Friday, November 13, 2009

Remember that Dark Knight movie?

Let's change the subject - that warning from the board mods is a joke.
Click to enlarge.

Hey, remember that movie The Dark Knight? You know the movie that everyone saw but no one seems able to recall? The one whose IMDB board is filled with chatter having to do with everything but the movie? Is it because generally liberal-leaning superhero and comics fans are silently embarrassed about falling for what is essentially a neo-conservative propaganda film? It isn't just iMDb- no one on any of the comics or movie sites I checked seems to talk about what is one of the highest-grossing movies of all-time, one that came out less than 18 months ago. Very strange. Usually, these kinds of blockbusters continue to resonate for a while after their original run, but not this film.

Why is that?

Is it possible the poor reception that greeted Watchmen (which is cosmically superior to TDK, IMO) is a hangover from critics and fans uncomfortable with having championed a film that celebrated torture, vigilantism, broad-spectrum surveillance and jack-booted stormtroopers marching in the streets? That depicted terrorism as simple nihilism, and cross-dressing, sexually-ambiguous nihilism at that?

It's nothing I haven't seen in a million comic book stories, but I'm fascinated how situational some people's capacity for political outrage can be. It's especially ironic given how much Christian Bale resembles a young Bush cousin.

In hindsight, the whole 2008 Batmania phenomenon feels strange, even surreal. It didn't feel like 9/11, which the film was clearly trying to exploit. And for this old-school fan, it certainly didn't feel like Batman either. The Batman I read in the 70s and 80s was more like that in the classic Batman: The Animated Series. As played by Patrick Bateman, he's a prep school void.

I've never been hypnotized, but to think back on the whole Dark Knight phenomenon almost feels like some hypnotic spell, or even some bummer trip, like PCP or something. Like all of the color and vibrancy was sucked out of the world, both onscreen and off. But then again, I'm a huge Batman Beyond fan, so maybe I'm not the right person to ask.

The funny thing is I'm usually very forgiving of comic book movies. Hell- I even liked The Shadow. Though it may be because I saw it on a hot summer afternoon in an old-fashioned theatre that was air-conditioned to perfection. The Shadow is a criminally underused character, one who Bob Kane stole from lock, stock and two smoking .45 barrels to create Batman.

There is a new Shadow film in development- one I hope they don't screw up. I think the character has vast, untapped potential, particularly given his psychic powers and Blavatskian backstory. I know Jake Kotze keyed into the Shadow film as well, so maybe I'm not completely insane.

One film I'm not in a hurry to see in Inception, Nolan's new Matrix-like film. As with Dark Knight, I'm sure Inception will be a brilliantly-crafted piece of filmmaking, but something very cold and hard has crept into Nolan's work- or maybe I'm simply noticing what's been there all along. But it certainly doesn't entertain me.


  1. "And for this old-school fan, it certainly didn't feel like Batman either." I second that!

  2. I agree that TDK is a Neocon film that seems to not only debase standards of criminal justice but also standards of critical thinking.

    Any attempt to discuss most films on IMDB, however, will result in conversations that are sabotaged by roving flamebaiters.

    So IMDB discussion boards may not be the best indicators of trend-sampling.

    But it's certainly accurate that TDK was instantly mythologized, and open discussion of such freshly-minted mythology is taboo.

    Upon its release, TDK's performance by Heath Ledger was enshrined as legendary, when to me the best performance in the film (borne by a character arc that Ledger's Joker never undergoes) was the performance of Aaron Eckhart.

    In fact, Ledger is clearly doing a pastiche of Jack Benny as The Joker. It's a very one-note performance, because the character is very one-note, without a shred of character development.

    Yet as we witnessed with Michael Jackson's hagiographic transformation upon his death, the masses seem to have a psychological need for dead saints.

    And when the masses look into the mirror for a bit of self-worship, apparently no flaw is so large that it cannot be overlooked.

    When the masses look for themselves in the image of Michael Jackson, the need for narcissistic self-worship overcomes the reality of Jackson's life story.

    When the masses look for themselves in a stylish narrative of a superhero, the need for a simple narcissistic glow of cathartic drama outweighs the plain subtext of a film.

    In my personal experience, even among my own circle of aspiring film auteur associates, it's taboo to criticize Christopher Nolan, let alone TDK, for much of the same narcissistic reasons described above.

    I'm afraid, however that this self-imposed aversion to introspection on this film is an American phenomenon (and especially prevalent among those who identify as right-wing).

    And although I agree with your assessment of Watchmen, in general, there is some disturbing ambiguity in that film as well: the only person committed to the truth is Rorschach, who certainly spouts some clearly right-wing sentiments early in the film.

    Arguably, the "world order" that Adrian Veidt establishes via his 9/11-paralleling deception is a "Neoliberal" one, using the definition of Neoliberal found in John Perkins' "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man", i.e., the post-WW2 strategem of U.S. empire.

    Of course this definition of Neoliberal does not equal "Left" (as Latin Americans would attest), and more accurately reflects the "Free Market" mythology of the pre-Neocon Right (a.k.a., Nixon).

    But Rorschach's path of development is one of reactionary martyrdom, against what can easily be cast as an effete homosexual power-player (check out Veidt's files when Night Owl is searching his computer -- sans legal warrant -- and you'll see one of the files is labelled "Boys") who is in alliance with a cold & distant representative of "Big Science" (Dr. Manhattan).

    Rorschach is the tailor-made outsider-hero for an alienated, fundamentalist American Taliban, like it or not.

    And there is no pure anti-fascist representative hero in Watchmen who is not compromised (as Night Owl II & Silk Spectre are at the end of Watchmen) or dead (Night Owl 1).

    Which, I suppose, is the iconoclastic point of Watchmen.

    But thanks for being the only place on the Internet or U.S. culture where I have seen the topic broached that TDK is Neocon.

  3. P.S. Chris -- also regarding "Watchmen" (the film) -- you may enjoy this item I noticed:

    In the final shot of the film, Rorschach's notebook is shown upon a pile of letters. In one corner of the screen, the upside-down zipcode of the top letter reads "666" within its five-digit zipcode.

    In the first scene of the film (although not the first shot), inside the TV studio where Pat Buchanan is on a studio panel, the minute-clock in the control room is shown with the number 13:32 (and counting).

    1332 divided by 2 = 666.

    Bon appetit.

  4. Great feedback, Anony. The thing is that I'm not even that worked up about The Dark Knight- my main dilemma here is how a blockbuster can vanish down the memory hole like that. Certainly what we see in TDK isn't quantifiably different than an average episode of 24. Or put in our faces in the media 24/7.

    But the plain fact is that I like WM better as a film, regardless of the politics. As I said, we're hit with these messages day and night- I simply found it odd that the same people who see themselves as politically enlightened had no problem with neoconservatism when the George Bush character wore a cap and cowl.

    And thank for the Ledger observation- I certainly feel bad that he's dead, but that was not an Oscar performance.

  5. I actually added a clarification on those points to the post in case readers don't check the comments.

  6. I don't know Chris. I have read blogs on the neocon of TDK. The way I see though, Batman isn't working closely with the police. He doesn't give them the surveillence idea. He keeps it to himself because he alone knows the limits. And afterwards, by Lucius typing his name in the program, it is destroyed.
    I think the 'torture' interrogation scene is looking too much into it. He just beat the hell out of him to save his girl. Now, I do realize that Batman isn't completely sane. Both him and the Joker got issues. But BOTH also have good intentions; the Joker trying to awake people.
    I understand how one would think neocon after seeing it, but I really don't think that was the aim. Batman and Joker are yin/yang.
    One cannot compare Batman to a warmonger like Bush. The film isn't a representation of one administration, the film is about human behavior.

    Also, yes! I definately agree there is something VERY surreal about the TDK phenomenon. I am almost certain the sorcerers of Hollywood were up to something with the film. Its brilliant and real creepy; the score, mood, everything.

  7. I personally don't think much on TDK because it did not stir me much as a film or a philosophical exercise. Just didn't resonate with me much.

    Watchmen was absolutely earth-shattering, though. I think it is instructive as our country's authoritarian corporatist structure audaciously reveals itself, and we're pushed towards the one-world government.

  8. I agree Christopher, the "Watchmen" is highly underrated...and even more so when placed side by side with TDK.

  9. We were visiting some Sai Baba-devotee friends on the side of a mountain in Virginia in Mar.'95~ I talked 'em into renting THE SHADOW~ I loved every frame... the best line is when Jonathan Winters asks for 'more chives' at the Cobalt Club... I bet he ad-libbed that...

  10. Right on- I knew you'd have my back, Ned. Todd and Mark too- maybe Watchmen was just a bit too hardcore for Joe Public.

  11. Chris-

    On Joe Public and Watchmen. I have a feeling the movie made a lot of people confront some demons they'd rather keep buried.

    It's also pretty open about the blessing and the curse of letting powerful archetypes run amok in our psyche as we express the will to power.

    People are deeply uncomfortable with moral ambiguity, especially coming from "superheros"

  12. Great call on the GWB wearing a "cap and cowl" Christopher!
    excellent article as always-and I was somewhat taken aback myself that people couldn't see through this. The MIEC (milit-indust-entertainment complex) has done a fantastic job slowly edging people towards a more i dunno-would you call it a "laissez-faire" attitude towards the implementation of fascist laws and social mores in the US-just my two cents-
    again I love the Secret Sun and appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us. I also enjoy the comments here enormously.
    all the best to you and yours!!

  13. I've never been much of a Batman fan. I enjoyed Dark Knight as spectacle but Batman has always been about vigilantism, even if the vigilante is a cultured rich guy. Maybe that's the worst kind of vigilante.

  14. I am not a big fan of Batman, never was. I watched the first of them with Keaton (who I really liked in Beetlejuice). Keaton who played a "joker" character in Beetlejuice then played the Dark Knight. I have not seen any of the new movies with Bale, because Batman, frankly, bores me to tears, LOL. Give me spidey, wolverine or the Hulk anyday, LOL.

  15. Wait, I thought Batman was the villain of The Dark Knight?

  16. Yeah there's all sorts of stuff going on under the surface of The Dark Knight. I made a video of it

  17. Oh, Chris. Oh, Chris. You're going to side with the watered down Watchmen adaptation instead of The Dark Knight? Really?

    For a blog about mythology and symbology, that's a bit disheartening, as Alan Moore is king in this territory. Have you read From Hell? Promethea? This should've been your homework years ago instead of writing the 60th post on John Cusack.

    (And yes, Bob Kane stole from The Shadow to create Batman. Why? That's what artists do. As Harold Bloom once said, "Shakespeare stole with both hands.")

    Cheers, good sir. I love the blog, but there's probably a reason I haven't been a daily visitor in months.

  18. I remain woefully biased as I could barely get past the first half hour of The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger didn't give me chills, I thought Maggie G was flat, and that other guy whose name escapes me but his annoying smug face does not, the guy that played Harvey Dent was a big scene chewer.

    I am not denying the story may (may) have had its layers and important symbols to excogitate on for better or worse but the ooo's and ahh's I heard from everyone I knew who had seen it was completely lost on me.

    I think people are exhibiting a form of cinematic amnesia is for the same reasons I don't particularly care for this film: it was a highly stylized technical gem and sensationalized due to Ledger's untimely demise and not. much. more.

  19. Christopher,

    This is a great, and timely post. I really think you nailed The Dark Knight phenomenon.

    Why has so celebrated a film virtually disappeared after so short a span?

    You enumerate the reasons well, and I agree with your thinking.

    What the film actually has "to say" is pretty despicable (the justification of torture, lawlessness, vigilantism, lying to the public, and on and on). After the hype hypnosis...a hangover.

    This was very insightful...