Robert and I went to City Walk to see the IMAX version of Dark Knight. Over the course of the movie, I couldn't help but recollect acts of terrorism of the recent past. The Joker's use of diesel and ammonium nitrate is a reminder of Oklahoma City just as his Cupid OTF (Out The Front--like a box cutter) recalls the 9/11 hijacker's tool for airline passenger control. Quite gratuitous to the forward movement of the plot are the post-pyrotechnic scenes of fire and rescue teams responding to the disaster. But in a corporate mediated world, we don't often get to see the bombs exploding, but the resulting aftermath and rescue efforts. So when an abandoned Brach's Candy factory is relabeled as Gotham General Hospital and building demolition crews are augmented by Hollywood pyrotechnics, is it that far of a leap to think of real hospital bombings?
In other parts of the movie we get to see cinematic versions of (re-presentations of) responses to these violent acts. The interrogation room created on a back lot sound stage contains the basic elements found in video of interrogation rooms at Abu Ghraib.
I'm not alone in these types of associations with Warner Bros.' latest Batman movie. Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent has created analogies between Bruce Wayne and Dick Cheney, and the Joker and Osama bin Laden:
Confronting the Joker, a nihilistic enemy whose motives are both unexplained and beside the point, the Batman faces his biggest dilemma yet: whether to abuse his power in order to save Gotham City. Again and again in the movie, the Batman's moral hand-wringing results in the deaths of innocents. Only by becoming like the monster he must vanquish can Batman secure a victory that even he understands is Pyrrhic.In the comments section to the above quoted article, other analogies emerge:
Batman, the film's hero, played by Christian Bale, sees this as a morally devastating paradox. Dick Cheney and his ideological allies in the Bush administration, however, clearly view this as a righteous challenge. Cheney, Addington, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and others can go to to this sixth Batman movie to see, in the Joker, as played by Heath Ledger, a perfect reflection of their view of Al Qaeda. He presents an enemy unbounded by any scruple; striking out for no rational reason; hell-bent on causing civilization-threatening destruction, and emboldened by any adversaries' restraint.
(The) Joker is also a reflection of the administration’s dark tactics in Iraq and in the GWOT (Global War on Terror -ed.) more generally. The Joker is a force of radical destabilization who does his utmost to generate fear-driven class conflicts of all kinds (criminals v. law-abiding citizens; citizens v. politicians; police grunts v. police officials) while providing cover for the mob. Sounds like Bremer in Iraq, and Rove at home. The difference of course is that the Joker does not represent the interests of the mob whereas the Bush administration does. But even that discrepancy might bring us closer to an understanding of how Bush and Cheney operate in creating a global instability which both promotes exploitation and endangers capital at one and the same time.In The Dark Knight, two possible ways out of the moral dilemma are portrayed by the Harvey Dent/Two Face character (the hero we want) and the Bruce Wayne/Batman character (the hero we deserve). In the end, both tactics fail either morally or logistically. Even commissioner Gordon falters: as the police are about to converge on the Joker, mob, and money--and thus put an end to the chaos, death and fear--they instead divert to the hospital, reacting to the effect, rather than the cause of Gotham's problems. The same kind of ethical conundrums presented in the movie are told and discussed in Philosophy 101 classes:
You're in a switch house, in a train yard; a train is coming down the tracks. If the train continues on course it will hit and kill ten people standing on the track. If you throw the switch in front of you, the train will divert to another track, saving the ten people from a certain death. On the other track stands one man. You have two seconds to react. Do you throw the switch?In the movie the Joker uses Batman's ethical hesitancy to slip away and continue to reek havoc. As another commenter put it:
In another version, is a similar scenario--ten people on the tracks, a train heading towards them. This time you can stop the train by pushing one man from the platform in front of the oncoming train for the same outcome--one dies to save ten. Do you push?
Batman breaks the hold of the mobsters on Gotham with his theatrical brand of vigilante justice. The reaction is the emergence of the Joker, an equally theatrical, equally intelligent enemy who sees batman’s ‘I want to give people a symbol to give them hope against ceaseless corruption and violence’ and responds with ‘I want to give people a symbol that kills the goodness in them and shows they don’t deserve anything or any protection’. More to the point THE JOKER WINS. Harvey Dent is destroyed and Batman resorts to unreasonable means in his attempt to defeat the Joker. The people on the boats are the only ones who at all ‘win’ against the Joker, who doesn’t really care if he is captured or killed, the people on the boats choose to die rather than murder each other to survive.Setting aside Hollywood's history of making metaphorical versions of people and political events, I am left with the idea of action vs. inaction, both the good and bad kind. An example of the good kind of inaction are the folks in the ferry who didn't trigger the other boat's demise. In real life we have wildcat strikes, Ghandi's pacifism, and soldiers who become conscientious objectors who refuse to be redeployed. An example of the bad kind of inaction is the media that doesn't cover the realities of the Middle East, so Americans' culpability becomes more like flipping a switch than pushing someone in front of a train. Or perhaps instead of taking action, it's an American citizen who goes to see a movie instead.