You Can’t Fight Darkness With Darkness

BCC welcomes guest blogger Jamie Huston, who lives in his native city of Las Vegas with his wife and five children. He teaches American Literature Honors at Centennial High School as well as Composition and World Literature at UNLV. He blogs regularly at Gently Hew Stone.

I fully expected to write a review of The Dark Knight at some point, a review that weighed in on the superior acting merits of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, and especially Gary Oldman, but having just seen it with my wife for our date night, my ideas have taken a markedly different turn.

I remember when The Crow came out in 1994, its first posters carried the tagline, “Darker than the bat.” That was a badge of honor, you see. The highest compliment our popular lexicon can now bestow upon anything is that it is dark. When was the last time you saw something lauded in the media that wasn’t termed edgy?

The “bat” that The Crow was comparing itself to, of course, was Batman, and the newest installment of that series is the apotheosis of our society’s obsession with darkness. I knew that this movie would be about identity, and I wasn’t surprised to see a commentary on the nature of heroism, with its corollary of the demarcation of good and evil, develop; but I feel like I’ve been shocked out of a stupor by the “lessons” that The Dark Knight wishes to convey on those subjects.

The Joker’s insistence that “there are no rules” goes unchallenged. He taunts the movie’s ostensible heroes to break their own codes of honor, and often succeeds. This is where modernism–that great intellectual cancer of the 20th century, the assertion that meaning is malleable and subjective–comes in: The Dark Knight wants us to think that it’s a ground-breaking meditation on the complicated reality of good and evil in this oh-so-confusing world of ours, what with terrorism and whatnot (several overt references to such are made in the film); but it just comes across as more of Hollywood’s worship of relativism, and an especially obnoxious brand of it.

Not only is The Dark Knight loaded with cliches that are all the more sad because they’re clearly meant to be taken as genuine insights, but they’re communicated in the context of a story that revels in its sadism. Make no mistake about it, The Dark Knight is a film about torture: twisted scenarios for wrenching suffering out of people are thrown at us like fastballs in a batting cage. What really shocked me was that the theater full of people around me weren’t weary of this barrage; rather, they were elated by its novelty–the director was pushing the envelope, taking PG-13 to a bold new frontier. Hooray.

As the movie progressed, I thought about 24 and Casino Royale and more examples of Western Civilization’s growing acceptance for revenge, vigilantism, torture, and a celebration of mental illness (which is what the Batman series really is). If the adversary wants us to believe he doesn’t exist, surely another successful weapon in his arsenal is the idea that heroes can turn his savagery against him and remain untainted.

Modernism rears its ugly head again: the concept of flawed anti-hero is all fine and good, but why have all of our heroes been reduced to this? Why is it forbidden to tell stories about idealized heroes today? I see that Indiana Jones isn’t even in the top ten anymore, and Superman Returns was such a disappointment that the director actually apologized for its earnest tone and promised a “darker” sequel.

Others who have seen The Dark Knight might protest that there are some scenes of nobility, of sacrifice. I object that most of these, in context, are hardly laudatory. The scene with the two boats, for example, was not only too little and too late to redeem a movie that should be far too depressing for a summer blockbuster, but stuck out like a sore thumb, so badly did it fit in this film. Clearly, the makers of the movie realized how sinister it was and wanted to throw us a bone. But no dice.

Perhaps now fans will chime in with this question: “What else were the heroes supposed to do when faced with Joker’s plots?” The answer is, those plots shouldn’t have been there. Works of art are artificial, not natural; they are shaped according to the whims of their creator. No writer or director should be cobbling together such sadistic fare and offering it as entertainment. If such hopeless circumstances ever present themselves in real life, so be it, but I don’t need to pay ten dollars to have nihilism thrust in my face (First Harevy Dent, then Batman himself, come to believe that “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Not terribly inspiring.).

I have no doubt that this film will break records and be accounted a triumph, and I’m reminded of Moroni chapter 9 as I think so: a society that actively celebrates such degradation is a society ripe for destruction. Ironically, I posted on another forum just yesterday that, in order to thrive in the 21st century, our lives are going to have to resemble those of the FLDS in Texas more than those of most of our neighbors. Tonight, I feel that even more strongly.

I’m sure the makers of The Dark Knight and its millions of fans feel that this story represents a positive morality for our age, a morality that eschews black and white in favor of one big pall of satisfyingly unchallenging gray, replete with the anguished evil it can only coexist with but never defeat. Such an offering is a sad testament to our lost vision of righteousness.

I hope America rejects The Dark Knight. I hope as many people as possible will turn from the mire that’s being slopped into our troughs and passed off as nutritious and will rediscover the vitality of the 13th Article of Faith. I hope we draw a line in the sand for ourselves that we will no longer tolerate being told that there is no such thing as pure light and that only a lighter shade of gray can combat the darkness in the world.

Friends, no matter how much the mainstreamed counterculture wants this “cool” idea of theirs to be true, there is just no such thing as a dark knight.

Comments

  1. Latter-day Guy says:

    Haven’t seen it yet (and won’t for a few weeks still; bound by a blood oath to wait until a sibling returns from his mission), but this is the first negative thing I’ve yet read about it.

  2. It appears it’s to be expected that those of a liberal persuasion will not care for “The Dark Knight.” For a more favorable view from a more, ahem, conservative publication with an occasionally religious slant, see:

    http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=YWU5ZDk5OGQwZDU3YzQ3ZTA0YzE1MzYzZmMwNzkyNTU=

  3. Forgive me, one more enthusiastic conservative reviewer:

    http://weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/015/328xilsf.asp

  4. Dude, chill. It’s just a movie.

  5. I’m going to see it soon, and I have to agree with MCQ. I’m really not going to see it for any moral lessons it may or may not offer; I’m going to see another interesting comic book adaptation.

  6. R. W., I don’t think your ideological theory really works out. The Village Voice loved the film. Perhaps they’re overrun with neocons these days? Or this isn’t really a film that divides liberals and conservatives in predictable ways?

  7. Indiana Jones isn’t out of the top ten because it’s light, it’s out of the top ten because it’s been released for months. That and it got pretty mediocre reviews. Superman was a jumbled story with some poor acting by the main character and Kevin Spacey. Neither one is a good example for this post.

    Besides, comics in general became more mature in their themes over twenty years ago, I think it’s great that the movies are following suit. Just because the lead is a guy wearing tights doesn’t mean it’s for children.

    I’m sure the makers of The Dark Knight and its millions of fans feel that this story represents a positive morality for our age, a morality that eschews black and white in favor of one big pall of satisfyingly unchallenging gray, replete with the anguished evil it can only coexist with but never defeat. Such an offering is a sad testament to our lost vision of righteousness.

    Yeesh, Batman is the very definition of an anti-hero that steps over the line most of the time. His worls is all gray. What exactly did you think you were getting when you sat down in the theater?

  8. sscenter says:

    Jamie H – Just wondering. What have you done to become more like the FLDS?

  9. angrymormonliberal says:

    Or is it because all of our heroes are flawed, and that is reality? You really haven’t been watching 24, Jack Bauer has currently lost everything (‘course he keeps going because Kiefer Sutherland needs the work)

    I think we read political subtexts into every movie we see (see the anti-American brouhaha over Wall-E) and those subtexts may not be what the filmaker intended.

    Besides, stories about perfectly good people are boring, because you always know what their going to do next.

  10. anyone wonder why our country doesn’t show any real outrage that we legalized Soviet torture techniques? Didn’t our own Dick Cheney say we needed to go “dark?” Didn’t many say we needed to “take the gloves off?” Why exactly?

    Jamie, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I was considering seeing this movie, but I’ll stay away now. It isn’t worth it.

  11. “there is just no such thing as a dark knight.”

    Oscar Schindler comes to mind. Winston Churchill, from a Mormon perspective, comes to mind. In fact, lots of “dark knights” come to mind.

    “the concept of flawed anti-hero is all fine and good, but why have all of our heroes been reduced to this? Why is it forbidden to tell stories about idealized heroes today?”

    Perhaps we just live in a more realistic age, when people want a hero with whom they actually can relate – one that doesn’t make them fell crushing guilt because they have no hope of measuring up to the idealized definition of “hero” you employ. Maybe they want examples of those who struggled to be heroes, but who ended up being heroes nonetheless.

    Also, perhaps they realize there really are deeply evil people in the world, and truly powerful evil can be seductive. Perhaps they don’t see things in the black and white way this post seems to present as ideal.

    **Disclaimer**: I am reacting only to the quotes in this post. I am working only off of them – and the discussions I have had about the movie with my sons.

  12. You guys may want to check out this article:

    Why Superman Will Always Suck

    Just an excerpt from it:

    Superman sez: all criminals are bad. All lawbreakers deserve punishment. If Superman were in charge of the DEA, roughly 70% of college students across the country would be serving time in prison right now.

    Superman has no values of his own, so he’s content to just uphold the values of the ruling class; this prevents him from becoming a dangerous vigilante a la Frank Castle, but it also means he has no legitimate opinions of his own where crime is concerned. In Paul Dini’s storybook series on DC superheroes, Batman had to deal with gangland violence, Wonder Woman fights terrorism, and Superman tries to end world hunger. This is no accident – Superman is way too morally simplistic to deal with complex things like the “wars” on drugs or terror. In Batman: War on Crime, Bats comes up against a young boy holding a gun on him. Batman, understanding the complexity of crime and the reasons for its existence, talks the kid into dropping the gun and giving up a life of violence.

    Superman would probably just use his heat-vision to melt the gun, then put the kid in prison where he’d become a hard-bitten thug who’d murder somebody a few months after getting out.

    I’ve never liked Superman all that much. He seems like an intellectually lazy device for moral absolutists who wish that being good didn’t require quite so much actual thought.

  13. Btw, do you like the Star Wars movies?

  14. Actually, my wife and I saw the movie last night, and both felt it was outstanding. Not perfect, but outstanding. I won’t say more — not wanting to spoil anything — but my review (which has a spoilers section at the end) is over here. ..bruce..

  15. NorthboundZax says:

    “What else were the heroes supposed to do when faced with Joker’s plots? The answer is, those plots shouldn’t have been there”

    ???

    In real life torture shouldn’t be there. I’d much rather explore these issues through art than stay detached in real life. I like Superman, but #12s juxtaposition of dark and white knights is outstanding.

  16. Steve Evans says:

    I am writing this comment in the line to see DK. I’ll let you know in a few hours whether or not I agree, but my gut reaction is that I will probably disagree with you. Not that all movies are awesome; see my review of Wanted @ KB. But I suspect you simply got overloaded this time.

    PS welcome to our new guest, Jamie!

  17. batman will surely be living in outer darkness–along with the film-makers and anyone who sees this movie. satan is among us and living in hollywood, er gotham.

    [Editor's note: use that original moniker again and you'll mysteriously find yourself banned, Hans]

  18. Jamie H says:

    Thanks for all the feedback so far to this, my first post at BCC. I wonder if the backlash is coming from a perception that I’m critical of all those who merely see or even like anything in this movie. Surely not, as others might have thicker skin, or might focus on other aspects of it, etc. However, I still assert that there’s a strong case to be made that this film goes too far.

    R.W., I’m a political conservative, and the only person who’s been favorable towards my post so far is a democrat named Dan, so no, I don’t think my distaste is political. I don’t refer to “torture” to make a point about current controversies in politics, but about the deepening neurotic darkness of the American psyche.

    MCQ, “it’s just a movie”? Ain’t no such creature. There is a persistent worldview in popular culture, and this movie advances it more dramatically than any other I’ve seen so far. Hopefully we don’t need to debate whether or not media influences life. I’m sure those “Saw” films are more extreme, but “The Dark Knight” is part of the same family, and the fact that it’s supposed to be a mainstream blockbuster is disturbing. Plenty of people, sadly, will let their six year olds see this.

    JJohnsen, I still disagree. The failure of Indiana Jones and Superman to be as important to our culture today as they were in the past is definitely a symptom of our increasing tolerance–and desire–for darkness. I remember plenty of kids teling me they didn’t like Superman for exactly that reason, and the director’s apologies speak volumes.

    I think it’s dangerous to automatically judge things based on the “maturity” of their themes (please forgive me if that’s not what you intended). It’s one of Hollywood’s lies that something is only “mature” if it focuses on death, darkness, no-win situations, nihilism, etc. That’s not art reflecting life; it’s art exploiting our basest impulses.

    But you’re right–I should have known better going in. That’s why I say I was shocked out of a stupor.

    SSCenter, I said that our lives will need to start resembling those of the FLDS more than resembling those of most of our neighbors. What am I doing towards that end? Well, for starters, I won’t be seeing “The Dark Knight” again, or anything like it. :)

    Angrymormonliberal and Ray, I ask in my post why must “all” of our heroes be anti-heroes today. Your attempts to justify it based on the contemporary difficulty of urban life is totally valid, but I can’t shake the feeling that this philosophy–black and white is boring, we need deeply flawed heroes to feel better about ourselves, our perception of reality doesn’t count unless it’s dark and gritty–serves to forward the agenda of evil more than promote that of good. It’s not healthy.

    Prefering light to darkness is not the same as having one’s head in the sand; quite the opposite, in fact. I’m sure all of you reading this can screen out the moral implications of this movie as aided by the Spirit, but do you think it’s going to be more of a benefit or a hindrance to inviting light into the world in general? I’ve long thought that if people see darkness everywhere, it might be because of where they’ve stuck their head. :)

    Sorry if that was flippant. Let me summarize this way: we all know that public standards are declining. Do we have a line in the sand? If so, where? Isn’t the trend towards glorifying sadism and nihilism an appropriate place to draw it? If we don’t draw it yet, how much further must Hollywood lower its bar before we get uncomfortable?

    I’m have no special authority here, and I hope this discussion will be spiritual and civil, but if all anybody wants to do is defend something because it’s cool and edgy, shouldn’t that send up some red flags?

  19. I think it’s a little much to throw Jamie’s comments to the side as if she’s overreacting. My wife had serious problems watching this movie and thought it went over the line. And she’s a huge Batman fan. She cried all the way home.

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie like this. It went places I never thought it would. Jamie mentioned Saw in her last comment and considering the final scheme, it’s a fair comparison.

    I will also say that it’s been a while since I’ve seen evil like the Joker. Truly haunting. If you read some of Ledger’s final interviews he talks about how hard a role it was for him and it took to depths he had never before entered. He was on barbituates, one of the drugs that ended up killing him.

    That being said, I’m a fan of the movie for what it is. It’s a crime drama masquerading as a Superhero movie.

  20. Kristine says:

    Jamie, I liked your review, although I haven’t, won’t, and wouldn’t have seen the movie anyway. It seems to me that part of the difficulty for Mormons trying to engage with cultural products like this is that we don’t have any positively defined aesthetic–our whole approach to art generally, and movies particularly is based on what we don’t approve of or find uplifting. So we can say we don’t want sex or violence or swearing, and argue around the edges about how much blurring of those standards we’re willing to tolerate, but we really don’t have any philosophical tools for trying to come up with either a realism that isn’t nihilistic or an optimism that isn’t saccharine. I think your post is an interesting step in that direction, and I’d be interested in you (or other commenters) thoughts on how to get busy building cooler sandcastles at the other end of the beach instead of worrying about exactly where to draw the line in the sand.

  21. Steve and I happen to be sitting in the imax theater…next to an eight year old. (Can you say poor parenting choices?). Anyway, beyond the factual assertions on the methodology of “darkness,” I think, Jamie, that you are confusing what modernism is.

  22. Have any of y’all seen this:

    http://www.drhorrible.com

    ?

    I just watched it last night, and it came to mind when I read this post. The protaganist is the villian, the hero is a narcissistic boor. I’m not a comics reader, but I’ve read that complex characterizations are not out of the norm. Take a comic book, and and singing and dancing. Good stuff.

    I haven’t seen the Batman movie and probably won’t, because I don’t generally like “dark” unless it’s heavily tempered by “funny.”

  23. Ivan Wolfe says:

    This reviewer says that Batman is George W. Bush and the Joker is al-Qaeda.

    Myself, I wonder why so many people seem determined to find political hay in everything. Of course, you can apply politics to the movie if you wish, but I see no reason to constantly make hay over whether a given movie will get your guy more votes in November or whatever.

    [And I really, really tire of those who blame Bush and Cheney for everything bad thats ever happened. Church having problems in Russia? Bush's fault. Batman too depressing? Bush's fault. Whatever. Some people need to find a new tune.]

    Anyway, Batman is what he is, and if you’ve been reading the comics, this movie is about 20 years behind the times. Batman’s been this dark for awhile.

    As for Superman Returns and Indiana Jones – they didn’t do very well because they were poorly produced and badly written. Superman Returns’ problem wasn’t that it was all lightness and smiles, it was that Superman was played as an emotionless stalker, and the Christ imagery was too heavy handed. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull had many, many problems as well. It was easily the worst film of the four. So, using those as comparisons doesn’t really work in my book, since they just weren’t well done.

    A better comparison might be the Nancy Drew movie, which was excellently written, perfectly acted, and relentlessly upbeat and cheerful – but it bombed at the box office (mostly due to inept marketing, I think). People who complain about dark movies or how Hollywood doesn’t produce family friendly fare and yet ignored the Nancy Drew movie need to feel a little ashamed. Hollywood produced exactly the movie many on the cultural right were asking for, and for the most part, we all ignored it.

  24. I see that Indiana Jones isn’t even in the top ten anymore

    Where’s Ronan?

  25. Just got home not an hour ago since catching this flick and have now somehow happened upon this post.

    And I’m now stuck on this sentence from your review:

    If the adversary wants us to believe he doesn’t exist, surely another successful weapon in his arsenal is the idea that heroes can turn his savagery against him and remain untainted.

    Because, oddly enough, it strikes me as a pretty apt description of what the movie was attempting to convey.

  26. I’ve been debating about seeing this movie. I often don’t like movies that a majority of people love (and love the movies people hate). This one has been getting so much love, I figured I’m not going to like it. But what’s bugged me most about it is how all the advertising seems to only show the Joker. I figure they did that because Heath Ledger just died and it bugs me.

    I have a feeling I’m going to agree with you, Jamie, about this movie, so I’ll probably skip it. Even in the dollar theater.

  27. If we all agreed to stop thrusting our nihilism in your face, would you agree to check your ressentiment at the theater door?

    We’ll keep watching The Sound of Music at least once a year in our house.

    And I’m quite happy to defend Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. It was, as happens from time to time, something beyond even what I’d been led to believe it might be.

    Considering the pre-release press, who wouldn’t be a skeptic going in? Having actually seen the movie, I’m not.

  28. “it’s just a movie”? Ain’t no such creature. There is a persistent worldview in popular culture, and this movie advances it more dramatically than any other I’ve seen so far. Hopefully we don’t need to debate whether or not media influences life. I’m sure those “Saw” films are more extreme, but “The Dark Knight” is part of the same family, and the fact that it’s supposed to be a mainstream blockbuster is disturbing. Plenty of people, sadly, will let their six year olds see this.

    If there’s a “persistent worldview” in popular culture, I must be missing it, because it seems to me that everything I experience in popular culture has a different worldview, not the same one. If every piece of popular culture espoused the same worldview, I would stop watching immediately through sheer boredom. Maybe that “persistent worldview” you’re seeing is hiding out from me, like the “gay agenda.” I can never find that beast lurking in the forest either.

    I watched about five minutes of Saw and was done. Not interested in that at all. To equate this movie with Saw is extremism at least and outright misrepresentation at worst. I agree that parents should be more selective about what kids are allowed to see. My earlier comment was not meant to suggest that media has no effect on life. Rather, I’m pointing out that your reaction to this piece of art is extreme and out of all proportion to its intended message and possible influence.

    Oh, and I agree with Stapley that you appear to be demonizing the term “modernism” far more than is warranted by its actual meaning.

  29. First of all, to see where I’m coming from, you can check out my review at

    thehouseofmilo.blogspot.com

    I am a shameless fanboy. I love Batman, and it was Tim Burton’s dark vision that introduced me to the world of vigilantism and anti-heroes. Hilariously, I still have posters hanging in my garage from high school, one of Tim Burton’s Batman, and the other? The Crow. Just an interesting aside. Also, for full disclosure, I count Jamie as among one of my closest and most longest tenured friends, and I am a daily visitor to his blog (and in all honesty, you should be too). Finally, although I am a registered Democrat, I consider myself a political moderate. So, I’m going to reveal myself to be the centrist, wishy washy fence sitter that I am…

    Can it be possible that I loved The Dark Knight and agree with Jamie on several points as well? Let me dispense with my critiques of the review so I can get to where I agree.

    My knee jerk reaction to Jamie’s review was two fold. First, my question was, what were you expecting? This is Batman, a world full of moral ambiguity populated with psychotic villains. I accept this review as a critique of the general world of Batman and not just of this film, but in terms of what to expect, especially when some reviews (including mine) have likened this film to a horror movie, I’m a little surprised that Jamie was so shocked. To temper this, however, I completely agree that movie tie-ins geared towards children are COMPLETELY inappropriate for this film, and believe you me, I was APPAULED at the age of some of the kids that were in that theater. Yes, I sat in righteous judgment, and believe me, I’m not a fan of having to explain to my son why he can’t see the new Batman movie (he has also not, and will not, see Batman Begins).

    My second reaction was “Dude, it’s just a movie!” I’m sure he can even imagine my intonation. Now, that argument has already been shot down (and rightly so) but members of the church in genenral are at differentlevels of spiritual development. TDK did not offend my sensibilities (which may just be an indictment of my own desensitized nature) but it is important to maintain a healthy dose of critical skepticism in every choice that we make in media, and in this I heartily agree with the spirit of the review.

    Personally, I am of the opinion that in the war in Iraq, as in war in general, we do get scarred and see horrendous things and pick up scars along the way. This movie highlighted those choices. Where does the government draw the line on an “aggravated” interrogation of an enemy combatant? While in life I do agree with absolutes, there are some questions that are complicated. Where is the scripture we can turn to for guidance on how much waterboarding is too much? A little later, Jamie talks about black and white being a bit boring. I’ll be honest, if I’m going to a movie, it is a little. My life is lived in black and white, and for me, I’m willing to accept this bit of escapism. I think that we must be conscientious consumers of media, and I am not going to mock or critique a review of this movie if it did cross someone’s line, as it so obviously did in this case. Batman is facinating to me, but for those who are less discerning and who don’t critically examine their media, I can see how this could contribue to their slide into moral relativism. For me, I’m willing to accept a dark little romp through this playground, content to leave the emotional scarring at the theater door.

    And to any posters who are disagreeing with Jamie’s review just because he doesn’t agree with many critics, he’s offered some great, valid arguments why he doesn’t. Showing that other conservatives liked the movie is not necessarily a great argument as to whether this conservative should like it. While I find myself siding with the majority on this (still love the movie) his comments have provoked me to re-evaluate aspects of the film and more carefully examine how we are influenced by the world. Good job, Jamie. But now I know not to invite you when I see it again on IMAX:-)

  30. Steve Evans says:

    Just got out, Jamie’s wrong, movie ruled.

  31. “Why is it forbidden to tell stories about idealized heroes today?””

    Jamie, this strikes me as the exact same question that my mother asked so many years ago: “Why isn’t there any good music anymore?”

    My answer to each question is the same:

    “It isn’t (There is). There are tons of stories about idealized heroes today (good music today); you just have to look around a little more openly and find them. They are numerous.”

    Frankly, that was my biggest problem with the review – the idea that “modernism” is all about dark and troubling and disturbing images and stories (and music). That simply isn’t the case.

  32. Cynthia L. says:

    Wow everyone, way to roll out the welcome mat for a new guest blogger, LOL! If I’d have gotten a reaction like this to my first guest post I would have just died. Have a hug, Jamie! (Though from your initial responses it sounds like you have a much thicker skin than I do.)

    Haven’t seen it. Sounds like I wouldn’t like it–not really my preferred aesthetic and I don’t have much of a stomach for violence in my entertainment. But for the record I don’t have a problem with conflicted heroes. I like them.

  33. What Ray said.

  34. On modernism.

  35. Jamie,

    Tough crowd, huh.
    Think of Gotham like the Old Testament, where heroes do unthinkable things in the name of a greater good. In the OT, darkness is fought with darkness all the time.

  36. Steve Evans says:

    Seriously, I think Jamie is partially right — this is a violent movie and a dark one for dark times. It presents extremely disturbing and challenging ideas about human nature. Ultimately however I believe Jamie’s conclusion about the film is wrong. This movie does not condone or applaud torture; it presents violence and chaos as horrible things, things to be fought. I can’t blame Jamie for his response, but I think he missed the point of the movie.

    Oh, and he’s off re: modernism.

    BUT — Kudos to Jamie for producing such an absolutely great conversation-starter.

  37. Steve Evans says:

    “I’m sure those “Saw” films are more extreme, but “The Dark Knight” is part of the same family, and the fact that it’s supposed to be a mainstream blockbuster is disturbing.”

    Absolutely wrong, unless the family is “films.”

  38. Steve Evans says:

    “As for Superman Returns and Indiana Jones – they didn’t do very well because they were poorly produced and badly written. Superman Returns’ problem wasn’t that it was all lightness and smiles, it was that Superman was played as an emotionless stalker, and the Christ imagery was too heavy handed.”

    AMEN Ivan.

  39. Thomas Parkin says:

    Jaime,

    I disagree with virtually every sentence of your review. It’s hard to even know where to begin. But, to sum, this movie was NOT a celebration of what Harold Bloom calls “our augmenting darkness”, but a condemnation of it – I can’t off the top of my head recall any movie that is so thorough in its condemnation of our society as this one. If there is a valid complaint it might be that the movie overmakes its point. Our society is not as bad as this … yet. We sense, however, that we are well on our way to it. There is a whiff of prophecy in the film. There is no particular moral, hence all the talk of the moral ambiguity of the film. Sure, not every movie needs to be this completely ambiguous. But this is not every movie, it is only one movie. And it is very very far from a typical movie so that dismissing it as indicative is a clean miss.

    ~

  40. I, like J. Stapley, question your understanding and usage of the term “modernism.” This site might be helpful in clearing up your apparent misunderstanding.

    Now for the rest of your review. I want to begin by carefully and clearly stating that I have not yet seen the movie, but I fully intend to.

    As an artist and filmmaker myself I’d like to first address an issue that seems to frequently crop up in discussions concerning the media and its apparent affect on our lives. It is very important to distinguish between the portrayal of evil, the portrayal of base elements, the presentation of “dark” themes, and the glorification of them. Your review is littered with phrases like “worship of relativism,” “celebration of mental illness,” and “celebrates such degradation.” In this day and age, because of the satanic subtleties which surround us, it is more important than ever to be able to distinguish between presentation and glorification.

    Although you don’t explicitly state it, and you very well may not be completely aware of it, but you seem to be leaning towards an aesthetic centered on “inspirational” themes, and art that portrays good always triumphing over evil. Your preference for movies such as Superman and Indiana Jones indicate your taste for such plots. I find absolutely nothing wrong with this, excepting the fact that these types of films portraying idealized heroes typically oversimplify the darkness; they grossly over-exaggerate evil by presenting villains which are relatively easy to identify and bare little or no resemblance to the complexities of human life. Unfortunately evil in the real world is not so easy to recognize. The difference between black and white in the real world is rarely obvious, and the evils consuming human souls are rarely, if ever, so plain and innocuous that we are able to easily place the “bad guys” in the proper lineup.

    Over-simplifying evil is in and of itself a modern evil. Thankfully we are advanced enough beings that we are able to explore the basest of our emotions, intentions, and evils through a completely artificial medium: art (and I use the word art because I think Christopher Nolan would be offended if you suggested that his films were mere entertainment, not that they aren’t entertaining). You say that “It’s one of Hollywood’s lies that something is only ‘mature’ if it focuses on death, darkness, no-win situations, nihilism, etc. That’s not art reflecting life; it’s art exploiting our basest impulses.” To claim that this is one of Hollywood’s lies is an exaggeration, the reality is that “mature” means to have reached an advanced stage of mental and emotional development, and that part of being a mature human means that you are able to come to terms with the elements of your own reality.

    To deny that there is a portion of Joker or Batman in ourselves is the true evil, lulling ourselves into a pleasant fixation on the light while conveniently ignoring the dangers of darkness. If we are to literally believe that Jesus is our brother, then we are just as equally brothers with Satan, and we too posess his genes, and the spiritual potential to become like him. That fact is intensely frightening, and it ought to be, because my fear (and likely the reality) is that Satan is much darker and much more evil than any one of us is able to comprehend, and to convince ourselves that we are immune to his subtleties if we try to ignore them is the great lie.

    I face demons on a daily basis, and I am grateful that I have been exposed to great art that thoroughly explores this element of our humanity so that I am better equipped to deal with it when the time comes. You claim the film is “replete with the anguished evil it can only coexist with but never defeat.” Do you know how to defeat evil? Do you have the power to grab it by its throat and rip it out of your own soul? Are you courageous enough and wise enough to admit that there is a darkness in yourself much darker than any film could ever convey? If you know how to do any of these things, please tell.

    I do not celebrate this fact, indeed, I abhor it, but to utterly deny this is the true danger of innocence. To repeat yourself “That’s not art reflecting life; it’s art exploiting our basest impulses.” Wrong. That is art reflecting life, and it’s art exploring our basest impulses, not exploiting them; those are the impulses that we are in such a dire need of understanding, so that we may better comprehend and face them. Big big difference, and being able to tell the difference takes maturity, honesty, insight, and spiritual understanding.

  41. First of all, Dark Knight is nothing like the Saw movies, the second of which someone gave me and I ended up throwing in the trash. That comparison is totally off the wall.

    Secondly, Ivan makes some great points in a much better way than I did. Superman and Indiana Jones didn’t suffer because they were light, the suffered from being poor movies. Word of mouth on both were pretty bad after that first weekend.

    Thirdly, Ivan (again!) is correct about Nancy Drew. We rented it on a whim a couple of days ago and I was amazed. Great writing, great characters, and very family-friendly. I was absolutely shocked that someone made the decision to have a teenage girl be the heroine, and then didn’t feel like they had to make her “cool” by putting her in belly shirts and lots of make-up. They actually went the opposite direction any other movie would with a makeover scene. I’ll follow Ivan in telling any of you that have ever complained about Hollywood making good family movies to go and rent or buy this right now.

    Too bad it didn’t make any money, but I’d blame that on lack of marketing instead of it being light or family-friendly, I’d never heard of it before.

  42. Norbert says:

    If there’s a “persistent worldview” in popular culture, I must be missing it, because it seems to me that everything I experience in popular culture has a different worldview, not the same one.

    Amen Brother Q.

    Thanks, Jaime, for giving us all an opportunity to agree with each other.

  43. I saw it last night. I was pretty sweet, but I did feel a bit disturbed by the darkness and twistedness of Ledger’s character. It makes you feel creepy when leaving but also somewhat in despair because no question is really answered about how one should combat such mass crime. Te decisions the heroes must make are gut-wrenching. Does anyone know if there is another part planned?

    Just a note about #17 Hans. That wasn’t me so it looks like there is more than one of us in the world.

  44. Latter-day Guy says:

    I feel a fool for asking, Steve, but what is KB (re #16)?

  45. It seems to me that the theme of the movie had more to do with what Gordon (love Gary Oldman) said at the end of Batman Begins about “escalation.” The better it gets, the worse it gets. No Batman, no Joker. This theme led to what was probably the best line of the movie, “You complete me.”

    I’m actually trying to think of how Batman fought darkness with darkness and am not seeing it.

  46. KB is Kulturblog.

  47. Thomas Parkin says:

    Here’s another question:

    Why do I come out of this movie so much firmer in my resolve to become a better and better man?

    ~

  48. California Condor says:

    I have no problem with shades of gray or anti-heroes.

    But “Dark Knight” sucked. It had a tedious storyline.

  49. I know the limitations of the following comment, but the narrow point it makes is valid, imo. I hesitated to make the analogy, but I think the last few comments are spot-on regarding “presentation” vs. “celebration”.

    There is an older film that portrays evil as very seductive and handsome and convincing and suave and enticing – that evil personified can be indistinguishable from you and me based just on physical appearance – that it is easy to succumb and can be resisted only by single-minded focus on God. In one part, it also portrays evil as nearly universal – that the person who resists is the anomaly – that the world is hopelessly lost and ruled by powerful evil. In fact, I think such a message can’t be ignored as one of the central themes. It’s an older movie, so the “darkness” of the presentation style doesn’t rival our more modern movies (relying almost exclusively on music to make the mood reflect the message), and the overall message is a happy ending, but the message of the section that deals directly with evil personified is fascinating.

    One of the central protagonists succumbs to this evil and is saved from it only by the resistance of another protagonist. Interestingly, I think most members who have seen this movie classify the one who succumbed as the ultimate hero in the end – or, at least, just as much a hero as the one who stood fast in opposing the evil. However, I wouldn’t say the film glorifies or celebrates evil in any way – even though it clothes it in such a “pretty package”.

    At least, I don’t think that was the intention of the prophets and apostles who approved it – and who ask us to see it on a regular basis.

    As to the idea of preferring idealized heroes, if one of the central messages of TDK is that deeply flawed people who often fail in their struggles to resist temptation still can perform heroic acts and be respected and admired and loved because of it, what I have read of Joseph Smith leads me to believe that he would rather be characterized in this way than as an “idealized hero”.

  50. Eric Russell says:

    Jamie, I disagree with almost every word you say here. So much so, in fact, that I have to wonder if you really understand what’s going on in the movie. Do you understand the choice that Batman makes in the very end? It’s as noble and self-sacrificial as you can get.

    The Joker’s insistence that “there are no rules” goes unchallenged.

    This is transparently false – in fact, it is Batman who proves the contrary to the Joker in their final scene together.

    (First Harevy Dent, then Batman himself, come to believe that “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Not terribly inspiring.)

    Not so. When Batman says “become the villain,” he doesn’t mean it in a genuine sense. The statement is a bit of wordplay foreshadowing his final decision.

    there is just no such thing as a dark knight.

    It depends how you define “dark” and I think you and the film are using the word in different ways. I don’t see that the film intends to include ‘morally suspect’ in its usage.

  51. Jamie H says:

    So, uh, do you guys agree with me or not? It’s OK, I just want to know where you stand. Please stop sugar coating your responses. :)

    Actually, the oddest thing so far has been, due to a tangential reference on my part, everybody wanting to take me to school on modernism. Call it an abuse of the method if you will, but the practical application of this tool (and of postmodernism), especially in popular culture, has been to promote faithlessness and to excuse subsequent wicked behavior. I’m on pretty solid ground here–The Closing of the American Mind had a substantially similar thesis.

    There are far too many comments now for me to reply to them individually, but there are some trends that bear discussion. The first is the idea that we can watch something that’s disgusting and violent if we scratch our chins and muse on the fallen nature of mankind. Such a philosophy would also serve to justify watching a graphic depiction of child molestation if, you know, the film obliquely condemned it somewhere. No, that’s not too extreme. C’mon, guys, if The Dark Knight had been released 10 or 20 years ago, would we be reacting the same way? Do you really think this increased desensitization is a good thing?

    Nor am I convinced that there is a worthy morality dominant in The Dark Knight (I’m a little more sympathetic to Fox and Gordon). The conclusion of the film is hardly a resounding victory for virtue. The argument that this is exaggerated tragedy that can help us refine our thinking and behavior in the real world doesn’t seem to hold up, either. If it were true, the last thirty years of Hollywood would have made us all perfect by now!

    For example, those speeches about “the hero Gotham deserves versus the hero Gotham needs.” Such a false dichotomy only makes sense in the manufactured dystopia of the media. Accuse me of wearing rose-colored glasses if you will, but perhaps those who agree with the movie’s sentiments might check to see if their own shades are tinted a bit too much.

    And I’ll defend my lumping this in with Saw. The Dark Knight may be “torture porn lite,” but its constant bombardment of acute suffering was not just a harmless rumination on human nature, it was a surgical strike to any light within us.

    Now Dan had an insightful comment when he compared Gotham to the OT, but I’m not sure if that stands–maybe it does. Jacob, David, etc, were certainly flawed, and certainly made hard choices at hard times–indeed, this is one of the most relevant things about the OT. But these men would have had a hard time fitting in in Gotham. The schizophrenia and deceptions by some of Gotham’s “heroes” is something I have a hard time imagining being permanently condoned in scripture.

    Let me try to add something diplomatic here. I’m not judging anyone who saw or liked the movie, nor am I saying that liking it is necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly possible to intellectually agree to disagree here. But it bothers me that so few of us seem concerned with the large-scale influence of a film like this on the world, or what it says about the majority of society that will lap it up. The arguments being put forward in defense of the film may all be in line with the Spirit as it operates within each of us individually, but the fact that such language could also be used–and, indeed, has been–by those looking to excuse indulgence in inappropriate things should give us pause and suggest that we should be careful.

    Well, this sure has been fun, but I kind of hope this one is winding down. I can’t imagine that there’s much left to say here, and I think I’ve absorbed about as much love as I can take for one day…

    Cheers!

  52. Jamie, just to repeat an earlier question, since I meant it in complete sincerity:

    What do you think of Star Wars?

  53. Dan E.,

    #35,

    Think of Gotham like the Old Testament, where heroes do unthinkable things in the name of a greater good. In the OT, darkness is fought with darkness all the time.

    Really? Where? What are the examples? “All the time?”

  54. Jamie, you think this one is winding down? God bless! This is the internet, and you’re calling a geek-fantasy film evil. I wouldn’t be surprised if this thread had a hundred more comments in it.

    I’d also note that Bloom’s Closing of… discussion is widely disputed and not a reference that I’d use to establish any kind of consensus or solid ground.

  55. Steve Evans says:

    Yeah, I think this thread is just getting going, Jaime. I think it’s a terribly interesting discussion overall, even if I think in this case you are dead wrong in your view of DK. If you had been talking about Wanted, for example, I’d be right there with you.

  56. Steve Evans says:

    PS – Jamie, have you seen any of the Saw films? I ask only because if you have then your comparisons to DK would seem truly out-of-whack; Saw is a pretty frequent object for comparison whenever one wants to talk about “torture porn,” but the two films are extremely different.

  57. Jamie H, don’t get discouraged — reviewing any movie from a gospel perspective is likely to get you panned.

    Personally, I never liked the darkness of the Batman series, and the trailers of “Dark Knight” with the Joker reveling in his evilness just don’t do it for me. I won’t be seeing this movie, and your review is part of the reason why.

  58. Geoff, quite right — including sometimes reviewing our own church movies!

  59. Steve Evans says:

    One more PS, for the road — thanks again to Jamie for being such a good sport and engaging the discussion, and for being so nice with the people who have disagreed with him. Although we’re clearly not all Dark Knight fans, at least the conversation has been interesting.

  60. Geoff B., true enough. I remember people being slammed both for liking States of Grace from a gospel perspective and for hating the same film from a different gospel perspective. The trouble with this sort of discussion is that there are so many very different gospel perspectives on art!

  61. and, even if it was wrong, the review was exceptionally well written. :)

  62. Although this certainly isn’t the post’s intent, I think it’s kind of awe-inspiring that a comic book movie has generated these kinds of serious discussions, here and in other contexts.

  63. Fwiw, three of my sons collectively have seen the movie 5 times already. One of them is studying drama in college (and is a very good actor); one of them is studying to teach high school English and Drama. Their reaction to Ledger’s performance was that it was “astounding”. I asked if their perception was influenced by his death, and the actor said, “I thought it would be, but it didn’t register while watching the movie. It was one of the best pure performances I have ever seen. It was brilliant, Pops.”

  64. It was a great performance. Utterly mesmerizing, horrifying and amusing all in one.

  65. Disclaimer: I adore Batman. Fangirl squee blah blah blah. I’ll drag my hub as soon as I can find a babysitter.

    Ray #11:

    the concept of flawed anti-hero is all fine and good, but why have all of our heroes been reduced to this? Why is it forbidden to tell stories about idealized heroes to-day?

    Perhaps we just live in a more realistic age, when people want a hero with whom they actually can relate

    As it was defined for me in my creative writing program, the hero is a protagonist with one fatal flaw; the anti-hero is one with one redeeming quality.

    I think the anti-hero gives us a sense of hope that if he can be redeemed even a little bit, then that is its own triumph, aside from whatever good he does while climbing up the moral ladder. I per-sonally get tired of the white hat not killing the villain when he has the chance and turning his back. It’s really stupid when you stop and think about it.

    Seth #12:

    I’ve never liked Superman all that much. He seems like an intellectually lazy de-vice for moral absolutists who wish that being good didn’t require quite so much actual thought.

    Agreed, and though I have never heard Superman’s schtick described as quote, Seth, I agree with that too.

    My problem with Superman v Batman (since I was a wee lass) is that Superman has supernatural powers and Batman’s a regular (albeit it rich) dude with a killer workout and the budget for gadgetry. Batman’s motivated from somewhere deep within him and Superman is society’s gadget.

    Steve #29:

    I love Batman, and it was Tim Burton’s dark vision that introduced me to the world of vigilantism and anti-heroes.

    Agreed.

    what were you expecting? This is Batman

    Indeed.

  66. After reflecting on it, I think the last act of Dark Night was a complete failure. For a story that tries to base its plot in a measure of realism, the genesis and arch of the new foe is simply stupid, overly graphic (the entire look of him is not only unreal it is totally ridiculous). Further, the plot contrivances are completely ham-fisted.

    The most disturbing portions of the film deal with representations of psychopathy. Psychopathy is unsettling because it defies what we generally view as human. How we deal with psychopathy is an interesting question, though I don’t think the movie successfully gets at it. It conflates chaos with the inability to empathize.

  67. Hi Jaime,

    I too would like to applaud you on the way you are leading this thread. Bravo to the blogger who can both dish it and take it, . . . all while keeping his cool! Thanks.

    Now, . . . I’d like to take you to school again with your usage of modernism :) The specific reason why your original references to modernism seemed somewhat flawed was the persistent relationship you were drawing between modernism and a supposed brand of relativism or subjectivity. Modernism is typically generalized by a craving for objectivity not subjectivity, and it is typically associated with the search for universal truths (sounds a bit like Mormonism, eh?) :)

    In any case, I completely agree with your sentiment about the need to be careful when trying to make judgments about these types of things. That bears a strong relation with my original post, #40. The fact that Satan is far more subtle than he is frequently portrayed is incredibly problematic. I actually find it bothersome sometimes, for fear that we are teaching our children how easy it is to make the the correct decisions as long as they pray, go to church, and read the scriptures. The point being that when faced with evil and darkness the correct decision is rarely clear (if it was would this life be a “test”?). We perceive “gray,” whether we admit it exists or not. If you’re only looking for black and white you will not only live in an incredibly dull world, but you will be frequently stumped by the opportunities and moral dilemmas that present themselves to you.

    Familiarizing ourselves with our own complexities, and carefully exploring them, should be part of our own spiritual education. That’s what great art frequently does: it explores. Although I haven’t seen the film yet, I have an inkling that it does exactly what Thomas Parkin suggests it does in #39:

    “This movie was NOT a celebration of what Harold Bloom calls “our augmenting darkness”, but a condemnation of it – I can’t off the top of my head recall any movie that is so thorough in its condemnation of our society as this one.”

  68. A few more comments:

    — I read a mainstream media review of TDK sometime today where the reviewer said, in so many words, “The Joker is Satan, doing his best to draw out the worst of everyone and bring them all down to destruction.” Besides being a brilliant insight (particularly in a secular news source), it also made me wonder what the temple film would be like with Heath Ledger playing Satan. Betcha no one would fall asleep during that part of the endowment.

    — Many, if not most, of the OT ‘heroes’ have significant weaknesses and often are morally flawed. Isaac and Jacob make major mistakes. Jacob’s sons — the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel! — sell their younger brother into slavery; Reuben has sex with his father’s concubine, while Judah fathers twins upon his daughter-in-law, whom he thinks is a prostitute. Many of the judges of Israel are likewise suspect, cf. Sampson. And then we get to the first three kings of Israel: Saul, David, Solomon. All three are chosen of God; all three are great heroes of Israel; all three fall due to their own sins.

    — Meanwhile, in the Book of Mormon, Nephi kills a drunk and unconscious Laban to get the brass plates (“better that one man should perish…”), which is about as complex a moral situation as you could ask for (short of Abraham’s having to offer Isaac as a sacrifice). We also have Omni, who notes that he has “fought much with the sword to preserve my people…But behold, I of myself am a wicked man.” (Omni 1:2)

    — Even Captain Moroni, whom Mormon holds up as a great example (and after whom he names his own son), reaches a point in his wars against Nephite dissenters and Lamanites to threaten them with invasion and genocide (cf. Alma 54:9-13).

    In short, there are plenty of morally complex and flawed heroes in the scriptures — many of whom could well be called “dark knights.” ..bruce..

  69. Steve Evans says:

    J., I disagree with you re: the final act. I do think there was too much going on, but the new villain was essential to the theme and to the establishment of what the Joker’s real danger was. So, thematically essential but a bit ham-fisted and overcomplicated, sure. But you are overstating things a bit by calling it a complete failure.

  70. I haven’t even seen it–and I agree with, J..

  71. And I agree with Jack.

  72. Hmm… well, Batman has always been the dark hero.

    What you are pointing out is why I prefer Superman’s more rosy imaging of morality.

    Putting aside comic book heros though you do point out something that has been going on for a long time now. Movies made for adults are little more than candy bars made from violence, sex, and moral relativism.

    I think the last really good movie, one that I saw and thought “This is going to be a classic” was The Incredibles. Which I think is in many ways far mature then almost any of the movies targeted towards adults.

    There have been a few others, but they are almost all adaptations of older works. Pride and Prejudice, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings. Even most of those I can tell Hollywood has attempted to make them Darker and Edgier- as if they weren’t already.

    It’s not even the shades of gray aspect that bothers me- I mean Casablanca has lots of gray- the difference is that in those older shades of gray movies the characters at least aspire to some morality- even if they fail. These new movies seem to argue that even trying to be moral is a sign of foolishness.

    I don’t know, I like to be more optimistic and hope for a cycle of renewal of or nation’s moral roots. I don’t think it’s a lost cause just yet.

  73. Steve Evans says:

    Cicero, your last sentence is, I believe, the ultimate message of The Dark Knight.

  74. Eric Russell says:

    Strangely enough, The Dark Knight wasn’t even the scariest movie to come out this weekend. The Joker has nothing on Pierce Brosnan’s voice.

  75. If it were true, the last thirty years of Hollywood would have made us all perfect by now!

    I think I figured out the problem, here. You and I go to movies for completely different reasons, Jamie. I think you’re expecting way too much from your entertainment dollar.

  76. Eric Russell says:

    By the same token, if “dark” themes and violence desensitize and deprave us, then the last thirty years of Hollywood would have made us all evil by now. Alas, violent crime rates are falling.

  77. C’mon, guys, if The Dark Knight had been released 10 or 20 years ago, would we be reacting the same way? Do you really think this increased desensitization is a good thing?

    I’ve not seen the movie yet and I suspect most readers haven’t been able to yet. It’s too bad these sorts of discussions couldn’t wait until most of us have seen it. C’est la vie I guess.

    Having said that though I’m not sure I buy the idea of desensitization. Movies in the 70’s were often much worse. With a lot more evil. Anyone remember China Town and the ending? Ugh. Tell me that ending didn’t hit you hard.

    If anything there has the last 10 years been an inexorable move to toning down all R-rated films. The 70’s and 80’s were the heyday of R-rated film. Often with very disturbing subjects. Now it has been marginalized by the studios.

    As for 10 years ago. Anyone remember Fight Club or earlier Pulp Fiction?

  78. Steve Evans says:

    “C’mon, guys, if The Dark Knight had been released 10 or 20 years ago, would we be reacting the same way?”

    Actually I believe the answer is yes.

  79. I have not seen it, maybe I will. The discussion sort of reminds me of the first verse in David Crosby’s and Phil Collins’ song Hero:

    It was one of those great stories that you can’t put down at night
    The hero knew what he had to do and he wasn’t afraid to fight
    The villain goes to jail while the hero goes free
    I wish it were that simple for me

  80. Ivan Wolfe says:

    I just saw Get Smart.

    What does that say about our moral character as a nation?

    Interestingly, I can’t bring myself to even try to answer that question. Going back to MCQ’s #75, I must go to movies for roughly the same reason he does.

  81. I liked it, and I think that SamR (#40) got the point of the movie, which was highlighted by the yin/yang presentation of Joker and Bat-Man in their scene together on the skyscraper, Joker, white-faced and updside down; Bat-Man black-faced and right side up.

    Then the camera rotates to align the audience with the Joker in a visual metaphor: we all start by identifying with the Bat-Man, the never-a-hair-out-of-place, always serious, rule-honoring, good guy; but the complete circle accounts for the Shadow, as well, the wild-haired, laughing, rule-unbound bad guy. The one can’t kill the other; the other won’t kill the one. The talk of a padded cell for both of them was a nice touch, I thought. In this regard, I like the line I heard attributed to a pscyhologist once who was commenting on the revelation of secret misdeeds of a prominent public figure: “The back is always as big as the front.” The movie demonstrates that teaching. Perhaps our reactions to the movie do the same.

    Psychologically, there are ways to weld ego and shadow together, but this isn’t a movie about the successful integration of the two, so instead, the movie visually presents the other prominent character as what can happen when the effort to unite them runs amok.

    While I would defend anyone’s right not to watch this (or any other) movie, I think there’s much to be gained from seeing it. We preach, after all, of a Man who descended below all things in order to lift us up.

  82. There are many films that are not good for us to watch. The Dark Knight is not one of them, it is a good yarn and nothing more than a basic adventure story. The bleeding hearts always look for moral codes and reasons in press articles, movies and music. Why can’t we just read, listen and watch something without someone kindly pointing out to us the moral dilemmas of a comic book hero.

  83. If you’re going to pan this movie, the way to do it is not to go looking for dangerous moral relativism (which absolutely does not exist in this movie any more than it does in your favorite episode of any random network cop show). No, if this movie is to be taken to task it should be for something it actually deserves: the appalling lack of believability in the crimes the Joker is able to pull off with no apparent effort whatsoever.

    He claims at one point (in a truly hilarious and show-stopping soliloquy) to be “not a planner,” and others repeatedly characterize him as “a mad dog” but the staggering scale of crimes that the Joker pulls off in this movie would take months of careful planning and a crew of hundreds, not to mention the complete cooperation of the entire police force and most of the citizenry.

    It’s a comic book story, so suspension of disbelief is part of the price of admission, but this storyline strains even the conventions of that genre.

    Despite that, it’s a pretty well executed movie, and worth seeing for Ledger’s performance alone, but it’s not particularly horrifying and whether you are a crime drama afficianado or a moralist looking for a scapegoat for the ills of civilation, this is not a movie you should take seriously.

  84. Thomas Parkin says:

    MCQ,

    I pretty strongly disagree, I think.

    This: “it’s not particularly horrifying” is a subjective response – it wasn’t mine. The thing I found most horrifying is the pervasive feeling of fearfulness at being good that permeates – of a society in which simple acts of … choosing the right, like telling the truth or allowing yourself to protect your family, can turn against you in awful ways. We perhaps live in a society where if you manage to stay clear of the mob and some of the worst business scandals you will not find yourself in that position. But, really, when someone says play this game or I’ll see you go down and I’ll take your family with you, that sends chills up and down me. I’ve seen enough to know that the world plays like that. What happens as simple morals – not lieing, cheating, or digging a pit for one’s neighbor – lose their authority is this: as the geography of corruption expands, we get a world where simple acts of goodness become increasingly dangerous to our livelihoods; if nothing else, our ability to live without fear of bad guys. The fearfulness of the Joker is a fear of something truly worse laying wait in a darker reality beyond but made possible by corruption.

    Beyond that …

    I think some scenes – I’m thinking of Batman’s interrogation of the Joker, are pretty viscerally horrifying, as well. There are several others which are definitely more than a little cringe-worthy. I can certainly understand why Jaime would cringe at them, revolt at them.

    The problem, I think, with Jamie’s responce is not overreaction to some really bleak stuff, it is that he imagines that since he didn’t like the movie because of the displeasure those scenes caused him that people who liked the movie must have felt a pleasure at those same scenes. It misunderstands why people enjoy authentic portrayals of “darkness” and moral ambiguity. Maybe a sadist would take some minor pleasure in this movie – but a real sadist has so much meatier stuff to sate them in this world. It doesn’t follow that the only reason to like this movie is because it resonates with one’s sadism, and that only a sadistic culture would “lap it up.” There _are_ movies – the Saw movies do come to mind – that contain little or nothing beyond an advocacy of sadism.

    As for suspension of disbelief. If you’re busy wondering how the Joker got all the bombs in exactly the right places at the right times, then your suspension needs some work. Those seem pretty much standard Joker fair, though. Did you read Scientific American’s appraisal of Batman? Looks like he wouldn’t be able to do the things he does, either. Ditto Superman. And Dr. Doom, too! I can see that a person can distance themseles from the film’s potential impact by saying, hey, the Joker couldn’t do that. I noted the tension in that hospital speech between his claim to not be a planner and his actual ability to carry out any plan. But, I think the broader point is that he has no real agenda beyond a desire to destroy.

    Probably about 1000 more words, but I have to get up in 3 hours.

    ~

  85. Eric Russell says:

    Thomas, if the Saw movies are an advocacy of sadism then zombie movies are all an advocacy of eating human flesh and vampire movies all an advocacy of drinking human blood.

  86. JimJiminy says:

    “Works of art are artificial, not natural; they are shaped according to the whims of their creator.”

    Wow. This statement, in my opinion, exhibits a gross misunderstanding of the creative process.

    I’m also unsure how you define modernism, because…well, that word you keep using, I do not think it means what you think it means. Thanks to those that have pointed our misinformed friend to proper sources.

    “[...] the assertion that meaning is malleable and subjective [...]”

    Now, you could maybe draw a parallel between this definition and aspects of POSTmodernism.

    Finally, can I just say that this discussion has me even more excited to see this movie? I personally love viewing artistic portrayals of the struggles of moral ambiguity.

  87. Thomas:

    I honestly can’t imagine what the horrifying part is. Batman repeatedly punches and hits a suspect during interrogation. Seen worse in NYPD blue. People who want to clean up the city are threatened with assassination. Seen worse in The Godfather. Pretty standard stuff.

    And let’s be clear about one other thing:

    There is not a single scene of physical torture in this movie. Not one. Anyone who calls this movie “Torture Porn” of any kind has no idea what those words actually mean.

    There are scenes where the good guys must choose between rescuing one person or another. There are scenes where people must choose whether to kill others in order to save themselves. Standard action movie tropes. Emotionally troubling? Ok. Intense and gripping? Sure. But not torture. Not remotely.

  88. Steve Evans says:

    MCQ, the horrifying part for me was the possibility that the Joker was right in saying, “I’m just ahead of the curve.”

  89. MikeInWeHo says:

    When did society start celebrating mental illness? I must have missed that.

  90. Steve: That was another great speech, and clearly, he was.

    Mike: I think Jamie is saying that the movie celebrates mental illness, not society, and he’s probably right about that to a certain extent. Batman and the Joker do what they do because of a type of mental illness. The movie is saying that it takes someone with a mental illness to really, really excel. And there is some truth to that.

  91. The movie is saying that it takes someone with a mental illness to really, really excel. And there is some truth to that.

    The Hypomanic Edge (great book) links success to a subset of bipolar disorder.

  92. I do not know if this thread still has legs, but I wanted to stick up for Jamie. I thought that a lot of the violence was unnecessary. By that, I mean that I think that the questions presented in the movie would be better treated by developing the characters more and killing a lot less people.

    Some of the posts have been extraordinarily long and hard to follow, either condemning or justifying the film. I would refer them to Moroni 7:14-17 (by the way, look for the humorous homonym in verse 15). If you felt like you left the movie with a firmer belief in Christ and a desire to do good, then I would say that you should watch the movie again and again. If you left the movie feeling degraded as I did, then I would avoid this and future Batman movies as long as they follow their current course.

    I won’t be recommending this movie, nor will I view similar Batman movies in the future. However, I also will not be picketing future releases or judging people who enjoy the films. I feel like I have been given the way to judge and this one was not for me.

    As a final thought, I did think the movie deserved an R-rating. I do not think it is appropriate for teenagers who are in all likelihood going to miss the message completely regardless of what you felt the message was. A 16-year old boy is going to see murder, mayhem and explosions.

    I should also say that I thought the movie was extremely well done and the acting was superb. It just was not for me.

  93. Years ago, the “New Yorker” film critic Pauline Kael caused an uproar when she wrote that Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” was “a fascist movie.” TIME magazine critic Richard Schickel then demonstrated that “Dirty Harry” was an ambiguous and tragic movie, more in the tradition of film noir, and definitely not deserving of the label “fascist.” It seems to me that “The Dark Knight” is in danger of similar misunderstanding, given the example of this post with its dislike of having liberal shibboleths challenged combined with the traditional Mormon aversion towards ambiguity. It’s healthy to be aware there is more than one way of looking at these things.

  94. Count me in with the “disagree with every word” camp. Sorry.

    Having said that, Jamie’s response to the movie reminds me of my own response to Fight Club, a movie I viscerally hated on several levels, most significantly a moral level. I saw it as nothing more than “fight porn,” and spilled my share of ink, er pixels, decrying what it all meant to “society.” Ha.

    Funny thing, I saw it on HBO last year for the first time since its original theatrical run. I kept waiting for the feeling of moral outrage to return. It never did. Instead, to my astonishment, I found myself actually enjoying the movie.

    Now I look back on my original reaction and wonder what happened? Have I changed since then? Has the world changed? Or did I just have a bad day?

    So I’ll be curious if you change your mind re The Dark Night if you ever see it again, especially years later.

  95. Matt, funny you should say that about Fight Club. Toward an LDS Cinema has a very long, detailed post deconstructing it vis a vis LDSs.

  96. R. W., again with the “liberal” thing. I don’t think too many people who see Allan Bloom as the last word in defining modernity would meet most definitions of “liberal.” I think you’re probably barking up the wrong tree here.

  97. Thomas Parkin says:

    I don’t think I should blog anymore. This ticked me off too much. It’s only a movie.

    Three more comments to get to 100.

    ~

  98. My father is famous among our family for his love of “happy ending” films like Harry met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and “Parent Trap”.

    He really does not want to be challendged at all by a film. I got him to watch “platoon” years ago and he hated it and was a annoyed that I recommended it. He said he couldn’t sleep that night. I was fascinated by it and used my sleepless night to help me understand and come to grips with the social turmoil caused by the Vietnam War in this country not having been in Nam myself.

    Challenging films such as DK or others can help us explore and understand the intense moral dilemmas and life lessons of our existence without having to actually experience everything ourselves.

    Our theology puts us on earth to be tested, to learn about humanity and moral choice on our own without a constant Divine presence, and, having done all this, to crawl on our knees back to salvation through Christ.

    Those who snootily avoid this in the name of virtuous, good-report stories run the risk of short-changing the purposes of this short probation on earth in order to get through life as nicely and quickly as possible.

    And maybe that’s fine, or maybe there are just some people who are determined to drink deeply of the essence of the life God has created for us without all the risk management. Either way, how we live our life is our choice–and it is what it is. Wow, now that’s relativism!

    BTW, thanks, SAM#40–you nailed it.

  99. Having made over $300 million in the U.S. alone I would hardly consider Indiana Jones a failure.

  100. MikeInWeHo says:

    Pete refused to see Dark Knight yesterday, so it was Mamma Mia instead. Wonder if we could get 100+ comments if I wrote a scathing critique of that film’s moral universe?

  101. Jamie H says:

    Methinks the bloggernacle doth protest too much!

    I wasn’t planning on wading into this bloody fray again, but some of these comments cry out for perspective. I’ve admitted from the first that my review is idiosyncratic, but some of the criticism that’s popped up here is just stubborn, defensive, and, dare I say, ever-so-slightly less than perfectly charitable?

    To seize on perhaps the dominant train of thought over the last half of this thread, my thesis that The Dark Knight’s ethical blathering is skewed too far out of acceptable decency appears to be not only debatable but–surprise!–excatly wrong. It turns out, apparently, that this popular Hollywood movie is in fact a Powerful Spiritual Metaphor; no, not only that, but a Crucial Part Of Our Mortal Mission.

    Dang! All those years I spent dealing with the tainted nature of humanity with service, fasting, and prayer, when I really should have been watching Batman! Doubtless I’ll have to answer for this at the pearly gates someday. :)

    At any rate, I thought I might help deflate some of the intensity of the backlash by sharing something I added to my own blog last night:

    UPDATE: 90 responses later, I’m curled up in a corner, licking my wounds. The comedian (joker?) Eric Snider did a bit on his site about faking a bad review of the movie on Rotten Tomatoes, which earned him a world of invective. Well, I’m just flabbergasted. Snider ended his experiment with this lesson:

    I guess you can add that to your list of things that shouldn’t be treated lightly:

    – God
    – National tragedies
    – The Holocaust
    – Reviews of Batman movies

    No. Flippin’. Joke.

    Good thing nobody actually wrote a bad review. Boy, a guy like that would have to be crazy, which is odd since, if he were crazy, you’d think he’d be more likely to enjoy the film…

    Anyway, back to nursing these bruised ribs and working up the strength to crawl to the emergency room. Anybody got an ice pack?

  102. Jamie H says:

    I suppose I’ll try to keep my heresy in check and not blaspheme against The Cult of the Holy Bat again. :)

  103. Pete refused to see Dark Knight yesterday, so it was Mamma Mia instead.

    Way to reinforce stereotypes Mike ;)

  104. It’s not really Batman Jamie, I think people actually believe this one is a pretty great movie. Feel free to say whatever you want about the earlier movies.

  105. DoubleL says:

    The majority of reviews for this movie are in a position of liking it, and from the fact that it is the number one opening for a movie and it will continue to make more money: people like the movie (mormon and not). So are you surprised, Jamie H, that people would disagree and are you again surprised that in the Bloggernacle they would voice that disagreement? I think you should’ve guessed that you would get this kind of feedback…

  106. Jamie H., you are brilliant, and in no uncertain terms, my hero…

  107. JNS #96

    I think you’re being unfair to Jamie. He did not call Bloom the “last word in defining modernity”. He cited Bloom as *an* authoritative voice in defining modernism.

  108. It’s interesting to see the “it’s only a movie” comments and the “it helps me explore my moral universe” comments both marshalled against the OP.

  109. I suppose I’ll try to keep my heresy in check and not blaspheme against The Cult of the Holy Bat again.

    See that you don’t!!!

  110. KLC, I guess Bloom is seen as an authoritative voice by his partisans among the Straussians; from other positions, which constitute a majority among people who study this stuff, he and the other Straussians are seen as more than a bit eccentric. But the comment you’re discussing doesn’t really hinge on this point. I was just suggesting that few people other than fairly serious and entrenched conservatives would offer Bloom as an authority at all; R.W. is clearly off track in characterizing this post as a liberal assault on the movie in question.

  111. Really fascinating series of comments. Didn’t see the movie over the weekend. I didn’t plan ahead and the lines were too long, so I took my wife to Hellboy II instead.

    There is a point in that much lighter movie, liberally sprinkled with humor, where Hellboy’s wife/girlfriend (I’m not entirely sure) has to make a huge decision with obvious moral ambiguity. Bear in mind that Hellboy, as I understand, is the spawn of Satan, sent to bring about the ultimate destruction of humanity, but because of being raised by a kindly professorial father figure, has become a defender of mankind against evil. Selma Blair has to decide whether or not Hellboy is to live to fight evil for a short while, at the same time being told in no uncertain terms that he will play a part in the eventual destruction of mankind by evil. She chooses to save him, which leads to a satisfactory conclusion to the current crisis, but that “Spawn of Satan/Destroyer of Mankind” thing is still out there.

    I think that Jamie was getting at a similar thing with The Dark Knight. What are we willing to tolerate in the short term to satisfy what we perceive to be the higher, long-term goal? What sacrifices need to be made for expediency that might someday come back to haunt us later? Will the right choice now really turn out to be the right choice ten years down the road?

    But since I haven’t seen Batman yet, I’ll have to defer any direct comments.

  112. Jamie:

    I think you misunderstand the reaction to your post. I guess I can speak only for myself, but I was not trying to be a defender of all things Batman, nor to suggest it was necessary to our earthly mission, and I hope that I was not uncharitable. I actually assume that you are brilliant and gifted otherwise you would not be guest-blogging here (In my experience, all guest-bloggers at BCC are far more intellectually gifted than the permabloggers, for example).

    I think your review was interesting, and got me thinking about the movie more seriously than I otherwise would have. I was astonished that someone would see it the way you did, and was just trying to give you my perspective on it. Hopefully, you didn’t take it personally. Thanks for your review.

  113. Batman has always been my favorite superhero. No special physical gifts, just money, gadgets, and grit.

    I loved the first Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman, but none of the rest. I think Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is the best superhero movie ever, partly because I’m partial to origin stories, and this is the best superhero origin story ever.

    And this new Batman, The Dark Knight, it’s magnificent, really it is. A masterpiece of film making.

    But while I enjoy visiting, I don’t want to, I CAN’T live in the darkness. I love the dark, Se7en is the best thriller I’ve ever seen. But give me something, I need a beacon, a shining light, a Bat Signal. I can deal with regret, with anger, even revenge, from my hero. Regular humans like Harvey Dent, they can suffer moral ambiguity, they can be Hamlet, but not my Batman. You can be a Dark Knight and keep your moral compass.

    I allow that terrorism has changed the world, and that the Joker represents terrorists. But this is BATMAN we’re talking about, not Oliver North, not George W, not freaking Dick Cheney. BATMAN. Batman does not torture. And if you don’t think dropping someone off a ledge to break his legs, or beating a prisoner up in the interrogation room is torture, um, really? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torture

    Heath Ledger is amazing, really outstanding, right up there with Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter villain-wise. The movie generally–amazing. Props.

    But don’t take my Batman away from me. I need him. I need him the way he was.

  114. dug, Batman’s been a torturer at least since Frank Miller got his hands on him back in the 1980s.

    MCQ, yeah, we permabloggers do tend to be idiots.

  115. Jamie, I agree with all you’ve said 100%. I loved the first Batman Begins and was thrilled to go see the second installment. Little did I know that my very soul would be wounded from sitting through the darkest most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen. Was it well acted? Amazingly. Well made? Incredible. Plot complicated and unexpected? Yes. Stunts and effects believable? Yes. Was it worth the overwhelming evil feeling that I just couldn’t shake? NO. I wanted to walk out so many times but I just made myself stay because I thought there has to be some kind of redemption, there has to be. Nope, nada.

    And I’m not as nice as you Jamie so I will take people to task, those who did like it are seriously desensitized.

  116. Steve Evans says:

    Eliza, I want to feel outrage at your last sentence, but for some reason just can’t muster any feelings at all.

  117. Steve #116, now that was funny.

  118. I loved the movie because of its inherent quest for goodness that existed above the tyranny throughout. The most disturbing thing to me was the audience reaction – laughter – especially during the Joker’s most sadistic moments. I read that as either a sad reflection on the audience (they love sadistic killers) or the audience simply not knowing how to respond at such gross indifference for life (the only choices being to laugh or cry).

  119. yeah, dug, what’s new about that? My comment excluded such things from the definition of torture because Batman has always beat people up. I’m seriously having a hard time understanding where people are coming from who suggest that this movie represents a dramatic change in tactics or behavior for Batman. It simply doesn’t show that, unless I’m missing something completely.

    JNS, my comment was directed at the consistent high quality of the guest-bloggers. No insult to the permabloggers was intended or should be inferred.

    I’m willing to believe that you had an overwhelming feeling of evil from this movie and saw no redeeming quality in it, but I sure would like to understand the source of such feelings, because neither I nor my 14 yr old son and his friends felt the same way.

    Can you be more specific as to why you felt this way? As for redemption, what about the fact that Batman is willing to reveal his identity to stop the killing? What about the fact that he sacrifices his reputation for the good of the citizens and takes the rap for Dent’s behavior? Is that not a noble and redemptive act?

    What about the fact that the Joker turn out to be wrong, that the people on the boats, even the convicts, refuse to kill each other to save themselves? (Jamie is very dismissive of this, but gives no reasonwhy?) Isn’t it the ultimate expression of innate goodness overcoming a capacity for evil? You can’t make a statement that there is no redemption in the movie and make it true only because you choose to ignore all evidence to the contrary.

  120. gma, no, the Joker’s speeches, while depraved, are in fact very funny. I laughed hard during the “I’m not a planner” speech because the words and the delivery are extremely funny. It’s dark humor, certainly, but it is humor.

  121. Ivan Wolfe says:

    Hey – I don’t agree with Jaime H.’s read of Batman, though I do agree (perhaps) with his overall point about the darkness of society.

    Overall, though, it was a good post and got some decent conversation going. Along with others, I applaud Jaime for his thoughtfulness. I think he’s dead wrong on many levels, but I don’t think he’s stupid or unthinking. He’s clearly put a lot of thought into the issue.

    So don’t take the few attacks personally. For the most part, it’s been a fascinating discussion.

    Except comment #116, which makes me so angry I could just break things (just kidding Steve!)

  122. Ivan Wolfe says:

    Batman does not torture.

    and

    Batman’s been a torturer at least since Frank Miller got his hands on him back in the 1980s.

    Batman’s been a torturer since Bob Kane and Bill Finger created him back in the 30s. Seriously – go read the Batman archives from DC. A lot of it was “off panel” – but Batman tortured quite a bit. He (inadvertently) killed and (deliberately) injured criminals without a care.

    If you think the Adam West TV series is Batman, you’ve got a very distorted picture. Since the 30s, Batman’s been dark and rough. Adam West’s TV show was an aberration.

  123. Steve Evans says:

    Ivan, my numbed senses and dead spirit are unable to generate enough will to give you anything resembling a witty rejoinder.

    I agree with your comment, though, about Jamie’s post. I already mentioned the movie Wanted a couple of times; here’s another review of that movie (warning: language) which is more in line with what Jamie is, I think, trying to decry. There exists out there some moral peril if we start loving violence.

  124. Ivan, I agree; the reason I only specifically mention the Frank Miller iteration is that it’s so bleak as to be pretty indisputable…

  125. JNS, I have had no training in theories or definitions of modernity and I have no idea what Harold Bloom’s reputation is among those that do have such training so I defer to you on that. But the comments you made don’t really hinge on my point.

    You appeared to include the OP as part of a group that considers Bloom to be the “last word in defining modernity”. But he said no such thing.

    After being patted on head and told he knew nothing about the subject by several commenters he offered Bloom as evidence that his comments about modernity were not something he had dreamed up while writing this post.

    It wasn’t a comment about the quality or the standing of Bloom in the modernity community, it wasn’t a comment about Bloom’s standing in the OP’s own mind. It was only meant to illustrate prior art as my patent lawyer friends say.

  126. Kevin Barney says:

    On Sunday I was walking down the hall at church when I overheard a couple of priests talking about TDK. I mentioned to them that I had seen it twice, and this one priest gets this amazed smile on his face and gives me a huge high-five. I think maybe they couldn’t process at first that an adult at church would be so into that movie…

  127. Eric Russell says:

    I laughed a lot at the Joker. I laughed especially hard at that scene in the beginning when he suddenly, effortlessly impales a guy with a pencil.

    The difference in attitudes I think has less to do with the love of sadistic killers than one’s reaction to film. I’ve seen enough movies that I don’t respond to them in as much of a visceral level as perhaps the occasional movie-goer may. Where someone else sees “darkness” I see a collection of screenwriting decisions, directing decisions, acting decisions, etc. I am not laughing at sadism itself but rather at the director’s gumption in his framing of the scene.

  128. I think Harold Bloom and Allan Bloom are being confused here.

  129. KLC, I think we’re talking past each other. (Justin is right; Allan Bloom is at issue here, not Harold.) The “last word in defining modernity” line was just rhetoric; the whole point is just that Jamie isn’t a liberal, as R. W. repeatedly suggests. So the comment was about including Jamie in the group of people who would invoke Bloom to settle any issue, almost all of whom are quite thoroughly conservative. This isn’t meant as any kind of criticism; I have no objection to Jamie being a conservative.

    Jamie does invoke Bloom as providing “pretty solid ground” for his general position in this post. That’s a claim that I have disputed — simply because Bloom is only solid ground for a very narrow range of people. Invoking Bloom is a better way to start an argument than to finish one; he’s not solid ground, but rather a battleground…

  130. You’re right, I mixed up my Blooms.

    I think you’re also right that we’re talking past each other. When I first read your “last word in defining modernity” comment it sounded pretty snarky, ie, “those [rubes] who think Bloom is the last word in defining modernity.”

    I’ve gone back and reread and the obvious snark I saw before was not nearly in such full bloom…

    My apologies.

  131. Thomas Parkin says:

    Having just seen this amazing film a shocking second time (how could I abuse myself so?), I find I’ve got some additional rejoinders.

    MCQ #87

    “Batman repeatedly punches and hits a suspect during interrogation. Seen worse in NYPD blue. People who want to clean up the city are threatened with assassination. Seen worse in The Godfather. Pretty standard stuff.”

    How do suppose Jamie feels about the Godfather and NYPD Blue? Batman goes overboard with the Joker, and that is the whole point of that interrogation scene. I’ve never seen NYPD Blue, but I can almost guarantee that level of violence wouldn’t be seen on netowrk TV, even now. As for the Godfather – the evil in that movie is more contained.

    Jamie,
    “It turns out, apparently, that this popular Hollywood movie is in fact a Powerful Spiritual Metaphor; no, not only that, but a Crucial Part Of Our Mortal Mission. Dang! All those years I spent dealing with the tainted nature of humanity with service, fasting, and prayer, when I really should have been watching Batman!”

    I think you’re misreading the opposition you’re facing. Is it on purpose?

    No one is claiming that watching any movie is essential moral stuff. Some of things you’re mentioning ARE neccesary. The frustration I feel comes from living my whole life with saints, good and smart people, like you, who I love, who share your basic illiteracy about the functions of good art. And this movie is definitely good art.

    How do you feel about King Lear? (Not that TDK is THAT good – but the point stands, the best art contains often troubling depictions of moral ambiguity as well as out and out evil.) I strongly recommend this essay by Orson Scott Card, fellow conservative* and faithful member, on evil in art (recently linked by Dave Banack over at T&S):

    http://www.nauvoo.com/library/card-talk.html

    *(I certainly consider myself conservative by BCC standards, and faithful by any standard.)

    If I have a moral concern, it is that a lifetime of My Friend Flicka has not prepared anyone for living in an evil world. One of the main functions of great art is that it has an expansive effect on the totality of our being – on our soul. Alma says this is one the ways we recognize goodness, that it has an ‘expansive’ effect on us. And is why Jospeh said that our mind “must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss.” If you lose the companionship of the Holy Spirit this easily, then are you really fit to leave your apartment and go out into a world like the one ours is becoming?

    The great thing about TDK is that engages one’s heart and head deeply in a consideration of good and evil. But a person can’t, by definition, see more than they are prepared to see.

    Eliza,
    “And I’m not as nice as you Jamie so I will take people to task, those who did like it are seriously desensitized.”

    Unlike Steve, I’m still rather passionate. I’m not nearly as nice online as I am in person, or that I’d like to be online – because I’ve been at this a long time and was schooled in a school that told me if you can’t stand the heat you should stay out of the kitchen. I’m trying to ameliorate this tendancy in myself, and so … I hope that you will understand that I beleive that you are a very good person, and that your tender feelings do you credit, when I tell you that this is simply ignorant on its face. When one can look the devil in his face and retain those tender feelings, then one has gotten somewhere. In the meantime, caution is probably called for – and I wouldn’t recommend this movie universally.

    MCQ,
    “Batman has always beat people up”

    On second viewing, I stand by my statement that the ‘beating up’ in this movie is somehow more visceral. Even the sound was produced in such a way as to highten the force of it. Look at the way Gordon recoils from it. I think recoiling is a good responce. I don’t mind that a person would decide this is more than they want to be subjected to, and leave the movie. I do mind that a person decides that aversion to be a comment on the moral depth of the movie.

    “I mixed up my Blooms.”

    I was the first person to use Harold, and Jamie used Allan’s book _The Closing of the American Mind_ as a point in his argument. Both Blooms are strong proponents of traditional literature’s ability to educate us. Harold is mostly a-political in that he doesn’t talk much about politics. He has had some very pointed things to say about Bush. Allan was a student of Leo Strauss: who many people consider the orginal “neo-conservative.” He was an aesthete. He fascinated me for a while. The details of his life were written into the novel _Ravelstein_ by his friend Saul Bellow. I don’t know what think of TCotAM – but love his long introduction to his book _Love and Friendship_: a dazzling condemnation of contemporary sexual morals (in spite of his own homosexuality).

    Whew!

    ~

  132. I’ve enjoyed this discussion so much I’m thinking about a repeat viewing. My wife would rather go see Mama Mia, but I may be able to talk her into it.

  133. MCQ,
    “Batman has always beat people up”

    He dropped a mob boss from the second floor of a building to the street below, and you could hear the bones break when he hit. He did this to extract information. This is not hanging someone out of a window and pulling them back in.

  134. Dug, I’d second the comments suggesting you check out more Batman. Not just the graphic novels since Frank Miller’s masterpiece. Look at the early Batman prior to the censor board starting the comic code to limit violence. The early Batman even carried a gun.

  135. Yeah dug. And if you always pull them back in, you’re not likely to get much information. You have to have dropped someone at least once. And, you know, if you have to drop at least one person, a mob boss played by Eric Roberts is a great choice.

  136. Ivan Wolfe says:

    Heck, in the very first Batman adventure ever, he allows a villain to drop into a vat of acid, and all he says is “a fitting end for his kind.”

    I’d say dropping him from a two story window is a step or two up from that.

  137. How much our reaction to this movie is conditioned by the war in Iraq will indicate how well the label “liberal” fits. And in my humble opinion, it chaps my a$$ just as much to be told by a liberal (like critics David Denby and David Ehrenstein) that “The Dark Knight” is yucky as it does to be told by a conservative that the Harry Potter books are wicked (and I don’t even like Harry Potter.)

  138. Stephanie says:

    I found this review quite humorous. It gains hilarity when you read it aloud. My husband quite enjoyed it. Especially the underlying assumptions that modernism and moral relativity are evil.

    I’m not overly familiar with the comic book Batman, or even any of the more recent incarnations in film, so I don’t know if what they have done with Batman in the latest two films is new or different, but I think it’s so interesting. I love the way that Bruce Wayne has this ridiculous public image and that he is willing to appear so ridiculous to the general public so that no one would ever suspect that he is Batman. I would say that this is a sacrifice. This is taken to the next level when he is even willing to sacrifice Batman’s image to protect Harvey Dent, because he believes it is for the greater good. All this self-sacrifice doesn’t make him seem like all that much of a dark, twisted hero to me.

    I also find the original poster’s question about why we can’t have idealized heroes anymore to be quite humorous. Ideal heroes do not exist naturally, and thus they must undergo the process of idealization. Idealized heroes are unsatisfying because in the process of idealizing them, we take away everything that makes them real and makes us able to relate to them. Most people are not interested in stories about flat, one-sided characters. Most of us got over those when we moved out of the fairytale phase of our lives.

  139. I think the strength of the negative reaction comes mainly because Jamie simply didn’t understand the movie. There’s nothing wrong with that — not everyone gets every work of art — but reviewing movies one doesn’t understand can be a perilous pastime.

    I’ll give a couple of examples of where he missed the point.

    The Joker’s insistence that “there are no rules” goes unchallenged.

    It’s constantly challenged. That’s the central theme of the movie: is the Joker right when he says “there are no rules,” or are there rules? The movie clearly answers “Yes, there are rules.” Sometimes we may break them out of fear or anger, but there are rules, and that’s a good thing.

    Others who have seen The Dark Knight might protest that there are some scenes of nobility, of sacrifice. I object that most of these, in context, are hardly laudatory. The scene with the two boats, for example, was not only too little and too late to redeem a movie that should be far too depressing for a summer blockbuster, but stuck out like a sore thumb, so badly did it fit in this film. Clearly, the makers of the movie realized how sinister it was and wanted to throw us a bone. But no dice.

    The ferry boats were integral to the movie’s theme. Was the Joker right? Would ordinary people murder people who’d done them no harm in order to save themselves? Or would they obey the “rules” of civilized society? The movie’s answer is that the Joker was wrong; the people obeyed the rules.

  140. We should be disturbed that our “heroes” continue to get “darker” and “darker” as time goes by. At what point do these so called “heroes” become villains? What is a villain if not one who does bad things? If a “hero” does bad things, does he not in effect become a “villain?” The greater good is not served by villainous acts. It never has, and it never will.

  141. #138 – Just to follow up on Stephanie’s comment, she nailed why I reacted so negatively to the concept of idealized of heroes with the following:

    “Idealized heroes are unsatisfying because in the process of idealizing them, we take away everything that makes them real and makes us able to relate to them.”

    One of my pet peeves within Christianity is what has been done to Jesus, the man, in order to emphasize Jesus, the Christ. In most modern Christian constructs, the mortal has been completely lost in the God. My wife laughs at my reaction to “little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” (Away in a Manger”), but it epitomizes this neutering of the man that I sense in most depictions of him.

    I read the Gospels and see a very complicated person. A God made man who had to grow from grace to grace – who (according to our modern understanding of accountability) could have been a rambunctious, difficult, headstrong toddler and/or young child without ever sinning but gets painted as a docile angel – who has had all humanity air brushed away to create what some see as an ideal.

    That’s not my ideal of a Redeemer. I want a Savior who knows anger and pain and frustration and fear – who cried and fussed as a baby – who made mistakes and learned from those mistakes – who argued once or twice with his parents. In fact, that is the person I see when I read the Gospels, not some sanitized picture of a false idea of perfection. I want to worship a God become MAN, not a God become earthly angel.

    Again, I have not seen the movie yet, but Stephanie pinpointed my biggest problem with the review – the longing for idealized heroes.

  142. #140 – “If a “hero” does bad things, does he not in effect become a “villain?” The greater good is not served by villainous acts. It never has, and it never will.”

    Perspective is everything there, Dan. Talk with Laban; he might agree with you.

  143. DoubleL says:

    Ray-
    You should read Lamb by Christopher Moore. Although it may be a bit much for the average Christian it is Jesus life that we don’t see in the Bible. If you are able to take humor and satire then it is a great read (warning: Jesus has a potty mouth in the book). But it paints him as a guy that had to learn to be what he became, not just born that way. It made him more real to me, and I grew spiritually (some who may have read might think me the most desinsitized of all but it is what it is).

  144. Ray,

    Killing someone in and of itself is not a “bad” thing. For one, Nephi didn’t make it a continual practice of it. For two, only the Lord through his Spirit made Nephi even consider such an act. The use of the beheading of Laban as a “bad” thing does not justify anyone else in doing likewise.

    And if we are to liken the situation regarding Laban, consider that Batman does not really need to kill the Joker (or any of his minions) in order to save an entire nation. If you are looking for perspective, then you’ve got it. There is a vast difference between the situation with Laban and that of Batman. Furthermore, the Joker is a highly implausible character, utterly fictitious, and not one you see in any situation that any regular (or even superhero) person will actually ever see. See, the Joker supposedly does what he does for no purpose at all, simply nihilistic. I know few people in this world that are given such power as the implausible Joker has that are nihilistic. If someone resorts to the use of violence in the real world, it is usually done for a purpose, or with some plan in mind. Even Bin Laden. He had his reasons. He thought it through. As such, since they do use reason, they are reasonable. The character of the Joker is unreasonable and fake.

    I love stories of heroes and superheroes, but I am truly troubled by how dark we are making them become. Must they really create some ugly monster that goes around killing mass quantities of people in order to “save” them as we will be witnessing in next year’s “Watchmen?” What kind of “good guys” are these? They are not good guys! They are evil. They are bad. They are “dark.”

  145. We should be disturbed that our “heroes” continue to get “darker” and “darker” as time goes by.

    If you’d read many previous comments, you’d know that Batman has not become “darker” over time. Too many people think of the horrible Adam West series when they think of Batman, but it’s tone is nothing like the comics of twenty years earlier. Batman is not “darker” now than it was at the beginning, he actually is less violent toward criminals now.

    I love stories of heroes and superheroes, but I am truly troubled by how dark we are making them become. Must they really create some ugly monster that goes around killing mass quantities of people in order to “save” them as we will be witnessing in next year’s “Watchmen?” What kind of “good guys” are these? They are not good guys! They are evil. They are bad. They are “dark.”

    Yes, and Watchmen (the book at least) goes a long way in making sure you understand that these people are bad and aren’t heroes. Have you read the book, because judging it by a 2 minute trailer is a mistake, it’s much more complex than the preview lets on. Just because the people wear costumes doesn’t mean they’re looked at as heroes. Nothing is what it seems in Watchmen. Also, it’s another case of not becoming “darker”, Watchmen is a fairly old comic.

  146. Doublel, don’t get me started on our obsession with categorizing “proper language” and calling it “sin” when someone uses words (especially in their proper dictionary meaning) that society has decided are taboo. I grew up in farm and ranch territory, and the good, God-fearing, temple-recommend-holding men and women I knew used “swear words” all the time without ever once “swearing” (either in the true Biblical sense or in the bastardized modern sense). We have fixated so much on an idealized facade that we have begun to divorce ourselves from the reality of humanity. We have taken things that are not “bad” or “evil” or “sin” in and of themselves and created unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others that literally are destructive. That’s true of idealized heroes, but it’s also true of our unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others.

    I stress the command to become perfect, even as the Father and Son are perfect, as much as anyone. I hold up the pursuit of that ideal as much as anyone. I want to be heroic and noble and godly as much as anyone. What I don’t like, however, is basing that effort and vision on an unrealistic ideal. Orthodox Christianity has done that for centuries; I want the Savior who is a carpenter – who laughs and loves and clears the temple and curses the fig tree and encourages us to “come unto me” – not the colossus who commands from unreachable heights. I want the Jesus of the Gospels – not the Jesus of the creeds.

    I believe Jesus is inspirational specifically because we can view Him as brother become MAN become God. Yes, I believe he was considered God before mortality, but it is the theology of spirit brother that is the empowering part for us, imo. He was above us until he became one of us, and idealizing away his humanity puts a chasm between him and us that I believe is destructive and the heart of the apostasy. “Eliminate the Father; separate the Son from mankind (make him an idealized, cartoon version of himself); disparage the influence of the Holy Ghost; leave humanity to reconstruct the Godhead on their own.” That pretty much sums it up for me.

    Sorry for the rant. This idea of worshiping only manufactured ideals really is my central soapbox. I’ll climb off now.

  147. jjohnsen,

    1. I don’t judge Batman by the Adam West show. That was utterly ridiculous in concept. I know that Batman has constantly been “dark.”

    2. I have read Watchmen but I honestly could not catch whether or not the writer agreed with the “heroes” or whether it was a smart critique on that line of thinking.

  148. Dan, how do you think the story of Laban and Nephi would have been written if it had been written by Laban?

    Nephi highlighted the reasons why Laban deserved to die by painting him as a callous, wicked thief, murderer and drunk. How do we know if that portrayal was realistic? How do we know it wasn’t a caricature? How do we know Nephi and his brethren didn’t botch their request in naive arrogance, insulting and angering Laban in the process – or that perhaps Laban wasn’t normally a staggering, passed-out drunk – or any number of other things? I am fine with the account as written, but it’s pretty clear that Nephi was writing a justification of his actions – so he painted Laban as almost a comic book villian. Maybe he was right; maybe he wasn’t. We can’t know.

  149. Jamie, you might be on your way to 200 comments. That means your first two posts might average 100 comments each – even though I thought the second one was every bit as thought-provoking as this one.

    Welcome to the paradox that is Bloggernacle authorship. :)

  150. Ray,

    Dan, how do you think the story of Laban and Nephi would have been written if it had been written by Laban?

    It would probably look something like this:

    ……..

    Cuz he’s dead and all. ;)

    As to the rest, Nephi didn’t just paint Laban as some comic book villain. Let’s read the account.

    10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.
    11 And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.
    12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;
    13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.
    14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.
    15 Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.
    16 And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.
    17 And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.
    18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.

    What we see in the account is that Nephi accurately described Laban. Laban did indeed try to kill Nephi and his brethren. Laban did indeed not listen to the Lord (by not listening to Lehi’s prophetic prophesying). Laban did indeed steal Nephi’s family’s property and valuables.

    But those were not the main reasons that ultimately turned Nephi. In the end, the Lord delivered Laban unto Nephi in order to get the plates so that Nephi’s people would keep the commandments of God.

    I’m sorry, Ray, but I’m continually troubled that Mormons would justify the darkness of a character like Batman by the righteous actions of a prophet like Nephi. They are not even in the same league.

    Has Batman (who, we should make note, acts above the law consistently) ever received revelation from the Lord to act above the law, be a vigilante and kill people in extra-judicial capital punishment?

  151. DoubleL says:

    NO, he hasn’t because he is a fictional character. This is a made up story. I can watch it and get entertainment from it because I know it isn’t real. If it were then yes, it would be a totally different discussion.

  152. I know it’s popular in our church and some other circles to decry the decline of Western civilization, but “dark” heroes have been around for a long time.

    Anyone who thinks “our heroes get darker and darker as time goes by” might want to get some perspective by watching Double Indemnity and any number of noir films from the 40s. And The Searchers from 1956. And Cool Hand Luke, The Dirty Dozen, and The Wild Bunch from the 1960s. And Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and Taxi Driver from the 70s. And Heathers, Raging Bull, and RoboCop from the 80s. And Unforgiven, The Crying Game, and Pulp Fiction from the 90s. And dozens if not hundreds of other examples.

  153. DoubleL says:

    And Kuri, what about way back when the people would gather in town square to watch the daily hangings. Or the fights in the collesium (sorry if that’s spelled wrong).

    My husband and I just watch Clockwork Orange from the 70’s and that was pretty tough to take…

  154. DoubleL,

    If Batman is merely a fictional character in a made up story, then we should take no message at all from the story, right? It is merely entertainment. But, alas, the moviemakers in this case are trying to send a message. As such, it is worthy to ask these questions.

  155. DoubleL,

    A Clockwork Orange does not have heroes.

  156. Dan,
    The intended message of The Dark Knight is exactly the opposite of what Jamie thinks it is.

  157. #150 – We are talking past each other, Dan.

    “Has Batman (who, we should make note, acts above the law consistently) ever received revelation from the Lord to act above the law, be a vigilante and kill people in extra-judicial capital punishment?”

    If the movie had depicted Batman having a vision to that effect, would it change your view of it? What I’m saying is that our acceptance of Nephi’s actions is contingent on our acceptance of his claim to have done so by revelation. Reject that revelation, and the whole account changes.

    I am NOT justifying Batman’s actions by equating him with Nephi. I’m just pointing out that our own perspectives color this discussion tremendously.

  158. Kuri,

    That may well be, but the very story itself ends up being counter to the message it may try to send.

  159. #136 Heck, in the very first Batman adventure ever, he allows a villain to drop into a vat of acid, and all he says is “a fitting end for his kind.”

    I’d say dropping him from a two story window is a step or two up from that.

    I feel a little bit like the Canadian mountie captain in The Untouchables, after Sean Connery/Malone scares the accountant into talking by shooting a dead prisoner in the mouth. He (the mountie) says “I do NOT approve of your methods.” Elliot Ness says “Yeah? Well, you’re not from Chicago.”

    On the other hand, Ness himself finally says “I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!”

    I clearly had a mythical, personal vision of Batman that was no full reflection of reality. Such as it is.

  160. Ray,

    But we can’t reject the revelation because the revelation was the impetus for Nephi decapitating Laban. If you remove or reject the revelation, would Nephi have even considered it? Nephi says so himself:

    but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.

    Without the revelation, Nephi would have considered some other option.

  161. Dan, we really are talking past each other. #160 doesn’t address anything I was trying to say. I apologize for not being able to say it better and will withdraw at this point.

  162. Ray,

    I’m sorry that I can’t seem to see your point.

  163. Dan,

    I agree that some people will miss the message — Jamie’s review is proof enough of that.

    I can say nothing against people who are too tender-hearted to watch violent movies and be entertained by them. The world might be a much better place if we were all like that.

    And there’s certainly something to be said for the idea that it’s impossible to make a violent movie that is anti-violence, or a “dark” movie that is “anti-darkness.” Truffaut, after all, argued that it is impossible to make a truly anti-war film, because any film about war will glamorize it in some way. I don’t quite agree, but I see the point.

    My quarrel with Jamie’s review is that he didn’t say, “This is the message I took from the film,” or “This is the message the film inadvertently conveys,” or “This is why the film doesn’t work.” Instead, he said, “This is the film’s intended message.” And on that point, he is simply wrong.

  164. dug,
    I don’t think your vision of Batman is that far off. We’re supposed to think that some of the things Batman does are wrong. We’re supposed to be uncomfortable when he beats up the Joker, or breaks the gangster’s legs, or invades the privacy of millions of people. We’re supposed to want him to stop.

  165. I’ll also add that I think the comparison with The Untouchables is a particularly good one. In that movie, Ness is unquestionably the good guy. We’re not supposed to question his lack of concern for due process, his underlings’ beating of suspects, and ultimately his murder of the man who killed his friend. He’s a “good” man, in a “good” cause, so whatever he does must be “good.”

    The contrast with The Dark Knight couldn’t be more stark. TDK wants us to ask the questions The Untouchables didn’t want us to ask. When does a good man stop being good? When does a good cause stop being good? Surely at some point the end stops justifying the means?

    It’s that difference in moral depth that makes The Dark Knight a great movie, while The Untouchables is merely a good one.

  166. My question is who does Batman kill? I thought his big thing was that he doesn’t kill people. I mean, he’s not even willing to kill the Joker when he could very easily let go and let him fall. The five people he feels remorse about killing were not people he’d killed with his own hands; he just feels overwhelming guilt that he couldn’t prevent their deaths.

    And I’m very interested in this notion that “Killing someone in and of itself is not a ‘bad’thing.” Huh?

  167. Minerva,

    Killing someone in and of itself is not a “bad” thing. I say that because there really are exceptions.

    1. If the Lord commands you.

    2. If you are in the army and your military leader commands you.

    In those cases (though again they are not wholly set in stone, as there are incidents where you really should disobey the commands of your military leader), you are justified in taking the life of another.

  168. Please let me point out that a similar discussion is going on in the mainstream: last night Yahoo posted this story about people’s anxieties about the darkness in The Dark Knight (albeit from a perspective of suitability for children–hello, did you not see the 13 after that PG?), which contained this astute line:

    “The oft-mentioned violence is not of one of gore, he says, but more of the heart—and thus potentially more terrifying.”

    I thought about posting a link to our work on it here, but that article now has—wait for it–over 12,000 comments. So I thought it might not be worth it.

    Other blogs and newspapers are even wondering if it should be rated R.

    Just wanted to keep everybody abreast of the larger conversation.

  169. Kevin Barney says:

    Perhaps rather oddly and seemingly far afield, this discussion reminds me of Michael Hick’s excellentreview, published in Sunstone, of Pop Music and Morality. A sample line from p. 14:

    And at the opposite extreme, if a singer sings lyrics from, say, the devil’s point of view–as in the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”–De Azevedto cannot get past the mere words to uncover any deeper moral intent.

  170. I disagree with the point about the Untouchables. I think that movie raised the same questions, but showed Ness as being comfortable with his decisions because he got Capone. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with him.

    Notice that Ness actually made the opposite decision Batman did: He killed Netti by throwing him off of a roof. Not because killing Netti was a necessary part of getting Capone, but purely as vengeance for Netti’s killing of Malone.

    Batman refuses to do that same thing. He lives by his rules, kills no one, sacrifices his reputation for the good of all, and yet people here on this thread are calling Batman “dark” and saying his violent actions are somehow objectionable or unjustified. Would (or did) these same people raise those same objections after seeing The Untouchables? I doubt it. People are actually fine with “fighting darkness with darkness” in real life. It’s only the comic book characters that get castigated for it.

  171. I agree with the article 100%.

  172. Dan #167: Interesting exceptions that you cite. From a legal perspective, neither one of those would be a legitimate defense to a charge of murder. There are some legally recognized defenses, mostly centering around defense of self or others. As a practical matter, if Nephi were charged with the murder of Laban under our laws, he would most likely be found guilty and be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty.

  173. MCQ,

    #170,

    I realize the movie The Untouchables attempts to portray a real life situation, but as far as I can tell (and, honestly, my search hasn’t been that extensive), I can’t seem to find any actual evidence of Elliot Ness pushing Netti off the roof in real life. Maybe someone with more knowledge on that subject can chime in. But it seems that the filmmakers were, once again, embellishing for dramatic effect. Heck, I could feel my blood boiling at Netti and I had no problem with Ness pushing him off the roof. But that’s the point. That is wrong.

    #172,

    I didn’t say “murder,” I said “kill.” There is a distinct difference, as you should know from a legal perspective. A soldier shooting an enemy to death is not going to be punished under the laws that govern regular citizens who shoot each other to death. And in terms of what the Lord commands, I highly doubt we’ll see more examples like that of Nephi (but I won’t be surprised if there are).

  174. I absolutely agree with you Jamie, and I haven’t even seen “The Dark Knight”. I don’t have to. I don’t want to.

  175. Dan: When I said “real life” I wasn’t claiming that “The Untouchables” depicted historical fact. I was drawing a distinction between movies that depict stories that look like reality, versus movies that depict stories that are based on comic book characters. It appears to me that there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in the negative reaction to Batman when we compare it to the reaction to Elliot Ness in the Untouchables. I don’t recall anyone claiming that Ness’s actions were dark and evil and portended the end of civilization.

    As to your second paragraph, I still think you’re wrong. Soldiers can be and are prosecuted for murder. It is not a defense to such a charge to say “I was following orders.”

  176. Michaela: It’s very telling and unfortunate that most of the people who feel as you do have not seen the movie. Apparently, for you, it is not a prerequisite to actually have some knowledge about something in order to form an opinion about it. It should, however, be a prerequisite to actually expressing that opinion in public.

  177. #170 Would (or did) these same people raise those same objections after seeing The Untouchables? I doubt it. People are actually fine with “fighting darkness with darkness” in real life. It’s only the comic book characters that get castigated for it.

    Actually, that was exactly my point. I feel like the Canadian mountie, the one saying “I disapprove of your methods.” I don’t think Ness should have pushed Netti off the roof. And I don’t like the thrill I felt when he did.

    And I feel the same way about Batman. I disapprove of his methods.

  178. MCQ,

    You’re still equaling the taking of a life with murder. Remove murder from your mind dude. My point is simply that there are exceptions to the rule. Let it be.

    As to the Untouchables, I actually do think that Ness’s action there at the end was reprehensible. I don’t watch the movie anymore because it is a violent movie. It’s not my type anymore. But maybe that’s because I sit at home watching Dora the Explorer and Pixar movies with my 2 year old daughter.

    Furthermore, there is a big difference between Elliot Ness as a character and Batman. One acts within the law while the other is a vigilante. One resorts to extra-judicial punishment, while one acts within the law (with the rooftop example as the exception). Were Batman a part of the police force, bound by the rules and regulations of the law, I would have less a problem with his character.

  179. Steve Evans says:

    MCQ, Michaela doesn’t have to see The Dark Knight to agree with Jamie’s larger points re: society and violence in the media, does she? I don’t read her comment as saying that she doesn’t have to see the movie to pass judgment on it.

  180. Let me add, that if I were a criminal and Batman interfered with the police in capturing me, I would have Batman sued in court. I would have charges brought up against him for being a vigilante. This, of course, is never (to my knowledge—but I haven’t read all his comics) brought against Batman at any time.

    The question is very simple. Why should Batman work outside the law and not me? Batman, by his very nature and design, undermines the rule of law and adds to the chaos found in a society.

  181. I haven’t seen The Untouchables for a long time, so my memory of it could be off, but I don’t recall it seriously questioning Ness’s methods, even the murder at the end.

    I wonder if the difference in people’s reactions to the two movies doesn’t lie in ambiguity rather than in real life versus comic books. Ness and his Untouchables are heroes no matter what they do. Every hero is tainted in The Dark Knight. I think that bothers some people.

    Dan’s number 2 would have been better as something like “If you are in the military and following lawful orders.” And he needed a 3. If you are proportionally defending yourself or others.

    I don’t know that Batman could be successfully sued. Vigilantism per se is not illegal. If I witness the commission of a crime, I don’t need to be a sworn officer of the law to arrest the person who committed it. (Plus, of course, “Batman” is a false identity, so it would be impossible to get him into a court or collect any damages won.)

  182. The question is very simple. Why should Batman work outside the law and not me? Batman, by his very nature and design, undermines the rule of law and adds to the chaos found in a society.

    The movie is very aware of that question.

  183. kuri,

    If I witness the commission of a crime, I don’t need to be a sworn officer of the law to arrest the person who committed it.

    That’s not what he would be sued for. Batman doesn’t just hang around to witness the crime.

  184. Dan, bounty hunters are a real thing, often competing with (and hated by) the police. They operate within the law.

  185. Steve, Michaela didn’t tell us exactly what she was agreeing with, so I assumed it was everything. I suppose it’s true that there are some points Jamie makes independent of the movie, and of course, anyone might agree with those without seeing the movie, but if that’s what they are doing, it seems to me that they should make that clear.

    Furthermore, there is a big difference between Elliot Ness as a character and Batman. One acts within the law while the other is a vigilante. One resorts to extra-judicial punishment, while one acts within the law (with the rooftop example as the exception). Were Batman a part of the police force, bound by the rules and regulations of the law, I would have less a problem with his character.

    Dan, Dan, Dan…One acts within the law? The whole point was that Ness was breaking the law repeatedly in order to get Capone, and felt he had to do so. Are you saying it’s ok for the police to do that but not a private citizen? How do you justify that double standard?

  186. The lack of comments responding to my previous invitation to read Moroni was somewhat disappointing. Here is the verse, which is an obvious endorsement of a superb Sylvester Stallone movie and and a condemnation of this latest batman film.

    Moro. 7: 15
    15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the DAYLIGHT is from THE DARK NIGHT.

    200 here we come.

  187. Just saw it. Wow. Fantastic. 10/10. I can’t believe those saying it was a bad film. Best of the year by far.

  188. It’s easy. Jeff Lindsey at Mormanity now says anyone who liked The Dark Knight “are past feeling and reason” and that the movie is “cultural sewage.”

    Despite usually liking Jeff’s blog, his comment is unfortunate. It’s one thing to describe your personal reaction to a movie, but to go on the offensive and question the moral character of those who enjoyed it seems to go a little to far.

    Perhaps he needs to read Wayne Booth’s “The Company We Keep.” Because you find a film offensive does not mean that, therefore, that everyone who found value in it is somehow just this side of being a moral monster.

    I found the flip side to Geoff B’s observation (over at M*) that liberal Mormons often question the righteousness of conservatives who support the war on terror. To some, support of Bush is beyond the pale. But Geoff observed it’s rare for the conservatives to question the righteousness of liberals for opposing the war on terror.

    Well, now we’ve found what it takes for conservatives to question someone’s righteousness online: Enjoying the most recent Batman movie.

  189. I think Jeff has a skewed point of view because he walked out just before the good part.

  190. It always surprises me how often people who are unable to understand pop culture apparently feel compelled not only to consume it but to write reviews about it.

  191. Re: post 190

    Kuri, there is a difference between those who do not understand pop culture, and those who eschew it for something better. I can assure you, personally knowing Jamie H., that he has a very firm understanding of pop culture, and is an outspoken critic of influences within pop culture that run counter to his standards for a healthy society. Just because 99% of people like something in pop culture, doesn’t mean we, like Lemmings, should go out of our way to embrace what so many others have. Most of the arguments on this thread (and what a thread it has become!) boil down to “Poster should have liked the movie! Everyone else does!” with varying degrees of linguistic panache.

    Full disclosure per my previous posts: I saw the movie and loved it.

  192. I have no idea if Jamie habitually misunderstands pop culture, but when he says a movie was trying to say exactly the opposite of what it was actually trying to say, it’s certainly fair to conclude that he misunderstood it. And that’s what most of the arguments boil down to: “Poster didn’t understand the movie.”

    Anyway, I was thinking more of people like Jeff Lindsey and the author of the book reviewed in the article Kevin Barney linked to. I’m not sure why they bother trying to engage pop culture in the first place. I mean, I only occasionally read Jeff’s blog, but it was entirely predictable that he would both misunderstand the movie and hate it.

  193. Kuri,

    Speaking only for myself, I don’t criticize a movie like the Dark Knight as “trying to say exactly the opposite of what it was actually trying to say.” I argue (and I posit that others like me argue) that by the very act of depicting the violence that it does it conveys the very opposite message. We’re talking about a movie whose main goal is to “entertain.” This “entertainment” is done through exaggerated violence. That’s the way you get people in the theater! Exaggerate the violence that you supposedly are decrying in your film. By its very nature, the message is lost.

  194. Dan,
    I don’t include you among the people who misunderstand the movie. And I certainly don’t mean to imply in general that only people who misunderstand the movie can dislike it.

  195. Dan, I haven’t seen the film; my understanding is that you haven’t, either. So I take your point as a general one: depicting violence in art inherently promotes violence. At a personal level, I think this argument is a nonstarter. I have certainly experienced some violent works of art that made me feel the true consequences of violence and therefore spoke against violence. As a broader empirical claim, there’s also trouble here. There just isn’t good evidence that violent art leads people to violent acts, although there is good evidence that violent people choose violent art. If this is the line of your argument, I think you’re in an empirically troubled position. On the other hand, if your argument is something else, might I suggest that it hasn’t been communicated?

  196. Steve Evans says:

    May I suggest that both of you guys go see the dang movie already???

  197. Or just shut up about it.

  198. I’ve been following this post almost from the beginning, but I’ve held back from commenting since the film hasn’t yet made it to Europe. I did want to list the link to a typically thoughtful review from J.R. Jones at the Chicago Reader

    I am curious, Kuri, about your mention of Unforgiven in #152. (I am assuming that you’re referring to the Clint Eastwood Western, not the Douglas Sirk or something else).

    On the whole, I’m pretty envious of how thoughtful the discussion here is. I realize that we’re writing to more of a specific audience at TLDSC, but I’d love to hear what any of you would have to add to the discussion over there.

    I personally think the desire to be entertained is more spiritually numbing than this film could be. Now I don’t know whether DK glorifies the violence or not, but no one seems to be mentioning Emile Zola. Is the consensus that Naturalism is completely not in harmony with the Gospel?

  199. JNS,

    My argument is that the depiction of violence in a film intended to send a message that violence is bad, fails in sending that message because of the inherent “entertaining” value of the medium of film. I certainly don’t argue that violent works increase the violence in a violent society; it is merely a product of its time. But it doesn’t lead to a reduction in violence in a society, as the message of the film is supposedly set. If the message is “hey kids, violence is bad, here let me count you the ways with cool special effects,” it just won’t lead people to actually do something to decrease their own desires to use violence as a means of getting their way. This is evident by the fact that we continue to kill each other and use violence to try and get others to “play nice.”

    Now, granted, I didn’t see the film, but this theme has been one burning on my mind for a long time. I used to enjoy watching Braveheart, but now find it reprehensible. I can’t watch Schindler’s List anymore. I really, honestly, don’t need to see how a bullet enters a person’s brain, goes out the other side with black blood splattering on white snow, the poor man’s feet still twitching. I don’t need to see that to know that the Nazis were bad folk who killed indiscriminately.

    Maybe the gore of those movies are indeed having the effect of turning me against the use of violence. But then again, I’ve generally been against the use of violence to begin with.

  200. Kuri,
    In response to this:

    And that’s what most of the arguments boil down to: “Poster didn’t understand the movie.”

    Okay, I’ll concede that many of the comments do boil down to that instead of what I posted:

    “Poster should have liked the movie! Everyone else does!”

    Isn’t it quite possible that Jamie is quite aware of what the intended message of the movie is (and indeed, at this point, we need to start throwing up links of Nolan’s interviews from which we may divine his holy purpose), and disagrees with it, having taken an entirely different meaning from it?

    In fact, once a work of art is in the public domain, does that mean that there is only one interpretation of it, even if the artist has clearly stated their intentions? Indeed, if we start accepting that there is in fact only one interpretation of art or works of fiction, then I can save myself a lot of reading and skip books altogether to simply get the Cliff’s Notes versions, right? Because I’ll never be able to take something away from them that is entirely different from the author’s intended purpose. And is it also possible that artists mask their true meanings, saying one thing, while conveying another? I don’t think that’s ever happened.

    I’m not even going to say that Jamie has it right, but to say that he doesn’t understand it smacks of artistic snobbery. It’s his interpretation, and his interpretation is as valid as any, even if it flies in the face of what “pop culture” says that interpretation is. In fact this post:

    I don’t include you among the people who misunderstand the movie.

    seems to somewhat validate my theory that in your opinion, there is only one correct interpretation to the movie, and if someone’s not on board, they just don’t know how to appreciate art.

  201. Steve Evans says:

    Steve H., at what point would you acknowledge that someone doesn’t know how to appreciate art or missed the point of a movie? What’s the standard?

  202. Steve H: My perspective on the interesting questions you raise is:

    The intended message of a work of art, to the extent that the creator actually comments on it, which is not advisable in my opinion (why not just let the work speak for itself? Frost, for example, generally refused to say what his poems “meant” and rightly so), is interesting in an academic sense, but largely irrelevant. Words and images mean things on their own, regardless of the intent of their creator. They can, of course, mean more than one thing, but some meanings are a lot more reasonable, given the totality of the work, than others. Jamie’s reading of this movie is not, in my opinion, one of the more reasonable ones.

    I don’t think you meant to use the term “public domain.” That is a legal term, meaning that the work has lost the protection of the copyrght laws. This does not apply to Batman, of course.

    See my ealier paragraph regarding multiple meanings: yes, there is more than one possible interpretation, but there are not infinite possible interpretations and usually only a few reasonable ones.

    To say that Jamie’s interpretation is as valid as any is manifestly silly. It’s valid, if by that you mean he has a right to it. But if you mean that all interpretations are equal and anyone can take any meaning they want from a piece of art, then I would say no, not all interpretations are equally reasonable. Some interpretations are based on the work itself, while some are based much more on the prejudices of the viewer. Interpretations that do not have a solid grounding in what actually was conveyed in the work itself are not particularly valuable.

  203. Steve,
    I think I already addressed your point when I said:

    My quarrel with Jamie’s review is that he didn’t say, “This is the message I took from the film,” or “This is the message the film inadvertently conveys,” or “This is why the film doesn’t work.” Instead, he said, “This is the film’s intended message.” And on that point, he is simply wrong.

    The reason I don’t include Dan among those who misunderstand the movie is that he’s not making a TDK-specific argument. He’s arguing against a type of movie-making.

  204. Eric Russell says:

    Though the parallel is strained in ways, I wonder to what extent we ought to apply Davidson’s principle of charity to the arts. Given an interpretation of a work of art that views the work as moral and given an equally plausible interpretation of the work that finds it immoral, shouldn’t we assume the more moral interpretation?

  205. “equally plausible”????

    That’s precisely the problem. It’s not.

  206. Eric Russell says:

    I agree, MCQ. I’m not claiming it is. I’m speaking in the abstract here.

  207. In that case, Eric, if both interpretations were equally plausible (which is rare) I think we’re free to pick the one which appeals most to us. I don’t think we should just automatically assume the morality of the artist, though you’re right that it would be more charitable to do so.

  208. Eric Russell says:

    Well, I think we can leave the artist him or herself out of it. But I think lots of works of art, particularly music with vague lyrics, or physical art with no words, are quite open to a range of interpretations. We frequently have a choice in how we choose to understand it, and I notice some people seem to prefer interpretations that cause them to be offended – and that this offense seems laden with misunderstanding. But I’m wondering if the principle of charity doesn’t also apply here – namely, that the work will make the most sense if we assume it to be rational (or moral).

  209. Thomas Parkin says:

    One last defense of this movie, written for somewhere else, then I’ll move on.

    The point of crtisizing art is to demonstrate what is and isn’t present in the art. Criticism that gives only one’s subjective responce – ‘I really loved it, I give it a thumbs up’ – but says nothing else particularly revealing about the art itself, isn’t really criticism at all. It seems to me that in Jaime’s responce, and to a much greater extent in Jeff’s over at Mormanity, this is pretty much all we are getting. In both cases, their gut – their subjective responce – tells them that the depiction of evil is beyond what not only they can and should bear, but what can be considered bearable to sensitive, reasonable people. Jaime goes from there to wildly miss numerous potential meanings of the film and land on one meaning that can’t be read out of the closer look of the actual content of the movie – and for Jeff, at least from what I’ve read, meaning is beside the point. He saw evil, and that means it is unworthy that the movie has even been hoisted on us.

    In all this, there has yet to be much discussion about the presentation of evil in art. At what level of viscerality, or for what purposes, is the presentation of evil “inappropriate” (in other words wrong). I might go back and say what was said early in the thread, that TDK, in its depiction of violence, is very visceral but not at all explicit. There is almost no gore in the film, at all. There are gruesome suggestions, but no visual corespondence. The exception is Harvey’s other face – which, by the much and rightly decried “Hollywood Standards” – is still pretty tame. I saw just as bad in Pirates of the Carribean.

    May I suggest that because the actual portrayed violence in the film isn’t explicit, it is the evil that the film suggests, and the symbolic depth of the suggestion, that is the deeper aversion to the movie. Just for instance: the Joker is a symbol of evil unleashed that can’t be extinguished. In the inerrogation scene he says ‘You’ve got nothing on me. With all your strength.’ (Only a few things in the movie disturbed me like hearing the Joker say that disturbed me.) In other words, there is no way to undo him. He is fundamental, foundational, essential, elemental. Good cannot win a final victory, only keep fighting with its limited and flawed human tools. He will undermine goodness and order, and no matter what he will always be working at it. This is a very disturbing message, symbolically made – but is no more disturbing than the consideration that Lucifer, right under our Father’s nose, in a Kingdom of perfect Light, fell, became evil, and took a third of our fellow spirits with him – that evil even in that exalted forum remains real as a possiblity that will have to be encountered. Consider the ramifications of the term “War in Heaven” and how much more important it is to be good in light of those ramifications.

    I’d love to see a deeper conversation about evil in art. At what point is it destructive, wrong, truly inappropriate? Is there a line it must cross just in order to reveal the nature of evil? Perhaps that line recedes as society does in fact become less sensitive to the reality of it? To what extent are these lines a matter of the maturity of the author and the audience? I’d like to read a discussion about truth in this, too. Is the TDK a true movie?

    What I’m not interested is in someone telling me that the final word on a work of art is that it made them feel yucky. What about the feeling of yucky we feel when we encounter evil in ourselves? If we walk out of that theatre, we are doomed to be whited sepulchres. Some of this see no evil hear no evil speak no evil responce frightens me exactly because we are forced to confront evil in reality, in ourselves, in our children, etc. And art, it seems to me, can educate us about it – being educated about good and evil IS the education that matters – _without_ forcing us to endure prolonged exposure to it in our day to day lives. And that TDK, a comic book movie!!, is able to do that, is astonishingly good – and is why it is a worthwhile work of art.

    ~

  210. Wow, excellent thoughts Thomas. I want to heartily applaud two points in your final paragraph: 1. There is a danger in automatically recoiling from depictions of evil in that we won’t (or shouldn’t) have that luxury when we (inevitably) encounter it in ourselves or our loved ones; and 2. I think it was the goal of the movie maker (and probably Ledger as well) to generate strong feelings in their audience about the nature and existence of evil. You can argue, I suppose, about whether that is a laudable goal, but you can’t deny that they accomplished it. And all, as you note, without any explicit depictions of gore or death. That is quite a feat.

  211. Dan #199, I guess I see your point now. But you’re up against the empirics here, i.e., the lack of consistent and credible evidence that violent entertainment makes people act more violently.

  212. Aaron Brown says:

    MCQ at #112:
    “(In my experience, all guest-bloggers at BCC are far more intellectually gifted than the permabloggers, for example).”

    Probably true. This is why I resigned as a permablogger a few months ago. I hope to do a guest-blogging stint soon though, thereby establishing that my intellectual gifts run circles around the dolts that are still manning the fort over here … :)

    AB

  213. Wow, Thomas. That was profound.

    Which was a more violent movie – “The Passion of the Christ” or “The Dark Night”? Which of those was more suggestively violent – and which was more visually violent? Which was more gory?

    Is there something in us that reacts negatively to a depiction of a hero *being* violent (even if mostly suggestive) but positievly to a hero *enduring* violence? Why is the depiction of violence in one case lauded, while less graphic violence in the other case is condemned? I am fascinated by religious people who think the scenes in The Passion are awe-inspiring and faith-affirming because they feel they are so realistic but who think TDK’s scenes are over-the-top and too dark – even though most of them are not gory to the same degree.

    How do we reconcile that apparent contradiction?

  214. Which was a more violent movie – “The Passion of the Christ” or “The Dark [K]Night”?

    A: The Passion of the Christ

    Which of those was more suggestively violent

    A: The Passion of the Christ

    which was more visually violent?

    A: The Passion of the Christ

    Which was more gory?

    A: The Passion of the Christ

  215. Dark Night – Yikes; spell check doesn’t work with a fried brain.

  216. AB, perhaps you didn’t see my follow up to JNS, but let me reiterate that I, for one, am not questioning the intellectual capacity of the permabloggers, but merely lauding that of the guest bloggers.

    If you wish to join their ranks, I can only wish you luck in passing the extremely rigorous screening test and background check. If you get past those, I must tell you in confidence that the guest blogger parties are everything they are rumored to be and more.

  217. . . . but I hear the permablogger decoder rings are awesome!

  218. Ray, I wouldn’t really know about that, but the rumors are that the decoder rings don’t work as well as was hoped, primarily because the permabloggers are always losing them. For example, two of them were recently found in the Nibley Memorial washroom and one in a bowl of soup in the Hugh B. Brown dining room. (There is also a rumor that a codebook was once accidentally baked into a cake by Kristine during an Easter celebration, but that is unconfirmed).

  219. MCQ, if you won’t be bold and tell the truth, let me: the intellectual capacities of the permabloggers need to be questioned. I can barely remember where I put a book from moment to moment these days. And Kevin Barney? The guy probably doesn’t even know the difference between a dirichlet process and the Cauchy-Schwartz inequality! Etc., etc.

  220. JNS,

    #211,

    I don’t think I was clear enough in my comment. I agree with you that violent movies don’t make people more violent. I believe they are a product of the times and societies they emanate from. Violent peoples will like watching violent movies.

  221. Jackson says:

    If the “standards” of Mr. H were applied, we would not read Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton depicts God as more than a little dull and insipid. Satan, by contrast, is depicted as lively and interesting. As well, and more fundamental, God is mostly interested in preserving his power and perquisites, while Satan in a Promethean role is not only the friend of humankind, but its redeemer.

    Milton is, therefore, “mire…slopped into our troughs.”

  222. Dan #220, I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying, then. Sorry.

  223. Peter LLC says:

    216:

    the extremely rigorous screening test and background check

    With sarcasm, I’ve often found that less is more.

  224. JNS,

    Let me try one more time (and again forgive me for not having the eloquence that I have desired to have for a long time), and if it doesn’t succeed, I’ll let it go.

    1. I agree with you that the evidences show no significant relationship between violent movies and violent acts. i.e. people don’t go out to kill someone like they saw it done in the movie. They also don’t get more violent just by watching violent movies.

    2. However, violent movies are common, and liked, in violent societies. They are a product of the society which makes them. Violent societies like violent movies.

    3. Violent movies that attempt to send a message that violence is bad fail to actually decrease the violence in the society which makes those movies. So if TDK is attempting to show that violence is bad through the use of violence, it fails automatically. It won’t help decrease the amount of real violence in a violent society like ours.

    4. The best way to reduce violence in a violent society (if you are attempting to do so through the medium of film), is to show no violence at all in your film. Show that other methods outside the use of violence actually solves conflicts and problems, and far better and longer lasting than violence ever will. Alas, not as many tickets would be sold to non-violent films. (Though of course, Titanic, the highest grossing film of all time is not violent, per se—though a gun is used, it is used by the bad guy and is ineffective).

  225. Dan, it seems to me that #4 is broadly inconsistent with your other points. A more consistent conclusion would probably be that non-violent films also fail to change society and would instead be a product of a non-violent society. In any case, our society produces tons of non-violent films… Many of them sell loads of tickets. Finding Nemo, anyone?

  226. JNS, but Finding Nemo has a big, bad shark in it – and the little girl is a meanie.

  227. JNS,

    I argue (and of course without any actual research, just gut feeling) that the nature of violence is such that the more it is seen and/or used, the more comfortable we are with it, whether or not we use it ourselves. So in an already violent society, it cannot affect the society in such a way as to reduce or decrease the prevalence of violence in that society—solely because of the nature of violence and its powerful impact on the psychology of the mind and spirit of humans. It is wholly different than where violence is never used. I do honestly believe that the less violence shown, the less violence we see, the less violence we do, the more we become non-violent. Conversely, the more violence we see doesn’t have an affect because we are already a violent society.

    Again, I’m not that eloquent, and my ability to describe what I see in my mind is limited. But I hope I got the point across.

  228. I have a question: Knowing that it is not real, meaning no actual “violence” was performed just the acting of violence, does that make a difference. I can’t watch someone get hurt when it’s real. On the other hand I love action movies and I don’t really care if (or how many) people are getting hurt because I know it’s not real. Does that factor? Or is it the same, am I still just as desensitized even if I can’t handle ACTUAL violence?

  229. In response to this discussion on violence (specifically 224), there is a massive amount of research being done on this topic, and as far as I know the only conclusive findings are that men who watch violent films, more frequently ‘see’ the outcome of a conflict being violent. That does not mean that they turn to violence, it means that they ANTICIPATE violence. This from a conversation two hours ago with my neighbor who wrote his Master thesis on the subject. His Phd strayed from the topic. Though I’m in media studies I’m less well-read on the topic, but there’s that, for what it’s worth.

    Then again, he is from Wales.

  230. And there it is, a conservative paper arguing that Bush and Batman are one and the same, and that going “darker” is a good thing and something we should espouse.

    That’s real moral complexity. And when our artistic community is ready to show that sometimes men must kill in order to preserve life; that sometimes they must violate their values in order to maintain those values; and that while movie stars may strut in the bright light of our adulation for pretending to be heroes, true heroes often must slink in the shadows, slump-shouldered and despised — then and only then will we be able to pay President Bush his due and make good and true films about the war on terror.

    Perhaps that’s when Hollywood conservatives will be able to take off their masks and speak plainly in the light of day.

    Slowly but surely people like this remove our blocks, our hinderances that keep us from doing bad things, and turn us into the “dark” into the “evil” that is what bad people do.

  231. Eric Russell says:

    I’m still wondering about the film’s morality, if from a different angle. It seems to take for granted that the people on the ships made the right choice by choosing not to press the button. In fact, it celebrates this choice by infuriating the Joker up above – the folks in the boats might as well have been Whos singing in Whoville and frustrating the wicked plans of the Grinch watching from above.

    But was it the right choice? I don’t think it’s as black and white as the movie wants to make it out to be. The Joker had proven himself to be good on his word. If it hadn’t been for Batman, they all would have died. A captain of a ship has a moral responsibility to at least try to save his passengers, even if doing so requires a difficult choice.

  232. Fwiw, TDK just crossed $300 million in 10 days. The previous record was 16 days. The current record for $400 million is 43 days, which TDK should shatter.

    Just think what the numbers would be if it was any good. :)

  233. I just saw TDK Friday for the second time–again, what a great movie. It’s exploration of the lines dividing good and evil, law and well-intentioned vigilantism, order and chaos, and all the shades of gray in between is both provocative and enlightening.

    I was thinking about our mormon concepts of evil. In the movie they make a big deal out of Batman’s attempt to totally eliminate crime, as if that itself has consequences in the battle between good and evil. But Christ never really preaches the elimination of evil or satan. In fact, they stand side by side at one point during his temptations and banter back and forth about life and choices. The worst I can remember is Satan being chained for 1000 years, but then released, whatever that means. In his syllogism of II Nephi, Lehi seems to logically argue that without evil, God wouldn’t even exist, that there truly must needs be an opposition in all things.

    What is the nature of Christ’s victory over death, over evil, over Satan? He emerged triumphant from the grave, and yet, evil still exists. Interesting questions all around that this movie arouses for me. And as we engage in this battle ourselves, is our fatal flaw in the end what nearly did Batman in? That he wouldn’t kill the Joker even as he egged him on, baiting him, knowing that he couldn’t. Because if he just took that choice on himself and killed him because he felt like it himself, wouldn’t he be just as evil as the Joker who killed people because he felt like it? Can a good person “kill” Satan? Would killing Satan eliminate evil?

    And yet, many argue that we must avoid this movie because it portrays evil. As if that would defeat evil. Today’s HOA’s and gated neighborhood watch mentality work to eliminate everything that has the potential of being yucky or edgy or unpredictable, until all that is left is Mrs. Cravitz in Draper complaining about the wrong exterior paint color and the DI bag on your front porch.

  234. Just another observation on my second viewing. Looking at it through modern political lens as many others have done, you can see the torture or not torture debate played out. Also, the war on terrorism, which is a war on nothing except a fear and a threat, something that the Joker played up.

    I also noticed that the main tool used by the Joker in his big plays were oil drums rigged to explode. Oil anyone?

  235. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 231
    Methinks you are mixing your Dr. Seuss analogies, Eric.

    I finally went and saw the movie this evening. Good enough, but worth 230+ comments??? Ah, no.

  236. Well then let’s make it 240+ comments. ;)

  237. I finally saw the film today. It wasn’t as dark as I thought it would be (I certainly see the previous movie as darker). I thought that it wasn’t written very well (for example the Joker’s amazing omniscience and ability to be in the writer’s mind whilst Batman and his buddies could never grasp the future). The Joker is a fascinating character in this movie. He is a newcomer to Gotham yet knows inside politics, enough to know who he can convince to betray the good guys. There is just too much about this character that just doesn’t make him believable, at least for me. I hope Heath Ledger gets nominated for his role, as it was amazing. Most of the action sequences were contrived for effect rather than being a natural result of the choices characters make.

  238. I finally saw it last night. It wasn’t as dark as I thought it would be, either. Actually, I was surprised and pleased at how there was essentially no gore whatsoever in a movie with so much violence.

    It wasn’t my favorite move by any stretch, but I really liked it – especially the acting and the make-up. Heath Ledger’s performance blew me away, even with all the hype I had heard from my sons. It simply was astounding.

  239. Peter LLC says:

    I’m looking forward to it; still three more weeks until its release in my neck of the woods.

  240. Steve Evans says:

    Peter, if you don’t like it the weinerschnitzel is on me.

  241. Dan, the Joker is a Gotham native. He escaped from Arkham Asylum in the previous movie.

  242. Peter (#223): Ther is nothing sarcastic in my comment #216.

    Dan (#230): FWIW, that WSJ article completely misses the point of the movie, as do you. Batman does not kill in the service of his goals. He refuses to do so, refuses to compromise his rules, for the sake of the struggle against the Joker (the self-described “agent of chaos”).

    The public also passes the test, as the people in the ferries refuse to blow each other up, even to save themselves. The message of the film is not: sometimes you have to “go dark” or embrace evil, or violate your own rules, in order to prevail against an evil enemy. It is, in fact, exactly the opposite.

  243. Eric: I don’t think you can successfuly argue that a captain of a ship has a duty to save his passengers by killing another ship full of passengers. That would be a curious duty indeed.

  244. Carlton,

    Looks like I gotta go back and rewatch Batman Begins. I can’t remember that scene.

  245. Eric Russell says:

    MCQ, you can have one boat full of dead people or two boats full of dead people. Which do you prefer?

  246. Steve Evans says:

    two!

  247. Cynthia L. says:

    3

  248. Peter LLC says:

    Steve–you’re on. I’ll see you at Figls the evening of the 21st if it goes south.

    MCQ–ok, make it irony then, for surely you cannot be serious?

  249. Eric: You’re conveniently ignoring the variable involved in the 2 boat scenario, and the causation factor involved in the 1 boat scenario. To wit:

    If you choose to push the button on the detonator you are:

    1. Assuming the Joker is telling the complete truth, which, as the movie proved, is never a good bet–as just one example, your detonator may, in fact, be hooked to your own boat!

    2. Causing the death of hundreds of people. You are becoming a murderer in order to save your own ass.

    Still think that may be the right choice? I think it’s cowardly and reprehensible, but to each his own I guess.

    Peter: I’m just telling the facts, baby. As we all know, the wicked take the truth to be hard.

  250. Eric Russell says:

    MCQ, I understand that there are many variables in this particular situation. I’m intentionally simplifying to get at the core of the dilemma. And, by the way, I don’t think the detonator being hooked to your own boat does anything to change the crux of the scenario here. If anything, it makes the dilemma easier rather than more difficult.

    A train is moving full speed along a track that has five people bound to the tracks. You don’t have time to free them and the train doesn’t have time to stop. You can, however, pull a lever that changes the course of the train, but there is one person bound to the tracks on that line. Is it wrong to pull the lever? After all, you are killing someone if you do so.

    When you are faced with a situation where doing nothing directly results in someone’s death that you could have prevented, is there really such a bright distinction between killing someone by doing nothing and killing someone by doing something? I don’t think it’s that simple.

  251. It is if someone else is doing the killing!

  252. A train is moving full speed along a track that has five people bound to the tracks. You don’t have time to free them and the train doesn’t have time to stop. You can, however, pull a lever that changes the course of the train, but there is one person bound to the tracks on that line. Is it wrong to pull the lever? After all, you are killing someone if you do so.

    Eric,
    In that scenario, most people would say pull the lever. But in that scenario, you’re killing one to save five, and you are a neutral disinterested observer.

    To match the Dark Knight scenario, you would be one of the five people on the track, and your choice would be whether to divert the train to kill five people (not one) who don’t include you.

    Without the numbers and without the neutrality, the ethics are nowhere near as clear as in the first case.

  253. Eric Russell says:

    Kuri, the train scenario is not intended to be a parallel case. I’m simply addressing the notion that making an action that leads to a death is in a different moral stratum than willfully refraining from preventing a death.

    But supposing we want a roughly parallel case, here’s how I’d frame it. There are three parallel train tracks and there are two trains coming down two neighboring tracks. You are tied up, with four other people, in front of one train on the far right track. There are also five people tied up in front of the other train on the middle track. In a couple of minutes, all ten of you are going to be dead. But you happen to be right by a lever that shifts both trains one track to the left, in which case the middle five still die. But if you pull the lever you save five people, if you do nothing you save no one.

  254. Eric: give it up. Your multiple scenarios have nothing to do with the movie.

  255. Eric Russell says:

    Indeed MCQ, if I were purely going off the movie, then I would say ignore the detonators altogether and jump ship. They weren’t that far from land and could have swam back.

  256. You’re right. I’m sure at least some of them could have.

  257. Except that the Joker claimed the ships were monitored, and threatened to blow up any ship where someone attempted to jump. You hacks!

  258. So I finally saw the movie, and I was somewhat disappointed. I mean, the guys voice was annoying, and all I could think about was him in Newsies and It occurred to me that if Wayne used his billions to do something useful like clean up Gotham and start after school programs, rathar than run around in Underwear, it would be a lot more effective. And the chic dying was irritating. Can’t the hero save both? Cartoon Batman is still the best batman.

    Don’t get me wrong. I still liked the movie. It just wasn’t end all be all.

    And the “old school” way of doing special effects still had a cgi face and cape… annoying.

  259. Peter LLC says:

    As we all know, the wicked take the truth to be hard.

    I see; that would explain your resistance to my characterization of your remarks…

  260. Right Steve! I totally forgot.

  261. Eric Russell says:

    Well crap. Looks like maybe it’s back to pressing the button after all.

  262. Eric, how is it possible that you missed the point that the right answer is NOT to press the button?

  263. Eric Russell says:

    MCQ, I think you’re still missing my point. Given that the Joker has been good on his word about killing people in the past, you at least have to take his claims seriously. There is a very good chance that he will continue to be good on his word and will indeed blow up both ships. There’s a pretty good chance that he will blow up both no matter what happens, but we can reasonably assume that he will at least blow up both ships if one doesn’t blow up first. You can hope that maybe he’s bluffing, but he hasn’t been bluffing in the past, and that’s a terrible gamble to make with so many lives at stake.

    You have to assume that if you do nothing, both ships blow up. Everyone dies. If you press the button, you save a whole boat load of people. The question isn’t whether you can justify pressing the button, it’s whether you can justify not pressing the button. You have the opportunity to save hundreds of lives. How can you justify letting all the people on your boat die when you could have prevented their deaths? How is letting everyone die morally preferable? By not pressing the button, you are killing everyone on their boat and everyone on your boat. How do you justify that?

  264. Maybe because killing hundreds is no differently morally than killing hundreds. Maybe because once you kill two hundred it doesn’t matter if you didn’t kill four hundred. Maybe because it’s better personally to abstain from killing a few hundred and let someone else kill a few hundred instead. Maybe because it’s moral to say, “You kill if you insist, but I’m not going to help you do it.”

    I’m not saying the above is the only “correct” answer or that every moral person should agree, but it certainly is a reasonable one.

  265. Eric Russell says:

    Ray, I probably ought to clarify: I’m playing a bit of devil’s advocate here. I myself lean towards not pushing the button and letting everyone die in this particular scenario. My ultimate point is just that both sides of the dilemma have strong arguments in their behalf and that the problem is not as simple as the sentimentality of the movie suggests.

  266. Eric: We’ve been down this road before. I tried once to explain why you are wrong, and you veered off on some tangent with completely different scenarios that had nothing to do with what we were discussing. Now you’re back and you have yet to answer my previous arguments about why your point is wrong. I assume that you have no answer.

    The central point I was making (and not the only one btw) is that there is no moral equivalency between killing a boatload of people and refusing to do so, which results in a terrorist killing two boatloads of people. You are not complicit in the terrorist’s act. He makes his own choice and takes his own action, which you are in no way responsible for. If you choose to kill a boatload of people, however, you are directly responsible for their deaths and you thus became a mass murderer to save your own life. There is no moral justification for that. It’s cowardly and despicable on every level. Stop pretending otherwise.

  267. Eric Russell says:

    First of all, it’s true that an individual might be motivated simply out of desire to save his or her own life and it’s obvious that, if that were the motivation, there’s no moral content in that choice. But it appears that that’s a distraction to the greater issue here, so let’s pretend instead that the detonator is in fact hooked up to your own boat. Does that change anything?

    I understand exactly what you are saying, MCQ, with regards to killing or letting die. But the train scenario in 250 has everything to do with what we are discussing. If you don’t see it, I’m not sure what to say.

    Obviously you are not directly responsible for the deaths of all the people that die. But you have in your power the ability to prevent at least some of the deaths. Doesn’t that power give you some responsibility? You can no longer turn your back and say, “none of this has got anything to do with me.”

    If I pass a man in a street who has just been mugged and stabbed, I have a responsibility to try and save him. Even though the stabbing had nothing to do with me, I have a moral responsibility to try and save his life just because I can.

    The question at stake here is just how far that responsibility extends, but I don’t see any reason to believe that it ends full stop with the taking of life itself. Taking such a position is wrought with problems.

    Imagine we discover the location of a terrorist cell that is responsible for the lives of thousands and will kill thousands more. But right before we are about to drop a bomb on the building we discover an innocent janitor has moved into the building full-time. Do you call off the mission?

  268. Eric:

    First of all, it’s true that an individual might be motivated simply out of desire to save his or her own life and it’s obvious that, if that were the motivation, there’s no moral content in that choice. But it appears that that’s a distraction to the greater issue here, so let’s pretend instead that the detonator is in fact hooked up to your own boat. Does that change anything?

    What is the greater issue? If the detonator his hooked up to your own boat, and you press it thinking you are blowing up the other boat, you are an idiot and you are dead. The only thing it changes is the result. You still made a bad moral choice, and now it’s also a bad factual one.

    The reason your other hypotheticals are irrelevant is that they change important parts of the equation. Of course it’s not always immoral to take a life to prevent a greater loss of life, but that’s not what we’re talking about. This started because you said:

    I’m still wondering about the film’s morality, if from a different angle. It seems to take for granted that the people on the ships made the right choice by choosing not to press the button. In fact, it celebrates this choice by infuriating the Joker up above – the folks in the boats might as well have been Whos singing in Whoville and frustrating the wicked plans of the Grinch watching from above.

    But was it the right choice? I don’t think it’s as black and white as the movie wants to make it out to be. The Joker had proven himself to be good on his word. If it hadn’t been for Batman, they all would have died. A captain of a ship has a moral responsibility to at least try to save his passengers, even if doing so requires a difficult choice.

    That statement is just plain wrong, given the facts of the situation in the movie. The captain did not have a moral responsibility to try to save his passengers by blowing up another ship full of passengers. It’s not a difficult choice.

    In fact, the plot of the movie only works if it’s not a difficult choice. The Joker predicted that the people of the city would “eat each other” when the chips were down. He made sure they were presented with that kind of choice; i.e. a choice of whether to save yourself by killing someone else. If it were a difficult moral dilemma, the point of the movie would be lost.

  269. Eric Russell says:

    MCQ, in reference to that first paragraph, I mean to say that you know that it will blow up your own boat. You’re the captain, so you hold the detonator, and let’s say that not everyone on the ship agrees with the decision to blow themselves up to save the others. Do you go ahead and blow up your own ship to save the other ship?

    As far as the responsibility to kill goes, if my last comment didn’t clarify anything, I’m not sure what will. But I’ll try one more analogy, this from the movie Vertical Limit. At the beginning Chris O’Donnell is rock climbing with his father and sister and they are all connected by ropes. Something happens and they all fall but are prevented from plummeting to their death because the top of the rope is anchored into the rock. The sister is the closest to the top of the rope, O’Donnell is in the middle, and his father is dangling at the end of the line. The anchor begins to slip. It is not strong enough to hold all three of them. Soon it will give way and all three will die. O’Donnell cuts the rope below him and lets his father fall to his death. His sister never forgives him for it.

    As terrible as it was, it was just something he had to do. He had the ability to save his sister, and so he had a responsibility to save her. And he had to save her by killing his father.

  270. Eric, you really are changing the scenario. In the one you just described from Vertical Limit, the father’s death was assured. There was no “choice” – nobody else to “kill” the father if the son didn’t cut the rope. There was no ambiguity or uncertainty.

    It’s like comparing the boat scenario to a western where a man kills his friend who has fallen and broken his back – doing so to make sure his friend doesn’t die a slow, horrible death. There’s no direct comparison to the movie scenario.

    We aren’t discussing facilitating a death that will occur inevitably – or choosing to minimize death that is absolutely certain. We are talking about killing other people in order to save your own life at the order of a criminal – without any certainty that he won’t kill you anyway, to boot. (This is a man who slaughters at will, for no real reason other than that he can and he enjoys it.) We are talking about being an active accomplice to murder, with absolutely no certainty that it will save one single life. It’s like Hitler saying, “If you throw these five people in the furnace, I will spare you and these four people. Trust me.

    Sorry, to me that’s a no-brainer.

  271. Eric Russell says:

    We aren’t discussing facilitating a death that will occur inevitably – or choosing to minimize death that is absolutely certain.

    Well, maybe that’s where the difference of opinion is here, because I think we are. Of course we don’t know that it will save anyone’s life (same with Vertical Limit, he didn’t know for certain that cutting off his father would save them, the anchor still could have given way), but given the fact that the Joker has been good on his word of killing people in the past, I think we have a very near certainty that he will be keeping his word that he will kill. As I mentioned previously, chances are good that he’s going to blow up both ships anyways, but that shouldn’t really affect your choice, because it doesn’t affect the outcome.

    It’s like Hitler saying, “If you throw these five people in the furnace, I will spare you and these four people. Trust me.”

    It’s actually more like Hitler saying, “Throw these five people in the furnace, or I’m going to throw all ten of you into the furnace.”

    We’re not trusting that he’s going to spare lives, we’re trusting that he’s going to kill. And I think we can pretty confidently place our trust in both Hitler and the Joker to kill.

  272. And I think we can pretty confidently place our trust in both Hitler and the Joker to kill.

    So the answer is to become his pawn and do his killing for him?

  273. Eric Russell says:

    I think it entirely possible that a good person could see such a necessity.

  274. Ok, Eric but don’t blame me if, afterward, they thank you for your loyal service and tell you they were never planning to kill anyone at all.

  275. I would suggest reading this reveiw:

    http://www.meridianmagazine.com/arts/080807knight.html

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