Monday, July 23, 2012

Shadow of the Bat: Finding the Good in The Dark Knight Rises

I have to confess that I feel doubly hampered in this article. First, because I suspect at least some of what I say is going to be said by other writers in the coming week, and probably it will be far more articulately said, to boot. And second, I'm going to do something a bit presumptuous.

I'm going to try to plot out some of the things The Dark Knight Rises should have done to be a good movie.

I honestly can't tell if I'm apprehensive because I'm being presumptuous on two counts, or because I'm about to incur the wrath of a thousand howling Christopher Nolan devotees.

And really, I shouldn't be so bold with my claims, either. I'm not necessarily going to dramatically reveal the brilliant Sam Keeper Confirmed Method of Making The Dark Knight Rises Awesome. Really, I just think there are some major thematic flaws in the film that damage an otherwise well shot, well designed, generally compelling work. I am not really, in other words, saying that it is a Bad Movie.

So, let me cast off the rope and make this argumentative leap with no net.

Let this put the fear in me good.

EDIT: It occurred to me an hour after posting this that hey, maybe people want to avoid spoilers. As talking about theme and structure without mentioning spoilers is a little, uh, impossible, this article does contain spoilers. So, those people wanting to avoid spoilers will also be wanting to avoid this article.



So, theme is important. I've talked about it before, as have plenty of other critics dating all the way back, in particular, to the New Critics, the Formalists of the early 20th Century, who declared to be a Great Work one needed to have a Great Central Theme that encompassed the whole text. Now, obviously, that's an absurd demand, and it is presumes a lot about the universality of certain themes (i.e. if it's a Great Central Theme according to the old, white, bourgeois men who created Formalism, it must be just as relevant to everyone else, right?). There can, of course, be more than one theme in a work--some of our most beloved works have a high thematic density--and not every scene needs to apply directly to the theme.

But for goodness sake, your themes have to at least avoid directly contradicting one another.

And just about every idea that The Dark Knight Rises puts forth is contradicted elsewhere in the film. It's not in a way that even juxtaposes the idea for dramatic and intellectual tension, like the previous film did, where two opposing ideals are set against one another and the viewer has to decide which combatant ultimately won. No, here there is just a cacophony of soundbites that don't add up to anything.

Don't believe me?

Well, try doing the Formalist thang, as the kids say--try picking out what you think the central question the film addresses, and how it answers that question. Is it perhaps raising questions about whether or not Gotham's elite are really worthy of rule, and critiquing the authoritarian powers of the Dent Act? Uh, maybe, except it seems to be dropped after a few scenes, only to be picked up later... by Bane, who isn't exactly the most neutral of critics. The film seems to come to dramatically different conclusions about this depending on the scene, and much of the time forgets that this is a theme at all, when it isn't shoving the theme in our face with endless expository dialogue. Or is it continuing the theme of chaos and fear, and coming to terms with our own traumas, as was played with in the first two films? Maybe? I don't know, that certainly seems to be Bruce Wayne's character arc, but the previous two films used the villains to great effect--they embodied the themes presented--where here Talia al Ghul (??) is just sort of tossed in as Bane's love interest (??!?) who has been trying to achieve a decade-long revenge (?!?!?!) against Bruce Wayne for murdering her father. ...What? And Bane is just... Bane. God. I don't even have an explanation here. His character suddenly does a total one hundred and eighty degree flip when Talia shows up, and then flips right back, just in time for him to get blown the fuck up by Catwoman in one of the most anticlimactic villain deaths on record. Neither of them have enough character development to really serve as a foil to Batman or a manifestation of the movie's recurring fear/trauma theme. I guess this might be what they were going for with Thalia, but her face-heel turn comes so late in the game, and has such microscopic buildup that it really doesn't play that way.

Basically, any theme that you throw out can be easily discredited with other information from the film itself.

It's one giant contradictory mess.

And that's not even addressing the convoluted twisty-turny plot, although you will note that I could not avoid at least touching on the narrative while discussing the thematic problems.

The thing is, though, I don't particularly like picking apart everything wrong with a piece. I really like examining and exposing what works. And there's a whole slew of places where The Dark Knight Rises almost develops a sound, powerful theme. So, rather than hammer on about everything that doesn't quite fit together in the film, I want to talk about the ghost of the film--the film's dark double. I've done this before, of course, albeit covertly with my reviews of "Manos" The Hands of Fate and Golden Dusk. Here, I want to more directly take some of the scenes and motifs in the movie and explore how they could have been transformed into something greater.

Take Bane, for example. Now, there's a rather interesting moment in the film where Bane declares that his detonator is somewhere among the People--it is out in the hands of some ordinary citizen. Now, when I heard that speech, I sat up and started paying attention, because it reminded me of another line:

"When the chips are down, these civilized people... they'll eat each other."

Remember that? That's the Joker speaking there, summing up one of the many things he wishes to demonstrate to Batman and the city of Gotham as a whole. And for a moment, it seemed like this idea, which the Joker explored with his boat detonator trick, might get an even more detailed treatment.

Of course, it wasn't. This idea was pretty much ignored for the rest of the film, besides occasional references here and there at pivotal moments. It ended up being another thing that was sort of thrown in, seemingly as an afterthought.

But we can start to imagine just what might have happened with that declaration. It goes back, I think, to fear and the idea of the ability or inability to master personal demons and traumas--one of the major themes that the film almost articulates but ultimately fumbles. It's particularly intriguing because it works with that theme on multiple levels. First, there is the fear of the average citizen, the paranoia, the realization that anyone around you could be the person with their finger on the button. How do you react to such a fear? Then, there is the individual that has the trigger--Talia al Ghul. Can she pull herself up from her traumas as Bruce Wayne did and become something more? Or is her power and civilization simply a mask for the monster inside her? Can she, in short, be redeemed?

The movie, of course, comes firmly down on the side of "Oh, man, I dunno." We never really see the reaction to Bane's declaration, or any sort of exploration of what that means. And Talia's turn to the dark side comes so late in the game that there is simply no time to explore what her decision to push the button means for her character, beyond more horrible expository dialogue. (Show, Don't Tell is a terrible, terrible phrase, because it mixes sensory idioms. That said, the concept it represents, however poorly, is an important one: a work is far more interesting when we learn a character's personality through their actions and words rather than through their own--or someone else's--explicit explanation of what they are feeling and why. Compare Talia and Bane's late game backstory reveal with the Joker's mannerisms, body language, and tendency to let hidden sides of himself slip occasionally.)

But, even though this material isn't explored, we can see how it might have been. Does that make sense? We're reaching toward a shadowy echo of the film that might have been.

And that's not the only interesting theme drop. There is, too, the intriguing moment when we discover that Bane's importation into the city has been effected by one of Bruce Wayne's business rivals. This is an intriguing point for the movie to make, as it suggests again the fundamentally corrupt nature of the supposedly innocent upper classes.

It is also one of the points of the story where The Dark Knight Rises lurches toward something resembling real political allegory. After all, the suggestion here is of a demagogue, supported by insurrection and revolution, who is secretly backed by the vast hidden interests that keep the oppressed... well, oppressed. This is, quite frankly, a near spot on allegory of the American Tea Party, a proto-fascist organization that is funded by major corporate interests.

This is another example, of course, of a theme that never quite gets off the ground, but it's an interesting cautionary tale for those great corporate entities who have achieved such overwhelming power in the political arena: be careful of the monsters you create, for they may turn upon you.

Contrast Daggett, the creep who brings Bane into the city in the first place, with Bruce Wayne and his relationship with both Blake and Catwoman. Wayne's relationships are based on mutual respect and understanding--although it is, due to its grounding in reality, a rocky and imperfect understanding--that crosses class lines. Daggett seeks only to exploit Bane and his henchmen, and pays the ultimate price.

And while we're talking about Blake, our young Robin, let's examine some of his thematic purpose.

One of the absolute best moments in the film, one of the moments where I found myself totally engaged, was when Blake/Robin found himself in a fight with two workmen who, it turned out, had been pouring dynamite-laced concrete all across the city. (This is another thing to add to the list of Intriguing Ideas Never Explored Fully--after all, you would have to have a pretty big construction company under your thumb to enable that kind of infiltration, no? Again we see the looming spectre of corporate-sponsored terrorism.) Robin shoots both of his assailants and then, realizing that he's about to lose his one lead, desperately questions the dying cement truck driver.

Realizing that he has failed, he glances down at his gun and, with a look of disgust, tosses it aside.

Wow.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have one key aspect of the Batman mythos encapsulated in a single scene. It's a wonderful moment that marks a profound transformation of one character's understanding of combat, and his relationship to the legendary power of a man who rules not by fire power but by fear power.

This is, of course, totally tossed out the window when Bane gets an artillery blast to the chest courtesy of Catwoman.

[Sigh.]

What so baffles me about these scenes is the fact that the film is clearly reaching for something, some deeper mythologizing purpose, but it is such an incoherent muddy wreck that it just ends up working at cross-purposes with itself. What in The Dark Knight would have been a profound character moment here is a strange vignette that is never remarked upon again.

But once more, we can see here the ghost of something greater. Consider Robin's character from this standpoint. He has been taught three major lessons in the film:

First, he discovers the corrupt nature of the system and how seemingly beneficial structures can become the unrelenting architecture of the status quo.

Second, he discovers the capricious power of firearms, their dark side, their promise of an easy way out.

And finally, he discovers the corrosive nature of authoritarian command structures, and how they draw strength from fear.

Where does that last one come up? Why, the attempt to get across the bridge, and the prat on the other side who wouldn't listen to reason. That man, driven by fear of the nuclear blast, chose to fall back on his orders rather than to choose the path of courage. In that sense, two of Robin's lessons are about the danger of having a high power distance index. For those unfamiliar, the idea is that some groups of people--organizations, nations, and so on--have particular ways of reacting to power. Falling high on the index (and someone please let me know if I'm remembering this backwards) means that your civilization tends to show high deference to authority. And that can be a catastrophic problem in certain situations--like when you're the copilot trying to alert the pilot of a plane to immediate danger, or when you're faced with the decision of whether or not to let those school kids cross the bridge.

And that's a great message, and once certainly present elsewhere in the film. It's stymied once again by the attitude elsewhere in the film that people need authoritarian forces keeping them in check, but as a myth arc for Robin it's absolutely great. Robin--and, by extension, Batman--is a necessary force of disruption, a challenge to existing power structures.

If we want to take this even further, imagine if this Robin was black. Or latino. Or a woman. Or queer. I mean, we've already got Batwoman as a very overt example of an individual marginalized by authority taking power for herself.

Hell, just the fact that Robin is from the lower class makes a huge impact on his character. He can take over as Batman--in fact, he SHOULD take over as Batman--because having Gotham's protector be the son of the 1% simply isn't cutting it--there's just too much of a disconnect between Bruce Wayne's ideals and the reality of life in the pit of class inequality.

I think the fundamental problem with this--with ALL of this--is that there is too much going on. The thematic density, and the sheer number of plot threads, is too damn high (just like, apparently, the rent in Gotham City. Ahaha). I've only touched on three themes, and we've already practically got three different films ready to go! And that's not even getting into things like Jim Gordon's personal transformation, the motif of the cracking ice, the reappearance of the Scarecrow as the judge of the Terror Court, and on and on and on. There's so much going on in this film that its confusion and incoherence isn't a surprise, IT'S A BLOODY INEVITABILITY.

And what's more, it's a bizarre mistake from the perspective of Nolan's wider film career, where he shows a keen interest in particular themes that are explored in detail in single films. Sometimes he'll play with more than one idea in a film, but never, ever, at least in the films that I've seen, has he packed so much into one movie.

From that perspective, I honestly can't understand how this film even happened.

You know, though, I'm reminded of a friend of mine, who tends to react to movies in... well, sort of an unorthodox way. She once told me that she prefers the prequel Star Wars trilogy to the original trilogy. How is that possible? Well, she has this weird ability to jump right through the actual film to its shadow double lurking in the background. She embraces the possibility of the ghost film and even manages to rewrite her memories so the shadow takes the place of the original. The doppleganger, the mask, the secret superhero identity supplants the original, taking it over. By the time her brain is done parsing a film, there's no Bruce Wayne left.

There's only the Bat Man.

That's not possible for most of us, of course, except in minor ways. However, I think there's some worth in looking beyond the flaws in the film itself, the weak, cold, somewhat unlikeable Bruce Wayne, to find that shadow. If nothing else, it can be a useful exercise that allows us to pick apart not what did go wrong but what could have gone right.

Just because something ultimately fails doesn't mean we should give up. There is a value for the viewer, for the scholar, for the creator, even in failure.

After all... Why do we fall down?

You can follow me on Google+ at gplus.to/SamKeeper or on Twitter @SamFateKeeper. As always, you can e-mail me at KeeperofManyNames@gmail.com. If you liked this piece please share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Reddit, Equestria Daily, Xanga, MySpace, or whathaveyou, and leave some thoughts in the comments below.

15 comments:

  1. A friend linked this on Facebook. I'll repost my thoughts, here.

    I think the criticism that it's "contradictory" misses the point. The point is the extremism in the beliefs. Nolan, I believe, is addressing that this country is deeply split. On one side, you have mega-wealthy, further exemplified by Bruce Wayne's apathy in the beginning of the movie; things are going to crap, and the wealthy don't care. On the other hand, you have an extreme anarchist group who want to tear down everything; to say it represents the 99% movement does that injustice; instead, it resembles more the Arab Spring and the protests going on in Mediterranean Europe against austerity measure.

    There's also a clear continuation from the other films. Joker was, indeed, the sociopathic terrorist symbol, and Nolan seems to indicate that what had to be done had to be done, but only on a temporary basis; the modern world no longer needs the Dent Act, a thin guise for the Patriot Act. Nolan also questions whether prisoners taken during the last decade and imprisoned and tortured didn't in fact invalidate its validity.

    (big spoilers below)

    Talia's a Batman mainstay - the criticism of it is unfounded. It provides a nice twist. I like that ultimately, Bane winds up being a mystery - we're just not sure where he came from; ultimately, the evil, cruel force that Bane represents - is just unexplainable.

    Catwoman and Batman provide your everyday not-so-extremist Americans. Batman is rich, but not corrupt. He goes from apathetic to deeply involved. (His overall trilogy story arc is separate - he firmly establishes Batman as a symbol, and Bruce Wayne is saved in the process.) Catwoman is the average poor person, who ultimately realize she needs to be less selfish.

    With these two characters, and the overall forces at work, I basically think Nolan's point can be summarized: America needs to work together or it's going to crumble and decay.

    There are some subtle points, too. I like that Nolan chose the not-so-happy ending. Gotham's still in ruins, world markets are likely crashed after NYC-err-Gotham is in shambles, in the same way it happened after 9/11. Rebuilding isn't instant; the world doesn't get its cheap fusion power; we're still not mature enough. Only when we can stop being so factional on the left and right can we come to a point where maybe we can be responsible enough for fusion energy.

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    1. Alright, as promised, here's the longer response to your criticism.

      First, Talia.

      Now, you mentioned her being a Batman mainstay. Well, the thing is, I don't know that. I mean, I know of her, vaguely, I know about her son Damien, and so on, but I really don't know much of anything about her. In fact, this is true of much of Batman's mythology. I'm coming into this not as a longtime fan but as someone who does a lot of literary and artistic analysis.

      And from that perspective, it just doesn't work, because there's nothing to give the non-fan a sense of the weight of what's going on. What's more, even for a fan I can't imagine that Talia's appearance was satisfying--in fact, I've read a number of reviews already that reacted the same way I did, despite coming from a strong superhero comics background! There just isn't enough time to give her a fully realized, three dimensional character.

      And as far as Bane being inexplicable... there's a fundamental difference between something being inexplicable and something being unexplained. The Joker was inexplicable. The closest anyone got to understanding him was Alfred, with the now iconic "Some men just want to watch the world burn" line. And he was inexplicable because the film deliberately, repeatedly, and overtly set him up to be an inexplicable force of nature. Bane was not set up that way. His nature was simply unexplained.

      This reminds me of some of the arguments from back when Prometheus came out. I'm going to rely on Film Crit Hulk here for help, actually, because I think he does a good job of articulating the difference between an unanswerable question and a question that simply has not been answered: http://badassdigest.com/2012/06/17/film-crit-hulk-smash-the-damon-lindleof-intervention/

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    2. That actually leads me right smack into the second major point you make, which is about the possible interpretation of the film. You know, I've seen your take elsewhere, actually, and I can see the mechanics of how it works. I think I can even accept it as an interpretation. But it doesn't really work for me both because of the inarticulate nature of the film itself and because of the very problematic conclusions of that theme. (These are really, really mixing two different levels of criticism so I'll try to keep them separate)

      The problem I have with the "we should all come together" argument is that I don't think it's well articulated in the film. There's no change in Bruce Wayne's political actions, certainly, so that already undermines things. But more importantly, if the point was Batman and Catwoman coming together, well, that should have been what happened. But if you actually think about the ending, it's not what happened, really. They team up briefly, but that argument ignores the fact that they're also just as strongly supported by Jim Gordon! I mean, he's a crucial person at this point, and this thematic argument leaves him out completely! What's more, this isn't how the film ends, either. It ends with Batman acting as the singular hero, unaided by anyone else, dragging the bomb out of the city and seemingly blowing himself up in the process.

      Now, one of the fundamental lessons of New Criticism is that if you are arguing for a theme, the theme MUST BE THE ENDING AND THE BEGINNING. It must be an inherent part of both. Again, to borrow from Film Crit Hulk (who talks a lot about semiotics but is very obviously working in the New Crit tradition) "THE ENDING IS THE CONCEIT." (You know he's right, because he writes in all caps!) And the theme you're finding isn't really present in the ending, it's sort of halfassedly present in the beginning (there is nothing to really sell us on the idea that the 1% of Gotham have really completely oppressed the lower classes, besides Selena Kyle saying that they're arrogant and rich--which is, again, that shitty expository dialogue I complained about), and it isn't particularly articulated in the piece as a whole. But what really kills it is that ending. You know what would have been an ending that articulated your theme? Selena Kyle and Bruce Wayne teaming up to restore the city.

      Although, in fairness to your analysis, it's possible you could argue that Robin serves that function. I would, again, consider it a definite stretch, and I would still hammer you on the fact that only a portion of the film can be said to articulate that theme, but I can see that as a possible way out. Does that make sense? Like, would that jive with your reading?

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    3. My other problem is actually probably best articulated here: http://www.sequart.org/magazine/13903/why-the-dark-knight-rises-fails/ Now, Darius takes a different approach than I do--he does think the movie has an argument, although I think he would agree that it's not particularly well articulated. But his major beef is that the argument the film makes is, well, odious. And I can't help but see the spectre of that in the "Let's come together!" reading, simply because it lends itself to statements like you made about Catwoman realizing that she needs to be less selfish. It's not exactly a stretch to replace "selfish" with "greedy," and when you start making statements about the lower classes being too greedy, that conjures up all kinds of unpleasant connotations that feed directly in the right-wing anti-poor rhetoric. I'm NOT saying that's what you're doing, at least not consciously, but the idea of us coming together and finding middle ground assumes that what is best is in the center. And the center right now for this country assumes that the poor have to be squeezed a bit more, that women and people of color need to settle down and stop demanding change so quickly, that perhaps we should put off marriage equality for a few more years... and so on.

      That's stuff that is very, very unsettling to me, leaving aside the fact that it's just a straight up Fallacy of the Middle.

      But what I think Darius's piece articulates very, very well--MUCH better than my article, really--is that we might find, if we do start to put together a theme for this movie, something much darker in its implications than we expected. Maybe that's all my article is--perhaps it's simply an exercise in avoidance, where I'm finding reasons to claim this movie has no theme because I'm frightened of what that theme might be.

      Worth at least considering, I think.



      Sorry for the enormous essay. I just realized partway through that some of these ideas weren't as clear as they should have been in the article itself, and that it would be best to supplement it with a few other authors. I feel like an ass giving you this much reading material.

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  2. I have two points:

    1. I'm sorry, Keeper, but your credibility was shot with the below line:

    "After all, the suggestion here is of a demagogue, supported by insurrection and revolution, who is secretly backed by the vast hidden interests that keep the oppressed... well, oppressed. This is, quite frankly, a near spot on allegory of the American Tea Party, a proto-fascist organization that is funded by major corporate interests."

    Whether you support the opinions expressed by the group, you cannot drop a sentence like that without any explanation or commentary and just expect the audience to nod their heads. The fact that you would write was is a distinctly dismissive summation of a legitimate political movement shows a bias that clouds the entirety of the article. It shows that you entirely believe that what is written there, which amounts to political rhetoric, is a statement of fact, rather than an opinion. You either need to better explain how this is an accurate analogy, or why you feel that is what the creator was intending, or it just puts your impartiality into question.

    I will also point out, as was done indirectly by the above poster, that the allegory works equally as well, if not better, when directed at the Occupy movement. They have also been shown to have high level funding, but their passion is more directed at the wealthy elite, rather than a political faction (or racist motivations, or whatever it is you believe about the Tea Party).


    2. I agree with the above poster that the intent of the director was to demonstrate an allegory of the modern political environment, demonstrating the idiotic extremism of the sides, but more putting a light to the issue rather than making any actual statement. That is why the themes come across as so contradictory.

    That being said, it fails miserably in this. As Keeper said, correctly, the themes get lost beneath what is a behemoth of plot threads and character arcs. The film simultaneously wrap up a trilogy, introduce at least three major character arcs, build on the themes of the previous movies, and serve as a massive political allegory. In the end, none of these pieces truly gets the time and development necessary to work flawlessly.
    The new characters, other than Robin, are generally underdeveloped, leading them to be retreads of more successful characters of the past -- Bane is poor man's Joker, Talia is poor man's Ras.
    The themes from the prior movies are barely there -- the concept of Batman as a symbol is only seen near the end, Alfred's decision to hide what he knew to protect Bruce is tossed aside in 5 minutes, the idea of fear vs hope gets little more than subtle references with the courts.
    As seen in this article, the political allegory fails -- it is too easy to miss the jabs at all the different factions being called out, and as such feels like a mess rather than a systemic breakdown of everything and everyone.
    The only thing that it truly succeeds at is wrapping up the trilogy. But even then, by that time you're so lost from everything going on, and the themes are so sparse amongst everything else, that it hardly feels like it's finishing anything.


    In short, the movie was ambitious in scope, but ends up suffering the exact same problem that the much more campy Spiderman 3 suffered. In an effort to fit everything they wanted into the dramatic third volume, the creators were not able to develop enough time to anything to make the story work.

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    1. I'm sorry, but I simply don't agree. I may have lost credibility with you, but that's not particularly surprising in a broad sense: I loose credibility every time I accept it as given that queerness is perfectly acceptable, that feminist critiques are fundamentally valid and that the goals of feminism are something to be worked for, or, hell, that comics, superhero movies, and music videos are just as worthy of artistic analysis as fine art and literature. But I would rather just take those things as given because I'm just not interested in those questions. They do nothing for me as a writer.

      This is one of those questions.

      I have no interest in debating whether or not the Tea Party is worthy of my respect. I can, of course, point you in the direction of my greatest source of information on the subject, Umberto Eco's amazing 14 Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt: http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_blackshirt.html

      But I'm not really interested in delving into the subject because any article will include things like this that "shoot my credibility" for someone. I just am not interested enough in keeping myself credible with people who aren't going to agree with my premises, let alone my conclusions!

      And that's the key here, I think. I'm sorry, but I don't buy the notion that your objection here is due to the fact that you're questioning my impartiality. First, I don't buy it because I don't buy the idea of impartiality--I think it's caustic nonsense. But more importantly, if your issue was one of impartiality, why not raise the issue in one of my countless other article that took a similarly radical--according to some perceptions, at least--argument as given? You're raising the point here not because I threw in a biased statement but because it was a biased statement you disagreed with.

      Now, I don't have a problem with that, I really don't, but please, if you think I'm wrong in my judgment tell me I am wrong, don't tell me I should be less biased. If we're going to address this question that I don't particularly want to address to begin with, at least let's address it frankly and openly.



      Your comparison to Spider Man III is interesting to me, because it seems to me that both movies have confused, muddy plots, but they differ on what's wrong with their core... ah, what would we call it? If the plot is the bones and muscle, maybe this stuff is the soul? The souls of these films are flawed in very different ways--SM3, if I remember correctly (it's been a while) had a pretty coherent thematic arc, but its tone was a total mess, with the more fun Emo Peter Parker scenes butting heads with the plodding rest of the film, whereas this has a pretty consistent tone (everything is greeeeey and aaaawfuuuuuul) but the theme was all over the place.

      Yeah, I like that comparison a lot. It really shows just where the two films trip up, I think.

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    2. I think you are correct. I would not have responded so readily had you not made a target of something I feel very strongly that you are wrong about. I have several friends, including family members, that align themselves with the tea party (I feel that there are disgusting elements of the group, but they are a small exception overall). Mainly, I have become frustrated that their arguments have become increasingly marginalized by being labeled as 'puppets' rather than considering and dismissing their arguments. Looking back rationally, that should have been the focus of my argument. Not that you are being biased, but that you are dismissing something that I respect with little more than a stock line I've heard hundreds of times before. I am going to check the site you referenced, but I wanted to get this out first. I'm sorry for writing in anger rather than from logic.

      That being said, I know you have on several occasions complained about attempts to marginalize or demonize the Occupy Movement. I am curious why you see such a difference between the two, besides them being opposed politically. Though I'm sure that website will help me find the answer.


      On the SM3 comparison, I agree the core issues are different, but maintain that the cause likely is similar. Popular Culture (going back literally millenia) is fixated on the concept of three. Because of this, Movie series and other similar entertainment collections (with the exception, strangely, of Television) are expected to maintain a trilogy. Because of that expectation, creators build their third movies with the expectation it is the finale, and if they want something, it has to fit into that movie. Because of that, there is a tendency to try to fit disparate elements (the throw-in of Venom in the last 20 minutes--I'm convinced he should have only appeared as Venom as a teaser for the next movie-- or the addition of Robin who, while he was one of the best parts of the movie, had little relevance to the central series plotlines or themes) into a single film. This seems to have become especially prevalent in more recent films, particularly comic book adaptations, which has hurt the medium as a whole. I sincerely hope the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which seems intent on presenting a continuous storyline similar to the comics, can break this trend of kow-towing to the trilogy.

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    3. I read the article, and it is quite impressive. I will absolutely be forwarding it to many of my friends and family as it serves as an important cautionary tale. Honestly, I have always been skeptical of some 'leaders' of the tea party (Glenn Beck most obviously) who seem more interested in demagoguery than actual progress. I believe that many, possibly most, of the stated goals of the group are worth pursuing. However, there is a severe risk that they can let this exact essay happen if the individuals are not aware enough of the objectives of the whole.
      I will continue to take a cautionary eye to developments. I still believe you are wrong to wholly dismiss the group. However, I can understand you skepticism and reluctance to accept their arguments.

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    4. You know, I get fired up easily, as you know, but I also was totally excited about people from the Tea Party showing up at Occupy rallies early on, because it seemed like maybe they would break away from some of the fearmongers like Beck and the movement could spark some real civic discourse across ideological lines. It doesn't seem to have worked out that way, sadly. :( I should try to remember back to that impulse to be welcoming more frequently, though, I think.

      And thanks for checking out the article. Eco's work is a big influence on my own.

      Oh, and do you mind if I shamelessly steal some of your analysis on trilogies for an upcoming article? With the recent news that The Hobbit is going to be a trilogy now, for some reason, I think it's particularly relevant, and you hit the problem right on the nose.

      The buzz seems to be that DC wants to treat The Justice League the same way Marvel is doing The Avengers, so you might be right--we might finally start breaking away from the trilogy model. I can hope.

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    5. Thanks, and steal away. It was a really off-the-cuff commentary and I'm curious to see how you refine it. And Hobbit as a Trilogy? Why? What? How? Huh? I really hope that's just a rumor.

      If that's DC's plan, we'll have to watch it pretty closely. If it fails (and with Green Lantern being the test case, I fear that may be the case), then the Ivory Tower may reject the whole concept as a one-time fluke. In general, it isn't the innovator that successfully starts a movement, it is the following wave that starts it, otherwise it is just seen as a random occurrence, and not something that can be reliably replicated. (If you want a more formal example here, I would point to JIT manufacturing implemented by Toyota, but that is getting really, really off topic)

      I agree that I wish politics could lead to more civil discourse. The respective opposed movements (I will define them as 'Tea Party' and 'Occupy' for brevity, but I refer to any Right or Left wing movement that arises out of opposition to the current power structure) both have a lot of ideas going for them. Unfortunately, they are buried under ideological prattling bordering on obsession, rather than focusing on improved understanding and exchange of ideas.

      For the 'Tea Party' in particular, I strongly support their emphasis on decentralization. I feel that, in many ways, the Federal US Gov't should be a much weaker power center, since the US as a whole is far too large to represent any individual consistency sufficiently. Further, more power in the states better allows them to serve as 'testing grounds' for new ideas, and can really spur political innovation, since they will always feel safe being able to fall back on an overarching control structure. Unfortunately, this concept is buried underneath two talking point dialogues: the 'Get rid of Obama' and 'Return to the Constitution' points. While I don't necessarily disagree that I would prefer Obama be a one-term president, or that the Constitution provides an effective framework that we have perhaps deviated too far from, I think that 'Tea Partiers' obsess over the collective will and forget about the end goals. Rather than looking about what they are trying to accomplish (A decentralized government, therefore reducing debt and allowing a more targeted government) they focus on the short term milestones, which don't even have a point out of context. I have a feeling there is a similar issue in the 'Occupy' Camp, though I am too far from that to really talk in an educated manner.

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  3. I think you're mostly right, but I wasn't able to see those things while watching it (I did the day after), because it was so well executed. I'm also able to, as you call it, see the shadow-movie. The movie that this could have been.
    You know what I was thinking, reading this article? The movie should have focused more on the actual conflict between the 99 and the 1%. Hardly any of it shown. I we had seen any of the citizens of Gotham actually protesting against the wealthy or something. How it is now, Bane is just a completely deluded psychopath, who thinks he speaks for the people of Gotham. If he was a psychopath who actually spoke for them, he would be a lot more interesting. Even the reaction to Bane's takeover of Gotham didn't come across as the revolution Bane had in mind.

    Or maybe I'm wrong. That's always a distinct possibility.

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    1. Yeah, you know, I really don't want to come off as though people who had a good time at the film are wrong and should feel bad, which I fear might be how it sounds. :/ There's creative value in seeing the good and the potential...

      You know, your idea actually reminds me more of Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS more than anything else. I can definitely see how that would work well, and it would TOTALLY jive with the "cracking of the ice" theme and motif that almost was important (but then wasn't... sigh). The mediator between the head and the hands must be... The God Damn Batman.

      I don't think you're wrong, at any rate.

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  4. So this is only partially relevant, as it was developed more through the classic 'does this plot make sense' kind of discussion than anything concerned mainly with themes, but I think it may be worth posting. The point about Bane is that (looking at him in the light of what we know about the League of Shadows from the previous films) he is a fake revolutionary but a sincere terrorist. He does not come to save Gotham but to destroy it in such a way as to make of its final days an object lesson for the rest of the world. Thus the corruption of the rich and the anarchy of the underclass are not competing perspectives but twin indictments of a failed society, and Bane's actions play on these fault lines to bring them to the greatest visibility.

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  5. I perceive of Christopher Nolan as a very cynical man. He certainly has competencies as a film maker, but going back to his earliest films he exhibits a contempt for his audience. He uses the normal tools of cinematic storytelling and inverts them, but he doesn't seem to do it out of any intent to tell a compelling story, to make a moral statement, or to explore cinematic conventions intellectually. He seems to know that the audience will confuse his manipulation of these conventions as being intellectual, I think he's laughing to the bank at people who think that Memento or Inception are clever films.

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  6. I got to this article from the Pacific Rim article, more than a year late. It does seem that a lot of this big summer movies get so caught up in themselves that they lose sight of the basic themes and of the story, and you end up with a muddled mess. That's how I felt with the Dark Knight Rises and more recently Man of Steel. I could see the shadow movie you are talking about but I couldn't superimpose it on the existing movie I was watching. Conversely, Pacific Rim this year and Avengers last year didn't get lost. The way I react to these Shadow movies is that I start rewriting the film in my mind (with my sister's help) using themes that were in the movie but got lost or underdeveloped.

    In DKR my impression was that the basic idea was that Batman saved the city from crime, but the main benefactors were the rich. This opens the door for a demagogue terrorist like Bane to gain popularity. He presents a challenge to Batman while also presenting a alternative (just like Ras al-Ghul and the Joker did).

    If that is the main theme, then all the broken retired Batman in the beginning was really just distracting. The movie should start with a city that has benefited from Batman's protection, although it might be less appreciative. Also, Bane should be established as someone with a popular appeal, not a psychopath, at least in the beginning. Most of the bomb related stuff is unnecessary, but later you do want the revolution to turn into the Terror. Catwoman fits as someone standing between Bane and Batman. She also challenges Batman. She is the constituency of Bane's message. But she shares Batman's more individualistic ideals, and at the end sides with him. Robin seems redundant and distracting. If you want a Robin, have a Robin. If not then why have this character? Catwoman was a sufficient representation of the "people." Talia fits in too. She could have represented another alternative image that goes back to Ras al-Ghul -- the aloof aristocrat who doesn't respect the people and wants to clean up the city in the most brutal way. The whole jail storyline was pointless, and the fact that Bane was controlled by someone should have been revealed earlier.

    Anyway, just some belated thoughts. The question remains: what causes seemingly good ideas to get muddled?

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