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.