Is the new Dark Knight film a right-wing dream?


11:30 am - August 1st 2012

by Jon Stone    


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Two women break into a house at dusk. They’re looking for somewhere to bed down for the night.

Isn’t this someone’s home?” Says the virtuous one, unsure. On the floor is a family photograph in a frame – a sun-drenched image of a beautiful All American family, man, wife and kids; all white. It is smashed. The camera lingers, deliberately.

“No, this is everyone’s home now,” the first replies, in her foreign, roughly Russian accent. She moves to switch out the light: outside a violent revolution led by an incredibly uncharismatic man is promising to redistribute power to “the People”.

A particularly transparent US anti-Soviet propaganda reel from the 1950s? No, this is a faithful representation of a scene from the new Batman film.

Violent American blockbusters where a law-breaking hero faces down an existential threat to civilisation do usually tend towards neoconservative politics. The TV series 24, for instance, is infamous for unrealistically apologising for torture.

But as the “communist lesbians redistributing your home and destroying the family” scene illustrates, The Dark Knight Rises goes out of its way to fellate a randy American political right.

It could be argued that the film’s politics – superficially a critique of violent revolution – is a particularly untimely and pointless take-down of Stalinism. It does feature arbitrary executions and a vanguard party. One does wonder what the point of that would be, since that ideology seems to have rather had its day.

The real target seems far more contemporary. Take the trigger-happy and weirdly shoe-horned references by the arch-villain to “Hope”, his raids on a cartoon Wall Street, and the fact a major plot point hinges on the fact that he is born abroad. In a nameless cartoon Muslim country.

With polls regularly showing around a third of the US population think their president may have been born in Kenya (and is a Muslim), it’s impossible not to recognise the US’s black president as the target of The Dark Knight Rises’s scorn. A passing but deliberate reference to “appeasement” (a favourite historical analogy of the US right) completes the circle of a film that seems constructed squarely to play out Glenn Beck’s paranoid fantasies.

Beck’s is the school of thought that treats The Coming Insurrection as its Protocols of the Elders of Zion and thinks an armed uprising of “socialists, communists and anarchists” (Beck’s description to his multi-million audience) are plotting to overthrow the established Apple Pie order, with Nancy Pelosi and Occupy Wall Street constituting a vanguard party.

I don’t know the director’s politics, and as a blockbuster I suspect they had little influence on the overall product, it being more a product of committee. The most plausible explanation I can think of for what is on offer is that in the American culture wars, any film that wants to max out its revenue in a declining industry needs a political subtext that doesn’t draw the wrath of the vocal soapbox theatre of the political right – Beck, pastors, and the rest. The American right, moreso than the country’s liberal left, actually consciously sees itself as being in a culture war, and is only too happy to flex its muscles, as JK Rowling found out, quite hilariously.

It is still possible to enjoy the film, if you’re a fan of violent three hour epics. I enjoyed TDKR as an entertaining spectacle. But I don’t know whether to recommend trying to keep its politics in mind while you watch it, lest you pick up bad habits, or trying to forget them completely so they don’t spoil the heady CGI.

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Jon is an occasional contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He blogs at The Red Rock
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Reader comments


1. Luis Enrique

“But what we should really conclude is not that the moral sense of the film is fascist – or even aristocratic. Rather, we should conclude that the film makes no moral sense whatsoever. It conveys no moral message. It’s morally illegible. Lots of explosions and fighting. That’s it.

You just can’t call a film fascist – or even aristocratic – when the makers are at such evident pains not to have that be the moral of the story. A related point: lots of complaints about swipes at the Occupy folks. But surely the Nolans are trying to be evenhanded, to an almost pathetic degree: you could say that the film makes a point of showing that it’s evil 1%-ers – the finance guys trying to take over Wayne Enterprises – who let Bane get control of Gotham.”

http://crookedtimber.org/2012/07/28/dark-knight-rises-and-the-olympic-opening-ceremony/

This is a really stupid article. Since when is it right wing to oppose an entire city being held hostage by a mad man. I’ll tell you how much this movie had to do with Obama. About 0%.

“One does wonder what the point of that would be, since that ideology seems to have rather had its day.”

Has that “leninology” guy been informed?!

In the end, I thought the politics was really confused, as if at one point Nolan thought: ‘I’ll restage “The Terror” of the French Revolution with a guy in a funny costume as some kind of Ebony Pimpernel’ (or whatever), without bothering to have a proper, popular revolution in the first place. And then I’ll chuck in some kind of Illuminati-style angle as well, plus a bit of boardroom powerplay (Bruce Wayne spends all three movies rescuing Wayne Enterprises from the evil capitalists on his board, but that’s as far as the film goes re. economics). Besides which, if right-wingers like Limbaugh think that the character of Bane was some kind of anti-Romney agenda, then I’ve got a Bat-TARDIS he can have for free.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the physics of the ending…

What do you expect from a blockbuster that cost $250 million to make? Like all blockbusters its made by committee and tailored to the demographic of teenage boys who want to see stuff being blown up. An investment of that much money inevitably results in a product that is conservative and in this case a bloated tedious mess that’s too scared to have any convictions other than those the focus groups tell it. But its only a film, and one about a man dressed up as a bat and this time it doesn’t even have Heath Ledger to give it some personality. Go and watch Super instead (made for $2 million)

I saw it last night and to be fair I thought it was the third batman film. To be fairer I just went to watch a film and so that’s what I did.

7. Chaise Guevara

You’re right that the bad guy’s ideology is basically Stalinist. But several points need to be made here (you’re on the thread already, but: spoilers spoilers spoilers):

1) The film goes out of its way to portray the selfish opulance of the upper-crust. It also shows some young, arrogant bankers being humiliated and killed with a relish that surely wants to tap into current politics.

2) The first film in the series focused on a bad guy with similarly extremist goals, but from a more right-wing perspective (destroying Gotham because it had become a corrupt hotbed of criminality). That bad guy was a lot less sympathetic than Bane.

3) “it’s impossible not to recognise the US’s black president as the target of The Dark Knight Rises’s scorn.” Oh yes it is. It’s debateable in fact. Why “black president”? Does the US have a non-black president we need to distinguish Obama from?

4) You found Bane uncharismatic. I thought he was quite charming, if definitely an extremist nutter. I’d say he was the least evil of the series’ three main baddies. And Catwoman, who was definitely sympathetic, agreed with Bane’s class politics if not his methods.

5) You imply that the film is anti-lesbian, but it protrays one lead character as probably bisexual without any criticism, fanservice or even waving a flag around going “Woo we’re progressive!” The film has a “she’s got a girlfriend, what of it?” approach that I hope to see more of in future.

6) Maybe the references to “hope” were shoe-horned, but they’re there for a reason. Each film has used such a theme: the first was “fear”, the second was “chaos”. I presume “fear-chaos-hope” was designed as a generally optimistic arc. Hope is presented as positive overall, just not when the baddie uses it.

Respect to you for noting that superhero stories tend to be inherently right-wing (a real issue here), for not declaring that the film reflects Nolan’s politics, and for not condemning it and calling for a boycott. However, I think you’ve taken a real thing and exaggerated it; once you start looking for bias it can be hard to stop.

Its a film about a comic book character. Its not real and art doesn’t make it a critique of Rosseau, Lenin, the French revolution or coca cola. Bugger me isn’t there enough to comment on that actually matters? Oh sorry its Olympic week i’m supposed to care about people that run fast in circles very fast.

9. Mikey Smith

And I suppose Animal Farm is a right wing parable, yes?

10. margin4error

The moral of the story – as is a general theme in the comics – is that self sacrifice for the greater service of a better world is a good thing – that one must inspire a better world rather than try to make one – but that revenge is a self serving falicy that satisfies no one. (revenge, remember, was the only aim of the badies in TDKR).

The reason the politics may be confused is because it isn’t political.

Note that the revolution as depicted is self serving – but that Wayne’s dictatorial mistrust of wider Gotham society is criticised and is as much to blame for the damage that befalls them and him – that’s distrust demonstrated through the lies about their fallen idol (Two Face) or with the techynology to build a better world (the generator).

So it is probably best not to analyse a film with such strong moral purpose that clearly has no particular political agenda on the basis of its political agenda.

Also – the conflicting views of offering no redemption for prisoners were brilliant. On one hand Gotham is a cleaner city for refusing parole, while on the other hand dumping criminals in a pit with no chance of escape is cruel.

If you want some politics – focus on that. If prison works, does that make it morally acceptable?

totally o/t, but if this site wants to look at an example of corporate welfare – look at this – a £160 million tax cut. Note that the writer doesn’t take a party view – it’s just that civil servants don’t seem to be terribly good negotiators and often get screwed (or to be exact, the taxpayer does).

(It’s not always the case that the civil servants get nailed – in the case of the 3G phone license auctions the phone companies paid way over the odds…)

http://www.cityunslicker.com/2012/07/capitalism-neutered.html

I wouldn’t go reading too much into comics, or movies based on them. Very few are written by people with anything apart from other comics in mind. Writers like Alan Moore are very rare and he’s disowned every Hollywood interpretation of his work.

There is a rather unpleasant conservative zeitgeist, however. People dress conservatively and businessmen are hailed as heroes way above whatis warranted by anything they’ve achieved. There is a conscious or subconscious bias in press reports and very little insight in any reporting. Dealing with the problems we face, apart from deficit reduction, seldom feature leaving people sleepwalking into a very scary future. Now that’s a story!

13. Dan Factor

The bit about “this is everyone ‘s home now” made me chuckle. So burglars break into people’s homes because they think home ownership is theft now?

14. Planeshift

I think people need to stop seeing conspiracies everywhere, otherwise you end up like Aidan Burley.

15. havent seen the third one yet

erm, are there any spoilers in this?

16. Chaise Guevara

“erm, are there any spoilers in this?”

Yes. Don’t read it if you haven’t seen it.

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 14 Planeshift

“I think people need to stop seeing conspiracies everywhere, otherwise you end up like Aidan Burley.”

I was just thinking that, if you tried REALLY hard, you could see Bane as a ridiculous straw-man attack on socialism, Ra’s Al Ghul as a ridiculous straw-man attack on conservativism, and the Joker as a ridiculous straw-man attack on libertarianism.

That leaves us liberals. So I guess what we need is a fourth film where Harley Quinn takes over Gotham, bans Christianity and forces everyone to be gay.

Jesus this is po faced nonsense. Lets start from the fact that the premise for almost every action film is a bit right wing.

You totally missed the point of the “revolution” in the film. It wasn’t a vangardist push for power. It was set up from the off that everybody on the island would die. Bane specifically said that he would leave the inhabitants with some hope, just so he could crush it later. And that hope was that they were in control. Bane never intended to “free” Gotham, just to blow it up.

There is no parallel between that and Occupy. The “Uprising” wasn’t the result of a spontaneous uprising against anything. There was no message or plan.

If you want to condemn a film for it’s clumsy, anti-communist, message then direct your ire at Antz.

Couldn’t care less if this is right-wing, left-wing or bat-wing 🙂 , the Dark Knight Rises is an excellent film! RIP Heath Ledger

Alternately, Heath Ledger’s tragic death left the movie series in an awkward position. Since they couldn’t really continue the story in the way they wanted to from the second without replacing him ala Dumbledore, which they decided not to do in order to respect his memory, they had to scrap it and try and link up a plot from the first film. Which pretty much left “blow up Gotham because villainy and corruption”, course since they were carrying on timeline wise from the second film all the crooks ‘in charge of the city’ had to be of the legal respectable kind, rather than the criminal kind for the plot to make any sort of sense whatsoever.

Someone bought me the last Batman film on dvd, i only watched part of it, it was far too violent. I won’t be going to see the new one either. As to whether Batman is a right wing dream, wasn’t the telegraph asking the other week if Batman was a capitalist hero.

Holy Smoke, Lynne, you don’t know what you are missing 🙂 Trust me, I am the Joker 🙂

23. margin4error

Cherub

Moore didn’t exactly disown any of the film adaptations of his work.

He chose to have nothing to do with them or even watch them because his focus was on comics not film – and he was always clear that he wrote comics in a way that got the best out of the tools presented by comics, which are unique and not equivelent to the tools available in film making.

However, he read the screenplay for Watchman and said that it was as close to his original vision as he thought anyone could ever have achieved for a movie. So not exactly disowning, at least not in the sense of disparaging or disliking – as the word tends to be used about such things.

Oh dear god I’m a geek.

I haven’t seen the film so I’m sticking my neck out and taking my information from the OP.

So many years ago when I did the history of art, my teacher always told us never to believe the artist and always believe the text, therefore, it is very likely to unconsciously represent the politics of the writers and/or the perceived politics of the audience.

There is a long history of American films depicting the hero/es fighting some bogeyman which is perceived to challenge the American dream, red indians were a good source, the cold war provided endless material and space travel gave us the alien.

The blockbuster ‘The War of the Worlds’, which initially appears to follow this pattern was, in fact, H.G. Welles’ criticism of the white imperialism which the west started in the last decades of the 19th century, only most Americans didn’t understand this. In 1938, Orson Welles directed a radio drama over the Columbia Broadcasting system which terrified the audience, who believed it to be really happening, as it was played-out as a newscast. H.G. Welles was still alive when it was broadcast, and I’ve always wondered if he was impressed with the outcome.

The best propaganda is always funny or far-fetched and totally unbelievable but it’s how the receiver/audience already perceive the subject matter which is the most important aspect.

@7 Chaise

Ha, well the idea of a boycott didn’t even cross my mind – I wrote this after a conversation with a friend, and posted it on my own incredibly low traffic blog, mainly for her. It’s a slow news day so it seems to have found it on to LibCon. C’est ma vie.

If I was expecting it go go up here I’d probably have spent more of the piece actually establishing the validity of looking for political subtext in films, since as the comments suggest a lot of people seem to be of the view that ‘it’s a film about a man who dresses up as a bat hurrr just enjoy it’.

I do question whether the people who think the piece of ‘po faced’ actually read it (I said enjoyed the film), but I do agree with the person who said there are better things to be commenting about.

Anyway, Chaise’s interesting points:

I don’t think the film does portray the upper class in the way you suggest. The first thing that popped into my mind in representations of the upper class was the charity ball, where the main character is basically humiliated for having incorrect perceptions about high society philanthropy. He himself is also one, and uses his money to run an orphanage and bankrupts himself trying to produce unlimited clean energy for all.

I did detect a slight animosity to finance capital – the plot device for the demise of Wayne Enterprises is complex financial derivatives, and there were some offhand comments by stock traders about flipping coins in the Wall Street scene. But that isn’t at all at odds with the Beck school of Republicanism, which has, apart from organising around healthcare, has organised around Obama’s bank bailouts.

On Catwoman’s lesbianism, a few things. I think your interpretation is perfectly legitimate, but I’m not totally convinced. Firstly, her lesbianism wasn’t actually explicitly established, which could be, as you say, “we’re so relaxed about that” or it could be “we don’t really talk about that” – she was explicitly lesbian in the comics and it was part of the plot, but it was very much toned down for the film. But secondly and more significantly, when she’s portrayed in a lesbian light in the film, she’s smashing family photographs and breaking into peoples’ homes… but by the end of the film she’s having dinner with Bruce Wayne in Provence, in a context to which family is explicitly alluded to.

You’re absolutely right that I’m honing in on one aspect of the film. @10 points out other themes that are perfectly legitimate, and your conclusion seems slightly convincing. But I think that is a pretty clear theme in the film, and I found it interesting enough to talk about.

@14 Planeshift: Are you suggesting the Olympic opening ceremony wasn’t ‘lefty multiculturalism’? If I was opposed to the NHS and multiculturalism I would have been pretty upset by what was a pretty obvious celebration of it. There were some pretty clear left-wing values in there. Pretending that ideology doesn’t exist or being blind to it because you buy into it doesn’t help anyone.

26. Planeshift

” hero/es fighting some bogeyman which is perceived to challenge the American dream”

Like Harrison Ford did in the Fugative.

27. Chaise Guevara

@ 24 steveb

“So many years ago when I did the history of art, my teacher always told us never to believe the artist and always believe the text”

I think your art teacher was a bit obsessed with what they thought was a Really Clever Idea and decided to preach it as fact.

Yes, artists reflect their time, often unintentionally. See for example racist portrayals in older works that aren’t meant to be racist or are even supposed to encourage mutual respect. The problem with your teacher’s philosophy is that a) it puts you in a position where you’ll argue with the artist about the “real meaning” of the work, even if all you’ve got to go on is accidental symbolism, and b) your view of the text is just as skewed as the artist’s. “Always believe the text” misses out the whole process of working out what to believe.

For example, loads of people have claimed that The Lord of the Rings is an allegory for WWII. Despite the fact that Tolkien said that it wasn’t an allegory, that he hated allegory in general, and that if it had been an allegory loads of plot points would have been different. Tolkien said that the plot of LotR could be *applied* to WWII, but that this was a different thing altogether.

“The blockbuster ‘The War of the Worlds’, which initially appears to follow this pattern was, in fact, H.G. Welles’ criticism of the white imperialism which the west started in the last decades of the 19th century, only most Americans didn’t understand this. ”

Possible case in point: how do you know this? I’m not saying you’re definitely wrong, but it’s counterintuitive given that I’ve heard Welles quoted to the effect that white people are superior and extermination is a reasonable solution to problems with other races. And I always thought that the Martian tripods were meant to represent, well, Martian Tripods. I can see how you could *apply* the book title, overall plot and ending twist to Western imperialism, but that would only be a guess. Simple patterns tend to repeat.

28. Shatterface

If you don’t know the Nolans’s politics maybe you should make the effort to find out before spilling your misconceptions across the internet? Arguments from ignorance aren’t particularly convincing.

The reason Batman has attracted anarchist and countercultural writers like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison is that the character is an anti-hero, compelled to revisit his childhood traima again and again, and because this gives writers and fans the chance to explore the dynamics of vigilantism vs chaos.

You seem to blindly accept Batman is the moral and political centre of the series, which displays *massive* ignorance of how anti-heroes work.

Fuck knows what Judge Dredd will to to your tiny mind.

Are you suggesting the Olympic opening ceremony wasn’t ‘lefty multiculturalism’?

This probably isn’t the thread for this, but I was initially struck by how High Tory the opening ceremony was – proper “bucolic Olde Englande destroyed by ravening industrialists” type stuff. There may as well have been an encomium to the Corn Laws in there. It’s all about what you take away though I suppose. Anything that includes the Eton Boating Song in an unironic way can hardly be undiluted leftism.

30. Shatterface

This probably isn’t the thread for this, but I was initially struck by how High Tory the opening ceremony was – proper “bucolic Olde Englande destroyed by ravening industrialists” type stuff

High Tory like William Blake, Percy Shelley, William Morris and the like?

And if you complete your ‘thought’ with ‘ravening industrial capitalism you’d see how simplistic your analysis was.

31. Chaise Guevara

@ 25 Jon

“If I was expecting it go go up here I’d probably have spent more of the piece actually establishing the validity of looking for political subtext in films, since as the comments suggest a lot of people seem to be of the view that ‘it’s a film about a man who dresses up as a bat hurrr just enjoy it’. ”

LOL, and fair enough. FWIW I think the people telling you it’s just an action film are a) rather closed-minded and b) basically strutting around going “look at me, I’m so down to earth”. Of course an action film can have political themes and you’re entirely right to explore them – I imagine the film-makers want you to.

“I don’t think the film does portray the upper class in the way you suggest. The first thing that popped into my mind in representations of the upper class was the charity ball, where the main character is basically humiliated for having incorrect perceptions about high society philanthropy.”

I want to argue here, mainly because given that [REDACTED DUE TO MASSIVE SPOILERS], what’s *really* going on in that scene is less than clear. But I can feel myself starting to cling to my interpretation, and I’m doing this from memory. So I’m uncertain on this point until I watch it again.

“He himself is also one, and uses his money to run an orphanage and bankrupts himself trying to produce unlimited clean energy for all.”

Well, that side of Batman is already established. The films are a bit OTT in that regard (if Wayne Manor has huge caverns beneath it it’s OBVIOUSLY because the family was part of the Undergound Railroad, not smugglers or anything). I took that as more along the lines of “not all rich guys are bastards”. The point is that they couldn’t have condemned wealth entirely without damning their hero.

“On Catwoman’s lesbianism, a few things. I think your interpretation is perfectly legitimate, but I’m not totally convinced. Firstly, her lesbianism wasn’t actually explicitly established, which could be, as you say, “we’re so relaxed about that” or it could be “we don’t really talk about that” – she was explicitly lesbian in the comics and it was part of the plot, but it was very much toned down for the film.”

If they didn’t want to talk about it they’d have left it out. She hasn’t always been lesbian. For a start, she existed in an era where portraying homosexuality in US comics was banned. And she’s always had a will-they-won’t-they relationship with Batman. She may be lesbian in some comics but not enough to make it unavoidable canon in a series not bothered about canon anyway.

“But secondly and more significantly, when she’s portrayed in a lesbian light in the film, she’s smashing family photographs and breaking into peoples’ homes… but by the end of the film she’s having dinner with Bruce Wayne in Provence, in a context to which family is explicitly alluded to.”

I’d personally call that reading too much into stuff. Not everything is symbolic, and I think this is a bit of a stretch: find one scene where she’s being kinda gay and one where she’s being kinda straight and squeeze a connection out of them through the keyword “family”. It would be a very subtle attack to make, and downright weird for a film that’s prepared to portray lesbianism as uncontroversial.

32. Chaise Guevara

@ 28 Shatterface

“The reason Batman has attracted anarchist and countercultural writers like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison is that the character is an anti-hero”

Would you say so? I mean, he can be, but I’m not sure Bale’s Batman is. He’s pretty much Lawful Good and the films have an annoying habit of treating him as being in the right (for my money, in real life the Joker would have “won” the ferries scenario). He’s a dark hero, sure, but I’m not sure he’s an anti-hero as such.

But is it a lefty conspiracy because the bassy is called BAIN (as in BAIN CAPITAL!). A coincidence? I think not.
______________
You lot are absolutely deluded.

And if you complete your ‘thought’ with ‘ravening industrial capitalism you’d see how simplistic your analysis was.

Not really – the reverse in fact. The ‘High Tories’ were the party of the landed aristocracy who opposed enclosures, opposed agrarian reform more generally, and opposed most of the industrial revolution. Industrialists were generally Whigs at that point. It was only when Peel (who was himself from an industrial background) became leader and espoused the Tamworth Manifesto (and later, and more importantly, abolished the Corn Laws) that the Tories really began to embrace capitalism – or at least industrial capitalism: the move from Toryism to Conservatism.

I was using a bit of shorthand, but in fairness this wasn’t really an in-depth political analysis, more an off the cuff reaction when I wasn’t blubbing at the deaf choir.

@31 – Fair enough, I feel a lot less confident of my own interpretation without watching the film again myself as well, which I suppose is the point of discussing it.

@28 – And? I don’t think I even mentioned the Batman character in the piece – it was more about the villains. Where I did mention it in the comments, it was in the role as a person who had their prejudices humiliated. It just looks like you wanted to show how dreadfully knowledgeable you about comic books, in which case, congratulations.

36. Shatterface

Would you say so? I mean, he can be, but I’m not sure Bale’s Batman is. He’s pretty much Lawful Good and the films have an annoying habit of treating him as being in the right (for my money, in real life the Joker would have “won” the ferries scenario). He’s a dark hero, sure, but I’m not sure he’s an anti-hero as such.

Well, its interesting you used the term Lawful Good because that’s a Dungeons & Dragons alignment, ultimately drawn from Michael Moorcock’s Arrow of Law from the Elric stories; the other alignments being Lawful Bad, Chaotic Good, Chaotic Bad and Neutral.

Batman’s not Lawful in the ‘legalistic sense of the word because he’s an outlaw. He is, however, Lawful in the sense of being rule-governed. Batman represents an excess of order, compelled to re-enact a childhood order which has also gived him an excessive sense of responsibility.

The Joker is Batman’s antithesis, Chaotic Bad: complete freedom untempered by social responsibility, a nihilist rather than an anarchist. Nor is he compelled to repeat himself: the fact he contradicts himself about his origin suggests that his past plays no part in his present.

The dynamic of the saga (comics, film, etc) is the struggle between elemental forces that struggle in all of us, but can never defeat each other. Batman can’t kill the Joker (which is why I’ve never liked the Burton film) because the forces are locked in equilibrium.

Batman’s a control freek; the Joker’s a trickster god out to provoke a reaction. Neither of them are in this for themselves as Batman is already rich and uninterested in power, while the Joker would rather burn his money and kill his own followers.

That’s what draws writers like Moore and Morrison, both practitioners of Chaos Magic, to the story: an elemental struggle between the conflicts of our nature.

And the ferry sequence confounds both Batman and the Joker: Batman learns the people don’t need him, and the Joker learns that most people, given the choice, would face the possibility of their own death rather than sink the other boat.

37. Shatterface

@28 – And? I don’t think I even mentioned the Batman character in the piece – it was more about the villains.

How can you possibly consider one without the other?

Where I did mention it in the comments, it was in the role as a person who had their prejudices humiliated. It just looks like you wanted to show how dreadfully knowledgeable you about comic books, in which case, congratulations.

I’m sorry to have to bring knowledge into this but the first rule of the internet is DON’T PICK A FIGHT WITH NERDS.

@37 I don’t see how Batman being an anti-hero would affect any assertions made the article, unless you’re suggesting the villains are therefore anti-villains (which doesn’t follow anyway) and that we’re somehow supposed to sympathise with their actions – which seems completely false.

39. Chaise Guevara

@ 36 Shatterface

“Well, its interesting you used the term Lawful Good because that’s a Dungeons & Dragons alignment, ultimately drawn from Michael Moorcock’s Arrow of Law from the Elric stories; the other alignments being Lawful Bad, Chaotic Good, Chaotic Bad and Neutral.”

I’m getting it via D&D, although I wasn’t aware there was a predecessor. Sounds like the definitions are are about the same though.

“Batman’s not Lawful in the ‘legalistic sense of the word because he’s an outlaw. He is, however, Lawful in the sense of being rule-governed. Batman represents an excess of order, compelled to re-enact a childhood order which has also gived him an excessive sense of responsibility.”

Agreed (and yes, I meant rule-governed by Lawful), although I don’t think the films show that excess of order. If anything they should him losing his grip on order when the Joker gets through to him.

Hmm. Maybe the cellphone-surveillence machine qualifies, on reflection.

“The Joker is Batman’s antithesis, Chaotic Bad: complete freedom untempered by social responsibility, a nihilist rather than an anarchist. Nor is he compelled to repeat himself: the fact he contradicts himself about his origin suggests that his past plays no part in his present. ”

I think of it as Chaotic Evil, but yeah.

“The dynamic of the saga (comics, film, etc) is the struggle between elemental forces that struggle in all of us, but can never defeat each other. Batman can’t kill the Joker (which is why I’ve never liked the Burton film) because the forces are locked in equilibrium.

Batman’s a control freek; the Joker’s a trickster god out to provoke a reaction. Neither of them are in this for themselves as Batman is already rich and uninterested in power, while the Joker would rather burn his money and kill his own followers.”

Agreed again. Well put. But I don’t think “flawed hero” is the same thing as “anti-hero”. For all his conflict and darkness, Batman is more Skywalker than Solo. He’s incorruptible – antiheroes generally aren’t. He doesn’t instinctively look out for Number 1 – antiheroes generally do. He’s genuinely on the side of good, not just a selfish person whose interests happen to be aligned with the good guys and/or who doesn’t care that much but, given the option, prefers good to win.

Of course, “antihero” is one of the worst-defined words we use, so we could easily be at cross-purposes here. If it helps, I think my archetypal antihero would be Jack Sparrow.

“And the ferry sequence confounds both Batman and the Joker: Batman learns the people don’t need him, and the Joker learns that most people, given the choice, would face the possibility of their own death rather than sink the other boat.”

Well, in a trivial sense they do need him right then, because otherwise Joker’s gonna blow up both boats. But I take your point given what comes after.

I have two major problems with the ferries thing. First is that I really feel that, realistically, one of the boats would have blown up the other one. It’s sheer fluke that prisoners’ boat doesn’t, and I don’t really believe that nobody on the civilian boat would pull the trigger.

The second is that not one single person said “Hang on, what if the Joker’s given us the trigger to our own boat?”, which is frankly how I expected the scene to play out.

40. Chaise Guevara

@ 35 Jon

“Fair enough, I feel a lot less confident of my own interpretation without watching the film again myself as well, which I suppose is the point of discussing it.”

Agreed. If neither of us even considered revising our views after talking about it we’d have pretty much wasted our time.

@17

That leaves us liberals. So I guess what we need is a fourth film where Harley Quinn takes over Gotham, bans Christianity and forces everyone to be gay.

While it ain’t gonna happen, I wouldn’t mind seeing the forth film in the series where, of course, we’d see a new protagonist take on the caped crusader mantle. Make a nice change from the next Batman/Superman/Spiderman reboot. Although you’ve got more chance of Hugo Strange fulfilling that role than Harley Quinn, re Joker being curiously absent.

42. john p reid

One point of the batman film is that if itgets criminals off the street its, justifed in changing the laws to say that if someone hasn’t been proved of doing something wrong the law can be changed to assume someones done something wrong,Unfortunately I feel this appiled to the Stehpen lawrence killers being found guilty this year

43. Shatterface

Hmm. Maybe the cellphone-surveillence machine qualifies, on reflection.

That’s what I was thinking of, and Alfred is pretty disgusted at him there. If Gotham City has a moral centre, its Alfred.

I think of it as Chaotic Evil, but yeah.

Sounds about right – its been a while since I played. (An Elvish thief, chaotic neutral IIRC)

Agreed again. Well put. But I don’t think “flawed hero” is the same thing as “anti-hero”. For all his conflict and darkness, Batman is more Skywalker than Solo. He’s incorruptible – antiheroes generally aren’t. He doesn’t instinctively look out for Number 1 – antiheroes generally do. He’s genuinely on the side of good, not just a selfish person whose interests happen to be aligned with the good guys and/or who doesn’t care that much but, given the option, prefers good to win.

Of course, “antihero” is one of the worst-defined words we use, so we could easily be at cross-purposes here. If it helps, I think my archetypal antihero would be Jack Sparrow.

I’m thinking more of the kind of character who makes you question what a hero is than a hero with flaws. I think Batman is in some ways closer to Dexter Morgan, the serial killer on TV, than to Superman. They’re both rule-governed, though Dexter’s probably Lawful Bad. Judge ‘I am the Law’ Dredd or RoboCop before Murphy breaks his directives are a useful comparison.

And the reason I’d say Lawful Good isn’t ‘heroic’ is nobody wants to be rule-governed. Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger steal their films.

I have two major problems with the ferries thing. First is that I really feel that, realistically, one of the boats would have blown up the other one. It’s sheer fluke that prisoners’ boat doesn’t, and I don’t really believe that nobody on the civilian boat would pull the trigger.

If anything, the Nolans (euch) might be considered woolly-minded liberals for this scene, but since it is closer to my rather optimistic view of human nature than you find on either pole of the Left-Right spectrum I’m happy to go with it.

The second is that not one single person said “Hang on, what if the Joker’s given us the trigger to our own boat?”, which is frankly how I expected the scene to play out.

Since we are discussing comic book characters I think I’m entitled to describe that idea as ‘cool’.

Of course, “antihero” is one of the worst-defined words we use, so we could easily be at cross-purposes here. If it helps, I think my archetypal antihero would be Jack Sparrow.

I’m thinking more of the kind of character who makes you question what a hero is than a hero with flaws.

That would certainly cover Batman, who once beat the crap out of Superman after the latter became an unquestioning tool of US state power.

45. Chaise Guevara

@ 41 Cylux

“While it ain’t gonna happen, I wouldn’t mind seeing the forth film in the series where, of course, we’d see a new protagonist take on the caped crusader mantle. Make a nice change from the next Batman/Superman/Spiderman reboot. Although you’ve got more chance of Hugo Strange fulfilling that role than Harley Quinn, re Joker being curiously absent.”

Oh, agreed. But if the fourth film actually had the bad guy make everyone gay, it would blatantly be Harley Quinn. Sure, she wouldn’t be around without the Joker being involved in some way.

46. Chaise Guevara

@ 43 Shatterface

“That’s what I was thinking of, and Alfred is pretty disgusted at him there. If Gotham City has a moral centre, its Alfred.”

It’s a good point. My general take on it was that it shows that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” does not apply to Batman, because he’s the goddamn Batman.

“Sounds about right – its been a while since I played. (An Elvish thief, chaotic neutral IIRC)”

Ah, Chaotic Neutral. One of the best two! Not that I play, for full disclosure (don’t know enough nerds) but I’ve gotten a lot of use out of the video games and still fire up Baldur’s Gate occasionally, i.e. last weekend.

“I’m thinking more of the kind of character who makes you question what a hero is than a hero with flaws. I think Batman is in some ways closer to Dexter Morgan, the serial killer on TV, than to Superman. They’re both rule-governed, though Dexter’s probably Lawful Bad. Judge ‘I am the Law’ Dredd or RoboCop before Murphy breaks his directives are a useful comparison. ”

Yeah, good definition. But Nolan’s Batman never made me question his hero status.

“And the reason I’d say Lawful Good isn’t ‘heroic’ is nobody wants to be rule-governed. Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger steal their films. ”

Hard not to: Batman is often more a plot device than a character, especially in the latter two Nolan films. I’ve always thought Batman fiction was about the baddies. I guess the issue here is what we’re calling heroic. I think Batman ticks pretty much all of my boxes.

“If anything, the Nolans (euch) might be considered woolly-minded liberals for this scene, but since it is closer to my rather optimistic view of human nature than you find on either pole of the Left-Right spectrum I’m happy to go with it.”

I can deal with it, but it really feels like a Deus Ex Machina for Batman. Maybe Gotham is the hero of that story, if we want to get all meta.

“Since we are discussing comic book characters I think I’m entitled to describe that idea as ‘cool’.”

Heh. I honestly thought that was where it was going, actually felt prematurely smug for working it out. It would have fitted the Joker, too: we already know he’ll break the rules of his own game if it means an ironic twist.

47. Just Visiting

Margin4error

> The moral of the story – as is a general theme in the comics – is that self sacrifice for the greater service of a better world is a good thing – that one must inspire a better world rather than try to make one – but that revenge is a self serving falicy that satisfies no one.

That could be paraphrased/abridged from the New Testament !

Discuss.

“I don’t know the director’s politics, and as a blockbuster I suspect they had little influence on the overall product, it being more a product of committee.”

So basically you don’t know what you are talking about and are proceeding from erroneous hunches. Okay.

BTW,

very interesting discussion between Chaise Guevara and Shatterface. Good stuff.

I thought the film was excellent and would like to see it again to digest it more fully. I must have missed the ‘anti-Black-President-Obama’ angle also. Possibly it wasn’t really there…

@ redpesto

“In the end, I thought the politics was really confused, as if at one point Nolan thought: ‘I’ll restage “The Terror” of the French Revolution with a guy in a funny costume as some kind of Ebony Pimpernel’ (or whatever), without bothering to have a proper, popular revolution in the first place.”

I think the politics here are only confused if one is expecting when one see allusions to the French Revolution, to see a sort of transparent reproduction or equivalences of the actual French Revolution story (and its causes and results etc). But history doesn’t repeat itself exactly, because the conditions and actors always vary. And more importantly (in my view) I think we ought to bear in mind that A Tale of Two Cities is itself a much later and necessarily selective re-imagining of the Terror, using it for a story of personal sacrifice for other people’s family, set against a backdrop of political turmoil and ideals gone wrong. I think in a political sense the way the historical Terror was being referred to was partly parodic (whether it is the film text or Bane himself – or both – consciously doing the parodying is an interesting question, here) while at a personal level, the theme of personal sacrifce form ATOTC was being replayed fairly ‘straight’.

So (in my view) TDKR doesn’t so much allude to the French Revolution and Terror themselves, as to someone else’s (Dicken’s) re-imagining and artistic employment of that subject/setting. I don’t think an exact or even fairly exact historical/political fit/echo need necessarily have been in mind or even what was being looked for, for it to work as a piece of drama. i.e it’s not so much about the French Revolution and Terror as about Dicken’s take on and employment of them.

Orwell’s essay on Dickens himself (and A Tale of Two Cities) might perhaps serve to illuminate the political stance (if there is one) of the film. It seems to me that in the bits quoted below, you could comfortably substitute for ‘Dickens’ and ATOTC, ‘Christopher Nolan’ and/or ‘Batman’and ‘TDKR’.

“The truth is that Dickens’s criticism of society is almost exclusively moral. His whole ‘message’ is one that at first glance looks like an enormous platitude: If men would behave decently the world would be decent.

Naturally this calls for a few characters who are in positions of authority and who do behave decently. Hence that recurrent Dickens figure, the good rich man.

[…]

Dickens sees that the results [of the pre-revolutionary situation in France] are inevitable, given the causes, but he thinks that the causes might have been avoided. The Revolution is something that happens because centuries of oppression have made the French peasantry sub-human. If the wicked nobleman could somehow have turned over a new leaf, like Scrooge, there would have been no Revolution, no jacquerie, no guillotine — and so much the better. This is the opposite of the ‘revolutionary’ attitude. From the ‘revolutionary’ point of view the class-struggle is the main source of progress, and therefore the nobleman who robs the peasant and goads him to revolt is playing a necessary part, just as much as the Jacobin who guillotines the nobleman. Dickens never writes anywhere a line that can be interpreted as meaning this. Revolution as he sees it is merely a monster that is begotten by tyranny and always ends by devouring its own instruments.”

In any case, it’s a really well-worth reading essay:

http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/dickens/english/e_chd/

If the film opposes Stalinism or violent revolution, how does that make it a rightwing film? The mainstream left opposes these things too.

However, it is also worth bearing in mind that Bane isn’t a Stalinist or socialist. All that stuff is just for public consumption. All the time he is plotting the destroy the city with a nuclear bomb. Is it rightwing to oppose a group of terrorists who are trying to nuke the city and kill everyone in it? I assume that the reason for whipping up revolution is to create anarchy and thus reduce the chances of the bomb plot being stopped in time.

Nazism as an “ideology seems to have rather had its day” but that doesn’t stop liberals from continuing to obsess about it. One does wonder what the point of that would be.

52. Shatterface

Nazism as an “ideology seems to have rather had its day” but that doesn’t stop liberals from continuing to obsess about it. One does wonder what the point of that would be

I think that dates back to the Frankfurt School of criticism: a bunch of Marxist intellectuals who fled the Nazis to America and eventually developed a ‘critique’ of society that demanded such a Marxist purity of art that they saw Nazism everywhere.

Its a top-down theory that starts from the assumption that everyone else is a fascist, then ‘analyses’ texts for evidence. Its basically the same Texas sharpshooter fallacy you see in the OP.

If you take a bottom-up approach, starting from introspection (if you are a fan yourself) or ethnological studies (if you are on the outside of fandom) and match that information with knowledge of how people, as opposed to the robots proposed by the Frankfurt School, actually construct meaning from a text, you get something you can legitimately call a ‘meaning’ of a film.

Trying to impose a meaning from the outside is frankly imperialistic.

53. margin4error

Just Visiting

Possibly – but an abridged version that cuts out having to believe in fairies or trolls or gods or silly stuff like that.

No one says we have to believe Batman is real.

54. margin4error

Shatterface

Surely the general “nazism” criticism made of one act or another is just a result of people meaning fascism and plumping for the most shocking and attention grabbing of the two words – even though that word is often wrong.

It is hard to change the linguistic habits of generations – and Nazism was a real spectre in the 40s and 50s and so it became a normal criticism – much as the american right sees communism everywhere because the language fixed in the 50s when that was a real concern and has lasted longer than the communist threat did.

never under-estimate the inertia of language.

@25. You think Bruce was humiliated for having incorrect perceptions about high-society charity balls. I’m not convinced. Just because he was apparently wrong in this instance, why should anyone assume he was wrong in general? And (spoilers) wasn’t the hostess who humiliated him and who asserted her own altruism none other than Talia al-Ghul? Why on earth would you believe a word she said, in retrospect? Who knows what she was really raising funds for, and even if it really was for a good cause, what was the real motive?

@Lamia – interesting; thanks for the response

Re,. Catwoman’s lesbianism (or not): given her common representation as a character who could be good/bad (situational ethics/’a girl’s gotta eat’/whatever), I suspect the writers ended up making her vaguely ‘bi’ to ‘signal’ that ambiguity and lack of loyalty to either ‘side’ (cat owners may be familiar with this phenomenon in actual felines; the loyalty, I mean, not the bisexuality). As the security guard said of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman ‘I don’t know whether to book her or fall in love’. One sometimes wonders whether Batman/Bruce Wayne feels the same way.

I saw this last night.
It was the biggest load of rubbish I’ve seen in a couple of years.
Anyone who thought this was ”right wing” needs to get out more.

Who was it that thought Avatar was a ”left wing” film?
Or at least positive for the eco cause?
It was someone on LC.

58. Chaise Guevara

@ 57 damon

“Who was it that thought Avatar was a ”left wing” film?
Or at least positive for the eco cause?
It was someone on LC.”

No, it was a sizeable portion of audiences and critics worldwide. And it’s not an unreasonable interpretation, either, given that the goodies are pre-industrial conservationists who live in harmony with nature blah blah blah while the baddies are greedy people trying to tear a world apart to get at the valuable minerals within.

In fact, I read that Cameron was told to tone down the “tree-hugging” elements of the film by the execs, and responded by turning them up instead out of spite.

It’s silly to read a moral analogy into every single film, but it’s equally silly to pretend that no films are moral analogies.

…. given that the goodies are pre-industrial conservationists who live in harmony with nature …

I know. And that’s how silly it was. To run a modern society we need those minerals and ”stuff”. Pre industrial isn’t much good to anyone. How would you have airplanes and computors?
So Avatar wasn’t to be taken much more seriously than Pocahontas.
Of course films can have themes and messages. But it doesn’t mean they carry any more weight than anthing else anyone might have to say.

60. Chaise Guevara

@ 59 damon

Me saying a film contains a moral analogy is not the same as me saying that said moral analogy has weight, or is even right.

When you said it wasn’t a left-wing film and or “positive for the eco cause”, I assumed you meant that it wasn’t intended to send an environmental message. What you seem to be saying now is that it IS intended to send such a message, but that the message is stupid. In which case, I agree (well, perhaps not with “stupid”, but at least “unrealistically presented as black and white”).


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