which Dent ultimately is).

    (12) If a bad guy is in a country without extradition, not to worry: the CIA has a skyhook plane and the Dark Side warrior just goes into that country and renditions him with not a peep from the country’s armed forces. There is no need or time to even consult that government. This can not have unintended consequences.

    Except in the world of THE DARK KNIGHT it does have unintended consequences: it made the mob turn to the Joker and kill the police commissioner and a judge. Bruce Wayne’s dumbfounded reaction to this to Alfred the next day is pretty indicative that the movie thinks he is not dealing with this whole crisis in the most intelligent way.

    (13) The evil doers keep getting away and, in fact , the war is perpetual (hear the Joker’s final dialog as he says so while
    in his upside-down world — literally hanging upside down with camera play that confuses the viewer as to who it is that is upright).

    But this is only the Joker’s claim that the war is perpetual, the movie itself has no answer to this question. In the real world, I think the war *will* be perpetual as long as the U.S. (and other countries) invades other countries to kill terrorists (but in the process invariably creates as many as it kills), and infringes on the civil liberties of its (and the world’s) citizens. As someone who finds capital punishment to be counterproductive and amoral, Batman not letting the Joker die seems to me an important step to ending the war in Gotham. Unless I am completely misguided, I think the fact that the movie allows for this interpretation indicates that it is not the piece of propaganda you suggest.

  • Hunter Harris

    Zipparow,

    Yes, this site is great, as are Dave’s reviews in general. And you should definitely check out the Chicago Reader archive of capsule reviews:

    http://onfilm.chicagoreader.com/search/briefs

    Dave wrote many of these, and his body of work has had an enormous influence on my cinephilia. Speaking of which, Dave, when are you going to compile your work for a book? It would unquestionably be one of *the* essential books of American film criticism.

  • gooddog

    Hello Hunter,

    If ya’ll haven’t seen it yet, this is precious:

    http://movies.crooksandliars.com/CNN-Beck-BushBatman.wmv

    *******

    “Except that in the world of THE DARK KNIGHT, the consequences of torture are utterly disastrous. Like the world we live in as well.”

    I agree that it has disastrous consequences in both worlds.
    Nevertheless, our hero-who-says-he-is-not-a-hero DOES kick some serious Joker butt . The audience IS irritated into sympathizing with the torture, however unwise it may be: I was not commenting on the facts of real life nor on the intellectual implications in the plot. I was observing the symbolic, emotional, and motivational leaning of this film as it will likely affect the hearts of those in the age group now ripening on the vine for the coming draft – my Middle School students.

    ********

    “I think the movie is ambivalent on this. I do think it’s suggesting that if you start a project (e.g. becoming Batman) fundamentally based on deception, it only begets more deception (and other consequences as well). I agree that Batman and Gordon think the way you are describing, but I don’t think the movie is necessarily endorsing that viewpoint. Both characters have made too many mistakes to have their judgment completely trusted.”

    Hunter,

    I think the voice-over is very clear when it says that Gotham City needs to believe that the “villain” BATMAN will be pursued and brought to justice. In putting us, the audience, in a removed, even an elevated vantage point whence we see that this charade is benevolent and must be mounted due to the infantile nature of the citizenry, the director is simultaneously describing the Straussian / Platonic ruse AND justifying it, albeit in a manner that only a director is privileged to use. For, in real life, the citizenry is not allowed into this lofty realm of vigil, lest we lynch our emperors.

    **************

    “I actually disagree pretty strongly here. It seems to me that the Joker *does* have a (warped) moral code, which he hints at when he suggests that a killing a busload of soldiers or a gangbanger is a “horrifying” plan. His stated motivation is to turn everyone’s (pathetic, in his view) attempts to control their surroundings on themselves. It is only once Batman understands this that he is able to win against the Joker.”

    “Horrifying” to whom ? To us — not him.
    If a moral code is warped and hinted, it is not a moral code, in the eyes of the audience. Joker prides himself in using random moves as a *means* . This struck me because I once held a very egotistical yet superior chess player at bay for a surprisingly long time ( given that I know zilch about the game ) by mostly making random moves. However, if Joker is identified with Bin Laden et al , say, then we are being told to forget about any rational causes for attacks on us such as our falsifying calumnious charges against Iraq, invading Iraq, taking Iraq’s oil, murdering their innocent children and civilians, occupying their country, poisoning their environment/gene pool permanently, humiliating and terrifying their populace, Balkanizing their country, looting their cultural treasures, displacing millions, kidnapping and torturing, nearly indiscriminately , many peasant victims of local vendettas , etc. As my best friend tells me, “They are simply psychopaths who worship death and we must kill them any way we can, before they kill us.”
    My objection to this is not against self-defense. It is that all countries have scholars who study their nation’s enemies for a reason. And ” the better to kill them” is not the only reason. After all, it is difficult to distinguish between psychopaths not only when we consider all of the countries we have bombed ; all those peoples were described as crazed lunatics without values;
    but , in Iraq too, the nebulosity includes us.
    It is clear, in the film, that “we can trust the people to do the right thing” includes both our law-abiding citizens’ and our (unlikely as hell) convicted criminals’ judgement. Stark in his exclusion from them is Joker. Again, the intent is to accustom us to the notion that police action will not suffice and illegal action that makes us indistinguishable from “them” IS the right way to go.

    You know, this topic was dealt with in Star Trek the Voyage Home. But Kirk and his crew did something very different from what the current White House Occupants are doing. Kirk et al clearly broke the law and defied the authority of their superiors. But, rather than hide behind vulgar lies, arrogance, secrecy, intimidation, hypocrisy, duck speak, and the coming abuse of the presidential power of pardon – after screwing the World; Kirk and his motley crew stood before their Councils for Court Martial after *saving* the World.

    ****************

    “Except I don’t really think Harvey Dent’s justifications in the dinner scene for entrusting power to Julius Caesar or Batman are indicative of high ethical values. Or rather, it seems to me that someone inherently sympathetic to the viewpoint that dictatorship can ever work is someone most likely to be corrupted (which Dent ultimately is).”

    I may have misunderstood Dent and he may have had a dent in his moral armor. I’ll have to watch it again more carefully.
    But, surely, someone who believes that dictatorships can “work” is already corrupted. And, “fooling the people some of the time” is plenty, for the likes of the K-street project gang and McCain and the other four of the Keating five.
    I think it is no coincidence that Dent was casted with a very attractive face. He represents the classic, tragic hero with one fatal flaw. In this case, it is [ostensibly] his belief in the non-Chenney approach IMHO. Satan wanted to tempt Jesus, not Judas.

    ********************

    “Except in the world of THE DARK KNIGHT it does have unintended consequences: it made the mob turn to the Joker and kill the police commissioner and a judge.”

    I’m not sure of this. The Commissioner was not killed – the Dark Knight, who operates at the deepest levels of secrecy ( the usual smoke screen for our crooks in the WH ) must have known this was a charade and must have been playing along. Had his butler been more like Martha Mitchell, he would have been sedated in a hotel room and kept out of the rest of the movie.

    **************

    “But this is only the Joker’s claim that the war is perpetual, the movie itself has no answer to this question. In the real world, I think the war *will* be perpetual as long as the U.S. (and other countries) invades other countries to kill terrorists (but in the process invariably creates as many as it kills), and infringes on the civil liberties of its (and the world’s) citizens. As someone who finds capital punishment to be counterproductive and amoral, Batman not letting the Joker die seems to me an important step to ending the war in Gotham. Unless I am completely misguided, I think the fact that the movie allows for this interpretation indicates that it is not the piece of propaganda you suggest.”

    Since you focus on the real World , let me drop some news on you,

    (1) The war in the movie *is* perpetual because there will be a sequel to make more money.

    (2) The war in the real World *is* perpetual because there will be a sequel to make more money.

    (3) As the C&L video link above shows, this movie *is* the piece of propaganda that I think it is.

    Make no mistake about it; Hollywood has always produced tons of propaganda feature films foisted as innocent entertainment.
    This propaganda is not aimed at our enemy in the battle field. It is aimed at us; to manipulate us; to get support for wars.

    And do not mistake that with the beneficent satire tacit in all good sci-fi that tells us something true and unpalatable about ourselves disguised as a description of an alien.

    This propaganda tells us a number of malevolent lies about our hearts in order to accustom us into immoral complicity and political docility.

    —gooddog

    /
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  • jbryant

    gooddog – the Commisioner IS killed; not Gordon, but his predecessor (that’s what led to Gordon getting the gig).

    Wish I could add something to the conversation, but I guess I’m inclined to think of the films somewhat bogus moral conflicts as narrative flaws rather than “the author’s message.” They make the film seem darker and deeper, if you squint, which was probably Nolan’s only intention. I’ll concede the possibility that I’m being disingenuous, but I sincerely doubt that Nolan had any right wing motivations.

  • Hunter Harris

    gooddog:

    I agree that it has disastrous consequences in both worlds. Nevertheless, our hero-who-says-he-is-not-a-hero DOES kick some serious Joker butt. The audience IS irritated into sympathizing with the torture, however unwise it may be: I was not commenting on the facts of real life nor on the intellectual implications in the plot. I was observing the symbolic, emotional, and motivational leaning of this film as it will likely affect the hearts of those in the age group now ripening on the vine for the coming draft – my Middle School students.

    I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but do you think the intellectual implications of the plot are any less relevant than the movie’s triggered emotional responses? Personally–and I’m not trying to sound self-righteous, merely to point out that the monolithic audience you describe does not exist–I didn’t sympathize with the torture on screen, and I know I wasn’t the only one. I think it’s important to note that, if I recall correctly, the shots of Maroni’s feet breaking and Batman’s brutality with the Joker are two of the only instances of the movie *not* cutting away from the violence. Contrast this to the Joker’s brutality, from which the movie often flinches.

    Believe me, I’m not denying how a lot of the audience is responding to the movie, and that it is already being appropriated for right-wing psyops recruitment purposes is just as abhorrent to me as it is to you. Which is why I think it imperative to not only demonstrate the vacuity of the status quo, but also to not willfully ignore the intellectual implications, as you say, of how this movie–which could very well become the highest-grossing film of all time–turns that propaganda on itself.

    I think the voice-over is very clear when it says that Gotham City needs to believe that the “villain” BATMAN will be pursued and brought to justice. In putting us, the audience, in a removed, even an elevated vantage point whence we see that this charade is benevolent and must be mounted due to the infantile nature of the citizenry, the director is simultaneously describing the Straussian / Platonic ruse AND justifying it, albeit in a manner that only a director is privileged to use. For, in real life, the citizenry is not allowed into this lofty realm of vigil, lest we lynch our emperors.

    I think that what is clear is that the ones doing the narrating, Batman and Gordon, think this. But both of these characters are pretty compromised. Gordon tolerated corruption in his department, to disastrous effect. And Batman the vigilante is a fundamentally right-wing conception. I think the movie shows this, and that since it is having these two characters narrate, rather than, say, Rachel (the only really uncompromised individual in the movie), indicates to me that it is not the directorial viewpoint. Personally, if there were a third movie, I would find it hard to believe that the Nolans (whose previous films are fundamentally about deception), would not deal with the consequences of this climactic act of deception.

    If a moral code is warped and hinted, it is not a moral code, in the eyes of the audience.

    I think this a questionable assumption on your part, but I’m willing to concede it for the sake of argument.

    Joker prides himself in using random moves as a *means*.

    But as a means to what? He is indifferent to all consequences, including his own death. He would allow Two-Face to kill him in order to achieve his goal of corrupting him, and he laughs as he thinks Batman is corrupting himself by letting him fall to his death. The neoconservative attempts to equate the Joker with Bin Laden reveal more about themselves than anything else. As K-Punk suggests: “it reveals the inconsistency on which Islamophobic fantasy depends: the Islamist is both ‘an agent of chaos’, someone without a cause, *and* a zealot excessively attached to a cause.”

    It is clear, in the film, that “we can trust the people to do the right thing” includes both our law-abiding citizens’ and our (unlikely as hell) convicted criminals’ judgement. Stark in his exclusion from them is Joker.

    And I would argue that the movie has made enough connections between the Joker and Batman to implicate him as well as someone who we should be wary to trust. I’m not denying that the ferry sequence is indicative of a sentimental humanist viewpoint, but the movie is unquestionably open-ended in this regard when the Joker, in his final moment, cynically claims that all it takes for madness is a little push (before laughing hysterically).

    The Commissioner was not killed

    As jbryant says, I was referring to Gordon’s predecessor. THE DARK KNIGHT, like geopolitical reality, shows that all attempts to confront “terrorists in the only terms they understand” (in the ridiculous words of Andrew Klavan in the Wall Street Journal) that violate civil liberties–extraordinary rendition, wiretapping, torture–do more harm than good.

    Since you focus on the real World, let me drop some news on you,

    (1) The war in the movie *is* perpetual because there will be a sequel to make more money.

    (2) The war in the real World *is* perpetual because there will be a sequel to make more money.

    (3) As the C&L video link above shows, this movie *is* the piece of propaganda that I think it is.

    Thanks for the newsflash. But if you think it’s news to me that Hollywood has always been used for propaganda purposes, thereby perpetuating the endless atrocity exhibition, then I haven’t been expressing myself clearly enough. The major point that I’ve been trying to make is that there is a distinction between the cinematic artifact and how that cinematic artifact is used, fairly or unfairly. This particular artifact I think has a great deal of ambivalence on the formal level, but on the level of content, I think it is only by willfully ignoring the intellectual implications that you can arrive at the conclusion that it is right-wing propaganda.

    And I’m sorry, but the assertions of Glenn Beck carry no argumentative weight with me. And I doubt they do with you either. What exactly does that link prove? That reactionaries will attempt to appropriate whatever they can (especially blockbusters that comment on contemporary themes) to put to their own end, regardless of whether or not it makes sense? That’s nothing new.

    I don’t mean to sound rude, and I do appreciate reading your thoughts.

  • gooddog

    “Believe me, I’m not denying how a lot of the audience is responding to the movie, and that it is already being appropriated for right-wing psyops recruitment purposes is just as abhorrent to me as it is to you. Which is why I think it imperative to not only demonstrate the vacuity of the status quo, but also to not willfully ignore the intellectual implications, as you say, of how this movie–which could very well become the highest-grossing film of all time–turns that propaganda on itself.”

    Hunter,

    I won’t think you are putting words in my mouth.

    Of course the intellectual implications of the film are important.
    But, this is not the channel through which propaganda does its work.

    I am sure you know that there is nothing new about a piece of propaganda that communicates at multiple levels, to distinct audiences, with distinct and even contradictory messages. Coded narrative is used in advertising, entertainment, and politics every day. And it is reinforced with coded visuals and audio. Even if we dismiss the more exotic techniques called “subliminal” , we still have many supraliminal channels that employ coded words, choice of font, color scheme, layout of a page, use of the passive voice, use of the voice-over, repetition, implied connection by repeated pairing, reverse mapping, etc.

    While your erudite analysis of the message you attribute to the film maker, intellectually, may keep *you* on the right ethical track, it may also dull your sensitivity to the fact that you are greatly outnumbered by younger, hubristic viewers as well as less well educated adults and simply unwary ones who are gradually shifted to the right of the political spectrum by these techniques.

    We all remember when even a suggestion that GI’s, in Viet Nam may have practiced torture would produce a chorus of outraged denial from many Americans. Those days are now well to the left of us. While you understand my concern, I think you underestimate the statistical efficacy of propaganda. It does not require a monolithic audience. And democracies do not fall monolithically. I wish I were allowed to show my students the series “V” and analyze, with them, the various stages of the takeover there. Then I would show a good documentary of the *internal* and gradual collapse of Germany’s ethical backbone.
    Neither the Hitler Youth kids nor the S.A. recruits were ever given a chance to apply their intellects when they were visually bombarded with mythological and occult propaganda. Propaganda simply does not communicate intellectually.

    As to the *intent* of the movie makers, I doubt that we can ever know this. Perhaps I ought to have said the *effect* of the movie. Instances abound, in history and in our private lives, of shocking revelations regarding the intent of friends, relatives, and even lovers, let alone politicians and film makers.

    ***********

    : The major point that I’ve been trying to make is that there is a distinction between the cinematic artifact and how that cinematic artifact is used, fairly or unfairly. This particular artifact I think has a great deal of ambivalence on the formal level, but on the level of content, I think it is only by willfully ignoring the intellectual implications that you can arrive at the conclusion that it is right-wing propaganda.”

    I agree with this only I would say that I am ignoring the intellectual implications *advisedly* and *deliberately* rather than “willfully”. I do this because it is the correct way to detect and call propaganda by it’s proper name. Propaganda does *not* convince, it accustoms. Propaganda is not the tongue of the vampire that drains the host; it is the anesthesia in the vampire’s saliva that makes the meal happen. It is the flags and brass that make the genocide glorious. And it is the cool, nocturnal, Dark-side mystique that will give us a tidal wave of teenage, uniformed punks saluting the side of the DARK KNIGHT that you think is not being promoted.

    **********************

    “And I’m sorry, but the assertions of Glenn Beck carry no argumentative weight with me. And I doubt they do with you either. What exactly does that link prove? That reactionaries will attempt to appropriate whatever they can (especially blockbusters that comment on contemporary themes) to put to their own end, regardless of whether or not it makes sense? That’s nothing new.

    I don’t mean to sound rude, and I do appreciate reading your thoughts.”

    It proves that regardless of what you and I *think*, far more people are being towed by Beck than are reading our posts.
    Beck does not have to say very much at all to adapt this film to his purposes. And that is precisely my point.

    If we do not wake up (from our intellectual revery) and smell the sauerkraut , we are going to find ourselves in the same situation as Veronica Cartwright at the end of “Invasion of The Body Snatchers”.

    I don’t think you sound rude at all. I like your candidness and I respect your expression of your emotions. We are just emphasizing distinct aspects of the issue.

    —gooddog

    /
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  • Hunter Harris

    gooddog,

    A fascinating post. Your analysis of the function of propaganda is very nuanced and astute, and overall, I don’t disagree with much of what you said.

    I guess I just have a couple of questions. First, what do you consider to be the proper response to propaganda? Obviously, censorship is unacceptable as anything with a left-wing viewpoint would be the first to go. Similarly, responding with more and better counterpropaganda is not really a viable solution, as the finances are on the side of the right-wing status quo. You support calling it by name, which seems reasonable to me but not sufficient. At some level, if one is to combat propaganda at all, is one not required to make an intellectual argument, however futile, and on multiple levels (i.e. why it is propaganda and why what it is arguing is wrong)?

    It is in this respect that, to the filmmakers’ credit–though I agree with what Dave said upthread, that the filmmakers’ intentions are “unknowable and irrelevant”–that THE DARK KNIGHT has, I think, embedded that intellectual critique in itself. Now, I can see your argument that inherently contradictory propaganda at cross-purposes with itself could theoretically be more effective by drawing in more people. But if this is the case, then this type of propaganda *will* be employed, and one must respond to it as well. And it seems to me ideal to use the propaganda against itself, if possible, in addition to whatever other arguments are necessary. So in that respect, I think THE DARK KNIGHT is worthy of some level of defense, even if it does make it more effective propaganda in the long run, as I think you are arguing.

  • gooddog

    I am at the car dealer and cannot post extensively until I get back home.

    May I try my hand at a little propaganda of the bumper sticker kind that is totally original and acceptable to all? Thank you.
    Here it is,

    TDK DOESN’T MAKE THE NAZI …
    IT MAKES THE NAZI COOLER.

    — gooddog

    /
    : * ]. AAAaaRRRrrrFFFfff !!!
    \

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  • AK

    This is a pretty ridiculous statement. First of all, you presume to know what the right thing is, when in actuality, you believe it was the right thing to do, because you saw the end of the movie.

    Secondly: “Even though in real life one could never be so trusting as to condone some of the actions undertaken”. Nice work, this is the view of a cynical man, I don’t think much more needs to be said about this.

    Finally, if you think “it’s a big leap to see the idea of wiretapping used in a fantastical film and say it’s advocating its use in the real world” then you are simply being ignorant, and I mean this in the most sensible, impersonal, and unoffensive way possible. It is obvious that this is exactly what Nolan is implying, and and I think that perhaps your personal views are interfering with your interpretation of Nolan’s motives in this film. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with the Nolan’s opinion, but you can’t simply ignore his intent because you like the movie but don’t like the message.

  • AK

    THE ABOVE POST BY AK IS IN REFERENCE TO THIS POST:

    I think there’s a pretty big difference between Bush and Batman. Thanks to it being a fictional world in which you can know, to a solid degree, a person’s intentions, one knows Batman is truly trying to do the right thing for the citizens of Gotham even if he steps into gray (or black) areas. Did the wiretapping save dozens of lives? Yes. Did he use it for any other purpose? No. Was it destroyed after it was used to capture the most dangerous criminal in Gotham? Yes.

    Now, does anyone believe the words that come out of Bush’s mouth or that he genuinely has the interests of the entire American public at heart? The film is fiction, afterall, and even though in real life one could never be so trusting as to condone some of the actions undertaken, you can with Batman.

    I think it’s a big leap to see the idea of wiretapping used in a fantastical film and say it’s advocating its use in the real world. Is Professor Xavier’s mind-reading abilities approval for wiretapping? Seriously, I think there’s a limit to where you can draw all these political allegories.
    Comment by Jack 07.19.08 @ 11:16 am “

  • AK

    “The title of the Nolan’s latest Batman film calls to mind medieval chivalry in a postmodern key. The dark knight embraces extraordinary tasks and fights against enormous odds; his quest is to restore what has been corrupted and to recover what has been lost. In so doing, he takes upon himself a suffering and loneliness that isolate him from his fellow citizens and inevitably court their misunderstanding and scorn. He is a dark knight, in part, because the world he inhabits is nearly void of hope and virtue, and, in part, because some of the darkness resides within him, in his internal conflicts between the good he aspires to restore and the means he deploys to fend off evil.”
    -Thomas S. Hibbs is Distinguished Professor of Ethics and dean of the honors college at Baylor University.

    This sums it up nearly perfectly. If you are intrigued ou should search for more of Mr. Hibbs work.

  • AK

    This is a pretty ridiculous statement. First of all, you presume to know what the right thing is, when in actuality, you believe it was the right thing to do, because you saw the end of the movie.

    Secondly: “Even though in real life one could never be so trusting as to condone some of the actions undertaken”. Nice work, this is the view of a cynical man, I don’t think much more needs to be said about this.

    Finally, if you think “it’s a big leap to see the idea of wiretapping used in a fantastical film and say it’s advocating its use in the real world” then you are simply being ignorant, and I mean this in the most sensible, impersonal, and unoffensive way possible. It is obvious that this is exactly what Nolan is implying, and and I think that perhaps your personal views are interfering with your interpretation of Nolan’s motives in this film. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with the Nolan’s opinion, but you can’t simply ignore his intent because you like the movie but don’t like the message.

  • gooddog

    Hunter,

    Regarding your questions, here are a few things I have learned. I am sure most of it isn’t news to you. But it may help the younger readers who have more of their lives to lose than I do, if we stay our present course.

    Since they who use propaganda do not limit their craft to any one approach, we must not limit our options either.

    Some basic principles must be kept in mind: the fight can get very rough.

    (0) It is personal.

    (1) We must be very careful to not treat everyone the same way. The pimply-faced teenager bagging at the U-Save checkout line and telling every customer that Nixon did nothing wrong and that we actually won the Viet Nam war cannot be treated as harshly as a Bill’O tape worm. Some people are only parroting because they want to be loved and don’t realize the seriousness of what they are doing. Others are sociopathic parasites who bleed the life out of your Mother over many generations. Nixon was screwing my people since before I was born. I was well into my middle age by the time he finally died; if, in fact, he is still dead :) The same can be said of Chenney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Kristol, Rice, and all the other neo-con-men.

    —–

    (2) Don’t take the bait : do not launch into an academic debate when the propagandist has already chummed the audience with slander against “snobbish, wacko-liberal eggheads”. This is like jumping into shark-infested waters while wearing your lucky ham around your neck. Propaganda is almost never directed at true intellectuals: it would not work. And when it is attempted, there are academicians who are far more qualified than we to take them on — don’t get in over your head; introduce them to someone more their own size.

    Academic/intellectual study is crucial, but it is not a “field weapon”.

    To know your enemy, I would read the masters,

    * I would read “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays.
    The editorial review at the Amazon link below is very telling.
    Bernays’ text was praised, used, and extended by Goebbels.
    Bernays got countless Women to manifest their Feminist rebellion by taking up smoking, thereby enriching Bernays’ employer ( the Cigarette tycoons ) and killing these Women in due course. Of course, he is sorry about that.

    http://www.amazon.com/Propaganda-Edward-Bernays/dp/0970312598/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1218305093&sr=1-1&tag=wp-amazon-associate-20

    * I would study too, the all-time masters of propaganda : RELIGION. From about the 1500’s , the word “propaganda” was used, by pope Gregory XIII to refer to literature designed to propagate Catholicism among those who already had their own ancient beliefs. No one can hold a candle to the skills of the various “holy men” with their allegedly “holy books” in every place and every epoch . Try to read a few of the “conductaria” prescribing how women must move, dress, talk, and direct their eyes so as to avoid accusations of Witchcraft. Also study the Malleus Maleficarum, of Sprenger and Kramer.

    It is especially revealing to read those works, by all such groups, penned when they held so much power that they did not bother to conceal their intentions or lubricate their words. This saves lots of time digging through so much of their bull crap.

    (3) Instead of dignifying their rubbish with debate, sweep it aside with a single, effective rebuttal and spend 99% of your energy RIDICULING that which is ridiculous.

    (4) Do not let them set the rules of the discussion or foist “factoids” or define your vocabulary or high-jack a forum or steal a symbol or a word or frame any grammatical structure to their favor. EXPOSE these attempts too then QUESTION THEIR INTENT publicly.

    (5) A true mind rapist abhors bright lights for the same reason that a sexual rapist abhors it. Light is the best barrier against covert methods. Expose the scoundrels’ METHOD. Point out to the audience the METHOD. Ask them what their MOTHER or DAUGHTER would think if they saw what they are doing. Don’t let them switch back to the content. Stay with their METHOD. Question their INTENTIONS. Follow them to their next venue and REMIND THEM OF THEIR PRIOR SCAMS. Let them know they
    will be pursued over the rest of their lives, like the nazi war criminals that they would become. Take their photographs, record their public words. Attach a very harsh and persistent consequence to their attacks. And, above all, make it enjoyable and festive.
    _____________________________

    As to technique, learn from the most successful practitioners.

    There are several models on the air now whose methods I would study, because they are highly effective and quite diverse in their approach.

    * My top mistress (pun intended) is Stephanie Miller.
    Her voice and tone make her absolutely adorable, gentle, piss-in-your-pants hilarious, and devastating to the bullies who wield talking points, counterfeit authority, and fetid hypocrisy.

    ** For ass-kicking, brawling debate , I would recommend Randi Rhodes. She recently took on a loud-mouthed arrogant in a very long slug-fest, on her show. She absolutely knows her facts. She can yell as loud as any neo-con-man. She demands respect from these pricklets who are unfamiliar with the word. She will not quit. And she mops the floor with them. All of that is deployed, as with Miller, in a gorgeous, Female , self-propelled platform that is a wonder to behold.

    *** Jon Stewart’s Daily Show is more like Miller, only video. This is one of the most accurate sources of news available today… dwell on that!

    **** Stephen Colbert’s satire is so good that it actually becomes invisible and disturbing at times; evidence how many of his audience and guests actually take him at face value.

    (6) Don’t underestimate what is behind the current gang of tycoons. While we were never in any danger of a communist take-over during the height of the “Left” , in the sixties; the same can not be said of our present “transformation” to fascism.
    The billionaires behind the current White House Occupants are extremely well versed in the arts of manipulation. They can follow you into a revolving door and exit ahead of you with your cash in hand. They do not enjoy any victory : they invest it to gain three more victories. Their attacks are designed, scientifically, to gain multiple advantages for the next attack.
    This is the nature of their profession: business criminals.
    While we are baited into endless analysis/paralysis over which way we are being screwed, they are screwing us in far more ways than we could identify. They read von Neumann’s “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior” when we were reading Archie & Veronica. They have very, very high IQ’s.
    They have discarded what you and I know as decency long ago and replaced it with the Straussian ruse for the consumption of their victims. Take, for example, their use of christianity. Now, I am an atheist. Yet, if anything remotely resembling a Jesus were to actually visit this world today, these neo-con-men would be even more surprised than I would be and they would be in a hell of a lot more trouble as well. But they never worry because their “faith” is in our gullibility and utility only.

    (7) PROPHYLAXIS — if and after we stop the current infection.

    I am a product of Florida’s public school system. In the sixties, we were taught the various techniques of propaganda to beware of as a prophylaxis against the Red Menace (of communism – not republicanism).

    This old, short film is very relevant today. Hope you will watch it,

    http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=despotism+or+democracy&emb=0&aq=f#

    Having been sent to this country, by my Mother, to escape the propaganda and despotism of totalitarian, revolutionary Cuba (which was brought about by the preceding propaganda and despotism of capitalist, colonialist, plutocracy ); I had an early introduction to state-provided “mass communication” techniques.

    I was reared in Miami where we read “The Federalist” in Robert E. Lee Junior High School. Civics was no longer offered by the time I got to the eighth grade. Because the school cafeteria was such a dangerous place, I skipped lunch and went to the library instead where I read Plato’s Republic, the Critias and the Timaeus , Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and every word of the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence. I also read lots of fun trash topics that now form the body of “In Search Of … ” with Leonard Nimoy narrating. And I read all that Britannica had to say about human sexual behavior. Because my parents would kill me if I dared to read the Communist Manifesto or any of Marx, I just had to read it as best I could. And because my High School Jewish friends would kill me if I read Mein Kampf, I just had to read it as well.

    My belabored point … we must never again allow a generation of children to grow up without yearly courses in Civics and sustained education regarding propaganda and despotism.

    —gooddog

    /
    : * ] AAAaaaRRRrrrFFFFfff !!!
    \

    ***************************************************

  • Larry Kart

    Lord knows this party is over, but I’m surprised, now that I’ve seen TDK, that no one (or virtually no one) has mentioned what to me is clearly the most expressive (as in “oppressive”) aspect of the movie: The swooping, “circle the principals” camera work and the similarly obtrusive, “Look shumck, this is linked to that!” editing, all of which is designed to give the film an air of perpetual stress and emergency, as well as to reassure both the audience and the studio heads that one is seeing much money being well spent in ways that are designed to allow no room for any response by the audience that deviates from a stress-and-emergency state of being. (These latter two points may in effect be one: What better proof that the air of stress and emergency is in some fundamental sense “real” within the context of the film-making than to display one’s ability and willingness to blow up, say, an entire genuine hospital (or to convincingly simulate that event; it amounts to the same thing, an act of weight and stature; if they took the trouble to do this … well, it’s like being faced with a large angry man-like being with flexed muscles and gritted teeth). Of course, with that allusion to the elderly godfathers of all this, Stallone and Schwarzenegger, some of you may be thinking that I’m erasing all distinctions here; and in one sense I am. This genre of perpetual stress and emergency is deeply, pervasively political in the sense that its emotional atmosphere for the viewer is meant to be one of near-perpetual stimulation and stress and observed purposeful (and thus increasingly familiar and acceptable to us) rage. The possible grace note in TDK is Ledger’s Joker, but I find him to be anything but that — sure, his character says all sorts of stuff about playfulness and chaos, but what we see him do time after time is plan things much more carefully and effectively than anyone else. In this, jumping back to my sense of the two related but different audiences for such films — ourselves in the theater, and the men and women who actually bankrolled the film — the needs of both those audiences are at once tickled and complacently, smugly diddled by the Joker’s behavior. Massive effort, massive effects, massive strength, all with their due impact, and the show still goes on — a damn miracle it is that the puppet-show “evil” we’ve dreamed up has that much life in it. Another sequel, please; the emergency continues. As for specific political policies being evoked and/or endorsed in such films, as I believe Dave said above, it’s pretty much a smorgasbord. Once you enter the building, under those conditions and are in some sense hungry, it doesn’t matter much whether you’re grabbing at the herring or the egg salad and stepping on someone’s face (or worse) in order to do so. The point is that you’ve accepted that atmosphere and are building a fiction that itself attempts to make that atmosphere pervasive.

  • Seeping the confetti here, but in terms of style and visual zing and the comic-book’s bright yet visually sophisticated spirit incarnated on the big screen, give me Danger: Diabolik! anytime.

  • Vadislav

    I agree with most commentators who recognize the right-wing, Straussian/neo-conservative rhetoric that is laced throughout this film, and the blatant apologetic references to the Bush administration.

    One thing that I didn’t see mentioned (I only read about halfway through the responses on here), was the use of the “average-joe” vigilante who dresses up like Batman, as an object of ridicule. It seemed to contribute to the idea that we are all helpless and weak, and only a super-hero from the elite class can save us.

    All of the Straussian rhetoric seems, on the surface to be echoed throughout this movie.

    However, those who know Christopher Nolan, know that there are many layers of complexity in his films, and what appears on the surface is often not what the underlying theme is about.

    It got me to thinking about another big-budget summer action film that had popcorn munching moviegoers cheering at the explosions and violence, but had critics calling it fascist propaganda. That movie was “Starship Troopers.” Closer examination of that film, as well as Verhoeven’s Robocop, reveal that they are actually satires of fascist big-budget propaganda that permeates American cinema. Fascism, and the movies that glorify it were being ridiculed.

    Is Nolan doing something similar here? It’s hard to tell really, but I think there is more than what’s on the surface.