The Dark Knight of Longing for Sovereign Justice

August 24, 2008

The Dark Knight I have been meaning to write about since I saw it at Imax on its Opening Day. It is the most impressive and amazing Hollywood blockbuster in ten or so years. The last decade has seen 15 to 20 yearly stupid big budget, no idea, special FX driven, dreck storms hit our screens ad nauseum. I mean The Spiderman films, Harry Potter, Narnia, The new Superman, X-men, etc, etc. All piles of various types of shit. Some not so bad as others admittedly. Never has there been such a drought in Blockbuster quality. Lucas and Spielberg aren’t hitting them like they used to. James Cameron vanished… but is back soon. If your a fan of the Blockbuster, you have to see rubbish like two bad Hulk movies in a row, the one supposed to reboot the other, that is just as bad.

The major problem has been over use of CGI. If its done well like early films like Terminator 2 and Starship Troopers its great. If its used to devise a new aesthetic like Sin City, its great too. But its over use has literally polluted big budget film making for years. When Tarantino bagged the Matrix sequels saying no one cares to see someone fight a million digital Agent Smiths, he was spot on. Real people doing real stunts, that actually impress, this is what works in cinema and in action flicks. Kill Bill 1 and Death Proof prove Tarantino’s conjecture, blowing the above films out of the water action wise. Its a question of action film integrity.

New subscriber to this ideology is Christopher Nolan. He reduces the CGI to be an unnoticed extra in The Dark Knight unheard of for a modern blockbuster. Not only that, he sets a new aesthetic tone, much the way Tim Burton did with his first Batman. Burton is partly responsible, due to his misappropriation by imitators for some of the crap that followed, I’d say. I wasn’t that big a fan of Nolan’s Batman Returns, it still had some of the trappings and ear marks of the crap blockbuster, like that those training scenes with Liam ‘Qi Gong’ Neeson, but I dug what Nolan tried to do making Batman more real and the film more gritty. It boded well for the future. Here, in The Dark Knight Nolan succeeds completely.

He delivers a tight, black Michael Mann style super hero. Tough, real, gritty, dark. Not only that the film, a major Hollywood blockbuster, actually has ideas in it! Shock, horror. Like the dark 70’s blockbusters, I grew up on! Joy, joy.

For this Nolan deserves a dark knighthood. Apart from the film being 2 and half hours of brilliant action packed well written entertainment and containing an amazing swan song performance from Heath Ledger as The Joker. This film actually makes you think.

About what? Well, here is my take.

Superhero films are about one thing. The longing for a fascist style sovereign justice. Yes, thats right people. The longing for vigilante, no trial, no jury, no recourse to appeal, style justice. Immediate and irreversible justice. Divine justice. Most of us live such pathetic lives filled with no spiritual, ontological or political freedom that the thought of there being actual real justice, just for one night on the big screen, draws us back again and again to see these superhero flicks. Sometimes the justice is comical, sometimes nonsensical… or sometimes its real, like a hunger or a thirst. As it is in The Dark Knight.

Nolan not only mines the fascist sovereign dimension of Batman, his decisive, individualistic personal executive justice, he is also clever enough to present two other forms of justice, with which we must debate, through the narrative of the picture. The other two notions of justice are the Jokers brilliant anarchist justice and Harvey Dent Capitalist justice of chance. The real villian here is Harvey Dent, Capitalism’s Golden boy turned Jekyl and Hyde monster, who operates on the pure chance of the market (a literal flip of the coin) to determine how people live and die. Just like in todays political reality. Pure blind, pointless, directionless chance. The emptiness of this form of justice is portrayed appropriately by Dent’s half ugly burnt face, that resembles interestingly the pedophile revenge freak Mason Verger from Hannibal. The Jokers justice is more playful and philosophically interesting. He mocks any plans of man and beast and happily, joyfully goes about bringing destruction to Gotham. He wreaks havoc on authority and the underworld alike, no one is safe from his purifying anarchic fire. The Jokers justice is a legitimate option as we all face planetary doom of one sort or another. Fidel (yes, Castro) while Rome burns, Heilogabulus in Gotham central.

But, I conjecture the film and the filmmakers, I believe favour the fascist justice option of Batman. It is a new fascist justice, not old and stale, its built for the new millennium. A decision of right and wrong based on traditional and changing standards, and applied as rigidly and immediately as possible. The films popularity, I believe, is based on a longing for such justice today. Do we not see all around us, so many injustices and unfair practices, so much stupidity, so many swine and swindlers, both here and overseas. Don’t we all want a benevolent Batman to come along and sort the wheat from the chaff, once and for all. To do so ruthlessly and immediately. Christopher Nolan has realised this and has given us the first thinking transcendental fascist block buster of the 21st century. The play of the Joker and Batman is left open at the end of The Dark Night of our soul…do we choose to mock our doom with The Joker or try and fight to avoid it? I, for one, am for the later… and so too, I believe, is Batman.

Why so serious, indeed…

One Response to “The Dark Knight of Longing for Sovereign Justice”

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