Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Politics of Batman: A Surprising Conclusion

I did not intend this blog to be about superheroes, but it caught my attention and seemed to catch the attention of what few readers I have. This will not be my last post on the topic. There will be at least one more on Superman. But it will be the last post about the Nolan Batman movies. I saw the final installment, The Dark Knight Rises, last night. My thoughts on this movie will be somewhat different than I have written before.

When I wrote the last Batman post, I had intended to discuss the idea of human morality in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. My thesis originally included Batman Begins because I believed Ra's al Ghul, the villain of the first movie, to be a symbolic God, bringing justice upon a city which richly deserved it. That this character was the villain showed the movie's enmity towards God and rejection of His judgment and righteous wrath. I portrayed Batman as a character who was moral without God and without giving a reason, trying desperately to save a city from its own sins when that city deserved destruction. But there was also the very Christian theme of redemption, of fighting for good in a world that, even though headed for destruction and deserving of every punishment, God still loves and fights for. The ambiguity of this dynamic was portrayed by the fact that Bruce Wayne had actually been very close to joining al Ghul's League of Shadows. Both believed in the immorality of crime. The only difference was one believed Gotham was beyond saving and the other believed it wasn't. God would be within His rights to take either side, but redemption is the more Christian one. So I left the first movie out of my analysis. For anyone paying close attention, that post also contained both the admission of the Joker as a true representative for villainy as well as the possibility of Gotham's redemption. And then I remembered the final words of chapter 23 of my book. In the end, I believe the United States will return to its roots and will return to God. I wrote:

"There are many today who say that Christianity in these United States is dying. We are following in the footsteps of Europe, just a generation or two behind. It is nothing to God whether the United States remains a Christian nation or not. God will always preserve the Church. There will always be a Remnant. Perhaps it is time for us to pass the torch to other nations. Perhaps it is time for us to fade away, cut our losses and take on the historical role of the minority Christian, traveling in a hostile and foreign land. Many young and old say that, but I do not believe it. When I look at this land that I love, I do not see what God saw in Sodom and Gomorrah. I see righteous people of genuine faith everywhere I look. And I cannot believe that God is done with us yet. Not while we remain."

God would be within His rights to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but we are not Sodom and Gomorrah. That was the difference between al Ghul and the Batman. In that argument, I will take Batman's side.


The Dark Knight Rises revisits this theme of redemption, even connecting the movie's central villain(s) to Ra's al Ghul and the League of Shadows from the first movie. Two new minor characters that I remember go through redemption stories. There is the policeman who was portrayed as hostile at the beginning of the movie, choosing to vigorously pursue Batman instead of the villainous Bane who had just killed several people and shot up what basically represented the New York Stock Exchange (more on this later). The first time I saw this character, whose name I forget, he was at a party wearing his uniform with medals on his chest disparaging Commissioner Gordon. The impression given is of a man who only cares about himself and his own career advancement. I thought to myself, "Here we go again. Another military or police figure being demonized." Very late in the movie this character was seen rejecting Commissioner Gordon's impassioned plea to join the fight to save the city. But in the end he showed up at the front of the police lines, proudly wearing his uniform. He gave his life along with many other heroic policemen fighting the criminals and terrorists who had taken control of Manhattan. I mean the Old Town or the Narrows, of course. This entire scene was an obviously intentional homage to the policemen and firefighters who gave their lives on 9/11. One of several points in the movie where a lesser man may have shed tears. (I kid, I kid.)

The other prominent redemption story was that of Anne Hathaway superbly portraying Catwoman. With just the right mix of badass bravado and heartwarming vulnerability, Hathaway's Catwoman tells a story of a down on her luck lifelong thief trying desperately to begin anew and leave her life of crime. A sullen remark about three quarters of the way through the movie about Wayne's "stuck-up girlfriend" removed any doubts in my mind that Wayne would end up with her, which he did. Catwoman selfishly betrayed Batman early in the movie, but in the end gave up an easy escape to save him. Catwoman even had a memorable line expressing pointed disagreement with Batman's refusal to use guns, shortly after blowing a hole through Bane with a couple of rather large ones. In fact, they were the large guns mounted on Batman's motorcycle from the second movie, emphasizing a slight hypocrisy in Batman's otherwise solid ethic. The performance was superb. If her role had been larger Hathaway may have stolen the show like Heath Ledger stole the last movie. I'm willing to bet she will get a spinoff, and I will also bet it will be better than the alluded Robin sequel.

But some backsliding on the guns issue is hardly the only conservative point being made in this film. I have already mentioned Catwoman's redemption as a microcosm of Gotham's. There is also the expansion of a theme that has always been part of the Batman mythos: an obscenely wealthy man using his wealth for good instead of evil. In the real world this is more often the case than not, but Hollywood generally portrays rich men as evil. Wealth attained is viewed as sinful by the progressive, since according to their worldview it can only be attained by taking it from others. But this movie emphatically makes the point that many wealthy people end up giving most of their money away to the less fortunate and often work harder than anybody for the good. After all one can only spend so much. Bruce Wayne's company supplies the money for city orphanages until it stops making profits. Profits are the eternal bogeyman of the socialist, representing all that is wrong with capitalism. But here company profits are the source of charitable donations that are sorely missed by the recipients when absent. In fact the future Robin grew up in one of these orphanages and asks Batman to help. In the end, Bruce Wayne donates his mansion to the orphanage. The movie sends the clear message that rich people are not all evil.

Then we have the disparagement of the appeasement strategy. Early on in the movie the president is seen speaking on television about not negotiating with terrorists but recognizing certain realities. Gordon correctly identifies this as bullshit, declaring that the city is on its own in this fight. The terrorist Bane demands that the outside authorities leave Gotham alone or he will blow it up with a fusion bomb, also demanding that they refuse to allow refugees to leave. The outside authorities comply, fearful of the terrorist. There is a pointed scene where the future Robin is trying to lead the orphans across the bridge and out of the city but is stopped when the other police bow to the terrorist and blow up the bridge. In the end it is revealed that the terrorist was intending to blow up the city anyway regardless of whether or not his demands were met, much like most real-life terrorism. Demands of terrorists are constantly met, and once the terrorists' strategy has worked one time it is guaranteed to be tried again. They will not stop themselves. One of the movie's points is that sacrifice, bravery, boldness and a stern recognition of the character of evil is required to defeat it.

Tangentially related, the movie shows the folly of the lies told in the previous installment by the good guys for albeit noble reasons. Robin rejects Gordon's compliance in the lie that Batman killed Harvey Dent as Bane very publicly uses the revelation of the truth for his own ends. Alfred tells Wayne the truth that Rachel had chosen Dent before she died, a lie that led Wayne into years of solitude and apathy, mourning the life he thought he had lost. The revelation of Batman's true identity is at this point almost an afterthought. The movie rejects the idea that lies are sometimes justified by circumstances. The Truth always gets out, and lies always have consequences despite the perhaps noble reasons they were told. Conservatives believe that hard Truths must be told regardless of the consequences.

Far and away the most interesting conservative theme is the not-so-subtle allusion to the French Revolution. I almost couldn't believe my eyes. I have never seen this in a modern popular movie. The average movie-goer might not pick this up, but I believe these allusions were intentional. The scene where the criminal Bane attacks the New York Stock Exchange in an only slightly more violent and vastly more calculated portrayal of the Occupy Wall Street movement is just the beginning. The allusion really comes through when Bane gives a long-winded speech declaring the revolution of the people in front of the prison where most of the city's violent criminals have been locked up, the reason given for Gotham's victory over crime in the eight years since Dent's death and Batman's disappearance. The scene draws clear comparisons between OWS and the revolutionaries of late 18th century France. The French Revolution began in earnest when a revolutionary mob stormed the Bastille, a fortress prison, and freed all the prisoners. The comparison between this apocalyptic moment in history and the scene where Bane blows a hole in the door of the prison is surreal.

Even then, these allusions might have been circumstantial if it weren't for the justice system these criminals and terrorists put in place in Gotham. The scene in front of the judge, who turns out to be the Scarecrow from the first movie, a psychiatrist who for his own purposes gets criminals out of prison on insanity pleas, clearly portrays the essence of the Revolutionary Tribunal and the other various and nefarious abominations that passed for a justice system in revolutionary France. There was no reason for this scene to be included in the movie. It would have been completely sufficient to have Bane order their execution. I cannot see any other reason for the inclusion of this scene than to draw comparisons between the villains of this movie and their revolution to the French Revolution and the beginning of leftist politics. I have seen some conservative reviews make the OWS comparison, but none so far have recognized the French connection. To me it couldn't be clearer.

And the final twist: Miranda Tate. Near the beginning of the movie everyone, even Alfred, wants Bruce Wayne to hook up with her and start a new, more normal life. A rich philanthropist interested in the clean energy from a fusion reactor developed by Wayne Enterprises, she is interested in Wayne because of his philanthropy. She maneuvers herself into position as Wayne Enterprises' new CEO after Wayne's fingerprints are stolen and Bane uses the attack on the stock exchange to destroy Wayne's fortune. For most of the movie she is portrayed as Batman's friend. He eventually does hook up with her in an apparent sexual encounter in Wayne manor. However in the end she is revealed as a co-conspirator with Bane, indeed, his superior. She is the daughter of Ra's al Ghul, whose Islamic name is made concrete by Tate's donning of something that looks very much like a hijab for much of the rest of the movie. She is wearing it when she dies. The theme of justice, vengeance and terrorism is clearly connected to the Islamic hatred of the Great Satan. There is also a slim and possibly unintentional connection to the French Revolution. In fiction, there is no greater symbol of the terror of the French Revolution than Dickens' Madame DeFarge from The Tale of Two Cities. These two female characters are motivated only by their own sense of justice and characteristically feminine style of cold-hearted vengeance. Everyone on the other side must die. Offenses are never forgotten. No mercy. No forgiveness. Hatred and vengeance are properly expressed with a smile and a caress, a nurturing of evil men. It is not for nothing that the Western left defends Islamic terrorists and vilifies Israel. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Both are opposed to the core of Western Civilization: Judeo-Christian values.

In short, this last movie should serve as a pleasant surprise for conservatives. Perhaps I exaggerated my earlier criticisms, but I still believe the progressive themes were there especially in Ledger's Joker. Perhaps the last movie shows a change of heart. After all, New York City is the poster child for the sort of modern day American liberalism that at times rejects the more extreme progressive elements. OWS started there, so New Yorkers are intimately familiar with the ugly side of progressivism. In the end the government had to forcibly remove many of the occupiers to prevent their continual disruptions, and all sorts of criminal activities were uncovered in the process, including ad-hoc tribunals and unchecked domestic violence. If there is a redemption in the works for modern liberalism it would ideally start in New York. The split within the Democratic Party between the Clintons and Obama was real, bitter and has not been forgotten. Bill Clinton especially has been accused, probably accurately, of deliberately undermining Obama with clever sound bytes such as his seemingly offhand reference to the fact that he was the last President to preside over a balanced budget, praising Romney's business credentials at the same time Obama was attacking Romney's tenure at Bain Capital and a number of other seemingly innocuous statements that poked holes in Obama's facade. If the United States is to save itself, the most crucial aspect from a political perspective is for the progressives to lose control of the Democratic Party. Americans will never tire of throwing the dominant party out of office. The cycle of peaceful revolutions will never end. If the Democratic Party remains in progressive hands any progress on spending and entitlements made by a more conservative Republican Party can be destroyed in just two years of a Democrat controlled government as the first two years of Obama's administration showed. If Obama, Pelosi, Reid and Dean run the Democratic Party into the ground by holding the line on progressive policies, we could see a transformation of the Democratic Party. That can only be a good thing.

The timeline for the movies fits this theory. The first Batman, a rejection of a global police force for justice, began in 2003 and was released in 2005 under five years of George W. Bush and Republican controlled government. The second movie was made in the following years and released in 2008, the heady election year that swept the current progressives such as Obama into power. In 2008, the liberals were one hundred percent behind Obama and adored him from all sides. Today the picture is much different. Could it be that Obama is undone by his own party? Could it be that the Democratic Party is the key to the redemption of our political system? Could Hollywood itself be redeemed? Perhaps many traditional liberals have finally seen the dark side of the progressives they have aided and abetted since the sixties. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end for the New Left, and resistance is coming from the center left.

Now that's whack.