Friday, November 5, 2010

THE DARK KNIGHT: From Nihilism Can Hope Be Bled?


Bruce Wayne / Batman - CHRISTIAN BALE
Alfred Pennyworth - MICHAEL CAINE
James Gordon - GARY OLDMAN

After much encouragement from students I finally sat down and watched Christopher and Jonathan Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT. But even then, I was interrupted three times. I started to watch it at 8 PM, and finished at 2 AM. That explains what my days are like and why it is often hard to find time to read or watch, even worthwhile projects. 

The latest prompting was a discussion I had yesterday with a student at Biola University where I am preparing to give a day long Moral Premise Workshop. I was at a disadvantage because I had not seen the film. The articulate student perceived the film as having a nihilistic worldview and not morally true. 

My only defense was that I have never seen a film that was popular with audiences and did not have a strong, true, and consistently applied moral premise. And THE DARK KNIGHT was one of the more popular films of all time. At $533MM U.S. domestic it ranks as No. 28 when adjusted for inflation, and over $1,001MM (unadjusted rank #7). So, we can say that a lot of people found satisfaction in watching this film. And I do not see evident that the major of the public are embracing nihilism, unless they're all editing newspaper tabloids.


Here's the moral-physical premise statement for THE DARK KNIGHT.
Revengeful, self-service leads to nihilistic desperation; but
Sacrificial public service leads to purposeful hope.
I do not have time now to write about the film, except to say this: The gleam of THE DARK KNIGHT is that the antagonist, JOKER, rather than forcing the protagonist to change for the good, actually forces the cross-protagonists (Batman and Dent) to choose different ends of the value continuum. Batman is willing to sacrifice for the good of the people of Gotham, even if it means that Gotham thinks of him as the villain. He wants the best to come to the people of the city, and so he's will to be chased into exiled, if that means good leadership and hope will return. The story points out that such is the character of a real hero. But Dent, who is ugly under the skin of his self-serving ways, falls prey to Joker's temptations and reveals the self-serving character beneath his heroic, handsome exterior.

THE DARK KNIGHT indeed has a consistently applied, true moral premise to all the main character arcs. You'll notice that each time JOKER tries to make a person or a ferry full of persons choose between who will live or die, it's ALWAYS a choice between being self-serving and public-serving. Or, in more common terms, between selfishness and selflessness.

As the movie progresses along the moral premise arc, the city begins to learn the importance of doing what is right, and refusing the temptation that Joker has put before them. Indeed, the temptation is thickest as the occupants of the two ferries debate over who will blow the other up. In the end, neither allows the temptation to be fulfilled. They all choose sacrifice and public service rather than revenge and self-service. And that gives him hope in the face of desperation.

I guess I also have to comment on the brilliance of the story's structure with respect to Batman and Dent's storylines. In the first half of the movie Batman / Bruce Wayne is encouraged that there might be a good man in Harvey Dent, and that Batman may be able to retire. Thus, Batman's "savior" status appears to pass to Dent. So, Batman and Dent become co-protagonists. But in the end they are cross-protagonists because they do not share the same arc to the end of the movie but rather cross each other, one ending tragically and the other redemptively. So, here we have a movie with two protagonists that choose opposite paths. Dent (the dent in his armor) reveals that he is truly a dark knight, underneath his skin. He is literally two-faced—truly dark.

But Batman's mask and true identity is never revealed, although Bruce Wayne is tempted to reveal himself. Why? Because Batman is not two faced. Even if you were to take off the mask, you'd find the SAME character underneath. With Harvey Dent the opposite is true.

Thus at the end, in uber-heroic character, Batman chooses to be thought of as the villain, because he HOPES that such an action will bring the people of Gotham together, and fight crime day-in-day out with his intrusion, and thus create their own HOPE,


2-Disc SpEd
Blu-Ray 2 Disc SpEd

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