Screening Liberally: Why So Serious? Dark Knight Reviews Continue.

This is the second in our series of Screening Liberally reviews of The Dark Knight. Stay tuned for more.

Accolade for Christopher Nolan's newest Batman movie, The Dark Knight has been almost universal. The film has a 94% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a website which compiles and analyzes film reviews, and words like "inspired," "brilliant," and "Oscar-worthy" are being thrown around like so much confetti. Entertainment Weekly even offered Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker as evidence that the recently-deceased Australian actor would have grown up into "as audacious an actor as Marlon Brando and maybe as great."

Which isn't to say that praise for Nolan's film is undeserved--on the contrary, it's certainly one of the most interesting and well-made films to come out this year and, in terms of big, blockbuster movies, it's definitely a "game-changer": proof that a superhero movie can be subtle and introspective while still managing to be both totally thrilling and gross an enormous amount of money at the box office. It's also clear that The Dark Knight has touched a cultural nerve. Something about this bleak, unflashy portrait of a city in crisis and the moral decisions necessary to save it resonates with the American public. And much has been made of this already: check out Seth Pearce's earlier review, which presents a response to some critic's arguments that Batman and the rest of the good guys represent Bush and Cheney as they struggled to make the right decisions about how to combat terrorism.

As Seth pointed out, this is giving Bush a little too much credit. Batman--however weirdly egocentric dressing up as a bat and becoming a vigilante police officer might be--fundamentally wants to help as many people as he can, while Bush seems more concerned with keeping the rich wealthy and racing toy cars around a pond in Crawford. What's more interesting and offers more insight into our national character is how strongly allegorical the movie is, almost to the point of being epic. Reviewers have picked up on this, too, calling it alternately "Shakespearean" and "mythological." It's not a reflection of our reality; it's a reflection of the moral questions which, even in this time of political turmoil, are still relevant to us.

More after the jump!

Take, for example, Heath Ledger's Joker. The Joker acts out of his own unmitigated evillness--that is to say, he's neither like his cinematic inspiration nor the comic book villains we're used to seeing, hurt, damaged human beings who turn their considerable talents to the dark side. "Wanna know how I got these scars?" the Joker asks two separate times, but both times the answer is different and, really, doesn't matter. The point of the The Joker is that he was born, not created: he doesn't represent the misguided acts of evil that are terrorism and which we (the West) helped partially to create, but an extreme version deeper darkness built in to human nature.

The deep-rooted nature of the Joker's darkness is what makes Batman's and the Gotham City's struggle to stop him such a moral struggle. Remember that Batman is a vigilante, operating outside the law, and that the Gotham Police Department relies on him to do the illegal things they can't do (brutally question the Joker, kidnap a crooked accountant from overseas) as much as they rely on his "superpowers." The film is concerned with whether the ends justify the means: is it forth it for people to die, for the authorities to break the law in order to maintain order in Gotham City? Ultimately, it's not. Even though Batman does catch the Joker (in large part through an illegal spying machine, though he does, admittedly, destroy it when he's done with it), but the process of catching him and the toll on human life it took have destroyed Gotham City's "white knight," Harvey Dent (a.k.a. Two-Face). It's hard not to go down the slippery slope of breaking the law, but a slippery slope is just that, and going down that path has serious consequences.

So what does it mean that we're latching onto this story about the limits of good and evil? I like to take the optimistic approach: even in a time of political chaos and decaying individualism, we still care about the big moral issues. Even if our government isn't concerned about it, there's still something in ourselves and our culture that wants to do the right thing. And that's what makes Gotham City and America great.

Yes, another example I saw

Yes, another example I saw as clear as day that Bush was not analogous to Batman was when Batman agreed to destroy the cellphone sonar system. Bush completely ducked responsibility for his crimes and retroactively pardoned himself and his co-conspirators - the telcos.

We are going to continue to see WSJ and other right wing organ grinders write apologies for the miserable failure that has been Bush and conservative government. And it's important that we as progressive writers and thinkers stay alert for it and push back.

This "Bush is Jack Bauer" "Bush is Batman" crap is designed to keep the monkeys dancing because even the completely brainwashed 30% are a little nervous about how earth-shatteringly atrocious their precious Republicans have been at EVERYTHING.

It's our job to say, America, stop listening to people who are always wrong. Bush is not Batman: not only is Batman effing make believe, but seriously, Bush fails at everything he does, Batman is often successful in life's tasks.

If we can't force the line of thought that last eight years are a learning experience to never ever trust Conservatives again into the Bush-coda narrative, let it be because the DC CW bubble muzzled us (by force) not because we fell for misinformation and were derelict in our duty as truth tellers of the left.