Monday, July 23, 2012

They Both Wear Masks . . .

Bane vs. Batman
Ron Phillips/Warner Brothers Pictures
New York Times

I don't do movie reviews because I know too little about film, but I enjoy reading them, especially reviews of movies I've seen, like The Dark Knight Rises, the Christopher Nolan film that I mentioned seeing with my daughter a couple of days ago.

But to get to my point . . . I read Manohla Dargis's review of this recent Batman movie, and it's one of the most impressive reviews I've read: lucid, erudite, insightful, and instructive. It helped me think about the film -- and confirmed my decision to see this Batman movie again.

Actually, I'd like to re-watch the entire trilogy and reflect upon its exploration of the psychopathology of crime, particularly -- as grows ever clearer with each of the three films -- the way that Nolan "has layered [his developing story] with open and barely veiled references to terrorism, the surveillance state and vengeance as a moral imperative," especially in this third film, as Dargis points out ("A Rejected Superhero Ends Up at Ground Zero," New York Times, July 18, 2012).

One shortcoming of the recent film, though Dargis doesn't touch upon this, is that Nolan seems to understand terrorism in purely personal terms -- a reflection of Bruce Wayne's personal fight against crime in assuming the Batman persona, I presume -- and though this serves the dynamics of the film well and draws the viewer deeply into the developing story, it lacks the ideological aspect of terrorism that isn't merely an expression of personal vengeance. Bane wants to destroy Gotham City because it's Batman's city? Because Bane feels personally hurt by something Batman once did?

Okay, maybe, but why is Bane willing to die to destroy the city, for the plot would require his death? And what motivates his fanatical followers? They know he plans to blow the city up and them with it, so why are they willing to do this? Are they expecting an eternity of sexual pleasure with seventy dark-eyed houris? The viewer is left to infer that something like Islamist ideology inspires them, I suppose, but we're not given much evidence implying that, other than the character "Ra's al Ghul" (Arabic: رأس الغول‎, Ra's al-Ġūl "Demon's Head"), the Arabic name given to the "League of Shadows" leader from the first Batman film, who was killed by Batman and whose character recalls the "Man of the Mountain," legendary founder of the medieval assassins famous for their suicidal attacks upon infidels as well as upon Muslims considered not devout enough.

But I'm not sure that Nolan intended this, or if I'm inferring too much.

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At 1:11 PM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

It's hard to do justice to the actual near 20-year old continuing Bane back-story, and those of the much longer-lived Ra's al Ghul and Bruce Wayne/Batman, yet so many seem intent on claiming Nolan as sole Batman visionary due to his more high-profile film version of the characters in which he got to do a lot of picking and choosing of the best of Batman through the years for "his" story. Sadly, most viewers of the film are missing out on a lot of great comic/graphic novel stories and truly great television. And for my money, and a lot of others, Mark Hamill is the definitive Joker.

At 1:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, John. I knew some of that stuff from my early years reading comic books, but from the 80s on, I got away from the genre.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:37 AM, Blogger Le Mc said...

My thoughts are pretty incoherent at the moment, but while I think Ra's al Ghul's motivations regarding why the League of Shadows want to destroy Gotham, as outlined in "Batman Begins," are fairly comprehensible, they are less so if you simply follow what Talia says in the third film, and even less if you take Bane's motivations purely as loyalty and love to Talia. I am pretty well entrenched in most of the strands of the comics but this one I have deliberately avoided as the League of Shadows has never interested me much.

At 6:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I agree, Ra's al Ghul's motivations were clear enough, and he was not keen on dying -- even claimed to be immortal -- but a religious aspect appears in this third film that does not dovetail with the initial film and partly accounts for the interpretive problems, as you suggest.

Jeffery Hodges

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