[I’ll tell you when the spoilers come. You’re good for now.]
I’ve been incredibly impressed with these Batman movies. I wasn’t a real avid comic reader as a kid, but they were part of my literacy experience. Comics aren’t just stuff for kids and nerds, but the hieroglyphics of our age. They’re fantastic stories with words and images that speak of the human condition. Maybe a thousand years from now people will think Comic Con was a pilgrimage to worship American gods. Ironically, though no sane adult would claim to believe these worlds are real, we do let them affect them as reality too often. Fiction and fantasy. Fun and fear. It can inspire. It can also reflect some of the worst in us.
The film is about revolution, about the livelihood of a city, a community, about the investments people make in a community, about the consequences of our decisions, or our lack of decisions. It’s about what happens when we hide the truth, when we hide behind masks, hide underground, hide in our money, our castles. It’s about punishment. It’s about redemption. About rising.
I enjoyed this movie very much. It was epic and satisfying. One reviewer described it best as “granite, monolithic intensity.” Tom Hard’y Bane was outstanding, probably the best part. It had it’s weaknesses, but let’s just say it was no Spider-Man 3. Someone compared this trilogy’s episodes to Star Wars, and I sort of agree. You may, like many, find it disappoints compared to the second one. But they had to work with the absence of Heath Ledger and the pressure to replace his Joker with a more formidable villain, not to mention a more tense plot. I think they did the best with what they had, the best they could do, and I think it was outstanding.
My only critiques were that not enough of it, especially a climactic scene, took place at night. This is Batman. Knight. Night. Also, in these films I miss that gothic architecture we’re more familiar with in the comics. I also would have loved to see Nolan’s interpretations of the other villains, though that’s not so much of a complaint. I’m a big sucker for the Batman villains because unlike most super-villains, they’re not defined by powers but by their psyches. The Batman mythos is about the human subconscious. Jungian archetypes. The bat as the alternate, subconscious man.
The villains represent demons of the psyche that haunt us. They’re defined not just by their gimmicks but by their ideals, commitments and passions (or lack thereof), and these films really show that. The scarecrow is haunted by his own desire to manipulate through fear, the joker by the madness of his own nihilistic lust for chaos, Dent by his conflicted belief and unbelief in justice, the Cat by her self-justified kleptomania, Rhas al Ghul for his radical Jihadist rage, Bane by his pain (rhyme intentional) and the rage that it symbolizes—shall I go beyond these films?—the Riddler by his desire for attention (the most ADHD villain), the Penguin by his rejection against his elitism. Ok I’ll stop there.
And so the psychological and moral dilemmas in this completed trilogy really are a literary and visual gem for our generation. Maybe this is the Star Wars of the new millennium, or maybe it’s just it’s own thing.
[At this point, I will shift the discussion over to two things that may involve some SPOILERS: the inevitable political implications that have been spun around this film. If you haven’t seen the movie, and/or don’t want to talk about any of that other stuff, it’s best to stop here.]
I first noticed from the trailers the revolutionary aspect of this third film, and the similarities with the Tea Party/Occupy unrest in America. The filmmakers had this plot in mind well before Occupy, and long after the Tea Party formed, and they were dealing with a general theme of justice and power and unrest, so the similarities are so obvious they’re coincidental. It’s like how every James Bond movie used to be about Soviet Russia and now they’re about terrorism. What would you expect?
Then radio host and misleader of the public Rush Limbaugh says TDKR is a liberal conspiracy. Apparently because Bane (a villain who came on the scene in 1993) is a reference to Bain (a company that Romney, who was hardly a candidate when the film was put into production, used to run). If anything, Bane would have identified with the occupy movement—he literally storms the stock market, advocates slaughter of the rich, and wants to shake up society. That Dagget guy he worked with—he was your Romney type. In contrast, Bruce Wayne is a rich private entrepreneur who likes to punish criminals, wiretaps an entire city to catch one criminal, and doesn’t always cooperate with the government, though sometimes he does when it fits him. Any way you read it, this movie deals with political themes, but if it has an outright political agenda, even the Riddler doesn’t know what it is. Batman, as well as Jim Gordon, are men caught between dilemmas that we all face and all political parties think they have answers to. Bane may represent a highly extreme liberal, or maybe the Joker does, and yet Two-Face seems to be a very conservative villain, or maybe Rhas Al Ghul was. Whatever.
Here’s the rub: Both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement are essentially the same thing: People angry at where they think the money and power are and very vocal about that power and money being shifted to where they think it belongs. The danger is also that they are both rooted in ideas attached to a history of violent revolution. The Tea Party names itself after an act of industrial sabotage on a grand vandalism scale which was one step to a terrible war. The Occupy movement borrows rhetoric and symbolism from the violent revolutions in what are now (or were for a time) communist countries. Both are equally legitimate, and equally flawed. They have valid complaints, but are only capable of speech and wandering protest.
Villains are villains, and villains respond to them. Bane shows that when people embrace a violent revolutionary, they are always in for a surprise. Just as Bane promised a restructuring of society, but was found out to only want to demolish it, violent revolutionaries promise to “set things right,” but they always become dictators. America is no different. In our case, the people were the revolutionaries, and now the people are a dictator. We give in to the dictates of our own needs and impulses, believe what we want and solve what we want. And we accuse each other of being tyrants when we really don’t know what a real tyrant looks like, at least not the kind we are describing when we pontificate and posture with such vehemence against people who disagree with us and who we think are conspirators. Said Swift: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” This has a double meaning. Like Jesus, like Semmelweiss, like Tesla, when true genius appears, most don’t get it. And yet, on the other hand, if you yourself are a dunce, you will think yourself a genius and think all those critical of you are conspiring against you. You know, like Glenn Beck.
Of course, if the movie was about Romney, it would look something like this.
Now I am moving on to a discussion of the responses to the Arurora tragedy. I do send my prayers up in their name, and hope that those who experienced it will be able to move on, to “rise”, though their lives are changed forever. Unfortunately, people will politicize this disaster as well, and some things need to be said about that.
Fellow blogger Jeremy Marshall continues this conversation, which you can find here:
The Wounds of Aurora Already Infested with Partisan Parasites
Marshall points out a number of helpful things here about the political discourse surrounding the tragedy. One is that a number of people, among them news pundit Sean Hannity, took the opportunity to push this absurd idea that if somebody else in the theater had a gun, this would have all been taken care of somehow. I’ll just come right out and tell you that’s very stupid. Says Marshall, “I wonder whether or not Hannity understands that in a darkened theater full of smoke and crowds of panicked people, another gun going off would have probably only added to the death toll? Or cares that by apprehending Holmes alive, police were able to save other officers and his neighbors from being blown to smithereens by his booby-trapped apartment?” “Shoot first, ask questions later” is a demonic philosophy. Also, the man was wearing body armor. Also, what if several others had guns and wanted to use them against him? Would they all just instinctually know he was the only killer and the rest were also defenders? Would they not also likely shoot one another? Besides, when you hold a gun, everyone else is holding a gun. Has going to a fantastical movie not taught you anything? This idea that you can have the skill and luck to stop such a thing from happening because you’re armed and believe in justice—it’s as silly as believing Batman is real. You gun-obsessors have seen way too many action movies and played way too much Call of Duty. Real life isn’t like Dirty Harry or a video game. You don’t respawn, and you don’t always draw before the bad guy. Life is messy, and sometimes you can’t prevent the mess, you can only clean it up.
As I overheard someone say, “The response of ‘if only there was a concealed carrier in the audience’ also strikes me as an incredibly inappropriate and condescending response to tragedy. It feels almost like an ‘I told you so.'” Now to be fair, we must also shake our head at Roger Ebert, who, not long after hearing the news announced that the tragedy was a “perfect time” to call for tighter gun restriction policies. No, it’s a perfect time to mourn and pray and begin healing. There is no other perfect thing in this.
That tragedy could not have been prevented by any kind of gun policy. It could have only been prevented by some interaction of love and reason in the life of the man who eventually performed that horrible deed. Someone with a gun would not likely have stopped him, neither would having weapon checks at the front door (he came in through the exit, I believe). As Marshall says, “These conspiracy theories are products of a morally-compromised society that cannot accept that there are entities known as evil or sin.” The tragedy happened because sin happens and tragedy happens, and that is about meaning, not power. Meaning, like truth, isn’t convenient, but power is.
And who do we blame? Whoever it is convenient for us to blame. Dylan’s “Who Killed Davey Moore” tells us who to blame. Jack Johnson’s “Cookie Jar” tells us who to blame. This article tells us who to blame. As it is said in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, “everyone agreed that it was nobody’s fault.” In these cases, everyone thinks it is someone’s fault. Either way, who wants to share blame? Blame yourself for the things you do, forgive yourself as Christ forgave you, forgive others as Christ forgave you, and do good.
Marshall ended his blog entry with these words:
“In the end, if Roger Ebert is anything close to right, and the shooter picked the Batman premiere to do what he did because he was “drawn to a highly publicized event with a big crowd,” then the likes of ABC News, Breitbart.com, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Louis Gohmert might have a lot more in common with James Holmes than they could ever bring themselves to admit.” Ouch. But true. When we draw crowds for publicity, we must bear responsibility for what we say. Remember the old “sticks and stones” adage? We said that because deep down we knew words hurt more. If a killer is responsible for taking the lives of masses, great speakers must take responsibility for taking the hearts and minds of masses. We will be judged for our words as well as deeds.
We shouldn’t take advantage of people’s fears, and making money is no excuse. For me, movies like Batman are an aid in catharsis of these fears. They are philosophical exercises that I can engage in when I need to distance myself from reality, but when I return, I cannot mistake the world of fantasy with the very real world, where men in capes can’t do impossible feats.
I end by pointing you to this article, which tells us what I think is the only appropriate initial response to these tragedies, one that drowns out all this politicizing of it. In other words, when a family member dies, the funeral is not the place for everyone else in the house to play the blame game.