Bleak Knight II,
A Dark Night 4 America… or…?
Today’s headline in the NYT’s “The Arts” section got me thinking…
Batman Weekend 2: $75 Million, Still Ahead
‘The Dark Knight’, seems to match the national mood.
In the body of the piece, written by Brooks Barnes, we read that “the brooding film, directed by Christopher Nolan, also fits the nation’s mood, Warner Brothers executives said.” This, of course, completely robs the headline of all its potential aphoristic insight, since everybody knows that Hollywood executives are … (How shall I put it?) … insight challenged.
But this did prompt me to revisit my late night review, “Bleak Knight”, posted from a Nevada hotel on July 22.
I think the Warner people stumbled onto something important.
Here’s some context. This film and its predecessor, “Batman Begins” (an excellent movie, released in 2005) owe tone, spirit and storytelling merit to a brilliant creator of graphic novels, Frank Miller, whose credits include Daredevil, Robocop, the Incredible Hulk, Batman (The Dark Knight Returns), all resurrected in gritty, hardboiled, visually arresting graphic novels that transcended their former “comic book” versions.
Miller is a robust ‘good vs. evil” moralist, the kind who cheers when dirty Harry tells an armed thug who hesitates to surrender, ‘Make my day.” He has a dyspeptic vision of the current politically correct culture.
A quote: “Mighty cultures are almost never conquered, they crumble from within. And frankly, I think that a lot of Americans are acting like spoiled brats.”
In The Dark Knight, Batman incarnates Frank Miller’s archetypical hero and the people of Gotham City act like… spoiled brats. Batman is a moral hero unworthy, in this view, of his public, but a man whose core integrity requires him to sacrifice even his reputation for the greater good. In the movie, we see a crusading DA, an archetypical, square jawed, blow dried hero, brought down by the simpering, sinister Joker, a truly malevolent and talented nihilist. The transformation of that crusading DA into a monster is ultimately hidden from the ‘people’ when Batman agrees to take on the dead prosecutor’s crimes and flees the police.
If this film captures the country’s mood, does it capture a cynical sense of defeatism (as the dismal poll ratings of the Congress might reveal) or does it expose a tougher core that is willing to give the bad guys hell even if it gets us hated in the bargain.
I think the answer is that the country is divided along a moral fracture line; and that the middle group would only be confused by this movie.
We are, as a country, poised on the knife’s edge of a despairing fatalism and renewed, robust recovery of the national self confidence.
If I am right, Batman’s symbolic defeat in fiction mirrors one of those “Tinkerbell” moments in the culture – recalling in Peter Pan how the audience is invited to resuscitate the little fairy by the act of belief.
If we believe, we recover. If not …..