Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Problem With "The Dark Knight"


One of the most heavily-hyped and highly rated films in years, The Dark Knight is more than just a mere movie: it's an industry unto itself. This juggernaut, which cost an eye-popping $180 million to produce, opened to rapturous response, and massive crowds on Friday. As of Saturday afternoon, it had already raked in a one-day box office record $66 million and is (at least at the moment) the all-time No. 1 highest rated film on, just ahead of The Godfather.

The back-story of The Dark Knight is causing a media frenzy, led by the tragic death earlier this year of Heath Ledger, who plays The Joker.

The film itself is being hailed for its dark, menacing atmosphere, as well as the sheer amount of graphic bloodiness (unusual for a comic book movie). But overall, everyone seems to be happy: from comic book fanboys to Time Warner shareholders.

However, I can't help but think that there's something horribly wrong about the whole Dark Knight phenomenon that is symbolic of what's wrong with our nation as a whole these days. And it goes well beyond the dumbing-down of our culture, which is so easily entertained by a movie based on a comic book (a mediocre comic book at that----I can think of dozens of manga and underground comics that are vastly superior to "Batman").

For a start, there is the matter of misplaced priorities. Between The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger's death, our national media has once again devoted acres of column space to a movie, during a time in which the ongoing Iraq War has all but disappeared from our nation's media radar.

The long-suffering people of Iraq have no need to go a movie to see bloody shootouts and spectacular explosions: they see them all the time in real life, every day.

In fact, while the people of America are idly distracting themselves with comic book movies, the people of Iraq are still suffering a horrible ongoing nightmare.

Despite the proclamations by the GOP and the corporate media that Iraq is "getting better," the Iraqi people still have to contend with daily shootings and bombings on a mind-numbing scale.

Take Tuesday, for example. Just on that one day, guerrillas killed around 40 people and wounded dozens in several attacks in northern Iraq.

Did you hear about this story? Of course not. The U.S. media had more important priorities, such as gearing up the Great Hype Machine for The Dark Knight.

Tuesday's attacks were the sort of horrific violence that would dominate the news for years if it happened here. But since it happened in Iraq, it barely even gets reported in the U.S. these days. Our politicians are too busy proclaiming the "success" of our operations in Iraq.

I'm sure some readers will complain that I'm being a spoilsport. "Americans are weary of the war," they'll say. "We need an occasional break from reality with escapist fare like The Dark Knight."

Therein lies the problem. America is responsible for the horrific mess in Iraq. The disaster there may no longer interest Americans, with our short, MTV attention spans. But Iraq is OUR disaster and it ought to be relentlessly rubbed in our faces every single day until we demand and scream that this disastrous, illegal, immoral war be brought to an end now.


Chris Miller said...

It's tragic that so many Americans are familiar with tiresome, predictable superhero crap like "Batman"---and yet relatively few have ever heard of geniuses like Robert Crumb. I think it's safe to say that no major studio will ever spend millions making a film based on Crumb's brilliant, subversive work.
And, like you said, if people need explosions and shootouts for entertainment, they need to visit the American-created disaster that is Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Yes Mark-you hit the nail on the head. Why do we glorify psychotic and anti-social menaces like the Joker? Was there really a longing for yet another Batman movie?

I grew up with the TV show Batman and enjoyed the pure satire and splashy colors. Now we have these "dark" movies that regurgitate the same psychobabble. Enough already!

Ron Southern said...

I know. When it comes to Iraq and looking away from it because we're bored, we're guilty. Frankly, we're all fuckwads. There is no moral highground, not after all this time.

You can dump this comment if you want. I won't be offended. At least not more than I already am!

Marc McDonald said...

>>I grew up with the TV show
>>Batman and enjoyed the pure
>>satire and splashy colors.

The budget for "The Dark Knight" was an astonishing $180 million.

I'd bet money that the entire budget for the 1960s TV series was maybe a couple of million.

And yet, decades later, despite having a titanic budget and state-of-the-art direction and FX, the recent "Batman" remakes are inferior to the 1960s TV series.

The original TV series was hip and clever and vastly more entertaining than something like "The Dark Knight" (which tries oh-so-hard to be "serious" art---but fails, because there's only so much one can do when your source material is a mediocre comic book).

The original TV series was brilliant camp and smart on a level that would probably go right over the heads of audiences today in this era of a dumbed-down, infantile American culture.

For my money, Adam West WAS Batman. Nobody has EVER come within a million light years of his portrayal of Batman.

Just about every single TV show from the 1960s (from "The Wild Wild West" to "Lost in Space" to "Get Smart") has been remade in recent years. ALL have been vastly inferior to the originals, IMHO.

Today, Hollywood is completely and totally creatively bankrupt. Hollywood so lacking in inspiration that it is constantly having to resort to churning out retreads of TV shows from the past. And what's even worse is that, in every case, today's Hollywood fails to improve upon the original.

Manifesto Joe said...

Marc, you may want to look at a comment I left on Watching Those We Chose, where you crossposted. My wife and I went to a neighborhood cinema to see this in hopes of finding something worthwhile to watch, even if just escapist. The only escape this movie offers is escape from any form of intelligence. It just plain sucks.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Manifesto Joe, thanks for the comment.
>>The only escape this movie
>>offers is escape from any form
>>of intelligence. It just plain

That's what I figured....and yet, astonishingly enough, "The Dark Knight" is now rated the all-time No. 1 film at, (just ahead of "The Godfather.") And all the critics I've read loved it.
I can't help but wonder: couldn't $180 million have been spent on something more worthwhile than yet another tiresome comic book movie?

Manifesto Joe said...

That the critics are carrying on so seems that much more evidence of how far our culture has fallen. I noticed others in the audience seeming to love this movie. My wife and I may have been the only two people in the crowded theater who were bored and hated it. It's like an overlong video game. Yet people are eating it up. They don't seem to require movies to have a real story anymore.

Marc McDonald said...

>>>I noticed others in the
>>>audience seeming to love this
>>>movie. My wife and I may have
>>>been the only two people in the
>>>crowded theater who were bored
>>>and hated it.

Yeah, I've been in that boat before. I've also been in theaters before where I was the only one enjoying the film (like "The King of Comedy") and almost everyone else was saying "This film sucks!" and getting up and walking out.

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering if you've even seen the dark knight?

Calling it "escapist" fare is incredibly misleading. Like all the great pieces of mainstream entertainment (be it Shakespeare or Star Wars) it uses archetypes and stories to reflect current events and times.

The Dark Knight is indeed a very timely film that touches on our fears of living in a post 9/11 world. Scenes with the Joker clearly mirror some of the footage we've seen of al qaeda on the news (and indeed he is called a 'terrorist' in the movie). The subplot involving sonar and cell phones brings up the question of surveillance and how important it is to our safety.

The Dark Knight is a film living in about a scary world. A terrifying one. One in which men are pushed to their extremes to keep people safe. But at what point do you cross the line? Is there a line? What is the cost of trying to be a decent man in an indecent time? It is most certainly NOT a shut off your brain type film, and is filled with ethical and philosophical questions.

Nope, that's not relevant at all.

Anonymous said...

Wow your a drag, just reading this article alone makes me want to kill myself, why don't you get off your butt an join the army or run for mayor instead of criticizing an innocent movie. Honestly are you jealous of the success of "The Dark Knight" an the unsuccess of your stupid website. Common man Warner Bros doesn't care about what you have to say neither does the millions of people who watched that movie an enjoyed it who are you preaching to, go watch cnn or something.

Marc McDonald said...

>>instead of criticizing an
>>innocent movie.

I wasn't criticizing the movie; what I had a problem with was America's priorities these days.

By the way: how old are you? Older than 14?

Then, you really need to outgrow the adolescent superhero crap. Go watch movies about real issues (like "North Country").

Anonymous said...

Your arrogance and condescending attitude is disrespectful.

I realize you were leaving a comment to the poster after me, not myself (who sounded like an unintelligent idiot to be completely frank), but saying that one has to outgrown adolescent superhero crap and watch a real movie about real Did you ignore my post? Or just choose not to respond as I brought up good points that didn't support your conclusions?

I tried to respond in an intelligent firing back calling superhero movies adolescent crap...especially when they're as thoughtful and artful as The Dark Knight...I find incredibly insulting.

I was the anonymous poster whose post opened with "I was just wondering if you'd seen the dark knight"

Marc McDonald said...

>>>Did you ignore my post?

No, I wasn't ignoring your post. I appreciate what you wrote. You raise some good points.

>>>It is most certainly NOT a shut
>>>off your brain type film

I've never seen a superhero comic book movie that made me think. But after what you wrote, I will definitely check out this film.

I used to despise Time Warner---but I have to admit, in recent years, they've supported some worthy talent (like Bill Maher, for example).

Anonymous said...

Let me know what you think. I'm really looking forward to it. If you're open minded, I'm pretty sure you will at least be able to appreciate it, even if you don't love it. (At the very least it works hard to NOT be a typical superhero movie and instead be a thought provoking crime drama).

And believe me I have no love for Time Warner either. Christopher Nolan, however, is one of our best young filmmakers. Besides "Dark Knight" he also directed "Memento"...which is truly one of the great films of the decade in my opinion.

Looking forward to your dark knight review.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. columnist dude! I take offense to your slamming of "superhero crap like 'Batman'".

I was against the war, protested Bush in Cincinnati when he gave one of his infamous televised speeches in the lead up to the war and participated in several other protests before the war. I wrote my thesis project on neoconservatives and the push within a certain sector within the power elite for a more aggressive, expansionist, nigh-imperialist foreign policy. I forced myself to look at the underground journalism coverage of Iraqi civilian casualties. Because I needed to see what was happening over there. I stood up at our school's foreign policy lecture series and asked the first question of former CIA director Stansfield Turner; if he could go back in time and change his leading the support for arming the Mujahadeen in the 1970s and thus setting off a terrible domino effect would he?

I'm with you on the politics of the Iraq war. I also am with you on the ridiculous nature of major 'news' outlets covering a movie opening and its box office or the death of one of the main actors.

But I still have, do and will always love Batman. True, not every or even most of his stories approach the sophistication or political relevance of the best indie comics. But that doesn't mean that it can't be fun, adventurous, escapist, allegorical, dystopian etc.

I have thought and thought and worked on projects that you suggest I should be doing to stop the war or to become aware of the war. And I love batman comics and the movies. I deserve some entertainment as much as you do. Me choosing to watch or not watch this movie or post this response has nothing to do with stopping the war. I have continually voted against 'the right' and will continue to do so. I am working with my union for Obama and for my Democratic candidate for Senator in my home state of Kentucky because I care about the same things you do and I have seen The Dark Knight 6 times.

Please don't poop on batman, dude. It may not be the quality of Shakespeare or Citizen Kane but it is something that is harmless to my life that I quite enjoy.

And there is plenty in the movie to lend support to your beliefs. batman resorts to torture and it never gets him anywhere in the story. His phone surveillance program is used only in a ticking time bomb scenario and only after the dissenting Morgan Freeman character agrees to allow it under his watch as a 1 time thing (the program is destroyed by Batman by movie's end). The political figure who is giving catchphrase littered speeches and standing up against 'the terrorist' in the story is shown to be a literal two-face who destroys his own ideas and morality by becoming the very thing he set out to stop.

When batman and two-face fall off the ledge at the end I actually thought that the metaphor/allegory or whatever was quite poetic. Both men had given in to their desire to fight the terrorist (the joker) by any means necessary and had been corrupted. But only Batman survives to fight another day because he sees the error in his ways (ala the torture, communication eavesdropping) and he sees that people (as he had hoped deep in his heart) can be strong enough not to give in to terrorism (as they prove in the film's climactic ship bomb threat sequence).

It is because Batman believes in a more moral approach to combating terrorism/crime that he decides to sacrifice himself and his reputation to inspire the people of Gotham (by allowing them to still view the DA Harvey Dent as heroic for not bending in his methods to combatting terrorism). By seeing him as someone who has broken and violated the law the people of the city can realize they cannot do it and will try and hold him accountable, thus ensuring that they do not support of engaging in those types of actions again.

In essence, I love Batman and hate George Bush and the war in Iraq dude. Nuff said.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi, Anonymous, thanks for your thought-provoking comment. Once again, though, I'm not really criticizing Batman so much as I am criticizing our nation's priorities.

Anonymous said...

I understand you're critizing our nation's priorities, and it's a completely valid idea.

I just wish you didn't bring a really good movie into it. There's crap like Mummy 3 out that people are going to see...pick on those movies. Not one that is making a lot of money and getting great reviews because it's actually...really good. If all our action blockbusters were as intelligent as The Dark Knight is....we'd probably be a more thoughtful and better nation for it.

Anonymous said...

Y'know, liking comic book movies and liking so-called grownup movies are not incompatible.

I love and praise and have urged people to see GONE BABY GONE, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, DOWNFALL, MICHAEL CLAYTON, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, to name just a few out in the last couple of years alone. Go further back and I loved and urged people to see (sometimes, in the case of very old movies, catch up with on video), THE INSIDER, CRUMB, JEAN DE FLORETTE, JUDGMENT AT NUREMBURG, CASABLANCA, and THE GREAT DICTATOR.

Why does liking THE DARK KNIGHT as well, finding it a splendid specimen of its kind, and even finding it cool, mean that my tastes have suddenly become an emblem of all that's wrong with America?

Anonymous said...

Iraq, eh?

Please. We should have as much awareness about Iraq as we do our own country. You think they have it bad there? People have it bad everywhere, and you're obsessing over America's effed up brainchild. You're as much a hypocrite as you accuse other people of being for watching the Dark Knight.

I, for one, don't have a care about Iraq. What does it have to do with my life? Absolutely nothing. Whereas I want my brain massaged by an intellectual movie. Hence, I go watch The Dark Knight, which provides interesting commentary about the state of our country.

You want to help some cause? Why don't you try fixing us before you swing your pendulum of judgement on Iraq? You're NOT going to stop the violence that occurs there.

And one last thing. You claim we Americans are responsible for the horrible state of Iraq. They do it to themselves. They blow each other up and all that jazz.

Get a clue.