20 July 2012

Dark Knight Rises.. and the other matter.

Quick thoughts.
1) Bane is, well Bane. He isn't the Joker, it wasn't Heath Ledger.. but they did amazing things with a few lines delivered in a disturbing way, a legend, his fights and plotting, and especially his eyes. Joker had those creepy scars and crazy lip movements, like a serpent. Bane had a creepy mask and eyes that said everything when they decided to speak. I am a huge fan of movies using very clever use of silence. His fight with Batman (the first one), there's no messy dramatic music, and he doesn't say very much (at first). But it's obvious almost from the very beginning that he's in total control of the situation in a way that no other opponent has ever been. Joker and Ra's had dramatic schemes and a good deal of control, but not total power. He also has, like Ra's did, a curious touch of... I guess empathy you'd say.

1a) I do not get people/reviews complaining about his voice as supposed mumbling through the mask. I felt it was about as clear as Darth Vader's, and that, like Vader, he had a number of highly memorable lines. This might be a residual from earlier footage released for previews months ago and not a compliant relating to the final cut? I'm not sure but I found it pretty easy to hear personally. (In fairness, I have an excellent ear for voices. It plays well with my mimicking abilities). Overall Hardy did really well with it. He had utterly terrifying eyes and expressions and a demeanor of control or a dominating presence that was what we should have expected here.

2) The ending, and the twist to it, both flowed well into the movie, and both weren't that surprising. Surprises were in some of the things that the film had already showed us for the scope and epic nature (things like those bridge/football stadium explosions, which in the actual film are small things). I don't mind an ending that's predictable if you've been paying attention or which fits together with all the little clues. I really don't mind it if things that already seemed impressive in scope before seeing it all together are diminished by the grander scope made possible in the full film.

3) I liked Catwoman and she wasn't as campy as the Michelle Pfieffer version (but then again, neither is Batman or Joker). It was a solid choice because she's always a bit of a foil for Batman's sense of justice; something to remind you that a vigilante who can investigate and punish criminal action just outside of the law isn't quite right either and she blurs those lines well by pointing out where they are (if that makes sense). I don't know if it was a memorable character versus Bane or Joker or Raz or even Two-Face. But she was interesting in a unique way from those. Dent/Two-Face for example exists outside of the law only truly once he embraces his "two-faced" nature with a little help from madness and grief. He doesn't live there, he visits there for a short time and then goes from one side to very firmly standing on the other. Catwoman is the one villain/hero that exists very firmly perched on that borderline in a way that Batman, were we to think on it, and especially in the events of this film, also does. Between Hathaway's performance and her costume, I didn't see very much to complain about here.

4) Pace was a little off early. You got the sense that Bane was in motion, that people wanted to know what he was up to (even people helping him). In retrospect they set up a lot of later action, but at the time it seems slow. I have not decided yet whether it is better or worse than the other two films. Dark Knight had some jarring flaws (Rachel's character being one of the worst of them) but one really awesome and mysterious character and a series of intricate prisoners' dilemma plots based on the predictable nature of responses to danger by an organised society (the terror comes there from someone not playing by the rules). I think the problem is that the movie was probably intended to be another fifteen minutes to half hour or so longer (yes, longer) and the pace feels wrong in the middle (prior to Wayne taking back up the Batman mantle) as a result.

5) I get the impression a lot of people will twig to the film's 99% styled rhetoric and flourish. But, since Bane explains it, that is "hope", and hope he imagines is the recipe for despair. Bane isn't there to throw a revolution. He's there to burn the city to the ground, every soul, every one, everywhere. Period. The "revolution", the destruction of the powerful and the throwing open the doors to desperation to everyone, even the powerful, is a way of controlling the masses in order to keep them off of what he's actually doing there. I get the impression that people focusing on the disparity between his sort of nihilistic messiah messaging and the support of the people aren't noticing that a) they clearly explain there's no work for the desperate in Gotham and that some kid turns up dead in the sewers very early on in his search for work. This is, to some extent, part of what motivated the OWS crowd to begin with, the lack of promising future or present and in the Batman universe, "tasting desperate" is a valuable turn on the life of a criminal actor (from both the first movie investigating Batman's origins and Catwoman's origins in this film). Second, Bane has a fucking bomb that could kill them and the only way out (a false one) that he offers appears to be through him. If he wants to have a go at the rich and powerful of Gotham, they may as well get in on it. If he wants to liberate violent criminals because they were treated unjustly by an unjust law passed to idolize someone he tells them is a false idol, I don't know that everyone will just go along with it, but there's room for people who might see that "war on terror" as having been carried too far (Nolan likes the war on terror metaphors). (As a further problem, Bane himself was picked as a villain over two years ago, when lots of people were clamoring for the Riddler. Any knowledge of Bane's MO from the comics would show this isn't far out of character for him to mobilize the "mob" to run Batman down to the ground). The closest 99%/OWS representation in messaging is Catwoman (not Bane or Batman), and given how her plot arcs, I don't think it would be easy to view the film as though it's some sort of positively endorsed message for anarcho-syndicalism or some such.

5a) One other note on the film, it very clearly explores the "noble lie" motif from Plato-Aristotle. And it explodes it.

6) Somewhat jarringly, there was an assault by a gunman in Colorado at one of the midnight showings (which I attended out here in Ohio). In one way, I'm not surprised. There's no better way to try to get yourself some attention as a lone-gunman along the Columbine model than to do it at somewhere or some event that is spectacular and where people aren't likely to be fighting back, and also where there are children. A school or a movie theatre or maybe a mall or a public park/pool. I'm somewhat amazed that the "actual" terrorists haven't figured this one out, but I'm not going to complain that they haven't. There are a lot of conflicting details out there still and not much is yet known about the motives of the suspect in custody (he doesn't appear to be an Brevik type, but we don't know yet). So I will refrain from speculation.

As my own reactions, I expect some movie theaters will go overboard on security checks. This is stupid. The guy here kicked in an emergency exit from witness accounts. He wouldn't have gone through any security to do that and neither would anyone else wanting to strike such an event. Human beings being dumb will respond to security theater rather than any actual improvement in safety, but that doesn't mean I have to like the repression of basic decency and liberty. The correct response here is to recognize that millions of people go to movies and other public places every day where they could be shot at by gunmen, and never are. That we live in a pretty safe and secure place most of the time for most of us. Maybe there's some legal change to mental disorder purchases that will come down the pike. Maybe so, but I'm not convinced that will help us either. Most "crazy" people are not violently so, and usually such legislation is fairly blanketed by design instead of targeted intelligently. In addition, people's mental states can change often dramatically over the course of many months or years owning such weapons. Others will try perhaps to tie this violence into their own pet political causes (violent video games and movies for some, anti-drugs for some, anti-war messages for others, "pro"-evangelical messages for still others it seems). I admire the human capacity for reasoning and constructing arguments, but I can't say I admire every place that we do it or every place that reason can carry us, and keep us, and constructing an ideology here as though this is a cause of a unique design with a simple solution is nonsense.

That may include my own responses of course.

One other thing that I think we have to start acknowledging is that while people can become monsters, we have often made them that way along they way. WE bear some of the responsibility. We human beings can become cruel and inhuman and dismissive to others. Without becoming violent we are oppressive and repressive to the development and well-being of our fellow man. Occasionally that means that people who become outcasts by not belonging, by not trying to fit in or by not doing so as well as everyone else can, fall through the cracks. And falling through the cracks here is not a friendly place to be. Everyone has these moments and flashes of anguish and rage. But imagine an entire world eventually composed of it, and suppressing and controlling it over time, trying to gain some direction from what consumes you. Not everyone will direct it somewhere nice and productive unfortunately. None of that is to justify what happens; it does not one thing to explain it away to offer an explanation. I ask only that we try to understand where violence comes from and just how hard it can be to tow a line of civility, and that some amount of conflict, some amount of rebellion, and some amount of grim determination is a world where violence is possible. I think we must hope that it need not be inevitable.

These are really first world problems. We have the luxury as individuals not to have to depend greatly and directly and personally on others for our lives in food and protection from death and mayhem. We unfortunately have not progressed beyond petty tribalism and exclusivity as a means of encouraging those groups of necessity. Somewhere in between those gaps is the problem for us, where some people still do have to depend greatly on necessity (poverty, prisons, high crime zones), while others no longer do but still must struggle to find a place to fit in, to be loved, to express love, and so on.

In being something of a student of history, it occurs to me that always history is about being able to assume perspectives different from our own and try to see the world as it was, as the people living through it must have seen it. We're not really very good at this. Nobody thinks they'd be a Nazi or be involved in chattel slavery as an owner or overseer of some kind. Or that they would be someone shooting up random civilians in a terrifying incident. Fortunately this last event is rare but that makes it only harder to see how it happens. The crucial element is that we are not very good at understanding others, especially others who are different from how we imagine ourselves to be, from years of distinct experience, genetic distinguishing features, and so on. Understanding does not and can not justify tragedy and horror but it might help us to prevent the next one.

If we understand "how" maybe that makes it easier to come up with our own "why".
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