Dark Knight phenom

Well, the people have spoken and The Dark Knight is a genuine pop-culture phenomenon. This goes beyond “oh hey, Batman movie,” or “thank goodness, two and a half hours of air conditioning, that crummy Journey to the Center of the Earth only gave me 90 minutes.” The Dark Knight has captured the zeitgeist, made off with the summer and changed everything forever.


I have my own theory, but let’s examine the hypotheses offered by the media:

1. Heath Ledger. According to many sources, The Dark Knight brought out an audience that ordinarily would not be interested in a Batman movie, or a superhero movie, or a comic-book movie, or for that matter an action movie, because of Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker. There is a certain amount of truth to
this I suppose — the audience who made Brokeback Mountain a runaway smash probably weren’t necessarily itching to see the complex crime drama of The Dark Knight, and Ledger’s death certainly focused a lot of attention on the project. But then, where was that audience when it came to I’m Not There — which featured Ledger, and Christian Bale, and Cate Blanchett? Was Heath Ledger even a “movie star” in the sense that, say, Will Smith or Tom Cruise is a movie star? That is, could he deliver an audience on the strength of his name alone? This is not a knock on Ledger, who was a wonderful actor, or his performance in The Dark Knight, which is as good as you’ve heard. Perhaps it’s a case of the right actor in the right part, not unlike Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man or Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, where the performance illuminates a role the audience thought they knew and captures the imagination of the public in unexpected ways. Or perhaps it’s more like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, and Ledger’s Joker is simply the right performance in the right movie at the right time and is an unrepeatable phenomenon.

2. According to the Wall Street Journal, The Dark Knight is a smash hit because — wait for it — because the public secretly supports the policies of President George W. Bush. That’s right — Mr. 27%, the most reviled president of the past, oh, hundred years or so, is secretly a hero, an action hero, to a huge movie-going audience, who vote with movie attendance instead of their voices. Take that, Rendition/Valley of Elah/Stop-Loss, etc, etc, etc, Batman has come to show that America loves torture! Did you know, when you paid your money to see The Dark Knight, that you were revealing your advocacy of George W. Bush? I didn’t, but it appears the Wall Street Journal knows better.

But seriously, does Batman = Bush? I’ll admit that the popularity of The Dark Knight reveals something in the present moment of our national character, but I’m guessing “advocating torture” isn’t it. But maybe The Dark Knight does say something about our national anxiety vis-a-vis the Great and Glorious Unending, Unwinnable War on Terror. So let’s take a look at this:

A. The Joker is certainly a terrorist of a very pure kind — he doesn’t even have an endgame, nothing less than the complete destruction of the social contract, or his own death, will placate him. We, as Americans, certainly felt that way about the terrorists of 9/11 — nothing they did made sense to us, we couldn’t begin to understand their motives or beliefs. But does Joker = Osama? Isn’t it kind of weird when the real-life bad guy attacks and destroys gigantic skyscrapers (and the Pentagon!) and the movie guy, the comic-book movie guy, settles for a hospital and a couple of ferries? I’ve been reading complaints about how the Joker “couldn’t have possibly” loaded oil-drums of gasoline into this or that building, or placed the explosives to blow up the hospital, or planned this or that in advance. Well, Osama bin Laden planned that attacks of 9/11 and damn near achieved everything he set out to accomplish — and he’s the real-life guy! What does it say about us, and about our supposed secret support of George W. Bush, when we just kind of shrug our shoulders and let bin Laden get away, but pick over the supposed impossibilities of the plan of a comic-book movie villain?

(and, as

 notes below, the analogy of Joker = Osama would only be apt if the Joker blew up the ferries and Batman therefore decided to go after Lex Luthor instead.)

B. Like George W. Bush, Batman does, essentially, bug everyone’s phones, without their permission, in order to catch a terrorist. Unlike George W. Bush, however, Batman makes it clear that he’s bugging everyone’s phones without their permission in order to catch a terrorist, not just because he feels like it or it will bring him more power or will make his political enemies weaker. Batman also refuses to take control of the phone-bugging whatsit — he puts it in the control of Lucius Fox. Whereas Bush put his phone-bugging law (if that’s what you want to call it) in the control of Dick Cheney. If Bush had put FISA in the control of Morgan Freeman, I’m guessing everyone would be a whole lot happier about it.

C. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et alia, created a policy of torture for prisoners. This, according to the Wall Street Journal, is the nub of The Dark Knight and the reason for its popularity. We recognize that torture is illegal and immoral, but, damn it, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty when you’re dealing with psychopaths.

Okay. First of all, in The Dark Knight Batman does not torture, nor does he advocate torture. He does, admittedly, slam the Joker around the police interrogation room, but he applies no systematic program of torture. Many other characters in the movie give cryptic arguments for torture, saying that since the Joker has no rules and no limits, we are hobbling ourselves if we don’t act the same. But what Batman argues is the opposite — he staunchly believes that, whatever the cost to him personally or to Gotham City as a community, we must have rules. Here he is, in the actual situation the Bush administration has been warning us about (a bomb is about to go off and the only way to find out where it is, etc) and he refuses to torture the Joker. Oh, and guess what? When the Joker “talks,” his information is incorrect and serves only to make Batman’s situation worse. So it seems that the Joker fully intended to give the information about “the whereabouts of the bombs”, but intended to do so only when doing so would deliver the maximum hurt. I agree that The Dark Knight has provided the US with a cinematic arena to air their anxieties about the issues of the day, but the Joker is not Osama and Batman is not Bush.

3. Hype. Business as usual. Hollywood shoves a cynical, designed, focus-grouped corporate product down the collective throat of the US and the US gladly takes it. The audience are sheep, the critics are bought, it’s all just commerce.

I don’t buy this theory. For one, I pay pretty close attention to advertising campaigns, and I found the campaign for The Dark Knight clear, sober and refreshingly free of hype. The audience for this movie was, somehow, ready for it months before it opened.

When I saw Iron Man at a Thursday-before-opening midnight show, a preview for The Dark Knight came on and the audience went berserk. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the preview, it made the movie look slick and fast and clever, but all previews do that. But the Iron Man audience roared when the Batman logo came on and screamed its approval when the preview ended.

(There are, of course, some similarities between Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are close cousins, narratively speaking, and each movie view its protagonist through a more-or-less “real-world” lens. Iron Man barely seems to belong to the same genre as the silly, romantic Superman Returns — which I think also contributed to Iron Man‘s surprise success.)

If anything, the hype for The Dark Knight didn’t even begin until after people had already seen it. The advertising, somehow, promised less than the movie actually was. There are billboards for The Dark Knight up all over the place in Santa Monica, and few of them offer any sense of the sweeping, multi-layered crime drama the movie delivers. One billboard features the Bat-Pod crashing through a window, one features Batman in front of a burning building, one features the three main characters wielding their key props — all standard comic-book-movie promotional images, but by far the least interesting and least representative images from the movie. No, Warner Bros did something very strange and very unusual for a corporate investment as important as this: they promised a fun, slick, splashy “superhero movie” and then delivered something quite different, and quite more.

My own theory:

It’s a good movie.

I know, I know, that’s just crazy talk. But having seen it twice and looking forward to seeing it again, and then owning it on DVD and taking it apart scene by scene at my leisure, let me tell you: an audience knows when a movie is good, and they’ve been so starved for good movies for so long by a Hollywood system that is destined, in so many ways, to deliver safe, predictable thrills and spills, that when a movie comes along that combines an excellent script, a rich, compelling drama, a crisp, efficient shooting style, an interesting take on contemporary anxieties and talented actors giving clear-eyed, lucid performances, well, by gum, an audience will go see that movie.

(Yes, the fact that it’s Batman punching the Joker and not, say, Reese Witherspoon worrying about the rights of detainees makes it “fun” and therefore “okay” for a mass audience to go and enjoy, but I have heard no one yet say “Go see The Dark Knight, it’s fun.“)


55 Responses to “Dark Knight phenom”
  1. Good-bye camp, hello dark realism?

    We went to see it yesterday – I thought the Joker was the best villain I had seen since…I don’t know, but I noticed that I was happier when he was onscreen. Perhaps Freud was right and you can sublimate your aggressive drives to cinematic Thanatos and the punch-em-up roller-coaster of an action film which was definitely fun and layered too.

    And I do like the old TV show, and that is where they should have left the camp humour of some of the early movies. I would still watch some of them, for a laugh (and for Tim Burton’s visions). Batman Begins and Dark Knight are both indicators of the public’s desire to have something with both gritty realism and the difficult hurdles we have to face in our lives with the backdrop of wars and conflict that never really make much sense (incidentally, did you know that Vietnam, Korea, Iraq (x2) and presumably Afganastan are technically not classes as war?)

    And torture parallels? I would go along with that – there were definitely issues of right and wrong being debated actively and literally, but I get the feeling that Batman represents the public view on what they would like to see in government, rather than what it really is.

    I would refer you to Itchy and Scratchy cartoons to what most of the world’s take on Bush’s foreign policy might be….

  2. curt_holman says:

    “When I saw Iron Man at a Thursday-before-opening midnight show, a preview for The Dark Knight came on and the audience went berserk.”

    Would you say that audience was more than usually filled with comic book/superhero fans, and thus disposed to go berserk at the sight of the Dark Knight trailer?

    “I’ve been reading complaints about how the Joker “couldn’t have possibly” loaded oil-drums of gasoline into this or that building, or placed the explosives to blow up the hospital, or planned this or that in advance.”

    The Joker’s ability to implement unbelievably complex plans doesn’t bother me, even though he can remain undetected, even when Batman and every gangster and police officer in Gotham is looking for him — and he’s badly scarred and wearing clown make up. But it’s ironic that the Joker MOCKS the whole idea of “plans,” when he concocts and carries out such intricate schemes. (I’m not saying it’s a flaw in the movie. I’m just sayin’.)

    It struck me that the buzz of interest for ‘The Dark Knight’ really went through the roof when the extremely positive reviews (notwithstanding the negative ones) started coming out. No one seemed to expect ‘The Dark Knight’ to set records. There’s obviously a ton of interest in Heath Ledger — but he passed away months ago, so if he was the deciding factor you’d think that market research or whatnot would have indicated it.

    “What does it say about us, and about our supposed secret support of George W. Bush, when we just kind of shrug our shoulders and let bin Laden get away?”

    In my blog on Friday, we were talking about how the Bush = Batman comparison doesn’t hold up when you factor in the Iraq War, an unnecessary war that put U.S. soldiers at greater risk for attacks from terrorists. It’s like, after the Joker bombed the hospital, Batman decided that the real threat was… Lex Luthor in Metropolis, and focused all of his energies there instead. (What, you’re saying Lex Luthor ISN’T a bad guy? Are you PRO-Lex Luthor?)

    Nevertheless, when Batman throws Moroni (sic?) off the building so he’ll survive but break his legs, I think that qualifies as torture.

    • Todd says:

      “Would you say that [the Iron Man] audience was more than usually filled with comic book/superhero fans, and thus disposed to go berserk at the sight of the Dark Knight trailer?”

      Well, I wasn’t going to get into it because it was irrelevant to the point, but yes, I’m sure there were a high number of comic-book fans there at the Iron Man screening. And they cheered and hooted at the Dark Knight preview, then were quiet as mice during the Hulk preview, which was in between the Dark Knight preview and Iron Man. There were a few feeble, scattered “yay”‘s after the Hulk preview, seemingly out of pity — they didn’t want people to think they’d gone over to the DC side.

      “(What, you’re saying Lex Luthor ISN’T a bad guy? Are you PRO-Lex Luthor?)”

      All I’m saying is that the world is a better place without Lex Luthor. He was a tyrant who gassed his own people (by which I mean Otis, who apparently has been done away with between Superman IV and Superman Returns). Even if Lex Luthor wasn’t actually literally pursuing his continent-building crystal technology, he clearly had the desire to do so, and that certainly made it worthwhile for Gotham City to take the resources away from capturing the Joker — even though Lex Luthor has never threatened Gotham City and has, in fact, never even appeared in a Batman movie before.

      “Moroni (sic?)”

      Excellent parenthetical question. The individual that Batman throws off the fire escape in The Dark Knight is identified as “Maroni”, but the gangster responsible for scarring Harvey Kent (not Dent) in the original Batman comics is named “Moroni”. Just as Kent was changed to Dent to avoid confusion with Clark Kent, “Moroni,” I’m sure, was changed to “Maroni” to avoid offending Italian-Americans, the majority of whom may be gangsters but who are not morons.

      • laminator_x says:


        I think the people they were more worried about offending would be the Mormons. To hear Joseph Smith tell it, “Moroni” is the name of the last Nephite prophet who was later tranfigured into the angel that delivered the golden plates to Smith in New York.

      • curt_holman says:


        During the movie I mistook Eric Roberts for Dermot Mulroney as ‘Maroni,’ and for a while thought his name was actually ‘Mulroney,’ which struck me as pretty weird. Then I realized that they would not have had an actor playing a gangster with the same last name. In a Charlie Kaufman ‘Batman’ movie, maybe.

        Incidentally, the current ‘Slate’ has an article about the relationship between the show ’24’ and the U.S. torture policy, and it makes some useful distinctions between genre fiction and reality:

  3. mitejen says:

    I’ve been reading complaints about how the Joker “couldn’t have possibly” loaded oil-drums of gasoline into this or that building, or placed the explosives to blow up the hospital, or planned this or that in advance.

    I had the opposite reaction–I respected the fact that the filmmakers didn’t paint themselves into a corner by trying to both show and explain the implementation of the Joker’s extremely intricate plans. In his introduction in the bank heist, we got an idea of how he carries them out–by doing whatever is necessary to carry them out, even if that means killing his own men. Other villains would be shown deploying teams of men to set explosives or gain access through the hospital through intricate and covert plans, but I got the sense that with the Joker there is very little of that. He’s certainly capable of it, but what I found more likely is that he and his cronies simply murder anyone who sees them, flat out in the open and with little fear of being discovered. Why pick a lock when you can blow open the door?

    Our local paper ran a piece comparing Batman to Kennedy or Obama, which I think is more apt. The WSJ didn’t look past the immediate concern of having the strength to do what is necessary–that lesson Batman learned in the first movie. He did have the strength to do things he didn’t want to do, but he also has the wisdom to know when to stop. Strength without wisdom is fascism, and while that’s a whole nother argument concerning the superhero world, Batman in these films at least knows not to cross that line. And his refusal to kill someone else was one of the most interesting statements this movie made–an American action movie where the protagonist stops short of killing the bad guys? I found that incredibly optimistic.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think there’s at least one valid parallel between Batman and Bush in The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne essentially begins the film complacent, almost smug. Even though Alfred warns him, he consistently fails to grasp the magnitude of the Joker’s evil, and because he underestimates the threat, a whole hell of a lotta people die. It’s like Alfred handed him a national security briefing saying “Joker Determined to Strike at Gotham City” and Batman blew it off to go beat up gangsters in Crawford.

    The parallel ends, of course, when Batman not only realizes the Joker’s threat, but does everything in his power to effectively combat it, up to and including making a huge personal sacrifice. I guess you could argue there was some link to our Commander in Chief’s current approval ratings, but Batman’s accepting the shame voluntarily, and not getting his Justice League pals to whine in the media about how his critics are un-American.

    — Nathan

  5. marcochacon says:

    People have said that heroes are only as good as their villains–and Dark Knight (the first Batman movie not to have ‘Batman’ in the title) has the best villain ever (and older audiences were primed for it by Jack Nicholson’s Joker who, while not on the same level of darkness and power as Ledger’s was pretty noteworthy).

    On the other hand, Iron Man puts the lie to the idea that heroes are only as good as their villains.

    I think that people have been waiting for Dark Knight since Batman Begins came out: it was a powerful re-boot, giving younger audiences everything they wanted (no camp, a charismatic very physical Batman, and a more believable framework). When the joker-card appeared in the final scenes, I think that built excitement.

    Ledger’s death put it in the public mind-share: my (guy) friends were not that crazy about him–but they certainly wound up thinking more about Dark Knight than they would’ve if he was alive.

    It’s a perfect storm of conditions backed up by, yes, an excellent movie.


    • Todd says:

      “On the other hand, Iron Man puts the lie to the idea that heroes are only as good as their villains.”

      The thing about Iron Man, of course, is that he’s his own best villain. A Guy In A Bigger Iron Man Suit is no match for Tony Stark’s own sense of guilt and self-loathing.

      • marcochacon says:

        Kinda–although I think the movie most soared when Stark was having a good time. The human moments (the ad-libbed “everyone sit down” press conference) were what really sold the movie to me, his joy in flying, and so on.

        I agree that he’s his own best villain–but I think when the future movies descend into really destroying Tony Stark, they’re going to get a lot less fun.


  6. jbacardi says:

    What does it say about us, and about our supposed secret support of George W. Bush, when we just kind of shrug our shoulders and let bin Laden get away, but pick over the supposed impossibilities of the plan of a comic-book movie villain?

    I can’t say for sure, but I do know that it’s a lot easier for the average person to knock out a paragraph detailing said impossibilities in a newspaper article or blog post than it is to locate Bin Laden and hold him accountable for his actions, or for that matter write a letter to the editor (which probably wouldn’t get printed, since it’s so obvious) complaining about same.

  7. jbacardi says:

    Oh, and in regards to #1, don’t underestimate the morbid curiosity factor. I think a lot of people just wanted to see Ledger in the role that they heard drove him to suicide. Anybody with half an ounce of brains (and access to news sources both in print and online) knows better than this, but you can’t assume that people will be smart enough to find out for themselves.

    • Todd says:

      Say what you want about virtually every other filmic aspect of Batman and Robin, but Schwarzeneggar’s Freeze makeup is awesome.

      • rjwhite says:

        Maybe so, but man. That was the closest I’ve come to walking out of a movie.

        • Todd says:

          When Batman took out his credit card during the celebrity auction, I just threw up my hands in surrender. And hey, what about that co-villain plan? Let’s freeze the world, so it can then be taken over by, erm, plants. Because everyone knows how plants love sub-zero temperatures, right? Right? Hello?

          • rjwhite says:

            It’s just so crazy to me- about the flexibility of the basic ideas there, that you can have two sets of people look at the same back catalog of material… one sees this, the other sees The Dark Knight. It’s the same DNA, but just insanely differing results.

          • chadu says:

            Honestly, I loved Schwarzeneggar’s performance in B&R.

            (Like Clooney as Bruce Wayne, but not Batman.)

            And… that’s about all I can say about that movie.

            • chronoso says:

              “(Like Clooney as Bruce Wayne, but not Batman.)”

              yeah, but that’s always sorta been the problem. since bruce wayne creates two wholly separate character halves, the “social bruce wayne” character and the “batman” character, casting a single actor to play both is..problematic. personally, i think christian bale plays an excellent “social bruce wayne” and a great out-of-costume “batman” but him in-suit is a little grating to me. if they just dubbed in kevin conroy, i think the fanboy in me would be satisfied..

              • dougo says:

                Yeah, Batman’s voice was really grating to me too. I don’t remember, was it that bad in Batman Begins too? Did they explain why his voice is like that? Is it something about the suit, or is he just disguising his voice or something? It was especially jarring to hear the Joker’s Ratso Rizzo voice in comparison. (And let’s not get into the mental whiplash of a Cockney Alfred.)

                • Todd says:

                  Christian Bale does the same thing with his voice in Batman Begins, but Batman doesn’t even show up until more than halfway through the movie so it’s not so noticeable.

                  I read somewhere that Bruce Wayne has put some kind of voice-changer in the throat of the cowl to help his disguise, but that may be a fan’s wishful thinking.

  8. jestermotley says:

    Yeah, I found the movie to, if anything, be against Bush and his ideals. So many of the speeches the good characters give can be linked back to him.

    Most notably Fox’s speech about the bat-sonar and how its too much power and he won’t work at Wayne Enterprises if it exists.

  9. chadu says:

    Watched it for the second time yesterday. Alexandria, VA, 5:20 pm show… PACKED.

    The firetruck on fire bit still makes me laugh.

    The convict who takes the detonator still makes me pause and consider.

    Other stuff that sprung out at me this time:

    * Dent working in Internal Affairs before becoming DA.

    * The Joker lies, but doesn’t. I believe he believes he doesn’t plan things at all, yet he has complicated scripts and plots for everything. This = insanity.

    * The fact that Gordon’s MCU, hand-picked, is still rotten.

    * The ease with which the Joker takes out the detective AFTER a massive beating by the Bat.

    * All bits with the Joker in the nurse’s uniform.

    * How the Joker manuevers his thug during the bank job to be in the right place to get school-bussed.


    • Todd says:

      “The ease with which the Joker takes out the detective AFTER a massive beating by the Bat.”

      Well, I personally think the Joker, once confronted with Batman in the interrogation room, intentionally goads him into the beating, so that Batman will slam his head against the window, so that when Detective Stephens comes in later the Joker, Hannibal-Lecter-like, will have a shard of broken glass to use on him. Which is why he goads Detective Stephens into attacking him. Phew!

      • chadu says:


        Since Ledger’s (and, one would expect, Nolan’s) key references for the Joker seem to have been The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum… that makes sense.

        I think they definitely went with the Joker as “super-sane” concept.

        Oh, another thing: how the people of Gotham turn on Batman — and each other — so easily in a state of fear.

        That’s Important.


  10. rjwhite says:

    I’m sorry I’m replying so much in this thread, but- here’s another critical view of the film:


  11. lupa says:

    It’s fascinating to see the amount of time people are spending picking apart this film – part of its beauty is that it inspires this much commentary. The complexity of it didn’t surprise me nor did I expect any less – if one is familiar with the writing style of Jonathan and Christopher Nolan together, it’s almost assumed that they’re going to do a beautiful, layered dance of a story.

    I loved this movie. It was brilliantly executed. However, I did not in any way think it was a brilliant Batman movie. This, to me, was The Prestige meets a Bond movie, with Batman as Bond. I could critique it from a Batman-the-character perspective, and give dozens of reasons why it should have been different in order to be a great Batman movie, but why should I? As a comic fan, a movie fan, and aspiring writer, it is enough that someone wrote something this amazing, particularly about a comic book hero.

  12. hirovox says:

    Spoilers & Comments

    I’d have to agree with your assessment and your points; I think it is just a damn good movie, and it’s a matter of being at the right place and the right time.

    I also think that the movie deals with the Batman in crisis; a superhero reflects super problems, or larger than life ones. This film is interesting in the Batman franchise because it is the failure of the Batman and his entire support network; it is the one time that the public has ever seen him overwhelmed by the odds, and somehow lose at everything. His romantic interest, Harvey, and also the Joker. It’s a surprise and an upset. Granted, the problems are larger than life, but we’ve all always expected Batman (or any superhero) for that matter, to pull through; it just always happens. After all, Spider-Man beat Dr. Octopus, right? And he also got the girl.

    I think the Dark Knight represents a great step forward for superhero flicks, allowing for a much greater depth to the world and for expectations. It sounds like a lot of sequels will have a dip in the character arcs…but it should be interesting to watch.

  13. zodmicrobe says:

    I have a theory.

    Sometimes, a movie can be really good and basically grow in stature and identity after its initial box office run.

    You can see this phenomenon with THE TERMINATOR, F/X, AUSTIN POWERS, and even THE MATRIX– the sequel for which blew the pants off of everything else in the marketplace as far as mainstream anticipation went. (The movie itself didn’t hold up as well, doubly so for MATRIX 3.)

    I think what happened was BATMAN BEGINS, which did reasonably well but not amazingly so at the box office, found an entire new audience when it reached DVD, primarily of people who never thought they’d like a BATMAN movie or who had given up on it after the Clooney/Schumacher disaster. But BATMAN BEGINS, I think is a very underrated movie.

    And when DARK KNIGHT trailers started and were basically, okay you have the setup, enough of that, now ON TO THE JOKER!… audiences flipped out.

    So basically: DARK KNIGHT has great word of mouth and repeat viewing because it’s a great movie. But the word got out because a bunch of people saw BATMAN BEGINS on DVD and were really shocked they liked it.

  14. mr_noy says:

    Why Batman does NOT = George W. Bush

    Batman is not an elected official and therefore not limited by checks and balances nor bound by the Constitution. GWB is an elected official who believes that he is not limited by checks and balances nor bound by the Constitution.

    Bruce Wayne is driven to become Batman through deep feelings of rage, grief and guilt. George W. Bush is driven to become the President of the United States because God told him to. Those are two very different pathologies.

    Batman might produce collateral damage in his wake (seriously, between BB and TDK Gotham’s finest must be filing a record number of in-the-line-of-duty injury claims) but ultimately he takes on evil by himself – he doesn’t send thousands of U.S. troops to fight his battles for him.

    Batman is appalled by what he has to become in order to defeat terrorism. GWB embraces what he has to become in order to stop terrorism.

    Batman stops himself before becoming a murderer. GWB invades Iraq.

    Batman wants Gotham to be ruled by law so that he can step down. GWB wants to subvert and rewrite the law as much as possible before he’s forced to step down.

    Batman plays on the fears of his enemies. GWB plays on the fears of his fellow Americans.

    Batman spies on the citizenry of Gotham to capture a known and active terrorist. Bush spies on the citizenry of the U.S. to capture people who might possibly be terrorists. Maybe. He doesn’t have to tell you. Why are you asking? Are YOU a terrorist? Be a good American and stop asking questions!

    Once Batman has stopped the threat he programs his spy network to self-destruct. GWB seeks to enlarge the scope of his spy network and make it permanant even though it arguably hasn’t stopped any threats.

    Batman can fly with a suit that makes him look like a bat and helps him accomplish his missions. GWB cannot fly but wears a flight suit that makes him look Presidential in front of a premature “Mission Accomplished” sign.

    At least when the young Bruce Wayne made a drunken fool of himself in public it was just an act.

    And finally: Batman will get another sequel. Bush can’t.

  15. I’m definitely feeling the Dark Knight love (and agree that it’s a good movie succeeding on its merits) but were you as underwhelmed by this week’s Venture Brothers as I was?

  16. Anonymous says:

    I’m way too cynical to believe your theory, sir.

    Well actually, that’s not completely true… it has more to do with my friends and me talking about the movie after watching it. We spent 40 minutes complaining about things we didn’t like but ended up agreeing that we all wanted to see it again.

    It’s hypnotic.

    Only explanation.

  17. mimitabu says:

    just saw the dark knight.

    short version: i agree with your theory.

    not quite as short version: 2.5 hours of constantly moving plot that’s always driven by around 2-3 very simple, very accessible dynamics between character and character, character and group, group and group, or character and concept. always. there’s almost no single moment in the movie where you couldn’t pause and say something like, “what’s going no with this scene is: batman(or someone else) wants/believes this, joker wants/believes that,” and have it be a compelling, easily recognizable theme. “joker wants chaos, X crime guy wants money, the shit happening now is happening because of this,” etc.

    so many good things happening in this movie–and i HATED batman begins. i thought the “we’re beating you over the head with this” philosophy of that movie was terribly shallow and dim, plot holes and incredible character actions abounded, and the action wasn’t very interesting anyway. dark knight takes the dumb philosophizing (and overall good acting) of batman begins, and transposes it into a tight, compelling plot, and (surprise!) suddenly the philosophizing tightens up and becomes interesting. add in heath ledger’s just-as-good-as-everyone-said-it-was, and you have a great movie.

    it’s pretty confusing to me how anyone could not call this movie good (even if it’s not up their alley)… it wears on its sleeve why it’s so good. acting, plot, action. sure, there’s big themes, but they support and are supported by the aforementioned 3 (notably, all 3 take a lot more work than thinking up “wouldn’t it be tough to end crime without doing criminal things?”). this was one of those “if there was even a chance of you liking this movie coming in, and the movie didn’t deliver what you wanted, what in the world did you want??” movies.

    • mimitabu says:

      mild (and sham

      “heath ledger’s just-as-good-as-everyone-said-it-was performance” of course.

      i wonder if batman begins could be described the same was as i describe the dark knight in the last paragraph regarding “if not this, what do you want??” but i just can’t see it because i have some sort of anti-backstory prejudice. to me, bb said: “hey i’ve got some halfbaked philosophy about good and evil (and POVERTY caused by NINJAS not CAPITALISM or GREED!), let me show you all the things that lead some guy to adopting this philosophy!” sure, i’d love to watch a bunch of events that are happening plainly for the sole purpose of justifying the heavyhanded philosophy you’re constantly narrating throughout the movie! bring it on!

      if someone replied, “the movie’s called batman BEGINS, what did you expect, stupid?” i’d respond, “hey, fair enough.” still, the chances of me rewatching batman begins are as low as the chances of me not rewatching the dark knight several times.

  18. uberfilmsnob says:

    So glad my friend sent me the link to this thread. I’ve been looking for dialogues/opinions about the links to present-day government administration / 9/11 ever since my boyfriend and I spent hours debating it after seeing The Dark Knight a second time (having seen it the first time just the night before). While he made no conclusions about the similarity of the phone tapping in the movie, he was adamant that there was a huge and obvious link. And I hadn’t made the direct connection, though when he brought it up I thought, “Oh, right.” It’s refreshing to see the original post and follow-up comments after unfortunately spending far too much time reading responses to the WSJ article on CNN. While there were a notable few that made sense to me, I was appalled at all the pro-Bush comparisons and support.

    Ultimately, now seeing a parallel, I don’t see it as so simple. As not a lot is for Batman/Bruce Wayne. And some of these posts here helped. Thank you.

    I loved both The Dark Knight (though I thought it could’ve been a tad shorter and still retained itself) and Batman Begins. And overall, I’m blown away by such a strong and potent sequel (something seemingly so difficult to do) and the great performances. Heath’s Joker is intoxicating.

    But I really was waiting in vain for that poster shot (displayed in your original post) to happen in the movie…

    • Me too…that is my one MINOR disappointed-it’s-not-in-the-movie action point. Actually, I kinda thought Joker would cause that, and blame it on The Bat, but it doesn’t really fit in the plot once you’ve seen it.

  19. dougo says:

    According to the Wall Street Journal, The Dark Knight is a smash hit because — wait for it — because the public secretly supports the policies of President George W. Bush.

    I don’t think that’s what that piece is actually saying. I think it’s saying that “Hollywood conservatives” (now there’s a phrase you wouldn’t expect to see in the WSJ!) shouldn’t be afraid to make “direct and realistic” films about good vs. evil, because that’s not box office poison like they think. There are still lots of problems with this supposition, but it’s different from saying that people are seeing this movie because it’s conservative.

    In the Tuesday matinee where I saw it, there was a gaggle of 13-year-old boys sitting in front of me who erupted into giggles whenever the Joker appeared on screen, no matter how horrifying his actions were supposed to be. I suspect some significant part of its box office comes from repeat viewings from this Beavis & Butthead demographic who just think the Joker is totally kick-ass.

    Anyway, I do have a hard time convincing myself that the message of the movie is not essentially the same as Cheney’s “dark side” comment:

    We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.

    The only difference I can see is that Gordon says we have to chase Batman, i.e. we have to keep these “dark side” practices illegal, rather than changing the law to allow them. But the whole idea of a Dark Knight being necessary, even if he’s only privately condoned by those in power, still seems like a conservative message, and one that kind of poisons the film for me.

    • Anonymous says:

      This Batman as Bush/Bauer thing makes me wonder about the roles of Batman, Dent and Gordon. They seem to be three different answers to the question “What does a good man do in a world where evil men thrive?” Batman is the outlaw, who goes beyond the law to bring down the wicked and accepts that he cannot be a part of society because of it – although he is restrained by his own moral code, and strengthened by a lifetime of dedication, in contrast to the impersonators from early on in the movie. Gordon is the pragmatist who works with what he’s got, tolerating smaller corruption to go after the bigger fish, and Dent is the crusader, clean, pure and public, the man Batman wants to inspire Gotham.

      Of the three of them, Batman is the hero, the one who gets results. Dent’s white knight style makes him a target and he breaks and the corrupt cops in Gordon’s department allow most of the Joker’s schemes to succeed. And yet, Batman needs Gordon and Dent to be Batman – he needs to know that there is goodness in society, and with his code against killing, he has to be able to trust someone to give the crooks he brings in a just trial.