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Friday, July 25, 2008

Everyone is getting all political over Dark Knight.

* Andrew Klavan in the Wall Street Journal finds the movie a grand apologia for Bush:

There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.
* But Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias want to trouble this understanding, where Matt makes what I thought was an interesting point about the leap from comic to film:
Shifting a bit away from the issues of the day, though, one interesting thing about the film is what a difference it makes to rip Batman out of the context of the broader DC universe. The DCU's other anchor character, Superman, is far more powerful than Batman. And of course Superman's hardly alone in this regard -- Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, etc. all wield vast power and even lesser lights like the Flash outpace Batman by far.

In that context, Batman rather uniquely doesn't suffer from a substantial legitimacy problem. You don't look at Batman and say "no man should wield this much power" in a world where Superman can see through walls. It's those other guys who have legitimacy problems and Batman is one of the important checks on them -- especially on Superman, who specifically entrusts a kryptonite ring to Batman for that purpose.
* But it's Kugelmass who has probably the best review I've seen thus far.
The reverse is also true, though—The Joker can’t kill Batman, because, he says, “you’re just too much fun.” That’s what we have to understand first before we can pick up on Ledger’s mannerisms and bizarre intonations. The Joker feels about Batman the way Shakespeare might feel if performances of Hamlet were being blocked in court by Thomas Kyd. In the previous film, Batman has taken the crucial plunge by deciding that his own personal neuroses have a global significance and relate in some meaningful way to the ebb and flow of order (law) and chaos (crime) in Gotham City. As a result, the whole city of Gotham has to play along with Batman, pretending as though shining the Bat Signal into the clouds and having one man karate chop his way around the city is the best way to fight crime. Being Batman is an incredibly excessive, libidinal kinkiness, but it is also a sort of splendor, without which the impetus to fight crime is lacking. It may seem ridiculous to assert that we have to let people dress up as sleeker versions of furries in order to persuade them to wield the baton, but in truth The Dark Knight is just illuminating the fantasies that play themselves out more tamely in normal professional lives. The Joker understands this so well that he’s out to climb the ladder and throw it away, by which I mean that he wants to turn the battle between criminals and vigilantes into a non-stop morality spectacular in which every normal ferry trip becomes a live, game show version of the prisoner’s dilemma. His polymorphous perversity is an end run around Batman’s incompletely sublimated fantasies. It’s not necessarily disappointing to him that the people on the ferries don’t detonate each other—I mean, isn’t that wonderful? They got to prove they were good people—Eichmann on the one boat, Bigger Thomas on the other. The Joker claps when Gary Oldman is made commissioner, perfectly well aware that this scene of goodness rewarded is only possible because he (the Joker) killed Commissioner #1. Ladies and gentleman, we are tonight’s entertainment.

That’s why it’s ridiculous to criticize The Dark Knight on the grounds that it is a children’s film or infantile; it is about infantility, and raises questions about how much we can really escape from apparently embarrassing wishes. Part of the problem with a fiction like Enchanted or Harry Potter is that it allows adults to feel themselves at a safe distance from kids’ stuff through (respectively) ironic misdirection and misty, head-patting sentimentality.
* And for the fanboys in the audience, via Jacob, 8 great villains we want in the next Batman movie.