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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Comic Book Philosophy Part 3

One of the great favors Hollywood gifted to us comic book fans was letting Christopher Nolan helm the Batman franchise for the last few years. Prior to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Nolan made a career out of examining the dark side of obsession and giving brilliant breath to madness. Whether it's Hugh Jackman vs. Christian Bale in The Prestige or Guy Pearce vs. his amnesia in Memento, Nolan shines brightest when he's making us uncomfortable.

In the second installment of his Batman run, The Dark Knight, he does something very subtle and very powerful in its macabre implications.

The first film enacted one of our common myths: that of a champion rising up to battle evil in the world. This is Joseph Campbell 101... "hero journey" stuff. But The Dark Knight depicts a kind of "equal but opposite reaction". This time the universe conjures up an avatar of chaos (in the form of Heath Ledger's Joker) to combat Bruce Wayne’s attempt to impose order and civility on society. This is a much more disturbing story, one that challenges our faith that anything good can come of heroism. If the very existence of Batman necessitates a Joker... what has Gotham really gained?

Michael Cain, as Alfred the Butler, gives us a chilling distillation of this dilemma. He relates a story of what happened in southeast Asia years ago when his secret ops squad tried to capture a rogue warlord. Alfred explains that this warlord had no intelligible purpose; he was someone who “just wanted to see the world burn.” So how did they finally capture him? They burned down the whole jungle.

At work, I know a man embroiled in a difficult marriage. He sees himself as a provider of reason. He feels he can “out-logistic” the chaos and dysfunction of his wife. As he described their relationship, I saw them as two figures balanced on a teeter-totter… slowly bobbing up and down but more or less balanced on a fulcrum. But they are both reactionary by nature, and every step he takes back to keep her weight in check results in her moving further from the center as well... becoming more and more bizarre in her reactions. At this point they have moved so far apart that they can barely see each other anymore. Any sense of intimacy has long dissolved. He said tearfully that he cannot even remember how it felt when they could still see and appreciate each other. But he also cannot imagine life without this person... after all, his whole identity is wrapped up in countering her energy.

Like Nolan's Batman and Joker, they "complete each other". And this is a dangerous thought, especially for those of us who believe that we are capable of acting with some sense of heroism. Are we not just provoking the universe? And might the consequences of this provocation result in the burning of our entire jungle?

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At 12/02/2008 12:59:00 AM, Blogger Jimmimoose said...

This, my friend, is why I've spent so little time in my life involved in activism. Plus I'm a lazy dude, but ya know.


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