The Dark Knight: Hollywood’s Terror Dream

Who’s crazier, the Joker or his admirers? Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel The Dark Knight has been compared to Hamlet, hailed as a work that “smashes [the Batman] legend into a million broken pieces,” praised as a film that refuses to “disguise from us the fantastic chimeras that dominate our real lives,” and singled out for “manag[ing] to handle grown-up subjects such as domestic surveillance with more frankness and honesty than our own real-life representatives.”

So what is all the fuss about? If you haven’t seen the film, here is a brief summary, with a few necessary spoilers. After the events of Batman Begins—which concluded with Bruce Wayne/Batman buying up and privatizing all the shares of his slain father’s company and teaming up with honest Lieutenant Gordon to battle crime as a wealthy corporatist playboy duce by day and a fear-inspiring vigilante by night—Wayne and Gordon are joined in their crusade against crime by new golden-boy D.A. Harvey Dent. The men form a “band of brothers” to crush the mob, but their plan goes awry when a madman called the Joker shows up preaching a doctrine of anarchic violence and absolute resistance to all forms of order.

The Joker gets himself hired by the mob to deal with Batman and Dent and complications ensue, some of them hinging upon Dent and Wayne’s homosocial erotic rivalry: Rachel Dawes, Dent’s new girlfriend, is Wayne’s long-lost love, and she spends her brief screen time torn between the two men, before being brutally dispatched in a glaring instance of the “women in refrigerators syndrome,” a sexist literary trope identified by feminist comic-book readers in which male authors kill, maim or de-power strong female characters as a woman-devaluing plot device.

The critics are evidently bowled over by the film’s “ambivalent” portrayals of high-tech adumbrations of warrantless wiretapping (when Batman rigs up a super spying system based on sonar readings from Gotham citizens’ cell phones to stop the Joker), superheroic enhanced interrogations (when Batman threatens to beat the life out of the hostage-holding Joker) and debates about the advisability of democracy itself when the barbarians are at the gates, to quote a speech from Dent recalling the Romans’ dictatorial practices. And indeed, as a tribute to the film’s supposed complexity, some critics believe the film to be advocating the suspension of democracy in a time of terror, while others see it as endorsing a liberal skepticism about leaders’ claims to free reign during a “state of emergency” which is often those very leaders’ own creation.

However, ideology in a fictional narrative does not always express itself at the explicit level of that which the narrative seems to support or reject; it works in more subtle and insidious ways, and often functions by exclusion. That is, a text like this film presents a menu of choices from which it then invites the viewer to select, and we can locate the trace of pernicious ideology not in the choices themselves but rather in what the authors choose to leave off the menu.

What’s on the menu in The Dark Knight? The same thing that’s on the two-party American political menu, year in and year out.

First we have Batman and Dent representing opposite poles of so-called democratic politics. Batman, operating outside the law to protect the defenseless people, represents a kind of Bush/Cheney figure, doing what he has to do for the good of the homeland. Dent, on the other hand, along with Rachel Dawes, who chooses to be with Dent in the end, is an idealistic but by-the-book type who is nevertheless pragmatic enough to collaborate with a vigilante like Batman if it’s necessary to get the bad guys. In other words, a post-political Barack star.

The film really tips its ideological hand in the Greek-tragedy-like arc of these iconic characters’ development: Dawes, the most liberal of all the “good guys,” dies at the hands of the Joker, while the liberal pragmatist Dent, scarred in a fire, abandons his ideals and embraces the Joker’s ethos of chaos—in other words, we are left in the cold embrace of Batman if we want to be secure.

But what of the Joker himself, with his advocacy of terrorism and chaos, his speeches lifted from the adolescent repertoire of might-is-right conservative anarchism à la Sade, Nietzsche, Marinetti et al.? As liberal-hawk ideologue Paul Berman showed in his 2002 Terror and Liberalism, a figure such as this can very easily stand in propagandistically for “America’s enemies,” hence Berman’s insistence, for example, that Palestinians constitute not an oppressed and exploited, diverse and divided group trying to resist its enemies in various ways, some more defensible or ethical than others, but rather that they are a fundamentally irrational, chaotic and lawless cult of death. Thus, the Joker offers only the wild, amoral, killing life beyond the protective (and expansionist) borders of “democracy,” aka corporatist imperialism.

The moral is as old, and as conservative, as Hobbes: we can live in a wild, murderous wasteland or a lawless, authoritarian police state. It doesn’t matter which of these options the film presents as more appealing or fun; all that matters is that no other options—e.g., left-wing anarchism, participatory democracy, decentralized communism, democratic socialism etc.—present themselves.

It will be objected here that the left-wing critic is rigidly ideological and tone-deaf to the visionary powers of art. But actually these charges would more accurately be leveled at The Dark Knight itself, with its airless, humorless, joyless rush through murkily-filmed scenes of tiresome mayhem and its clunkingly obvious characterizations. I’m not opposed to art, not even Hollywood art, and I’m not doctrinaire. For a nice counterpoint to The Dark Knight, see its underrated box-office competitor in the super-hero, comic-book sweepstakes, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Guillermo del Toro’s uneven fantasia at least relaxes its pace long enough for lyrical or idyllic moments that allow the audience space for reflection; also, while it can’t be taken for a feminist statement, it features powerful, heroic women characters who ultimately save the day. Finally, for all its silliness, Hellboy ends with its paranormal heroes realizing that the U.S. government, for which they’ve been working, ultimately opposes itself to the difference and diversity they represent, and they turn in their badges. Compared to The Dark Knight, this is radicalism itself—a sorry comment on our society.

But The Dark Knight is best understood not in the company of other blockbuster fare; rather, it should be placed alongside two recent popular and populist left-liberal books that can illuminate its themes. In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein explains that, over the last three decades, capitalists have gone on the offensive to defend and expand their holdings by exploiting, and in some cases, engineering catastrophes which so stun and demoralize populations that they find themselves unable to prevent their commons and their public treasuries from being transferred to private hands. Susan Faludi provides a cultural companion to Klein’s materialist economic history in The Terror Dream; Faludi shows how the American political class, including many self-proclaimed liberals, seized the September 11 attacks as an opportunity to reanimate the genocidal American frontier myth in which the lone, virile, violent male is called upon by a barbarian horde attack from outside to protect his dependent, virginal and powerless women. Thus the conquest of the material commons by capitalist elites requires ideologies of control that can best be summed up by the eternal right-wing cultural program: family, faith and fatherland.

Those who think this will all somehow magically improve after the election of the Harvey Dent-like Barack Obama, himself a two-faced authoritarian capitalist with a gift for co-opting progressive rhetoric, have another thing coming. Batman enhances his own material power by way of the Joker’s shocks to Gotham’s system, while the death of Rachel Dawes shows us why we need a hero—because if “we good men” do not control women, then “those bad men” will. And the baddest bad man, the Joker, reveals to us that freedom is a dangerous delusion and an insane temptation. It’s difficult to have much hope for a better future when audiences and critics are falling so hard for this example of Hollywood’s shock doctrine and its terror dream.

John Pistelli is a writer, graduate student and instructor who lives in Minneapolis, MN. Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

25 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Jake said on July 26th, 2008 at 8:22am #

    Good work with this analysis. I picked up on Dark Knight’s ideological content myself and was disappointed that so many critics seem to be oblivious (as they were with 300 as well). However, one criticism I would offer regards your equation of Nietzsche with an “adolescent repertoire of might-is-right conservative anarchism.” This political outlook (qua it’s components or as a whole) is one that Nietzsche repeatedly rejected. It’s a sad irony that Nietzsche is so often mistaken for those he condemned. Check out the first few sections of Kaufmann’s “Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist” for more on this.

  2. Rich Griffin said on July 26th, 2008 at 8:51am #

    I hated this movie, I hated this movie, I hated this movie – where were all of these moviegoers when a GREAT movie was released earlier this year: BEYOND THE WAR!!!!!!! I fully expect everybody to get the DVD of Beyond the War and host DVD parties.

    Down with hyperviolent movies!!! STOP supporting them!

  3. Deadbeat said on July 26th, 2008 at 11:02am #

    But The Dark Knight is best understood not in the company of other blockbuster fare; rather, it should be placed alongside two recent popular and populist left-liberal books that can illuminate its themes. In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein explains that, over the last three decades, capitalists have gone on the offensive to defend and expand their holdings by exploiting, and in some cases, engineering catastrophes which so stun and demoralize populations that they find themselves unable to prevent their commons and their public treasuries from being transferred to private hands.

    The author is very much mistaken about the intent of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine. The true purpose of the book is to misdirect readers away from and to obscure Zionism’s influence on the War on Iraq and to substitute some other “plausible” and more “comfortable” explanation. Ms. Klein fails to recognize that many of the authors of the Project For A New American Century (PNAC) planned for the events of 9-11 in order to introduce and advance their Zionist agenda and were well placed within the Bush Administration. Another important fact is that Milton Friedman, who she attributes with neo-liberal ideology, was against the war.

    Susan Faludi provides a cultural companion to Klein’s materialist economic history in The Terror Dream; Faludi shows how the American political class, including many self-proclaimed liberals, seized the September 11 attacks as an opportunity to reanimate the genocidal American frontier myth in which the lone, virile, violent male is called upon by a barbarian horde attack from outside to protect his dependent, virginal and powerless women. Thus the conquest of the material commons by capitalist elites requires ideologies of control that can best be summed up by the eternal right-wing cultural program: family, faith and fatherland.

    Susan Fuludi on the other hand believes that white women is the most oppressed group in the United States and she recently wrote a book that tend to ignores the plight of Native Americans both men and women regarding the oppressive history of the U.S. Her perspective narrowly frames oppression solely to the interest of white women who clearly is not the most oppressed group.

    The author has a right to see whatever he choose to see about The Dark Knight. I see it as a yet another Batman movie and nothing more. However the author really needs to do a deeper analysis of the dubious agendas being promoted by these the two “Anglo-Leftists” authors he cites to justify and form the basis of his critique.

    The agendas that promoted by Ms. Klein and Ms. Fuludi are narrow and rather dishonest and do not fully adhere to principles that should define the “left” — trust and justice. Only when the left embraces such principles will it yield the solidarity needed to change society.

  4. Deadbeat said on July 26th, 2008 at 12:38pm #

    Here’s a perspective of The Dark Knight from differs from the author. Here Mr. Bustelo see characterizations that are applicable to current social trends. Oh and BTW as a fan of the comic book genre I enjoyed the movie.

    ===

    David Walsh just doesn’t get it:

    “In the first place, in what universe does this type of ‘terrorist’ exist?
    The Joker’s freakish and depraved personality is an invention, which, again, is meant primarily to make an impression. It doesn’t speak to any
    substantial reality. Such a figure as a social being is not to be found
    outside a certain kind of fevered or panic-stricken imagination.”

    That “certain kind of fevered or panic-stricken imagination,” however, is
    PRECISELY the one that describes the US public in the wake of 9/11, and that has far from subsided. Where does the “Joker” live in the real world? In Washington’s endless “war on terror” propaganda. And it is also the way many alleged criminals are portrayed, especially on local and cable TV news.

    Of course, this movie is not “socialist realism” nor a dreary morality play but a story, but it is quite clearly and sharply a story with social
    relevance, from relatively small details, like that the banks are in bed
    with the mafia or that it is the big, murderous-looking Black criminal in
    the orange prison suit who acts decisively out of human solidarity to not blow up one of the two ferrys while the white everyman in the suit coat and tie comes within a hair’s breadth or murdering everyone aboard the other ferry, to the overall outcome of the movie, which is that the Joker wins IN REALITY and it is only through the lie of presenting a psychopathic killer as a pure-as-the-driven snow hero, pinning his murder spree on Batman, and covering up the corruption in the police department that made it possible for the Joker to turn the Gotham’s fair-haired wonderboy into something out of a Stephen King movie that the illusion of civilization can be maintained (coupled with –I assume– heavy doses of Batman’s continued extra-legal vigilantism).

    My son Luke wanted to go and as it was the last day I’d be with him for
    three weeks (he’s at summer camp) I bit the bullet and did the daddy thing and took him, preparing myself psychologically for a dreadful three hours and quite predisposed to hate the movie. I liked it so much I’ve seen it again.

    That’s despite uninspiring performance by much of the cast –especially
    Batman– and (Walsh is right about this) a lot of pretty random editing in the “action” sequences. But Heath Ledger was way beyond brilliant, and Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman quite dependable in supporting roles.

    Joaquin

  5. John Weathers said on July 26th, 2008 at 1:21pm #

    What follows contains spoilers and is intended for readers who have seen the film.
    ========

    For starters the bit about the death of Rachel being “a sexist literary trope identified by feminist comic-book readers in which male authors kill, maim or de-power strong female characters as a woman-devaluing plot device” is the kind of BS that have given me an aversion to certain flavors of literary criticism and some forms of feminism. Rachel’s death has nothing to do with her gender and much to do with her role as a supporting character whose death will function dramatically to shock the audience and to propel the actions of the main characters. If this had been a film about Wonder Woman, we may have seen something similar happen to a supporting male character to fuel the development of Wonder Woman’s story arc.

    There are too many real instances of sexism in real life and in popular culture and reading imagined slights into stuff like this only serves to waste time and energy and to give the fight for gender equality a bad name.

    Second, while I do confess that as an anarchist, I cringed every time someone in the film associated the word “anarchy” with the Joker and his vision of chaos overcoming order, I recognize that like it or not this is how the public sees “anarchy” thanks to centuries of conditioning to see order as synonymous with the State. Thus, I don’t count it as a strike against the film or its makers. Nor do I expect the film to offer up themes embracing: “left-wing anarchism, participatory democracy, decentralized communism, democratic socialism”. (At the same time, I beg to differ about the film only offering a choice between “wild, murderous wasteland or a lawless, authoritarian police state”) Hello! This is a mainstream film made by people who may not even be familiar with these radical left-wing ideas. Instead, I look more at the fundamental ideas and values that the artists bring to the work. Most people aren’t familiar with radical left ideas (or are misinformed/afraid of them because of propaganda), but many people share the values that ultimately form a basis for left-wing philosophies.

    So what does this film present us with? Lots of questions and some suggestions. As a work of art the filmmakers want to make the audience think rather supply easy answers.

    The author tries to equate various characters with US political figures in a gross simplification of the film that in the final analysis is plain wrong. Certainly, Batman’s device that allows him to eavesdrop on the citizens of Gotham as he hunts for the Joker as well as his harsh interrogation techniques are meant to call to mind the Bush administration, but that doesn’t mean that the two are to be equated. Rather the filmmakers take a question raised by the actions of the Bush administration (“Do the ends justify the means?”) and explore it in a manner that resonates with current headlines while perfectly fitting into the Batman mythos. While there is room for discussion, I submit that the film ultimately suggests a negative answer to the question. Morgan Freeman’s character’s condemnation of the eavesdropping device along with the film’s repeated suggestion that Batman’s extreme methods have lead to an escalation in violence and tragedy (the interrogation for instance plays right into the Joker’s hands) dispel the author’s notion that the film somehow rejects the idealism of Rachel and Dent to leave us “in the cold embrace of Batman if we want to be secure”. Rather, Batman is shown as a man who started with good intentions but took escalating questionable actions that ultimately result in his own tragic downfall into a hunted scapegoat.

    Furthermore, I argue that the film actually suggests that we cannot put our faith in the State (the police, the DA Harvey Dent, or the Mayor) or even in good intentioned leaders outside the system (Batman) as they can all ultimately succumb to corruption. In fact, the film hints at ultimately trusting in the people themselves despite the patronizing decision by Batman and Gordon to hide the truth about Dent out of fear that the people cannot handle it (a decision that I suspect will come to haunt them in a third installment). Specifically, I am thinking about the decisions on the two boats where both the “good” citizens of Gotham and the criminals on the other boat decide to do the right thing and not murder the people on the other boat to survive the Joker’s sick game. Indeed, this part of the film plays beautifully on society’s prejudices against criminals and shows a criminal coming out morally cleaner than many of the “good” citizens on the other boat when he completely rejects the Joker’s game while the good citizens try to justify killing the criminals, but ultimately lack the courage to act.

    In closing, I think the author’s take on the film is a simplistic exercise in looking for ideological demons. This film is worthy of a better examination of its ideas than simply projecting our own fears and dislikes onto its characters and the filmmakers.

  6. Tom Walters said on July 26th, 2008 at 1:55pm #

    I agree whole-heartedly with John Weathers and can only add that –one woman getting killed = column claiming sexism; all the men who got offed in this movie = simply entertainment. In short, this column is hypocritical gender feminism…

  7. John Hatch said on July 26th, 2008 at 5:01pm #

    I agree with Jake’s comment on Nietzsche. People also forget that he died in 1900 and was neither a Nazi nor ‘proto-Nazi’ and loathed that sort of militarist philosophy. His ‘overman’ or ‘superman’ was an ethical construct, the very antithesis of the Nazi. Prof. Walter Kaufmann is THE authority on Nietzsche, and a fine writer in his own right.

  8. Bo said on July 26th, 2008 at 11:22pm #

    Deadbeat, who are you fooling with your Zionism obsession? Give it a rest man.

  9. siamdave said on July 27th, 2008 at 6:18am #

    This is a very bad commentary, completely mistaken in pretty much every assertion it makes, obviously driven by some ideological desire to say something bad about the film, for reasons that remain unclear. A piece written by someone with a big dictionary and lots of recent grad level input and memorization but dearth of actual ideas or how to undertake actual rational analysis of anything.

    Let me note a couple of things – I will not waste a lot of time on something so unworthy, but it’s hard to let it go entirely unremarked –

    ‘homosocial erotic rivalry’ -?!?!? hunhhh???? is that modern psychobabble for two guys competing for the same girl??? (what about two girls competing for the same guy – would that be lesbosocial erotic rivalry??)

    - Batman represents Bush/Cheney as they fight for freedom in the world through means not approved of by their constituents?!?!?! What f***ing planet is this guy from?!?!?!?! About 99% of the intelligent people in the world understand that Batman is the GOOD guy, and Bush/Cheney et al are the BAD guys – no ????? Is the writer a new breed of ‘semi-intelligent’ troll or something? This stuff makes absolutely no sense – I keep reading only out of a sense of curiosity to see where it’s all going ….

    - refrigerator girl syndrome – geez, one identified woman killed, along with dozens of male characters, and that death defines the whole film and means the writer hates women? What about the whole hospital getting blown up? Does that mean – no, I better not even start …

    - he says it is ‘humorless’ – early on the Batman imitators ask what’s different about the real thing – he replies, under his breath, ‘I don’t wear hockey pads’ – and that is genuinely funny, an unexpected humorous moment that evokes a genuine chuckle, not a belly laugh, just a moment of genuine humor – there are others, but obviously the writer is not tuned in to such things ….

    - I can’t even get into the last bit, the writer has fallen into some kind of complete psychotic fantasy that has nothing to do with the actual film at all – Batman enhances his own power?!?!?! – no, actually Batman decides to quit being Batman because he sees he has too much power; and “… the baddest bad man, the Joker, reveals to us that freedom is a dangerous delusion and an insane temptation..” – but actually, the end of the film shows the people taking control of their own lives, making their own decisions, refusing to be manipulated by the Joker.

    One could write at length about the nonsense in this ‘review’, but I’ll waste no more time.

    Actually, the film is quite ambiguous in many ways, thus the varying interpretations – but that is, in the McLuhanian sense, what it is all about – the medium is the message – the world does not work in a Bushian ‘we good they bad’ way (which seems to be the mindset of the writer of this piece as well, in various ways), but is much more complicated – and what is required is for We the People to stand up and talk about things, and try to work our way through this very complex world of some very good things and some very bad things (both very good and very bad often inexplicable), and of course endless shades of grey things in the middle, as best as we can – and as the near to final scenes on the ferries show ( OH NO!!!! Is ‘ferries’ a secret homoerotic message?!?!?!?) – we can do it. Not achieve Nirvana or anything, but if we keep our faith (in one another, not some superhero), and keep working at it – we can. Do it.

    Go Batman. It was a GREAT movie.

  10. Ira Grunberg said on July 27th, 2008 at 8:01am #

    Very glad to have found this site and article. Something heretofore uncommented on: the parallels between the ending of TDK (regarding the need for “heroes” and myth-perpetuation) and the philosophy of neocon deity Leo Strauss, here pithily paraphrased by Slavoj Zizek: “….the key feature which makes his political thought relevant today is the elitist notion of democracy, that is, the idea of a ‘noble lie,’ of how elites should rule, aware of the actual state of things (the brutal materialist logic of power, and so forth), while feeding the people fables which keep them satisfied in their blessed ignorance.” That’s Gordon and Batman’s decision in a nutshell. And given Zizek’s penchant for pop parables, I wouldn’t be surprised if Batman shows up in his next book.

  11. John Emery said on July 27th, 2008 at 10:23am #

    Reading your article, i could clearly imagine your face in front of your screen, dripping smugness as you were writing. What a pretentious piece! It actually made me laugh out loud in certain overblown parts. Did you actually watch the movie or did you manage to miss it while you were over analyzing every minuscule detail?

    P.S.: The “radical” in the subtitle is a bit affected don’t you think?

  12. Rich Griffin said on July 27th, 2008 at 11:39am #

    It really bugs me that y’all have this much to say about this despicable movie. You probably all liked the idiotic and vile “No Country For Old Men” as well!! Why were there no analysis on here of the truly great movie (well, I did write one) of “Beyond The War”?

    Pomposity, heterosexist creepiness, idiotic hyperviolent childish movie. I hated this movie squared a million times!!

  13. Andrew McPherson said on July 27th, 2008 at 4:09pm #

    Heterosexist creepiness, I am sure the creator of The Dark Knight set out with an agenda to devalue all women! I believe umbrage of this magnitude pays to much credit to the writer of the film. Are peoples’ lives so pointless that they have to find such deep rooted meaning in a comic book movie? If the movie was going to be such a displeasure, why invest into the machine?

  14. T DiVito said on July 27th, 2008 at 7:34pm #

    I stumbled onto this review after searching “Dark Knight” on google and then clicking the News section, because I’ve enjoyed reading reviews of the movie, especially negative ones. This review seems not only incredibly harsh, but has a very strange interpretation of the movie. I agree almost wholly with siamdave and John Weathers (both posts above).

    I thought the movie was brilliant because it was a summer blockbuster superhero film (not to mention a SEQUEL!) that included classy philosophical dialogue (classy = most of the dialogue in the LOTR movies, unclassy = ALL of the dialogue in “Troy”). Usually superhero movies are all aesthetics with little substance, but TDK brings a little more to the table, and it exposes a larger audience to ethics, if they are inclined enough to listen. Which I why I give Chris Nolan “mad props.”

    Hyperviolent? No. Violent? Yes. Heterosexist creepiness? Um, I don’t know where that’s coming from…I didn’t see anything that really promoted heterosexuality or was offensive to homosexuality. Pretty neutral in my opinion. I mean should one claim the movie is discriminatory towards any ” group” not featured in the movie? Maybe you should check your brain for bias.

    In the context of the film, the word “anarchy” seems to mean “orderless” in the sense that no ethical code of conduct will exist, and no justice will exist. The Joker’s seems to desire exposing the people of Gotham (through psychological games) to the contingency of morality and justice. He may or may not believe that justice and/or morality exist, and he seems to enjoy other people dealing with the conflict. Justice and morality are contingent, they are human concepts. Nothing new here.

    For Joker to expose the contingency of these concepts (and really any other concept the people of Gotham take for granted), he must taint individuals who are physical entities of these qualities. Harvey Dent is a person, through his actions, that illustrates people can live justly. Batman is larger than a man (like both Chris Nolan movies emphasize) the symbol of justice and morality. Both must stumble, in a very dramatic manner, to throw the people of Gotham into despair (the existentialist void). So Joker, who is as philosophically driven as Batman and Dent, and seeks the torment of others for entertainment (or has a bone to pick with the world view of Batman and Dent) will stop at NOTHING to “destroy” the two heroes.

    Finally, a supervillainous man (Joker has no “superpowers”) who ONLY wants the destruction of others, or the torment of others. He doesn’t want money or fame or anything else. Alfred said, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” which was excellent because it’s true about the Joker. No other motive, but satisfaction through the harm and suffering of others. Frightening concept. But very real. Of the 6 billion people on this planet, at least a few are like this. They do exist. A truly unacceptable human, by ANY moral code that values human life. Joker isn’t a Palestinian terrorist if he’s fighting for resources, but he is if he is fighting against the “West” and using fear to promote his philosophy, especially if the philosophy is harmful (I’m making no judgment here – I’m simply saying that people will kill “civilians” for a variety of reasons, and I’m not giving anyone with questionable moral judgment like that “the benefit of the doubt.”

    Batman on the other hand, seems to subscribe to the concepts of justice and morality. He is ALWAYS fighting his own humanity to uphold the higher logic of what he believes. As a human he feels love, pain, despair, anger, sorrow, etc. The Joker tries to expose Batman’s humanity (which he does with some success I feel, but in the end Batman prevails) to the people of Gotham so that the entities he stands for are weakened.

    As a conceptual entity, Batman must adhere to his own dogma at all costs to prevent his own internal destruction. Which means even though he could kill Joker and save lives, he does not because he believes all people should have the right to a fair trial (or whatever type of judgment system he believes him, Batman just does not believe he is a judge). BATMAN DOES NOT BELIEVE THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS. That is so clear in this movie that it sickens me someone would see otherwise. Comparing Batman to right-wingers is ridiculous, in fact it’s downright misleading and deceitful. Judging by your writing Mr. Pistelli, you’re intelligent enough to know better than that.

    I believe the central theme to this movie is (illustrated by Batman’s dialogue, Harvey Dent’s transformation into a villain, and the dialogue concerning the cell phone radar) “how does one defeat someone who wants him destroyed without sacrificing the ideals that are arguably the only entities separating the two foes?” How far must Batman go to preserve justice – how much must he sacrifice – measured in human life, measured in his own pain and philosophy, measured in the preservation of Gotham? I don’t have the answer. Batman, Alfred, Gordon, Dent, Rachel, Lucius, and Chris Nolan didn’t either.

    To me, very reminiscent of the issues in Plato’s Republic.

    Ira Grunberg’s comment about the “noble lie” is insightful. Batman and Gordon chose to lie. However, pretending that everyone in society can handle the truth I feel is very, very naive. This forum alone illustrates human bias, even among those who are aware, confronting it, overcoming it, avoiding it. Critical thinking is a learned method. I’m not sure most use it. Or that some are even capable of developing it. If one is to believe that higher concepts of justice and morality do exist (that is above human emotion), then adherence to these concepts will probably vary among people. Who should have a voice depends on what society values. So if you think everyone has a voice that should be heard, and all voices are equal, what happens when someone else wants your favorite toy? Which voice is right? (Yes you could share, play together, whatever, the point is, who has right to exist when someone would enjoy killing you as much as you enjoy living?)

    Gordon and Batman chose to lie because it was the right choice, because justice and morality are important, and probably didn’t sacrifice any morality in doing so. This action alone let’s you see more into their moral code, because if they believe “lying” is wrong, then they sacrificed their code, and justified the ends by the means. But I don’t feel they justified the ends by the means, because lying is situational. If you lie in the name of comedy or to spare feelings, those things are arguably right. Did Joker kill anyone? That would be for a court to decide, and even if he had blatantly killed someone, a penalty of death is rarely given. Also, Dent and Batman, lied by saying Batman committed the murders, not someone else. So how does that morally fit in to lying? Without knowing the values of the initial morals in Batman’s moral code, or any moral code, logical evaluation of the code seems difficult…

  15. T DiVito said on July 27th, 2008 at 7:40pm #

    justified the means by the ends**

  16. Raven said on July 28th, 2008 at 11:46pm #

    As an avid comic-book reader, I think that most of what is being said in this article, and even in most of these posts, is FAR too over-blown.

    I’ve read numerous reviews and critiques of this movie, and I’ve seen it twice myself. You’re all reading WAY too much into it. Christopher and Johnathan Nolan wrote this story to do justice to a story that was completely ripped apart in the 2 installments of Batman prior to Batman Begins. If anyone had ever seen Batman Forever or Batman and Robin, you know what I’m talking about.

    Did no one go into this movie just to enjoy the movie? Did EVERYONE go into this movie to rip it apart and apply it to real life? Does NO ONE understand that this is FICTION, FANTASY? It’s not reality!

    The writers did not write this story to reflect what is going on in the real world. If you read comic books at all, then you would know that a lot of the themes and points made in the movie are a lot of what happens in the comics. Do comic book/screenplay writers sometimes take from what’s happening in real life and apply it to comics? Sure, but it’s not a play-by-play re-enactment of life.

    I don’t know if most of you know this, but there really isn’t a guy in a bat suit that goes around and captures criminals. There really isn’t an insane bank robber with clown makeup that preaches anarchy and chaos. There isn’t even so much as a do-gooder attorney- or anyone with a government job, really- that honestly goes out and puts the bad guys away.

    It’s a flippin’ movie, people. Stop trying to make it out to be some twisted metaphor for real life.

  17. siamdave said on July 29th, 2008 at 6:51am #

    I dunno, Raven, I think most people here understand there’s no Gotham City and no Batman running around out there, but stories and memes and metaphors and suchlike form a pretty important part of the fluid nexus between our conscious and subconscious minds, and the way we see and understand and deal with the world and the situations we have to deal with every day. And from that sort of deeper understanding, just speaking for myself I had to immediately stand up and say, Whoa, dude, Batman is NOT a story carrying the metaphorical message that Bush et al are the Good Guys in the world, eh?!?! Books could be written, but unfortunately the day job is a bit demanding this week …..

    And actually, I doubt this most recent edition was written and filmed at great cost to redeem the damage done to Batman by earlier films, I expect the motive was somewhat more mundane – making money. Allegories and memes all aside.

  18. siamdave said on July 29th, 2008 at 6:56am #

    - sorry, signed off too quick – but the allegories and memes etc were included because the people doing Hollywood these days understand that film goers these days, thanks to the starburst of information now available through the net that was never available through the mainstream media, now are starting to get their eyes opened, and think these deeper thoughts, and the film maker who understands this, and feeds those desires, as always, is going to make the public happy – and when the public is happy, the person so doing tends to make money.

    (my own attempt at tapping this new happiness is here – Green Island http://www.rudemacedon.ca/greenisland.html – it’s the story of a new democracy making the American capitalists unhappy, but when they try their usual regime change operation, they get their asses kicked a bit – I thought there was a good meme to be tapped here, but I’m still forced to tend to the day job ….. )

  19. T DiVito said on July 29th, 2008 at 8:33pm #

    Raven, I enjoy movies that make me think about philosophy. Is that inconceivable to you? Also, comic book writers, like most film directors, screenwriters (hollywood people) are artists, and they want to tell a story. I’d love to hear your argument about how they don’t have SOME type of message in their work. Modern comic books, just like novels, and any other storytelling media are now laced with opinions of the authors, ESPECIALLY if the author has more invested in the idea than making money, and marketed towards adults. Furthermore, there are actually people working for the government who do CARE about their jobs, just like at McDonald’s there are (few and far between maybe) people there who do care about your burger.

    Why be a forum troll and a jerk, insulting the way other people enjoyed the movie? Maybe we’re not looking into it too much, you’re just too incompetent to look into it further. We aren’t overanalyzing, you’re underanalyzing.

    And yes I’ve partially dignified your post by responding…

  20. Binh said on July 30th, 2008 at 8:52am #

    Batman is not an allegory for Bush, Cheney, or the “War on Terror,” despite what Pistelli (and the neocons) say about the movie, and that’s evident to anyone who thinks for more than 5 seconds about the movie. If anyone is interested, I posted a review (and a reply to a neocon who disagreed with my argument) in my blog.

    Here are some reasons why Batman does not represent Bush:

    Batman gives up his emergency power (tapping into millions of people’s cellphones) at the end of the fight. He refuses to violate his self-imposed limit not to kill anyone. And Alfred argues, convincingly I think, that the rise of the Joker is Batman’s fault – he is the criminal world’s reply to Batman, the anti-Batman, if you will.

    Furthermore, the author of this piece does not even discuss the positively progressive side of the movie, when the two groups of people in the ferries refuse to blow one another up. They refuse to participate in the Joker’s sick game that pits them against the other. One of the most emotionally powerful moments in the movie is when a big, muscular black convict tells the captain of his boat to give him the remote detonator so that he can do what should’ve been done 10 minutes ago. Just when you think the prisoner is going to hit the button and save his boat, he throws the detonator out the window, goes back to his seat, and sits quietly.

    When neither boat blows the other up, Joker is furious that he’s wrong – that the masses are just as capable of solidarity as they are capable of being greedy and selfish, even in life-and-death situations.

    I agree with the comment that the author of this piece just wanted to say something negative about the movie. The movie’s political and social messages are fairly complex – it’s certainly not a kill-em-all rah-rah USA USA guns and explosions type of movie – and that’s a big reason why it’s getting rave reviews from professional critics and is breaking a lot of sales records.

  21. RandomAmericanCitizen586 said on July 31st, 2008 at 9:15pm #

    I could write an article as long as this just analyzing how ridiculous this article, and especially the person who wrote it is. Certainly has bizarre feminist issues. And likes to stroke himself with his paragraph long sentences and choices of how to deliver his message. It was a comic book movie. Plain and simple. Yes, the writers included plenty of things that resonate with our world today and politics in recent times. Terrorism, privacy invasion, escalation, etc. They can be interpreted MANY ways. If you are a Bush supporter, you’ll say that Batman is like Bush (he’s not). And ignore the hundreds of glaring and all important differences. This was an excellent film Superb acting, script, dialog, action scenes and visuals. Yes it was violent. Its Batman. He’s been punching and kicking villains since the 60′s. Remember “biff” “pow”, all that jazz. I was sad to see an old grandma who took her kids to this movie. Not a movie for kids (unless you believe in exposing them to sadistic violence at a young age). But I think the trailer and previews made it obvious, not to mention its PG13 for a reason. But I digress. Oh and a couple other points. Hellboy 2 was very good … but not this good. Also 300 wasn’t a propaganda film against the arab world, people. The graphic novel was written by Frank Miller in the 8o’s or early 90′s I think. Miller has always made his villains scary monsters and his heroes cool as hell. Hence the ripped romans and freakish persians. Furthermore the director of the movie made Dawn Of The Dead … you dont think he’s going to include some freaks in there? Yeah yeah, they had speeches about free men, blah blah blah. And they’ve already made a character in a major summer movie about Bush. It was Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars prequels. Remember, he lied about the reasons for going to war, decieved the people, lied, murdered, etc. And mind you, I’m a Star Wars geek, but those movies at least deserved criticism. The Dark Knight did not disappoint.

  22. Mean Joe Spleen said on August 4th, 2008 at 1:33am #

    Thanks for this. I saw the film last night, and it made me deeply uncomfortable but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I felt there were many situations and turns of plot that had parallels in the public discussion of the “War on Terror” (itself a bullshit name), but couldn’t express it with any precision.

    While the film may be ambiguous as to what it portrays, as you note, the careful viewer should look at what’s been left out. With regard to every issue raised by our current state of emergency also present in the film, certain concessions have already been made to authoritarianism: Dent himself allows that the Batman’s extra-legal actions are necessary for the time being; torture may not be effective but it’s still OK as long as the extra-legal collaborator performs it (recall that the Batman only stays Dent’s hand in playing Russian roulette with the Scarecrow for the practical reason that it would sully Dent’s reputation); and finally that the extra-legal force is almost sanctified for taking on a responsibility that ordinary people can’t understand.

    There are many things in the movie that are meant to mitigate or confuse the sympathy with authoritarianism, but in the end it’s clear where are sympathies are supposed to lie: with the Batman as the extra-legal bulwark that maintains order against the wholly other, irrational forces of evil. The darkness, loneliness, and isolation into which Batman flees is a glurgesome celebration of authoritarian force: oh, what a thing it is stand alone against evil, armed only with the tacit assent of the state and a fabulous arsenal of the highest tech war toys imaginable.

  23. wedge said on August 7th, 2008 at 4:03am #

    I have had very mixed feelings about this movie since seeing it – my first reaction was that it was ‘fascist’ but the more I think about it, the more meanings it takes on – but I think it was deliberately contrived to do that. Whatever our ‘intellectual’ vanities, we are encouraged to participate in the movie as an event. It encourages repeat viewings , word of mouth buzz and those more profitable DVD sales (I can see the holographic metal box-set alreay). Along with its hype, acclaim and the endless discussion of it, the movie is a deafening noise.

    It is the perfect Hollywood machine – so much/too little plot and incident it becomes incoherent, violence and power as spectacle but savvy enough about its ‘demographic’ it can create flattering illusions of being left-wing, right-wing, liberal, mystical, dialectic or whatever (discussion boards invoking Nietszche, Milton Friedmann, Leo Strauss, Walter Benjamin, Heidigger, George Lukacs, Aleister Crowley, Michel Lacan etc. etc. to discuss a cartoon character in a rubber suit). Oscar-nominated/winning actors coupled with a smart-ass ‘indie’ director to give this huge merchandising operation a surface sheen of being ‘serious’ (with ‘dark’ being as meaningless as ‘cool’ as a term of praise). Ugly, sadistic imagery choreographed to beat/seduce the viewer into sumbmission. No characters per se – just archetypes explaining what they are (as if we wouldn’t know from 70-year old characters), in case the 13 year olds get bored between car chases. Technological fetish (in and outside the narrative). Racial stereotypes supposedly balanced by a ‘magic negro’ – to absolve us of our fevered pleasure in conservative backlash fantasies. Witnessing characters we would hate in real life (ambitious law and order politicians and their psychotic financial backers/enforcers) ‘struggle for their souls’. Vaguely defined villainy as an immovable mysterious force from nowhere (see also I Am Legend (and its variants), There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men – those oscars love their demonic forces, don’t they?).

    In short, a masterpiece! Can’t wait to see it again…

  24. Matt Christie said on August 19th, 2008 at 9:51pm #

    Nice piece, John.

  25. Samuel Gelber said on December 15th, 2008 at 5:21pm #

    I loved this movie, even though I saw through its anti-democratic ideology. The way I saw it, the movie was a battle between Hobbes (Joker) and Nietzche (batman.)
    We are led to believe that one character is good and another character is bad, ut it’s all a matter of how a characater is presented. I challenge you to tell be teh difference between the Joker and Tyler Durden from Fight Club, or even V from V for Vendetta. Whatever their intent, they all had the same means.
    One more thing. The movie almost says that The Joker is right. One of the last scenes with the two boats going into hysterics, they have a vote whether to be killed by or with the convicts, or to kill the prisoners “who’ve had their chance” and save their own skin. They obviously chose t0 kill the criminals but couldn’t follow through on it. But since we saw what was going on inside the boat, we saw the weakness of these “common men.” That’s where Nietzche is represented in this film. In the context of needing a strongman to tend to the flock.