Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Manohla Dargis Again: On Batman

Dark Night?
Ron Phillips/Warner Brothers Pictures
New York Times

I've already posted a blog entry noting this review by Manohla Dargis of the Christopher Nolan film The Dark Knight Rises: "A Rejected Superhero Ends Up at Ground Zero" (New York Times, July 18, 2012). But I didn't offer much on her analysis, and her writing is so rich and intriguing that I have to quote from it again, this time specifically on the 9/11 connection and its ironies:
In "The Dark Knight Rises" Mr. Nolan, working from a script he wrote with his brother Jonathan, further muddies the good-and-evil divide with Bane. A swaggering, overmuscled brute with a scar running down his back like a zipper and headgear that obscures his face and turns his cultivated voice into a strangulated wheeze, Bane comes at Batman and Gotham hard. Fortified by armed true believers, Bane first beats Batman in a punishingly visceral, intimate fist-to-foot fight and then commandeers the city with a massive assault that leaves it crippled and -- because of the explosions, the dust, the panic and the sweeping aerial shots of a very real-looking New York City -- invokes the Sept 11 attacks. It's unsettling enough that some may find it tough going.

Watching a city collapse should be difficult, maybe especially in a comic-book movie. The specter of Sept. 11 and its aftermath haunt American movies, often through their absence though also obliquely, as in action films that adopt torture as an ineluctable necessity. Mr. Nolan, for his part, has been engaging Sept. 11 in his blockbuster behemoths, specifically in a vision of Batman who stands between right and wrong, principles and their perversions, because he himself incarnates both extremes.

Mr. Nolan has also taken the duality that made the first film into an existential drama and expanded that concept to encompass questions about power, the state and whether change is best effected from inside the system or outside it. [Police Commissioner] Gordon believes in its structures; Bane wants to burn it all down. And Batman? Well, he needs to work it out.
On Gordon, I differ a bit. He doesn't truly believe in Gotham's power structure, but he thinks that the structures can be manipulated -- must be manipulated -- in the interests of justice. Dargis is right about Bane, of course. As for Batman, he doesn't believe in the structures of power, nor does he seem to believe -- unlike Gordon -- that those structures can be used for justice. Rather, he works outside of those structures to effect justice, as he sees it, but he doesn't, fundamentally, challenge those structures, perhaps because order, even if imperfect, is better than disorder. Or maybe because he simply loves his city.

As for the film's religious allusions, which interest me, Dargis also sees them, for she mentions the "true believers" and the "Sept. 11 attacks," but she doesn't play these up, preferring to view events politically, and perhaps implying that audiences will as well:
So will viewers, explicitly given the grim, unsettling vision of a lawless city in which the structures of civil society have fallen, structures that Batman has fought outside of. In a formally bravura, disturbingly visceral sequence that clarifies the stakes, Bane stands before a prison and, in a film with several references to the brutal excesses of the French Revolution -- including the suitably titled "A Tale of Two Cities" -- delivers an apocalyptic speech worthy of Robespierre. Invoking myths of opportunism, Bane promises the Gotham citizenry that courts will be convened, spoils enjoyed. "Do as you please," he says, as Mr. Nolan cuts to a well-heeled city stretch where women in furs and men in silk robes are attacked in what looks like a paroxysm of revolutionary bloodlust.
Does Dargis see 9/11 purely politically? Maybe not, for she does refer to Bane's "apocalyptic speech" -- though she promptly calls it "worthy of Robespierre."

Of course, Islamism is overtly political . . .

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