John on July 24, 2008 at 8:22 pm
I remember back when the third installment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films came out that some wag (I can’t recall who) wondered if Aragorn (aka Viggo Mortensen) knew he was President Bush. They were referring in particular to Aragorn’s speech before the black gate:
A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day…
Coming at a time when the President was constantly defending his War on Terror as a difficult but necessary fight, it did seem to fit.
In the same way, as I watched the most recent Batman film last week, I began to wonder. Did the filmmakers realize they were talking about George Bush? [mild spoiler alert for what follows]
It seemed an unlikely comparison at first. Given Hollywood’s general attitude toward Iraq and Bush in particular, comparing him to the Caped Crusader probably sounds like a long shot. In fact, I had almost talked myself out of when, late in the film, Bruce Wayne creates a supercomputer that can spy on all of Gotham at once. His friend Lucius Fox agrees to help him use it just this once to find the Joker. The reference to the administration’s wire-tapping scandal was impossible to miss. They really were talking about George Bush. Stranger still, they seemed to appreciate him, or at least, his situation.
In The Dark Knight, Gotham City comes under a withering assault by a new breed of criminal. The Joker, as one character later explains, “got no rules.” In another scene Heath Ledger’s character describes himself as an agent of anarchy. He truly seems capable of doing anything, utterly unhindered by the morality of mere mortals. At one point in the film he issues a threat which later results in the complete demolition of a major hospital. The Joker is a terrorist.
The Joker makes great sport at the expense of Gotham’s citizens. He pushes them to the point that many of them seem only too willing to become villains themselves or, at least, to confuse the hero and the villain at the drop of a hat. At the end of the film one can easily imagine the sort of vile things these fools will soon be saying about Batman. It was really him that blew up the hospital! He should be tried and executed for his crimes! Sort of like the things the left has been saying about Bush for the last four years.
Sometimes the real hero is the guy everyone loves to hate. Fortunately Gotham has a hero. No, not that one. A crusading DA who is out to clean up the city. I won’t spoil the ending but it will come as a surprise to no one that Batman saves the day. The point the film makes, the really surprising, insightful and interesting point, is that Batman can save the day not by being the beloved hero — no ticker tape parade or fainting followers — but by being the scapegoat, i.e. the villain to all but a handful who know better. This, the film suggests, is the greatest sacrifice one can make for others short of death itself.
The film makes the case, and I agree, that we’re lucky to have someone on our side who is willing to give up everything, even the respect of the (sometimes unworthy) people he protects. That’s the lesson of The Dark Knight, sometimes good guys don’t wear white. Sometimes the real hero is the guy everyone loves to hate.
Update: I see someone else has come to the same conclusion.