Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why Is Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight Rises' (Batman) Important?

An interesting way of analyzing the film may be to define what different modes of "strength" and "power" are displayed. Both are political rhetoric terms and knowing what political strength/power a character has (and not just in terms of being able to fly or use cool gadgets) deepens our understanding of how they come to be the "hero" society values and looks up to.
I posted this 12:00 trailer/behind the scenes look at The Dark Knight Rises awhile back; given that the summer's most anticipated film opens tomorrow, and is all ready surrounded in controversy, let's examine what there is to be seen:
The official Warner Brothers synopsis reads: It has been eight years since Batman vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act. But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane.
The synopsis at  In the final part of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, Batman must face a foe unlike any he has ever faced. In The Dark Knight, Batman saved Gotham, but could not save himself, as he ultimately had to take the blame for Harvey Dent's crimes, and began being hunted by the Police, and thus had to leave the task of protecting Gotham in Gordon's hands and the superb job that Gordon did in finally bringing peace to Gotham, after what seemed like ages, was enough to convince the Dark Knight that Gotham was safe and that Bruce Wayne need never put on the Batsuit again. However 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight, an unknown foe emerges, and threatens to destroy Gotham.When the foe proves too much for Gordon to handle, Batman must break his 8 year exile and return to defeat Bane from fulfilling his devious plan and claim his rightful place as the true Savior of Gotham.
There is all ready controversy surrounding the film, some critics' reviews causing Rotten Tomatoes to disable the comment feature (which is surprising because Warner Brothers owns RT and the fans are upset at critics for saying the film isn't very good... I would think they would want to support the fans?). But some liberal critics have said that Bane (Tom Hardy) is actually a reference to Bain Capital which Democrats are trying to make a voter issue for presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. The problem with that interpretation is at least twofold: first, the film was being shot between May and November 2011; how and what would lead Nolan to invest something in the script about Bain Capital last year? I'm not saying it can't be done, but anyone advancing that interpretation would have to substantiate that historical discrepancy.
The "lie" about Harvey Dent who turned from good to evil and let Batman take the blame for all his crimes is the heart of the story (see the picture above) and Bane reveals the lie that Dent committed the killings and Batman took the cover for them. I can't find the footage again, but it seems that Bane was created from a "science experiment" in prison, rather like the science experiment creating Peter Parks in The Amazing Spider Man and Aaron Cross in The Bourne Legacy. The more similarities we can find between contemporaneous works of art, the greater the chance we can de-code some of the arguments and counter-arguments at work.
The second problem is that, like Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) of Iron Man, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a billionaire, that 1% of America's population with so much accumulated wealth. I will gladly admit that the play on words between "Bain" and "Bane" would definitely be an acceptable interpretation, howeverBane has been a character in the Batman series since at least 1993 so it's not like the character was invented in a prophetic view that Mitt Romney would run for president and win the Republican ticket to stand for election in November and Romney's relationship with the company would become a platform for Democrats. Again, anyone wanting to advance that position is welcome to, however, those are issues they will have to address and keep their interpretation straight with what the film does.
An aspect of the film we should pay close attention to is that of commerce and products.  We know there is going to be a huge fight between police and Bane's forces on Wall Street, so "Wall Street" and what it does will be lurking behind the shadows, sometimes maybe not so well hidden, but very out in the open. We should remember, too, the role New York/Manhattan played in The Avengers and Tony Stark risking his life to carry a bomb, launched at New York by its own people, into outer space. Similarly is the "biological attack" on New York City in The Amazing Spider Man.
Perhaps the most fruitful means of watching the film for decoding purposes will be to, first of all, keep track of major, diametrical oppositions, for example: poor and rich, free and jailed, above ground and underground, male and female. There are far wider gaps between the major "poles of thought" that typify our society, and seeing how, if at all, the film falls into the cracks and explodes them will be a potential for peering into the more subtle mechanizations being presented to the audience.
Costume analysis will be a terrific means of examining characters and Bane's mouth piece tells us volumes about him. By the way, in film news, Nolan received so much heat for Bane's speech that Nolan had to "clean up" the voice of the villain so audiences could understand him. It's possible that Nolan decided not to employ "noise" as an artistic medium in the film but it's apt to show up somewhere. In short, "noise" takes a variety of forms and while it covers up something that we can't hear or see, it's meant to let us know that something is purposefully being covered under noise because we literally can't hear or understand everything the film is attempting to communicate to us.
"There's a storm coming," Cat Woman (Anne Hathaway) tells Bruce Wayne; where have we seen other storms in recent films? Take Shelter, Magic Mike (the hurricane in the background when Dallas announces they are going to Miami), Moonrise Kingdom and in both Sherlock Holmes A Game Of Shadows and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter it is the 'storm of war' referred to. There is a degree to which Batman is like Captain America: "What if he doesn't exist anymore?" someone asks Gordon (Gary Oldman) as he lays in his hospital bed. Knowing a large part of the film takes place underground, it's like Batman has been buried--physically and psychologically--the way Captain America was buried in the ice, to be resurrected at America's most dire hour.
Continuing, masks always "mask" something, but a character wearing a mask reveals that we need to look for what is being concealed within them. For Bruce Wayne in this final installment, the mask is his pain and inner turmoil over what happened in the last episode. When Bane reveals that Harvey Dent's death was a "lie," that "unmasks" the truth of Batman's innocence (at least on the surface).
"Let the games begin!" Bane says, invoking both Moneyball and The Hunger Games, which present the metaphor of capitalism being a "game" of supply and demand. The scene we are presently most familiar with is that of the football stadium and a runner going towards the goal as the ground falls away behind him. "Destroying the playing field" is what socialism does, even levelling the playing field and creating unfair restraints on competition, so the dichotomy of  play vs game (creativity vs rules) will be another perspective worthwhile.
Clearly the city is in chaos and we need only ask, what other films have shown the world in a state of ruin? Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman.
At 0:24 into the trailer above, we see the bridges of New York being blown up, which we saw in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and even in Men In Black III when K (Tommy Lee Jones) was on the bridge of the space shuttle trying to get the shield launched into space. Why would the bridge be important? The bridge between the past and the future, what has been and what will be, what we were and what we might yet become.
Cat Woman is rather problematic for me, and she probably will be for Bruce Wayne as well. Here's a clip from the film, and I love the mentioning of "appetites":
Why would appetites be important? If you will note, please, Bane's dominant characteristic is his mouth; it may take on additional meaning, but the mouth always symbolizes the appetites, whether they have been overcome or they have overcome us. For Seline to be so blatantly accused of having appetites, will beg the question: what is she hungry for? What does she consume? What has been denied to her that she's still craving?
"Why don't you just kill me?" Wayne asks Bane, and Bane replies that Wayne needs to be punished for what he has done. What is he being punished for, exactly? How will that transcribe into our cultural conflicts today? At one point, Wayne goes to the doctor who tells him his knees are in really bad shape. We will need to be mindful of such little details as this because--as part of the legs--knees symbolize our "standing" in society, how we are looked upon by others. Knees allow us to move and be flexible, so we might watch for anything pertaining to that in Bruce Wayne as well as Wayne's will and what he feels he can and cannot do.
"You are as precious to me as to your own mom and dad. I swore to them that I would protect you, and I haven't" Alfred (Michael Caine) tells Wayne, and that's the lower class--the servant class--"protecting" the upper class, the mother and father being "the motherland" and the "founding fathers," and why protect the upper class? Because of our hope that we can fulfill our destiny and have class mobility denied others under different governments. But what's so important is the protecting which Batman did for Gotham, and the "lie" which Batman entered into to protect Harvey Dent. What's certain is that Gotham has gotten worse without Batman to protect them. Alfred will be a very important character in the "class war" we will see in the film, because in 2012, you can't have a billionaire without there being a class conflict.
What should we be looking for in these two characters? Do they ever waver from doing the right thing? Do they ever do anything out of self-interest or from their duty and love of their city? Are they the "billionaires" of the ideal? Do they symbolize their own type of "knighthood" and hence, upper-class of the soul in their own sacrifices and contributions to the victory over evil?
What Nolan says of his film is that it's an elementary battle between "good and evil." All we have to do is identify which side is good, and which side is evil, because there's no running away from this battle and we are each in it, whether we want to ignore it or not, because this may be the most complete and comprehensive statement the film industry will make on the battle between capitalism and socialism.