The Dark Knight
Batman and Totalitarianism
"We did. All of us who let scum like Maroni take over our city. In Rome, they would elect one man to watch over and protect their city.
"Harvey, the last person the Romans elected was a guy named Caesar and he never gave up his power."
The Dark Knight is a film that takes the character of Batman out of his comic book roots an places him directly into the real world. It does this with certain poise to tell us something about the world we live in and also tell us about something about ourselves.
In these lines presented here we see that the film is using its characters to not just comment on current social reality, or the way our governing leaders mirror those of the past but on the very nature of our liberties. Where do they begin and where do they end.
In the book Long Halloween, a book that helped inspire Nolan, it isn't just the Joker who creates "a world without rules", he does gain power because "the world without rules" has been created. Itís the same here," There's no going back. You've changed things... forever."
In the scene where Mrs. Gordon finds out that her husband is dead and she creams at Batman, "You brought this upon us!" Batman inspired people to do good, but he also showed them that human law whether it be law enforcement or organized crime. "The criminals in this town used to believe in things: honor, respect! Look at you. What do you believe in, huh?" Cops and the mob have a lot in common, the film the Departed blurred the lines between cop and criminal and this does the same with good and bad people. The mob believes the Joker, an anarchist, will bring things back to normal and Gordon thinks that his use of a vigilante will bring things back to normal. Even Batman believes it, he thinks that he can just hang his cape up and it will go back to normal.
"Don't talk like one of them, you're not! Even if you'd like to be. To them, you're just a freak--like me." Once one man successfully goes above the law whatís to stop another from doing it, one with a much different moral code. The scene in which the copy cats are taken down by batman "What gives you the right? What's the difference between you and me?! " and batman just responds, " I'm not wearing hockey pads."
The only difference is the money i.e. the power. Brian Douglas has the same right as any of us to take up the mantle of fighting for justice. But Bruce wants it to be Dent, a Self made man within the law. Brian, the Fake batman, is an interesting part of the film as I think in a way he represents us the batman fan. In a way everyone who read Batman as a kid wanted to be Batman. And so did he. His character brings an interesting view point to the movie as it shows one of the many ways that Batman has inspired, or maybe affected is a better word, the city. Batman inspired people to vote for good men to public office, this can be seen in Dent. Batman inspired people like Brian to become vigilantes like him.
"Shh shh shh shh. So you think Batman's made Gotham a better place? Hm? Look at me... LOOK AT ME! You see this is how crazy Batman's made Gotham. You want order in Gotham? Batman must take off his mask and turn himself in. Oh, and everyday he doesn't, people will die... starting tonight. I'm a man of my word."
The Batman is responsible for the Joker. Dent isn't crazy at the end of the film, he looks for justice, for those involved in killing Rachel. He gets the mob, the police, the joker, and then he comes back to the three. Batman has responsibility as he taught people that their are no rules by fighting outside the law, in one scene he even asks Alfred if he brought it down upon her, and he did in a way.
Batman is forcing himself into a totalitarian position. He wanted to pass on his mantle to Dent but he canít, not just because of what happens to Dent, but because if he did someone evil might take up the mantle like the Joker. He is therefore cursed and can never hang up the cape. Not only that but he has to now prevent more escalation, stop others from crossing the line. The machine at the end is just a symbol of how the position is too much power for one man. So we see in the commentary on vigilantism a break down of the modern idea of hero, and therefore superhero. They are all just men after all.
Harvey Dent and the Law
Nolan stated that the Joker was partially inspired by the shark in Jaws that would be an evil unstoppable force without explanation that would cause the other characters in the film to question who they really are. Batman has to break many liberties in order to take him down. He invades privacy, tortures and goes outside of jurisdiction. This is why Frank Miller the famous Batman writer always holds that in the end Batman although a dignified man will be a psychotic criminal. Because once you break man's law in order to obtain a higher law, whether that law be spiritual or your own you cannot stop imposing that law or everything you have done will fail.
Dent is the self made man, he makes his own luck remember, and he has a belief that all men can make themselves good or bad by their work, nature not nurture. Dent is a representation of the state, the American justice system. The films tagline "I believe in Harvey Dent" is a reference to the opening line of the Godfather in which the American justice system is said to be inadequate. Dent's alter ego Two-face on the other hand does not agree that all men are animals (or monsters, I believe that animals behave better than human beings sometimes) as the Joker believes. He has stopped believing in a good or bad nature of men, rather in nurture. "It's not about what I want! It's about what's FAIR! You thought we could be decent men in an indecent time! But you were wrong. The world is cruel. And the only morality in a cruel world... is chance...unbiased, unprejudiced, and fair. His son's got the same chance she had: 50/50." To him men just do what they do based on what fate has handed them. No longer does he make his own luck, the luck makes him. He sees in all men a little good and a little bad, we are all guilty now.
Dent worked in internal affairs. This adds to the idea that he was a good guy who would get to know you but would then if he found any little bit of corruption around you he would turn around and attack you. This helped get him the name ĎWhite Knightí, because he expected everyone to be perfectly innocent. Later on in the film He warns Gordon that there are corrupt men in his unit. This shows us that at the end of the film Nolan isnít portraying Two-Face as a man with multiple personality disorder but rather a man that has given up on his fellow manís ability to enact justice. No one is 100 percent innocent, even him. So at the end of the film he isnít crazy, only a little deranged but still he thinks he is right in what he is doing. He is still enacting justice but since he has given up on man he looks to a higher power for justice and finds only chance. Unbiased, unprejudiced, fair. Where as the Joker sees chance as something that takes away responsibility, Dent sees it as an inescapable prison that takes away the control he once had over his life. In the script it specifically states Dent does not want to shoot Batman as he does. And when Dent falls, literally and figuratively, so does any hope for the Batman completing his task. ďI think you and I are destined to do this foreverĒ, the Joker says as the question of evil is left hanging, literally and figuratively.
When an activist group gains power, that power can corrupt it into totalitarianism or fascism. Most political parties are created by activist groups remember. I am reminded of real life examples of this, rebels who fight corruption in Africa who end up becoming the just as corrupt as the men they fought against, eventually rebels rally against them. I am reminded of America, once revolutionaries against a king, now viewed as oppressive force within the world.
Truth, Security and Freedom
Christopher Nolan has stated that his favorite genre of films is that of Noir. Noir is constantly surrounded in a veil of mystery and lies. Revenge and deception are constant motifs. In most of Nolan's films the women are figures of truth grounding the men in a stabel reality. And also like in many films the female lead is killed off and the lead males spiral off into uncertainty.
Each time Nolan kills off his leading women the men are killed symbolically with them. In Memento Leoís last memory is laying on the floor bleeding. This spurs him living the rest of his life looking for vengeance, which because of his condition ends up being a lie as everyone around him deceives him. The Prestige is one big deception layered on deceptions, when Hugh Jackmanís wife dies drowning the next scene in which you see him he has his face in water. As if he is trying to drown with her. The movie then becomes about his constant vengeance toward the man he thinks killed his wife.
Batmanís entire persona of wearing a mask is a deception, Bruce Wayne is a fake, and then there is the constant deception of fear. Raís deceives Bruce in Begins and so on. VengeanceÖ.well Batman is vengeance. In the Dark Knight, every character except Rachel is constantly lying, and like in all of Nolanís other films these lies only make things worse. But first the batman films are about more than just vengeance and deception.
In Batman Begins we have the Scarecrow, who shows us on of the main themes in the film. "Patients suffering delusional episodes often focus their paranoia on an external tormentor. Usually oneís conforming to Jungian archetypes. In this case, a scarecrow."
In this line the Dr. Crane shows us not only what he is doing but what Batman is doing. He is the villain of fear reflecting Batmanís fear. A Bat is a Jungian archetype. Scarecrow is just uncontrolled though he actually uses it to destroy people, thus he is a vice of Batmanís use of Fear. Raís is the other theme of the movie, Justice. Nolan is very tricky with giving us villains in the comic book but with new spins that not only adapt them to a more recognizable world, it also adds depth to them and attaches them to Batman. Raís is an ideal just like Batman. They are symbols that can never be destroyed because if someone ever does kill him, someone else will step up to take his or her place. It is an interesting ideal of immortality and both work toward inspiration of justice. The thing that makes Raís a vice is the lack of compassion that controls Batmanís zeal. Justice without mercy will end up killing people who do not deserve to die. In other words, Justice without mercy isnít justice.
Nolan is no stranger to using these characters as symbols to assist in commentating in our psychological make up. His film Inception described the villains within each others minds as projections of their subconscious. The Characters in his other films seem to support this idea that the characters are lessons or more importantly ideas. This is actually a writing style that was implemented by Fyodor Dostoevesky.
First we have the Joker who is obviously a mix of chaos and evil. The Joker is the only plausible reaction to his extreme behavior in the city everything about them are opposites except for the fact that they both break rules. The Joker has no explanation where as the Batman does. The Joker upsets the psychoanalytic reduction with his multiple back stories; the Batman adheres to the heroís journey and the psychoanalytic reduction works well for him. There is one regard in which they are similar though. And that is that they both break rules. Or more to the point they both stand outside of human law. Batman stands outside and seeks a higher law as he was created in a world where human law was corrupt. The Joker stands outside of human law to annihilate delusions that human beings have of law, and he took his queue from batman. The Joker could be viewed that way but in all reality he is more of a force of evil than a vice. He is a vice only in that he is a consequence of Batman actions, in a sense he is a part of Batman. Another interesting explanation for his actions is that he knows he canít die. Because he is pure chaos, if someone kills him, he will just comeback. Chaos is an inevitable part of life and of human nature.
Harvey Dent and Batman are, in a way, philosophically the same guy. They both represent order, they both fight to protect their world, they both love Rachel, and they are both referred to as Knights. Even more than that Harvey is the White Knight. What does that mean? It basically means that Harvey Dent is the perfect Batman. Let me say that again. Harvey Dent is the perfect Batman. This makes one think and for anyone who has read the script there are some interesting things left out. One is that Reese expresses his disappointment in that its just a rich playboy who is Batman when he is talking to Lucius. The second is when Dent states publicly that he is Batman the SWAT officers canít take their eyes off him. This could be interpreted as they are amazed he was the one that beat them up, or more likely they look at him with total awe that this man does not just fight crime in the day but at night. Which makes me think that many of the people within Batmanís world donít even for a second think that it is Bruce Wayne, more likely they think that Batman is some creation of Dent and Gordon.
That said, Wayne knows that the end of Batman lies in a man like Dent. He is the Batman in a world where Batman does not exist. However, the joker sees this new world they are building as boring, thus we have a transformation.
The character of Rachel is significant in the lives of both Batman and Dent. She exists as a sort of fulcrum to balance them. She represents truth in a way. She always urges both Batman and Dent to tell the truth because she know that in reality if you donít face the consequences of the problem then the problem only worsens. In all of Nolanís films lies are used to make things better but they only end up provoking the problem. Rachel is the only character that does not lies to accomplish their goals in the film and she dies. She faced the truth up front. In a way when the other characters sacrificed the truth to get ahead they were sacrificing her, just like in The Prestige when Christian Baleís characterís wife kills herself because he wonít give up his secret. So lies will save people from the truth but they canít stop the problem. The question in the movie presents itself to the most moral persons. It asks when someone you love is about to die, do you lie to them? Would it be moral to tell the truth? ďLie like I lied GordonĒ. And he has lied in more ways than one, he lied saying he was Batman; he lied saying everything was alright to Rachel, and the Dawn really is never coming. The Night is here to stay.
Though the lie at the end of the film makes it look as though Rachel's point of view was wrong one must realize that her demise could be attributed to Batman's earlier deceptions. This final lie will have a toll to pay as well. As largely utilitarian act the deception of the masses is not just hollow heroic act but not heroic at all. It will have a personally destructive effect even if the social effect is beneficial. It has further alienated batman from society and has in no real way solved the fact that crime still exists within the city.
These themes present in The Dark Knight clearly reflect the themes in a classic novel the Brothers Karamazov and show that these questions are timeless ones. Batman's actions for a more secure city by lying, clearly parallel both Ivan and The Grand Inquisitor. In the story, Ivan uses a fictional story where Christ meets the Cardinal in charge of the Spanish Inquisition, in order to better state that the suffering in which Christ allows his people to endure for freedom is far to much for humanity. The Grand Inquisitor and Ivan believe that free will is not worth the price and that no one who endures so much suffering could ever make the right choice.
The Joker is not exactly entirely for free will. He fights for freedom, so he ends up being more of a Metistopholes than a Christ figure which makes much more sense, or Fyodor Karamazov who would believe in just mans baseness. Rachel it seems, the lover of truth stands on the Christ figure Archetype and argues for freedom.
The heroic act at the end is analogous too another lie in the film. When Dent lies to the people in order keep Batman's secret and possibly save peoples lives. But not everyone is so feeble. Rachel says, "you're right letting Harvey take the fall for batman isn't heroic at all". If Rachel were around for the final act then I am sure she would have disapproved in the same way. Both Rachel and Batman are making Valid points. Rachel just hasn't lost hop in freedom. She believes in the power of every individual to rise above suffering because that is their choice to make. The final act, however, batman makes the choice for the people. He doesn't believe they can handle the truth and so in the interest of their safety makes the choice for them. This shows that all though he believes that there is good in humanity, he doesn't believe in the individual good of humanity the way Rachel did. "If you lose faith in me, Bruce I hope that you still keep your faith in people".
He is beginning to lose his faith in the people, for instance He believes that the people will overcome the ferry incident but then lies to them about Dent.
Rachel knows that if the people want to take back their city enough they will. But it can't be done just by one man. The whole city must make the choice. This is why his inspiration was so good in taking away that fear in order to give them the freedom to make that choice.