Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: An analysis of sorts

STOP!!!!!! Right now.....right here!!!  STOP!!!!!!

Read the first part here and then make up your mind if you want to continue on.

If you have not yet visited your local cinema to watch "The Dark Knight Rises", then you may not want to read further. I will reveal major plot points and give away certain themes about characters that you may want to reserve for your own sensibility and interpretation. So with that, if you read further, just know that you have been warned. 

BB is Batman Begins
TDK is The Dark Knight
TDKR guessed it, The Dark Knight Rises

In no way am I telling you that anything I write is the true intent of the film, the filmmaker, its' producers, writers, or cast. I'm simply giving you my interpretation of how I perceived the films against the backdrop of our current place in history. 

In BB we had a film which explored the origins of Batman. But more than that, it set the tone for what kind of hero that Batman would be during the series. Bruce Wayne was an angry young man who had his parents and the promise of a certain way of life stripped from him when he was a child. Anger and vengeance were the things that drove him to leave his life behind and he chose to become a rogue agent, traveling the world and trying to punish bad guys in a fashion that lacked discipline and lacked a plan. He was "rescued" and trained by Ra's Al Ghul, who took Wayne under his wing and trained him to be his greatest pupil. Al Ghul's vision of the world was that once something got so out of control with corruption that it shouldn't be allowed to continue. That it was broken beyond repair and had to burn and be rebuilt for the world to see as an example. Oddly enough, he brought Bruce Wayne back from his broken nature and rehabilitated him, without having to destroy him. BB gives us a sense that Batman understood the problems with his city and believed that it could be rehabilitated and rescued from itself and he could be the man (symbol of doing what is right). At the time of its' release I considered BB to be the best "super hero" or "comic" movie I had seen and really didn't consider very much past that. 

But then came TDK and its overt look at terrorism and how to respond to it. I believe some of TDK to be fairly supportive of how America and the Bush Administration responded to 9/11/01. I also see areas where it questioned the validity of our response. The Joker was a great villain and one that law enforcement and certainly Batman couldn't quite understand. The Joker destroyed to destroy. He killed to kill. He didn't have rules. Terror is a form of warfare that is truly off the charts. The targets are not always military in nature. The targets can be random and hit the very conscious and heart of its target. The Joker took advantage of the survival nature and fear of Gotham's people. He took advantage of Batman having a certain set of principles that he bound himself to when taking on crime and corruption. He (Batman) wouldn't kill in response to killing. Harvey Dent was interesting to Bruce Wayne/Batman because he was a representative of the people, right out in the open, saying that it wasn't acceptable to terrorize free citizens. That it was not acceptable to take advantage of the nature of the common man. He even believed it was not acceptable to draw justice from the well of vigilantism. That is why Batman saw Dent as the true leader of Gotham's anti-crime movement. He didn't hide. He represented the people and looked the bad guys in the eye. He had no fear and didn't hide from the chaos brought on by the criminal element. The law is important and following the law to bring down crime validates the law. Dent didn't lie or distort any part of his determination to bring crime to justice. That is why at the end of the film, Dent was hailed as the hero. Batman was not taking on terror or crime within the law, he was circumventing it. It was the only way, in the short term to deal with an immediate problem, but Batman knew that it wasn't the way to change things in the long run.  

Thus, the connection to America, terrorism, and how our leadership chose to approach it. Remember, Batman developed a system of spying on the citizens of Gotham, just like the Bush Administration pushed and got with the Patriot Act.  But unlike Luscious Fox in TDK, our political leadership has not drawn down from using techniques that are a violation of our right to privacy. Batman, like Bush felt there was a need to approach this enemy different than any they/we had ever dealt with. Rules were out the window. If you watch TDK carefully enough, you can grab on to the undertone of Batman being secretive about the things he was working on to combat crime. He was willing to go to some dark places to combat crime and terror, just like America did, but how valid and right is that approach. Fortunately, Batman seemed to consider those things. Sadly, at times, we as a nation have not. The Joker actually brought out the worst in Batman at times (ie, the beating Batman gave the detained Joker while in the holding cell). Batman also wanted a life and saw Dent as his ticket to dumping the Bat Suit and pursuing a relationship with Rachel Dawes and running Wayne Enterprises. He longed to get out of the way and let freedom and justice prevail out in the open. Wayne and Commissioner Gordon thought it was the right thing, to deny the truth, so the people could feel safe and embrace the right way of taking on crime.  

TDKR comes back to some of these themes. I believe the film showed how problematic it is to create a fake sense of security and prosperity. Underneath the lie is the truth. The truth was that despite the "comeback" that Gotham was enjoying in the aftermath of the Joker's "defeat", evil was reloading right under their feet. Literally. This deflection of the validation that was seen at times in TDK, wasn't pushed upon the audience for the most part. It seems that Nolan, through both films, put the success and failures of our battle against terror out there for us to consider and judge for ourselves. This ties a bit into the way that he handled social injustice (in the film) in our monetary system today. The battle lines are drawn and Nolan touches on both sides and the middle, then lets the audience consider the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all. 

There is definitely a fantasy glimpse into the mind of an Occupy Wall Street supporter. The Wall Street scene felt both good and bad. It hinted at the prosperity that is constantly being traded among our society's elite and how satisfying it would be to see that world interrupted and exposed. At one point in the film, the common citizens and thugs begin to run Gotham City and it has dire consequences for those in law enforcement who perpetrated a lie about the safety of the city and those who enjoyed life on a premium level, while the mainstream citizen struggled. It shows the illusion of control that the elite portray, as if they are shining brass on the Titanic, even after the iceberg has been hit. Bruce Wayne is not immune from it. His sensibility towards society and culture were washed away by his pain and anger and the false notion that he and Rachel Dawes were going to be together if not for her death. Alfred had lied to him and in that way, failed Bruce Wayne. The lie spared Wayne's feelings, but was not good for him. Much in the way that the lie of the mass media and consumer culture tries (and largely succeeds) to lead us into a sense of security socially, even as people are hungry, jobless, and homeless all around our nation. Things are failing all around us, but like Bruce Wayne, our feelings are spared, so we don't react to life based on truth. 

There are three main characters that are responding to the failing of Gotham's capitalism. Bruce Wayne becomes detached from his role and responsibility to the community. His negligence of his company, and simply living off the spoils of the past, leads to the suffering of others. Bane and the League of Shadows sees the have/have not disparity as another reason that the corrupt Gotham City must be made an example of and destroyed. Then, you have Catwoman/Selina Kyle who is right in the middle. Not quite as ready to commit to the destruction, but quite at odds with the upper crest of society gaining more power and wealth while standing on the shoulders of the working class and poor. She and Robin....oops, I mean John Blake (by the way, I called that one, even as many people were telling me that Nolan/Bale were NOT going to have Robin in the series....sucker fan boys) are really the heartbeat of the film. Kyle comes across immediately has distrustful of the wealthy and Blake develops a distrust in being fearful of the enemy while hiding behind a badge. The bridge scene took him over the top, and amplified the words of wisdom he gained from Wayne/Batman throughout the film. 

In the end, we got hope. Bane at one point said that Bruce Wayne couldn't truly experience his punishment unless he had a glimmer of hope. It was a way to torture Batman. The hope that Nolan gives at the end of the film is that we can see that while the truth may hurt, a life built on lies feeds into the underlying fear of not having enough, of not being safe, and of looking out for ones self, instead of others. Trust, sharing, and truth are the ways to build a truly free society that gets us closer to everyone being able to enjoy the fruits of this country. Fear, anger, and hate play against those themes and are prevalent in many parts of our society today. 

A couple of things I noticed in the film that play into the notion of putting a glossy finish on a piece of garbage (metaphorically speaking) is the way that the mayor of Gotham just went about business as usual, attending a football game, even as an important crime fighting initiative was taking place. He didn't trust the people enough to tell the truth even at that point, when destruction could be just around the corner. Like George W. Bush told us after 9/11/01....if you want to contribute against terror.....just go shopping. The people paid the price. They were treated as children and left in the dark and paid a very high price for not being told the truth. For too long things seemed OK, even as horror was barreling towards them. The people of Gotham had given up responsibility for their city, much in the way we have done that with our country. 

I also caught on to there being no American flags in the scene where the kid was singing the national anthem. Some in the crowd were mouthing the words, most were silent. It was a false sense of patriotism that seemed forced and out of place. After the anthem, the crowd goes nuts waving flags and cheering. The distraction of the game was taking precedence over the truth....that their society was faltering. What is the old cliche'? "Fiddling as Rome burns". Later in the film, when Gotham is coming unglued, we see flags hanging off of buildings. Those flags are in tatters, but are still there. I take this as symbolism. We are still here. We are coming apart though. We need to recognize injustice and lies when they are right in our face. We need to demand the truth and not play the role of the child waiting for the daddy (the elite, the media, government) to protect us. The ideal of America is still right here, but we have recognize it and regain our place as the controllers of our own prosperity and destiny. 

Well, if you made it this far, I'll just close with a disclaimer; I am simply interpreting the films as I see them. There are things I didn't touch on in relation to national security and wealth disparity. I could really dig into those a bit deeper, but I seriously doubt anyone wants to read 3,000 or more words on this, if you've even made it this far. If there are things about the film that you want to share, please feel free to hit the COMMENT button and let it rip. I take film fairly seriously when the context is there for it to be done. I'm sure Christopher Nolan would laugh at what I've written on one hand, but probably be happy on the other that someone was thinking about his work on another level. Nolan is one of our great filmmakers and to this point, has not made a bad film. As of right now, Nolan's Batman series has taken over the top spot in my favorite film series of all-time. Sorry Mr. Lucas. If you had left the Ewoks and the "house band" sequence from Jabba the Huts lair out of "Return Of The Jedi", perhaps you would still be on top. 

Thanks for reading!