Gotham Delenda Est
If you can’t tell from the picture, this post will discuss spoilers of both plot and theme in the new Batman movie: The Dark Knight Rises. Ethan Gach has a lovely non-spoiler review here which is perfect for non-spoilery discussion of the movie. Since we’ll have spoilers after the cut, I imagine we’ll also discuss spoilers in the comments. I’d ask that we either put spoilers after the first couple of sentences to protect innocent eyes checking out the gift of gab *OR* that we rot13 the spoilers if we absolutely positively must talk about how they’re all in the Matrix and the real bad guy is Killer Moth and that absolutely positively cannot wait to talk about that until after the first 100 or so characters of the comment.
Non-spoiler review for those interested in that: I thought it was very, very good and not merely “for a superhero movie”. It wasn’t a thrillride like The Avengers, however. It attempts to be a serious discussion… and, as we’ve seen in the last couple of days, we can’t always have serious discussions about serious things under serious circumstances. Sometimes we need a little absurdity to help a serious discussion to take place… and the Batman Trilogy is, I think, an important discussion of what happened on 9/11 and what happened to America in its aftermath. See you after the cut.
In the first movie, the main bad guy was the Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Shadows as well as The Scarecrow. In the second movie, we see The Joker and, eventually, Harvey Dent turned into Two-Face. Well, in this movie, we’re up against The League of Shadows once more and Bane is the inheritor of the Mantle of the Demon (though Selina Kyle (the name “Catwoman” is never uttered) does show up to steal the movie as well). The main thread that goes through all of these things is that the main bad guy is trying to destroy the city of Gotham and that the established authorities are not sufficient to deal with the threat.
The League of Shadows, you’ll remember, had this idea that, ahem, “Like Constantinople or Rome before it the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we’ve performed for centuries. Gotham… must be destroyed.” Bane has now shown up to finish this particular job using, once again, the tools made by the people intending to save the city as weapons with which they can destroy it. In this case, Bane takes the core of a fusion power plant and turns it into a 4 megaton bomb with a range of six miles. (I don’t know the physics of that, I’m sure they must have asked *SOMEBODY* sciency about it… right?)
Where I think that the movie is most interesting is in the speech given by Bane to the Batman after Bane defeats him in the sewers. He gives a small speech about Hope. The general theory is that if you tell people that they will die, they’ll be noble in the face of death. Tell them that they might *NOT* die, however, and they’ll turn into rats who will tear each other to bits in order to survive… and, before he destroys Gotham, he will give it *HOPE*… which, apparently, includes breaking the criminals out of prison and imprisoning the police underground.
It’s pretty hard to not think about Occupy Wall Street when one hears Selina Kyle’s speech explaining that “You think this can last? There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” It’s even harder to not think about it when we see Bane shooting up the Stock Exchange (“This is not a bank. There’s no money for you to steal.” “Then why are you here?”) or Selina walking through a trashed apartment (and picking up a picture with a shattered pictureframe) with her little sidekick who says, in response to “this was somebody’s apartment”, “now it’s everybody’s apartment”.
The themes explored by the movie should be familiar to everyone who has seen the first two: “When civil society is at its worst, it is up to extraordinary individuals to push for reform.” “Don’t make a deal with the Devil.” “Ordinary citizens are pretty decent at their core.” “In the wrong hands, a wonderful tool is a terrible weapon.” And, of course, “Extraordinary evil requires more than mere civil institutions to fight it… it requires extraordinary individuals as well.”
As such, it’s a movie that does a better job of processing the horrific acts from 9/11 than films such as World Trade Center or Flight 93 managed to do. It sits down and discusses, under a thin veneer of absurdity, how are we supposed to handle people that want to do grave damage to a city that is pretty much one of the symbols of America and kill thousands/millions in the process? The movie, instead of championing the idea of the rugged individual, champions the idea of civil institutions. The Batman should be little more than a symbol of who any of us could be, rather than the guy who is there to save us.
Sadly, when we look at the world, we don’t see any villians who are as awesome or insightful as Ra’s al Ghul, The Joker, or Bane. Osama bin Laden was a religious nut who got lucky (spectacularly so, granted) and James Holmes was just… crazy. We’re stuck with villians who, as much as they start out looking fearsome, end up looking more pitiable than contemptable. We’re stuck not knowing what justice could possibly entail… locking them up won’t solve anything, killing them won’t solve anything, exiling them won’t solve anything. They’re problems that can’t be solved. The best we can hope for is to mitigate them, maybe.
The fantasy provided by the Batman movies is not only a hero protector who can save us all, but discrete and coherent bad guys who can be stopped and when they’re stopped, life can get back to something approaching normal… instead of these weird, weak, fundamentally silly bad guys who get away with a huge, monstrous amount before they’re stopped, and when they’re stopped, there are far too many people for whom nothing will ever be the same… even as life gets back to approaching normal for the rest of us.
It’s a good fantasy. It’s a good movie. I recommend it.