Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lessons from The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight is worth every ounce of praise it has received. Above and beyond being on of the greatest “comic book films” ever made, it stands as one of the best films in 2008.

One of the most impressive aspects of the film is that it manages to be didactic without being preachy. The film explores the idea of a society’s response to chaos, and comes out the other side with a message of hope and faith in humanity.

Torture turned on its head by the masochistic Joker.
That’s why I found it fascinating that the handful of negative reviews seem to share a common theme: they called the film “pessimistic” and “morally bankrupt.” I think what we are seeing in these comments is a simple case of psychological projection.

In order to be alive in 2008 and be among the 17% of Americans still riding the Bush train, you’ll have had to have made quite a few moral justifications for the administration perpetrating amoral acts. The most dramatic of these are the atrocities of Abu Grahib, the fiasco at Guantanamo, and the horrors of extraordinary rendition – acts of great human cruelty which have been deemed means that are justified by their ends.

The Dark Knight presents a protagonist who, even in a realistic, non-cartoony world, refuses to kill. And in a fascinating turn, the film echoes the final scene from the 1989 Batman with a different outcome, driving this point home.

Americans love to be the good guys; it’s a part of our national image that was emblazoned in our hearts as a result of our role in World War II. But while we acted as a reluctant savior in the 1940’s, today we’re engaged in wars on two fronts that were of our own initiation. And we have an administration that has condoned and encouraged torture, using techniques that were developed by the Russian and Chinese militaries for the purpose of eliciting false confessions.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the good guys; I’d be wary to live in a place where the sentiment was different. But maybe it’s time we stopped defining “good” as “however we are acting right now,” and start instead defining it as being the guys with a line that we won’t cross.

Maybe it’s time that we, as Americans, took a closer look at where those lines need to be drawn.

Maybe it’s time we learned a lesson from Batman.