Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dark Knight in America - 4

After seeing a bunch of clown-masked hoods rob a bank and kill each other off until there are only two of them left, these are the first words out of the Joker's mouth:

No. I kill the bus driver.

These are the second:

I believe that what doesn't kill you . . . simply makes you stranger.

And there you have him -- a killer of innocents who gains strength not only from cheating death but from taking other lives, the way Renfield believes he'll gain immortality by eating more and more insects and animals. If Renfield was a serial killer, this is how he would operate. He would kill more and more people and become more and more supernatural, and the same principle operates here.

So does the supernatural element -- there's something spooky about the Joker. Where does he get all those explosives? Never explained. How does he set up each new threat so quickly? No idea. Does he have henchmen? Yes, but we never see them in operation. Along with "My God, what did it have, 20 different endings?" it's one of the two big complaints I've heard from people who didn't like the movie ("How does he DO all that stuff? It's just not realistic.").

No, it's not, and it's not meant to be. So what is it, if it's not realism? Simple answer: it's a nightmare. And not just any nightmare, but our current national nightmare.

To quote Dana Stevens, in two plus hours Chris Nolan does more nuanced thinking about the war on terror than we've seen from the Bush administration in seven years.

And in the words of Rupert Murdoch's new leisure activity, the Wall Street Journal:

Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past. And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

Personally, I go into fits of Cesar-Romero-as-the-Joker laughter whenever I think of George W Bush actually giving us back our rights after he's taken them away in the name of a temporarary emergency. The emergency is permanent, people; it's Oceania-vs-Eastasia permanent, because the villains, like The Joker, are incredibly resourceful, everywhere-at-once, boogeymen.

The Joker is the Designated Enemy. He could be anybody under that makeup. Even the people chasing him. Because there's a third way to interpret this movie politically. It's not just a right-wing power fantasy or a left-wing nightmare about how and whether or not you become a terrorist in order to fight terrorism. It's also a parable about the Bush administration. If you replace "gangster" with "politician" in this movie, then Gotham City turns into Washington, and the Joker isn't a villain any longer -- he's a media consultant. (Okay; I know; redundant.) He's the guy your team hires to take out the other team's candidate. He's the guy who does all the opposition reasearch to find the weaknesses and attack them.

In other words, the Joker is this guy:

Other posts in this series:

The Man Who Laughs
The Shadow
The Premise

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