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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)


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I wasn't making a moral judgment against Lucius. I was merely observing that even his somewhat minor scene was about a power play, for better or worse.

My mistake. I misread you, then. I thought you were making such a point in saying "even Lucius" and emphasizing the fact that he "reveled" in it. And no doubt you're right--it was a power play that trumped the other guy's power play.

Edited by Nicholas

"What is inside is also outside." -Goethe via Merleau-Ponty, in conclusion to the latter's one extended rumination on film
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SDG, how are you distinguishing between what people are and what they ought to be? Does people being "basically selfish" necessarily mean that they are not worth saving? Romans 4:5 comes to mind at least in the sense that "God justifies the wicked." I guess I've always felt like the Joker was both right and wrong--both a muse and a maniac.

The Joker is not right. Even the wicked are capable of goodness ("If you then, being evil..."). The distinction between what people are and what they ought to be is never an absolute opposition: In our better moments -- and better moments happen -- what we are reveals glimpses of what we ought to be.

Yet, I still think that in such a situation, some of us regular people might just try to do something about it. They may (likely will) get squashed, but I doubt the whole population would shrink back, even if they have a few allies who are a better match for the invaders, especially given the scale of the invasion.

I'm not saying Whedon couldn't have done it if he wanted to. I'm saying he didn't set up a scenario that cried out for it, as Nolan did.

(Nolan's vision for Gotham seems to be authoritarian, politically, so it doesn't surprise me that non-police citizens don't have an active role.. except for Batman, who is being gradually captured by the authoritarian impulse. See Ken's post.)

And that's a problem, IMO.

SDG, how are you distinguishing between what people are and what they ought to be? Does people being "basically selfish" necessarily mean that they are not worth saving?
Exactly, put another way, isn't it possible that people could be inherently bad (not good) AND basically selfish and then someone could decide that they were still worth saving?

Such an argument could be made. But that is not the argument Batman has been taking, and it's not the argument he makes here. In a sense, the moral status of the populace of Gotham has ceased to matter here. At the end of DKR we see glimpses of ordinary civilians stumbling out of their homes. Where were they for the last few months? I don't think the movie cares.

Edited by SDG

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Interesting all of this talk about "authoritarianism" in Nolan's Batman. I've never really thought about drawing that out here, because authoritarianism has always been a strand in the Batman with which I am familiar, which is the Batman of the past twenty years. (Nolan recently noted that Batman was an embodiment of "ends justifying the means.")

FWIW, Andrew O'Hehir calls Nolan's Batman films "fascist" in his review. He loved the film, though.

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FWIW, Andrew O'Hehir calls Nolan's Batman films "fascist" in his review. He loved the film, though.

They are fascist(ish). There's something of a critique of Batman's fascist tendencies, but in the end it's the Occupy left and lawless civilians who are the threat, and the armed and uniformed forces of the state that are our only hope.

A shooting at a midnight showing in Colorado has left 14 dead and 50 wounded.

FWIW, the death toll has apparently been revised down to "at least 12" for the moment.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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I'm not saying Whedon couldn't have done it if he wanted to. I'm saying he didn't set up a scenario that cried out for it, as Nolan did.

I can understand where what the filmmaker did would put such an omission in sharp relief. My argument is simply that such an omission always flies in the face of reality, whether the director intends to address the question directly or not. Experience suggests people won't all act that way in the face of crisis.

Such an argument could be made. But that is not the argument Batman has been taking, and it's not the argument he makes here. In a sense, the moral status of the populace of Gotham has ceased to matter here. At the end of DKR we see glimpses of ordinary civilians stumbling out of their homes. Where were they for the last few months? I don't think the movie cares.

Wait - so is it a question the third film is interested in answering at all? It answered it to a large degree with the boat scene in the last movie - is it possible that Nolan is the sort of filmmaker that just moves on to other questions rather than creating something more unified? If so, that's of course a flaw in itself - one that would make the filmmaker more suitable for single films rather than trilogies. I can see where it stuck out with you.

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SDG Said:

The Joker is not right. Even the wicked are capable of goodness ("If you then, being evil..."). The distinction between what people are and what they ought to be is never an absolute opposition: In our better moments -- and better moments happen -- what we are reveals glimpses of what we ought to be.

Perhaps we misunderstand one another on "basically selfish," because I don't disagree with anything you've said here. I'm very comfortable saying Christianity is the best of all humanisms. :)

"What is inside is also outside." -Goethe via Merleau-Ponty, in conclusion to the latter's one extended rumination on film
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I can understand where what the filmmaker did would put such an omission in sharp relief. My argument is simply that such an omission always flies in the face of reality, whether the director intends to address the question directly or not. Experience suggests people won't all act that way in the face of crisis.

I wouldn't say that omission as such ever flies in the face of reality, except in the trivial sense that any time you point a camera in one direction you aren't showing what is happening elsewhere, or even how your subject would look from other angles. Art is selection, and selection entails omission. Filmmakers must always select what they are interested in and omit what they aren't.

Nothing in either Avengers or Dark Knight Rises definitively establishes that ordinary civilians don't act heroically in the crisis somewhere or other. We can only say that, if they do, the filmmakers aren't interested in showing it.

My point is that thematically some omissions are harmful and others aren't, depending on what concerns the movie has taken on and how it has framed its material. The omission of heroism from ordinary civilians isn't a harmful omission in Avengers in the way that it is in DKR, not only to that film but to the trilogy as a whole.

Wait - so is it a question the third film is interested in answering at all?

It is definitely a question that Bane's motivations and actions raise again, inasmuch as he recapitulates both Ra's al Ghul and the Joker. He explicitly sees himself as fulfilling Ra's al Ghul's reckoning with Gotham, and like the Joker he wants the Batman to see his own people destroying what he fought to save, and then despair and die.

It is not a question that Nolan is personally interested in answering. You could say that Batman cares about the question, but Nolan doesn't. That is not a good thing.

It answered it to a large degree with the boat scene in the last movie - is it possible that Nolan is the sort of filmmaker that just moves on to other questions rather than creating something more unified?

No, it isn't answered to a large degree with the ferry scene. At best that was a provisional hint at an answer. Don’t forget, the majority of passengers on the law-abiding ferry voted to blow up the prisoner ship—and the man who finally volunteered to do it accused the others of “not wanting to get their hands dirty,” then couldn’t bring himself to do it either. You can say that was his residual decency that prevented him from acting, but it also looks like lack of nerve winning out over lack of conviction. I’ll still take it as a victory, but a provisional one at best, in no way definitive. In itself it certainly doesn't justify Batman's claim that Gotham is "filled with people who are ready to believe in good." Believing in good means affirming it in a principled way, not just being unwilling or unable to commit evil in the name of the consequentialism you say you believe.

The Joker is not right. Even the wicked are capable of goodness ("If you then, being evil..."). The distinction between what people are and what they ought to be is never an absolute opposition: In our better moments -- and better moments happen -- what we are reveals glimpses of what we ought to be.

Perhaps we misunderstand one another on "basically selfish," because I don't disagree with anything you've said here. I'm very comfortable saying Christianity is the best of all humanisms. smile.png

Hell yes, Christianity is the best of all humanisms. I'm glad we agree that the Joker is wrong, along with Ra's al Ghul and Bane. My point is, the movie doesn't show that they are wrong. The capacity for goodness in ordinary sinful civilians isn't something this movie is interested in finally affirming. The Joker could watch this movie and find nothing in its presentation of ordinary humanity in Gotham City with which to disagree.

That certainly doesn't prove that he was right. But shouldn't we eventually get the idea that he was wrong? Shouldn't the final chapter of the trilogy have finally vindicated Batman's hopes for his people?

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Well, I can't answer that particular question until I see the third film at 3 this afternoon.

But what I can say after re-watching the first two films is that the Joker is only right in the sense that exterior obedience to civil institutions set in place to keep people in check does not in itself make people good. Much "morality" is a "bad joke," right? The Joker's right in that "the rules" won't "save us." The Law was given not to justify but to convict and point to what does save.

Now, I might revise what I originally said to be even more modest about the assertion--something like "there's a sense in which the Joker is right." The film's not about ethics--it's about meta-ethics, and often times the Joker is the straightest shooter. He sees through ethics without (Love's) purpose. It's why he "pushes" Harvey to say that "The only morality in a cruel world is chance." The question is not whether there is goodness, but whether or not goodness has a baseline purpose that makes sense of itself. Ontic cruelty (see: The Grey) or love (see: The Tree of Life). Is their goodness truly loving or merely self-benefiting obedience. Everybody--including Batman--thinks they need a civil hero, but the civil hero goes down under the weight of the evil's claims and actions (the Joker's). The question, for me, is whether the third film points to something beyond evil/civility. Do we have to continue to lie to ourselves about the Civil Hero's triumph.

Anyway, after seeing the first two films again, I'd probably agree with your reservations about the ferry scene, and I'd probably agree with the authoritarian issue since the sources of light I can point to are District Attorneys and Lieutenants and a billionaire's butler. I don't think it's overstated when Gordon says in Begins that he won't rat out crooked cops because the city is so corrupted that he'd have no one to rat them out to. The human situation is a bleak one, while also a rich one (see Lauren Wilford's excellent essay).

I guess I'll have more to say about it all after getting the chance to see the third film.

But my original question was not whether or not there was overlap between what is and what ought to be, but whether or not a basically selfish people is still worth saving.

Edited by Nicholas

"What is inside is also outside." -Goethe via Merleau-Ponty, in conclusion to the latter's one extended rumination on film
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I hear what you're saying, but at the same time, I could see some omissions as grating on an individual to the extent that it strains believability to the individual wherever it is. I once had a conversation with someone that was bothered by the physics of Wall-E (seriously, physics), and that was his big problem with it. All this is to say, people are particular and at times strange in their demands for what must be included, too. If everyone the artist depicts is running and cowering, it's not hard to see why one might think that's the way the movie sees people generally. I could see that, potentially, as being a roadblock to enjoying of these sorts of movies.

You can say that was his residual decency that prevented him from acting

FWIW, I always read it this way. I particularly loved that the Joker lost with the group that one would expect selfishness from.

In itself it certainly doesn't justify Batman's claim that Gotham is "filled with people who are ready to believe in good."

I don't think Batman's assertion is quite correct, but I think it's true to his character. He wants to believe the best in people, but I think he lives in a place akin to Sodom, where righteousness actually is scarce (or, at least, the people are oppressed to total despair and submission by the unrighteous to the point that it might appear that way). With that in mind:

Shouldn't the final chapter of the trilogy have finally vindicated Batman's hopes for his people?

I don't know that it should have - not completely. I don't mind it remaining open to debate whether or not he did it all for nothing. My own question wouldn't be so much "Is Gotham worth saving?" (which strikes me as arrogant for a fellow human to ask of other people). "Can Gotham be transformed by grace and a glimmer of hope?" The answer to the last question, I believe for a person asking of other people, affirmative whether that is ultimately what happens or not (or, as seems to be the case, remains unanswered). At least, that's how I'd want my heroes to think.

Of course, like Nicholas, I need to see the film to see if I notice anything to any of these ends.

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The omission of heroism from ordinary civilians isn't a harmful omission in Avengers in the way that it is in DKR, not only to that film but to the trilogy as a whole.

SDG, do you think this means that your love of "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" has somewhat diminished?

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I tend to be forgiving of franchises I love, but for me, that question is kind of like asking if "The Empire Strikes Back" is still my favorite movie even though the evil empire is ultimately brought to its knees by marketable teddy bears, or if the Godfather 2 still holds up after the cinematic abortion that was #3. That said, I'd be interested to hear SDG's response.

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The omission of heroism from ordinary civilians isn't a harmful omission in Avengers in the way that it is in DKR, not only to that film but to the trilogy as a whole.

SDG, do you think this means that your love of "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" has somewhat diminished?

Not Batman Begins as a stand-alone film. As for The Dark Knight, awhile ago I wrote in response to a reader:

For me, there’s a lot riding on
The Dark Knight Rises
, still a long way off at this writing.
The Dark Knight
is a brilliant film, but the darkness is
so
black, with so few grace notes. The series desperately needs to go out of a triumphant, redemptive high note. A concluding film like that will cement my high regard for
The Dark Knight
. If Nolan goes the other way, a good bit of my affection for
The Dark Knight
may turn to ashes in my mouth.

I wouldn't say my affection for The Dark Knight has turned to ashes in my mouth. In some ways, The Dark Knight Rises makes The Dark Knight a better film. Batman's own story-arc takes a sufficiently redemptive turn, and enough clarity is brought to the moral ambiguities of The Dark Knight, that I will be able to better enjoy the depiction of Batman's more problematic choices in The Dark Knight with the knowledge of what happens later.

On the other hand, the knowledge that a criminal's heroic choice and a middle-aged businessman's inability to act on his own morally compromised philosophy (amid throngs of other people willing to accept mass murder to save their own lives) is (within the thematic world of the films) as good as it gets for the ordinary civilians of Gotham does somewhat turn to ashes the Batman's claim that "this city is full of people ready to believe in good."

The cash value of that line was to an extent beholden to the sequel to demonstrate the principle on a larger scale -- and Bane gave the city months to do so, and Nolan never noticed it happening. I can't get past that.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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You know what? If the Joseph Gordon-Levitt character, John Blake, had been anything other than a cop, that would have made a big difference.

Just a few scenes of ordinary citizens, say, caring for people injured in Bane's war, or sharing food with the hungry after trucked-in food supplies run out, would have made a big difference. Civilians joining in with the cops in the big confrontation would have made a big difference. Etc.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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You know what? If the Joseph Gordon-Levitt character, John Blake, had been anything other than a cop, that would have made a big difference.

Just a few scenes of ordinary citizens, say, caring for people injured in Bane's war, or sharing food with the hungry after trucked-in food supplies run out, would have made a big difference. Civilians joining in with the cops in the big confrontation would have made a big difference. Etc.

Steven, I don't disagree with this assessment (though it didn't bother me as much as it did you), but I suspect in the filmmakers' minds that the JGL's character and Matthew Modine's are supposed to stand in for ordinary people. That is, I think the demarcation is not so much between civilian and cop as between superheroes (Batman/Catwoman) and mortals (Gordon, JGL, Modine, throng of cops in "big confrontation.") After all, cops are made up of "ordinary citizens," if by "ordinary" one means "not superpowered or trained by the league of assassins." (I take your larger point about why this bothers you and how it's incomplete to have the cops stand for that part of ordinary citizens who rebel, and I understand, too, that it is different in Batman than, say, The Avengers [which I haven't seen] b/c other superhero flicks are about meta-humans,allowing the hero/mortal divide to roughly approximate that civilian/soldier one.)

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Just one thing: law enforcement are technically civilians who are committed to protecting and serving the public. I'd like to think it's more than just a job, that it's an honorable mission. However, since Gotham is essentially at civil war, it's fair to not consider him one (and there's certainly some who would deny that law enforcement are civilians anyway).

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... since Gotham is essentially at civil war...

More like occupied territory. Bane is not representative of an internal conflict from within Gotham as an external judgment of it and threat to it.

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Steven, I don't disagree with this assessment (though it didn't bother me as much as it did you), but I suspect in the filmmakers' minds that the JGL's character and Matthew Modine's are supposed to stand in for ordinary people.

I think you're right, Ken -- but remember that Bane sidelined the entire police force before issuing his challenge / call to arms to the civilian populace of Gotham. Thus, how those people -- the non-police -- respond to Bane's challenge / call is of the essence.

Bane takes for granted that the cops will be against him. He wants to work with the civilian population (using "civilian" loosely for lack of a better word to mean "individuals who are not uniformed members of an armed force," etc.).

And the movie shows us throngs of civilians apparently going along with Bane's agenda -- at the tribunal, for instance. It's possible that they're all Bane's fanatical disciples and/or convicts liberated from prison, the movie doesn't make that clear, and I'm not sure how it could.

Certainly when it finally comes down to two vast throngs of people surging at each other, and you've got all blue uniforms on one side and all street clothes on the other, it's hard to see the cops simply as representatives of the ordinary man in the street. Visually at least, the man in the street (whoever he is) is the problem, and the cops are the solution.

Edited by SDG

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Again, agreed. Just saying that there is a difference between noting how an (attempted) answer or theme is unsatisfactory or incoherent and believing there is no answer attempted. I tend to see the fault you are describing as less an omission on the writers' parts (i.e, something missing) and more as a lack of understanding of the themes/ideas he/they is/are playing with. An example of why many people (I'm one of them) think these films are a "mess."

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... since Gotham is essentially at civil war...

More like occupied territory. Bane is not representative of an internal conflict from within Gotham as an external judgment of it and threat to it.

Bane is just the leader, correct? Who are those marching with him?

Either way, it can certainly be seen as a war-like aggression.

This is part of the problem: The movie isn't clear who Bane's followers are. They might be only his imported fanatical followers and the convicts he liberated, or they could include ordinary civilians who responded to Bane's call/challenge to Gotham to rise up and take back their city, or whatever. If Bane's call/challenge was universally unheeded/rejected, wouldn't that be a point worth clarifying somehow?

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I'm not sure there's more than a semantic or methodological issue here, Ken. If the filmmakers attempted a solution of an issue they didn't fully understand, that led to the omission of an actual solution of the real issue. It looks to me like I'm describing the outcome; you're describing how the filmmakers wound up with that outcome.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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This is part of the problem: The movie isn't clear who Bane's followers are. They might be only his imported fanatical followers and the convicts he liberated, or they could include ordinary civilians who responded to Bane's call/challenge to Gotham to rise up and take back their city, or whatever. If Bane's call/challenge was universally unheeded/rejected, wouldn't that be a point worth clarifying somehow?

I still haven't seen the film (I will see it before this weekend is out), but I would assume, if the ranks swell after the challenge in an otherwise unexplained way (and it sounds like they do), that a significant number of them are Gothamites responding to Bane's call.

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This is part of the problem: The movie isn't clear who Bane's followers are. They might be only his imported fanatical followers and the convicts he liberated, or they could include ordinary civilians who responded to Bane's call/challenge to Gotham to rise up and take back their city, or whatever. If Bane's call/challenge was universally unheeded/rejected, wouldn't that be a point worth clarifying somehow?

It seemed clear to me.

MAJOR SPOILERS! (I MEAN IT!):

No, really, I MEAN IT!

From the opening sequence on the plane that showed he had followers before going to Gotham, to the closing reveal of who Bane was taking orders from, it seemed clear to me that he was an agent of the League of Assasins and that his "followers" were soldiers/henchman of the same. That the tribunal is made up of the freed convicts was, I thought, supposed to be implied by who the presiding judge of it was.

Whatever confusion might arise from the difference between the followers (league of assassins) and the collaborators (convicts) I attributed to the problems of hybridisation since Bane, like Batman is apparently meant to be a symbol of different things at different times--terrorist leader/cult leader on the plane, totalitarian dictator [which he's not, of course, since he's not even the one in charge]/Napoleon in Act III. Trying to fuse the Ras a Ghul narrative with the Tale of Two Cities creates incoherence because the narratives are different enough that once one gets beyond the allusions in plot elements (such as the storming of the Bastille/prison) to the meaning those plot elements have in their respective stories the similarities in plot do not give rise to unity of themes.

But I digress...just saying that I thought the film was pretty clear that Bane's followers and army were assembled before the invasion, present at takeover, and from the league of assassins all along [not joined by ordinary people]. My reading is that non-police (or non-named characters) neither supported Bane nor opposed him, they simply went in their homes and sat on the sidelines. They were immaterial to the story Nolan was telling, any themes about human nature or the average citizen in TDK or in Batman's hopes were just a Maguffin, not something the film had any interest in exploring or commenting on.(Though, again, I understand your point that not addressing it at all has implications, some of which you find unacceptable in that they form a narrative that paints a picture of human nature that is neither realistic nor idealistic.)

That's not to preclude the possibility that I misread the film, either minutely or drastically, but I did not find it at all unclear about who Bane's followers were and where they came from.

I'm not sure there's more than a semantic or methodological issue here, Ken. If the filmmakers attempted a solution of an issue they didn't fully understand, that led to the omission of an actual solution of the real issue. It looks to me like I'm describing the outcome; you're describing how the filmmakers wound up with that outcome.

I don't have a problem with that summation.

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