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Sunday, August 5, 2012

before the dark knight rises

I’ll just go right ahead and stick a massive SPOILER ALERT at the beginning of this post. For Batman Begins and the Dark Knight. Though not for the new movie. Spoiler alerts exist for people like me, people who want to see the thing in its organic, unshaped, untouched element. People who believe that the power of a story in its first form is the power it has to surprise, to catch you off-guard, to give you moments of shock and awe. People who want to get scared the first time they see the joker kill a guy in a batman costume and slam his body into a window interrupting the meeting Gordon has with the mayor.. If you are that kind of person and you have not watched the dark knight rises this is not for you.

It’s been four years since the last movie and the last movie was bleak we see batman running from the police his honour stained, his reputation shot and everything he worked for thrown away because sometimes only on  lies can you build anything and for whatever else we say about them foundations of falsehood remain foundations. Four years is a while, it’s as long as high school and to get ready for this movie(it’s so rare that a movie comes along that motivates me to get ready for it that it’s a chance I grab with both hands) I watched both batman begins and the dark knight. The first is a story of a man. We explore this human being who would be more. We are introduced to him as a boy and as a lost adult, two stages of life that existence practically assures for us all. We see him struggle with himself and his philosophy, see him draw  lines and put himself in a straitjacket because in life we all need straitjackets of our own making lines we are unwilling to cross lines that if we do cross we feel as if a bone was broken. The making of those straitjackets is the making of a human being and in the first movie we see this man fit himself into what he needs to be. Then we see him put on the mask of a billionaire playboy, a façade that we can all be jealous of but one of those punishments we would wish on our worst enemy, a life of shallowness, despair and emptiness. He shows himself as spoiled, vain and beyond help. When one of his father’s friends says to him “the apple has fallen very far from the tree.” I can see his pain and his sacrifice, not the wounds on his body but the fact that he has to be thought of like this in order for the ruse to work.

The second movie is about Gotham more than anything else. The Joker walks on fully formed, batman has nowhere to go but towards more sacrifice. It is only in two characters that we see dramatic arcs and changes. The first is the sympathetic fall of Harvey Dent, Gotham’s white knight. We see a man of honour with a chance at legitimacy pulled down from his tower. “Madness as you know is like gravity all it takes is a little push” says the Joker and push he does. He involves the whole city in manhunts making the citizens demand first for batman’s blood and then for the blood of he who would deliver it. He puts the fate of the citizens in their own hands playing a game of chaos theory the conclusion of which has a hardened murderer throw away the key to his salvation, a point at which everyone sappy for hope feels like applauding. We see Gotham who we met in the first movie suffering too. This is the third attempt at its destruction in a span of about 20 years. We see the city groaning under the weight of  despair sinking and sinking under explosions madness and half crazed half faced heroes. In front of us is a city that does need a masked man to do what the police won’t and even more tellingly needs him to say he did what their actual hero did. The true face of Gotham is Harvey Dent, torn in half between hope and despair and ready to kill itself and its citizens at the toss of a coin, the second movie leaves a city on its knees, with the means to win a war but using weapons tainted and smeared with falsehood and lies, weapons too brittle to keep up the fight, too fragile to really win it because like the Joker said it was a battle for the soul of Gotham and that soul is tainted.

Then I read a Tale of Two Cities  because an interview said that Jonathan Nolan had given it to his brother as a primer for the script. This book by Dickens was  a major inspiration for the movie and I had never read Dickens. Well Dickens is funny and dramatic "it was the best of times it was the worst of times" begins the book. He can also draw atmosphere resurrecting the feeling of fear and the threat of bloodshed that existed in the French capital during their revolution. He talks of the rise of sweet sister guillotine and her sweet kiss. After years of a suffering that is difficult to imagine for me, a suffering that probably still happens in the world today where the poor and downtrodden many times have no hope but to continue to be poor and downtrodden the masses rise. They rise against their oppressors, the people who could have so much and leave so little for the rest. They take over everything the justice system, the courts and the borders. They throw people in the bastille and barely record their presence in the prison. When their time comes they are dragged in front of a kangaroo court a place of judgement filled with scorn and hate and fuelled by the blood of the mob that come there every day at the appointed hour to await their victims. The women are more ferocious than the men as Dickens is able to turn the simple act of knitting into the very picture of a black widow waiting, watching, slowly, implacably and patiently.

Paris then is like Gotham at the end of the Dark Knight, a place of emotion raw and powerful where people are not swayed by logic because they did what was logical and watched the rich get richer. Now they are swayed by emotion. The mob is just as likely to tear you to pieces as it is to carry you off on their shoulders. The same faces twisted into merriment at a sentence of life are twisted into more by a sentence of death. And death does come as the prison cells are emptied of their occupants and the occupants are emptied of their heads a death sure and quick the kiss of the guillotine finds many necks and leads to an ending which while predictable (maybe because of all the people who have used it since then) doesn’t take away from its emotional urgency. It is for all intents and purposes a happy ending but it is also the saddest happy ending I have had the pleasure to read.

SPOILER ALERT (for a Tale of Two Cities and the Prestige.)They both use body doubles to give us the big reveal at the end, the reveal for the prestige is a major plot point the reveal for a Tale isn’t a plot point since you do see it coming from far away however it is a tear point. Just found it weird that another of Christopher Nolan’s creations had a similarity with this book. And with the dark knight, it’s the reason batman always uses that voice even if he’s alone. The magicians in the prestige cut off his finger so that they could remain twins. These seem to be the kind of characters he believes in people of superhuman integrity and I guess it’s why his batman can take so much and suffer so bad.

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