"Work in the shadows. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using any means at our disposal to achieve our objective." – Dick Cheney
"The more powerful the class, the more it claims not to exist, and its power is employed above all to enforce this claim." - Guy Debord
Chris Nolan's "Dark Knight" stars Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, a millionaire weapons contractor who moonlights as Batman, a powerful superhero who beats up terrorists. Politically, some critics believe the film to be advocating the suspension of democracy in a time of terror. Others see it as endorsing scepticism of a leader's claims to free reign during a "state of emergency" (which is often the leader's own creation).
The truth is, the film presents the usual two-party, false binary present year after election year. Batman and politician Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) represent the opposite poles of so-called democratic politics. Batman, operating outside the law to protect the defenceless people of Gotham City, represents your typical Bush/Cheney/Nixon cryptofascist, rationalising what he does (torture, law breaking etc) for the "good of the homeland". Kipling called this the "white man's burden"; men rationalise their evil as a noble and necessary burden which must be righteously carried so as to spare others the load. Dent, meanwhile, along with one Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), are idealistic, by-the-books types. Both learn to be "pragmatic" and collaborate with vigilantes (Batman), if only to take down bad guys. Batman, Dent thinks, has become a necessity.
The film really tips its ideological hand during its Greek-tragedy final hour. Dawes, the most liberal of all the "good guys", dies at the hands of a terrorist called Joker (Heath Ledger), whilst the pragmatist Dent, scarred in war, abandons his ideals and embraces the Joker's ethos of chaos. In other words, we must accept the cold embrace of Batman if we want to be secure. Dent's law abiding idealism doesn't work. It's two faced and is merely a mask for chaos and disorder.
The Joker, with his Al-Qaeda like video recordings, his constant attacks on "women and children" and his advocacy of terrorism and chaos, is a figure who stands propagandistically for "America's enemies". IE- America's enemies are not an oppressed and exploited, diverse and divided group trying with futility to resist in various ways, but rather, they are a fundamentally irrational, monstrous, chaotic and lawless cult of death. Thus, the Joker offers only the wild, amoral, killing life beyond the protective (and expansionist) borders of "democracy" (aka corporatist imperialism).
The moral is as old, and as conservative, as Hobbes. The film says we can live in a wild, murderous wasteland OR a lawless, authoritarian police state. It doesn't matter which of these options the film presents as more appealing or fun, all that matters is that no other options present themselves. This false binary, rife with straw-men, is the complete opposite to something like "Hellboy 2", where our superheroes retire once they realise that the government for which they've been working ultimately opposes the difference and diversity they represent. Compared to "Dark Knight", this is genuinely radical.
Late in the film, Joker places a massive bet on the assumption that most people are as viciously indifferent to other human beings as he is. The Batman's counter-bet is that people are devoted to morals, order and authority. Batman wins, an act which serves not to celebrate Gothan's morality, but to legitimise the Dark Knight.
The bad guys themselves are an assortment of freaks and ethnic minorities while the good guys are, with the exception of slave boy Morgan Freeman, uptight bourgeois white Americans. The most virtuous of them is the "Great White Hope", Harvey Dent. Harvey, though his crusade against crime is on the legal side, secretly loves Batman's underground campaign of terror and Guantanamo Bay styled "free reign". In fact, Gotham police relies on Batman to break legs, smash faces, interrogate and torture on their behalf. And Batman, with enormous resources at his disposal, doesn't shirk from breaking international law to abduct a Chinese target or from erecting a colossal surveillance machine which makes Bush's extensive illegal wiretapping and water-boardings look lame. This subplot of the film is particularly insidious in light of the NSA's illegal PRISM, ECHELON and MUSCULAR surveillance programmes, ostensibly to "stop terrorists", but really to aid big business, spying on financial ministers, charities, leftists etc. In short, Batman is bad simply because the state can't afford to be seen being bad. What's odd is that Batman's struggle is not a collective one. The few members of the public who do try to "copycat" Batman's antics end up being butchered.
To protect Gotham, Batman and the police eventually create serial lies and myths for public consumption. It's the "noble lie" which the masses need to sustain their morale. In other words, leaders (Bush, Nixon etc) are self-righteously willing to be seen as immoral, under the understanding that you understand that what they do they do, Christ-like, for you. They protect us from Joker. Of course in the real world the nature of Joker is covered up, and Batman does nothing but enhance his own material wealth and power by way of the Joker's shocks to Gotham's system.
And so the "Knight" boils down to age old authoritarian motives: in order to have social stability you need a lie. The real hero of the film is actually the Joker, but the film's PG13 rating prevents it from dealing with this seriously. I'll take the Joker's anarchistic chaos over Batman's archaic commitment to corrupt systems of law and order any day. Not only that, Joker's psycho ramblings and burning towers of cash are infinitely more entertaining than Batman's Multi-million Dollar Extreme Warfare Batmobile.
6/10 - Popcorn fascism. Despite a strong first half, "Knight's" second half drowns in messily shot action and needless subplots. See "Die Hard 3".
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