director Christopher Nolan
viewed: 07/21/2012 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
Much has been made of Christopher Nolan’s Batman as a post-9/11 superhero. One who deals with modern, global terrorism, the state of militarized reaction, corporate insinuation in the whole. The Dark Knight Rises is the final film in his trilogy, attempting to channel not just these realities but also the zeitgeist of the Occupy movements, the banking disasters, and responsive justice, vigilante or otherwise.
Sadly, the meta narrative has expanded beyond anything that Nolan and his collaborators have created for the film. The attack that occurred in Aurora, CO during a midnight premiere of the film brought terrorism physically into the movie theater. The post-9/11 superhero film now has its own new precedence, a brutal act infamous on its own.
I watched The Dark Knight Rises at a Saturday matinee, a day and a half after the shootings in Colorado. Long before the chaos had subsided, long before anyone could begin to eke meaning from it. I felt its echo throughout much of the experience.
There had been so much preamble to this film already, largely by fans, largely on the internet, spawned by the passionate reception to The Dark Knight (2008) and its predecessor Batman Begins (2005). Next to Prometheus (2012), it’s hard to know if there was a more hotly anticipated film this summer. With Heath Ledger’s death prior to the release of The Dark Knight in 2008, tragedy has shadowed the films, but has not obscured their impact.
Nolan has definitely tried to tap into societal currents of strife and fear to define his version of Batman through his three films, quite specifically via chaotic terrorism wrought against the people of Gotham (City) a.k.a. New York. In Batman Begins and now again in The Dark Knight Rises, the villains are connected with the “League of Shadows,” a group that wants to destroy Gotham in madness and bloodshed, a politicized doctrine, essentially a judgment on Western civilization, couched in language not dissimilar to that of some radicalized Islam. Ra’s ah Ghul led a siege on Gotham in Batman Begins, invoking literal terror by means of toxins supplied by The Scarecrow that would cause the entire population to hallucinate nightmares and go mad and murderous.
This time the hulking mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy) plans to destroy the world order by destroying Manhattan. In both films, the motivation for the onslaughts arise as judgment on the decadence of Western Civilization, as embodied in “Gotham”. In aligning any of this rhetoric to intimations of a “class war” or touching on the Occupy movement’s tones of protest over disparities between the rich and poor, Nolan leaves room to project upon the film various ideological stances. Various pundits have been grasping at the straws to espouse their own agendas (even before the film came out). Much had been made of how hard it is to understand Bane when he speaks (through his mouthpiece), but the ideological statements that he espouse are doubly muddled. Is there meant to be meaning to his madness? Or does Nolan intentionally muddle Bane’s verbalized politics to suggest these platitudes are as garbled as his voice?
And then what about Catwoman (Anne Hathaway)? She’s another voice of the proletariat, though one in flashy outfits. Is she hypocritical, too? She speaks of the coming storm, the devastating chaos meant to purge the world of its decadence. She’s very well-heeled for one of the 99%.
I think that the Joker was a much more apt and uncanny terrorist. There is no rhyme or reason, just madness and chaos, to his method. Random senseless violence. Largely without explanation.
Frankly, I found the film a bit disappointing. Though it has a lot of power and style, the film is long, overlong perhaps. If you ask me, The Dark Knight hit a high point for the franchise. So it’s not unrealistic to have had heightened expectations going into a follow-up so full of self-importance and rabid anticipation. The Dark Knight Rises is portentous. It booms onscreen and on the soundtrack with great emphasis. But for my money, it was even more convoluted, illogical, sprawling. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. Just not as much as I’d hoped, not as much as The Dark Knight.
I’ve probably spent more time (though it may not show) editing this post than any one other of which I can recall. For many attendees of the film over the last weekend, a police presence accompanied screenings, further physical reminders of terror wrought and the vigilance engendered in response. The screening I attended had no police presence, but all the same, the shadow of those events were inescapable.