The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Joke’s On Us: Batman The Dark Knight and the Anti-Virtues of Existential Heroism

The 2008 release of The Dark Knight with Christian Bale in the starring role brings a newer, more brutal DC comic book hero into modern context. The story-line, gadgets, and realistic setting in both 2005's Batman Begins and the 2008 movie even form a slightly plausible “movie magic” that says to movie audiences, “Yeah, I buy it for the two plus hours. I’m in this world.” Beside a fantastically entertaining filming along the old film noir crime drama’s of 60 or 70 years ago, in color but very dark in cinematography, these two installments of Batman lore by director Christopher Nolan combine the “alternative realism” with some deeper philosophy of great relevance to our 21st Century society.
For a brief view of alternative realism, The Dark Knight presents a normative setting in a real looking megalopolis in modern urban lore, the city of Gotham. Indeed, the name “Gotham” itself is synonymous with dark forces of crime–social moral decay. But for the second key aspect of alternative realism, The Dark Knight presents ordinary people in most respects in twists of extraordinary circumstances, almost unreal but for the very real feel, taste, feel, sight and sounds. In short, in the time, space, theme, and people, the melting of the real and the suprareal create not surreal experiences we associate with Kafkaism, but of a subreal where people’s dreams and nightmares define them. The Batmobile, the Batsuit, the Batgadgets (sorry, there is no Bat-Shark-Repellant in either of these movies) look plausible. Yet, as with everything in these two movies, the baseline of real seems not so extraordinary.
To understand The Dark Knight, one must refer to Batman Begins. As most people know, Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered in a senseless act of petty violence. Bruce Wayne later as an adult escapes to Asia to become a criminal in order to understand their motivation, yes, but also as an anonymous rebellion to the privilege, wealth, and expectations under which he was raised. Caught in the act of theft, Wayne is released from prison and finds a breadcrumb path to a Ninja temple high in the snowy Himalayas. Trained in the martial arts of The League of Shadows, a Ninja-monastic order dedicated to wiping out all of societies corruptions via a French Revolution-style of purification of murder in the form of a Cult of private virtue, Wayne escapes the league once he is asked to perform an execution.
Presumed dead for seven years, Wayne returns to Gotham to reclaim his trust fund and family mantle. But instead of becoming the benign wealthy benefactor of Gotham, Wayne will use his skills under the symbol of what he fears the most, bats, in order to fight the moral corruption. As billionaire bad boy, Wayne protects his secret of caped crusader. As man, he can be destroyed. As a symbol of hidden identity, Batman does whatever is necessary in order to implement his private morality as the public virtue, Gotham notably lacking any virtues in its present state. In short, Batman exists to inspire others to take action in saving, restoring or creating the public morality via their private virtue of service. The private virtue of service is the generational endowment of the Wayne family Wayne hopes to restore, in order that someday Batman is no longer necessary. (It’s easy for a Ninja-trained smart guy to be Batman with Bruce Wayne’s money). Wayne creates the existence of Batman because one is needed.
The supporting cast of the film is outstanding, particularly Michael Caine, the venerable Alfried, Morgan Freeman and the always underrated Gary Oldman. The story line in The Dark Knight, however, revolves around Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes, the latter Wayne’s boyhood romance privy to Batman’s true identity, withAaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal playing these roles. Harvey Dent, the romantic interest of Dawes, is the “white knight” that Dawes wants for herself and Wayne wants to replace Batman. Dent is just as brave, strong and confident as Wayne/Batman, but Dent is the private virtue for public morality that Wayne needs to replace Batman, and get Dawes back in his life in the process.
Enter chaos, in the star stealing performance of the late Heath Ledger as The Joker. The Joker is part of our real world which is not talked about, only feared and best put away from society: That of the criminally insane. The criminally insane possess the faculty of logic, reason, rationale, and even genius, but operate devoid of any redeeming virtue with only an un-moral self-defined. The Joker gives an evil reason for virtue like Batman to exist. In pure form, Ledger portrays the subreal and surreal fear we all have of coming real and dominating the superreal: A dark spiritual “Concentrated” evil as protagonist, out to cause nothing but pain, suffering, disorder, and death to the world.
In this movie, the underlying theme runs along what or who is the Dark Knight and why and how is he or she necessary, the answer only revealed in the last 60 seconds of the film. In trying to understand The Joker’s motivation in order for the Wayne/Batman antagonist to stop him, Alfried explains that The Joker might have no motivation, he might want nothing, there is no mission for which he works, and no objective to be denied. Wayne cannot, and really does not, win this battle, as he would have to become The Joker himself in order to prevail. Batman would have to give up his private and public morality and public and private virtue, demeaning himself into the evil he fights–the sole reason for Batman’s existence. What happens? Watch Batman Begins, if you have not seen it, and then The Dark Knight. How does this all get resolved? And why is the existence of a Dark Knight necessary? In sum, we want to believe in Batman. We don’t want people like The Joker to exist, on film or in real life. But in tolerating the conditions that made The Joker possible, the apathetic citizens of Gotham made Batman necessary. But in tolerating the need for someone else to restore public morality through a private, self-defined virtue, the people of Gotham force Batman to become what they don’t understand. A lack of understanding anyone or the things, for good or evil, that motivate them, is the true source of all our fears.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home