Batman the political knightCommentary


Some conservatives say that the over-long, technologically indulgent and story-rich Batman movie, "The Dark Knight," justifies President Bush.

Be advised: You probably should not read further if you haven't seen the film and intend to see it.

Batman saves the city from a bona fide terrorist. This dude called The Joker, performed so spectacularly by the late Heath Ledger that Ledger surely will become more of a legend than James Dean, is one bona fide evil-doer, an American bin Laden, but with charisma and an eerily ingratiating comic touch.

"You complete me," The Joker says to Batman, mimicking Rene Zellweger's character to Tom Cruise's Jerry McGuire in maybe the most syrupy romantic moment of contemporary American moviedom.

Batman avails himself of compromised Bushian means to achieve a secure and orderly end. He prevails on his main techno-geek to spy on everyone's cellular phone conversations. He tortures The Joker in frantic pursuit of vital information.

In the end Batman rides away from angry pursuers, having agreed to accept the villain's role unjustly so that people can be saved and fortified, even as -- indeed, because -- they are denied, or spared, the bare and ugly truth.

On the other hand, some Barack Obama supporters say this movie celebrates the audacity of hope.

Given remote detonators with which to blow each other up -- or, more to the point, blow up the others to save themselves -- frightened people on two ferries agonizingly decline.

Yes, we can -- do the right thing, that is.

Since the movie was completed before Obama seriously contended for the presidency, we can assume that any political application to him is wholly unintended. Some of any good story's most powerful applications often are wholly unintended.

This story isn't merely a dark contemplation of good and evil, although it is surely that. Here's when it's darkest: It's when you find yourself feeling ashamed because you're hoping The Joker will get back on screen.

It's not as if you're starting to like the psychopathic creep, exactly. It's that his sheer sarcastic and cerebral meanness is, well, I suppose the word is engaging.

But it's truth, more than good and evil, that the story is about. "The Dark Knight" is mostly a more thorough treatise on Jack Nicholson's famous line in another movie, "A Few Good Men."

We can't handle the truth.

Blame me, Batman insists. The people must have hope. They must have something to believe in. Only the big lie will provide it.

And Batman himself is spared a hard personal truth. Being spared that truth is, perhaps, the only thing that sustains him as he rides away as the dark knight, the noble and unjustly cast villain.

He knows that his girl, his life's love, was devoted to him until her bitter end. Except she wasn't. We know what Michael Caine knows, which is what was in her note, the one that Michael Caine burned. It's that she was going to marry the other guy.

The heroic cop lets his wife and son think he's dead to enhance the scheme to get The Joker.

The movie seems to be saying that sometimes it's best to be lied to, if the purpose is benevolent and the effect sustaining and benign. The movie seems to invite us to consider what's benevolent and what's benign and to ponder who gets to decide.

That's reasonably deep, especially for a comic-book movie.

And it's not a bad way to spend a couple of air-conditioned summer hours, if you can't get past all that surround-sound exploding and the techno-orgy.

John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.

 

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