Thursday, 9 August 2012
How Far Has He Risen III: Think Of The Children
Last post on Dark Knight Rises, and then I promise I'll shut up. This, as mentioned in the previous post, is my attempt at an analysis of the film's subtext which is both more plausible than my earlier offer, but also harder to justify. In other words, this is either a sloppily assembled film with a reasonable message, or a precisely constructed film with a deeply offensive one.
Again, spoilers below the fold, but in brief (and thanks to runalongwomble and geekplanetmatt on Twitter for some useful comments): this is a film simultaneously about the dangers of avoiding confrontation, entering into confrontation, and focusing on confrontation. It's the five Ws of punching, in other words.
We can't go anywhere with this, though, until we define what we mean by "confrontation" in this context. Indeed, one of the most major points the movie seems to want to make it that Bruce Wayne's problem is that his definition of confrontation is ridiculously narrow. Both Alfred and Lucius try to point out that he's too focused on the next war to either enjoy peacetime, or work to improve peacetime. Refusing to give nuclear fusion to the world just in case some terrorist tries to weaponise it is the clearest example of that. Wayne is refusing to gift the world the most important development since electricity because he's scared it will be badly used. The risk of lives lost in a new war trump the certainty of lives saved in a world with effectively limitless energy.
My point is that hunger and poverty need to be confronted too, and Wayne doesn't see that. He's achieved his goal of bringing peace to Gotham, and maintaining that peace is the only thing that really interests him. If it can't be hit with a batamarang, Wayne isn't interested.
That, of course, is how the orphanage he was funding ran out of cash: he had no interest in checking up on his (admittedly voluntary) peacetime obligations. If he isn't punching someone, he's thinking about the next time he's going to punch someone. Remember that, because we'll come back to it later.
At the other end of the scale we have Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley, a man so desperately invested in peacetime he'll go to considerable lengths to deceive himself about how precarious Gotham's situation has become. The film helpfully flags up every occasion in which he's stuck in a corner of his own head, quivering in fear, because the word "hothead" comes out of his mouth. Once the reality of the situation truly hits home, and by "reality" I mean "terrorist army", he hides out in his house and sends his wife to answer the door.
Commissioner Gordon is fairly disgusted by Foley's behaviour, but of course good ol' Jim is hardly free from blame on the conflict aversion front. In his case, it's his failure to fight against the deification (a process which always morphs into political manipulation) of Harvey Dent, which has led to ultra-harsh sentencing laws.
All of which is just fine, except in all three cases the film sticks the landing. Bruce's fear about nuclear fusion being used as a weapon immediately becomes true. When Foley is shamed into leading the GPD into battle with Bane's minions (nothing like running screaming towards dudes with automatic weapons; good job that if the terrorists had been offered shit, none of them could shoot for it), he's gunned down almost immediately. That guy had a wife and kids! What's the message here, exactly? It's important to step up and do your part, even if that just means being killed for no appreciable gain, and leaving your family distraught?
And what are we supposed to be taking away from Gordon's actions? That the Dent Bill wasn't worth the cost of denying prisoners' rights? Why didn't that second part get mentioned until halfway through the film? Why does Blake seem to be implying that locking people up and throwing away the key would be just fine and dandy if it was being done in the name of a dead guy who was a shining beacon of virtue for his whole life, rather than his whole life minus a day or two?
This is one reason why I find the film so confused; it doesn't like the idea of either withdrawing from, ignoring, or rigging a fight, but the characters who are persuaded not to do any of those things (with the exception of Catwoman) either screw it up, get nothing out of it, or lead to scenes which are just plain confusing.
Leaving Foley and Gordon aside, though, we can salvage this with respect to Batman at least. Of all people, it's the orphaned kids who reveal what's really going on here. All they want is for Batman to come back and kick Bane in the face. Indeed, at that point of the film, it's pretty much all we want as well (some may also have some interest in seeing Anne Hathaway stretch out across that ludicrous motorbike again). But though their lives are saved when Batman arrives to do just that, it's not until they get a whizzo new orphanage to play in that their lives really improve. Gotham needs a Batman for when the bullets start flying, and a Bruce Wayne for when the smoke clears. The question the film poses, and doesn't entirely manage to answer, is how we fight the battles where there is nothing to punch.
This is where Bane's revolution fits in. Like Batman, Bane is incapable of imagining a problem which he can't solve by snapping someone's neck. Indeed, having spoken last time about how easily this film can be considered Republican-friendly, one can also read Bane as a stinging critique of the American right, in that he represents the default Republican response to a crisis - trying to work out who to shoot, or threaten to shoot, or cast out of the country - applied to a problem the Republicans have put no effort into solving precisely because their standard tactics can't be employed. 
That's the message here. People like to have an enemy they can attack, or have their friends attack, but the really tough battles are the ones where violence is never going to be of use. And neither Bane nor Batman get that at the start of the film (I said we'd come back to this). Wayne's arc through the film is to learn that he has enemies to fight in-between attacks from twisted villains - though the fact that the film spends so much time on him fending off attacks from twisted villains rather buries the message.
In short, the film wants us to know that no-one should ever be on the sidelines, but that doesn't mean there's no such thing as a crappy game plan, and that the worst thing you can do is get so fixated on making sure nothing can go wrong that you ignore the possibility of being able to make things better. Which, when you think about it, is the very root of where conservatism goes wrong. Which idiot was trying to claim this was right-wing propaganda, anyway?
 Well, that and being far too cosy to Wall Street, and having no interest in tackling any problem which the President might get credit for helping fix.