“Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” — Batman
So, one recent Tuesday afternoon after seeing a trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, I decided to re-watch The Dark Knight itself. It’d been a few years, and perhaps I’ve aged a little, but I remember the experience being that of indistinct awe. I’m now struck by what I see as the film’s pervasive theme, that all solutions lie in the hands of others, not us, and these others take form in ways we’re asked to trust. This question isn’t explicit, however. It is implied in the nexus between identities chosen and imposed, between who they are and who they tell us they must be.
Batman’s an example of this. He is of course also Bruce Wayne. As Batman, he struggles with a protector’s fame. He grants no interviews, fleshes out no intrapsychic detail. He has impostors willing to fill the void between the outlines of the character he’s created. It is Batman’s essential believability that contains the character’s realism; his are mortal limits, and such limits make him almost one of us. One punk even asks, “What’s so different between me and you?” This is the seduction of proximity. Their fake caper is just that, however, a failed simulation. Asses are kicked and the Dark Knight saves all concerned. Though some may dream of seeing sunlight and donning a most formal disguise complete with ears and snarl, an ultracompetent other just like us is instead willing to sacrifice himself at an altar not his own.
We also have Harvey and Rachel, who, together with Wayne, love not triangularly but rather in parallel lines. Rachel herself seems no more than an opportunity for whatever we might call gender or the politics thereof to again be deemed a pesky irrelevance. In an early scene, Dent & Rachel are in court, trading a quirky flirt and attempting to indict and imprison a mob boss. A witness produces a gun, aims for Dent, and pulls the trigger. A click, two clicks, but Dent lives. Unruffled, he defends himself in a hypermasculine show of total control and legal aplomb equal to postmodern man’s task. Afterward, a noticeably rosy Maggie Gyllenhaal signals her role by dropping all formal pretence and asking Dent to “play nice” with a mutual friend, selling herself as something to later be saved.
The Joker himself chastises the table for their “group-therapy” sessions in daylight, perhaps a minor nod to The Sopranos, dropped in as the camera’s focus is turned toward the token tanned Italian of dubious means. The Joker is unlike most villains in that he doesn’t adhere to any ideological system that makes easy sense. No religion. No state. A taste for cash (actual cash? seriously?) that my brain connects implicitly to a need to finance his operation/s. A whole lotta words and a stated aim of watching our world burn, all for chaos’ sake. The man who we all must fear is too crazy to be real: the man minus ruse, at work cranking out arbitrary symbols on an unending scroll.
Both Batman and the Joker are broken. The trauma wrought on each is familial; the terror of absence v. the terror of presence. Batman’s father was, of course, killed, with a kind of surrogate authority now shared by both Alfred and Lucius, the sum of their differences as that which bisects Wayne/Batman’s personality. This tension is also his conscience. A traumatic opposite, the Joker fared poorly in comparison. For him there were no substitutes. His amateur plastic surgeon of a father serves as a template for the expression of chaos unrestrained by conscience.
But what is the right thing to do? What is the necessary thing to do? Who will judge us, and what will their judgement be? In the end, Rachel is erased and forgotten. Dent dies with his good face turned upward. The Joker remains in bondage. Wayne rides out into the light.
It occurred to me that Wayne/Batman is ultimately a man of independent wealth. His public life is something excessive and raw and distilled, the summary image of a generation’s faceless saviour. And the inevitable waning of their ambition will be met by his Rise. So, steady that collection of ballet shoes. Your hero is like you, mortal, an identity built on a truth of glass, opaque only to himself.
The rich are here to fight for our apathy. Their avatar is Patrick Bateman.