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What If?
I haven't seen the new Batman film, though I plan to go soon. And I only saw Batman Begins once, when it was playing in theaters, and was underwhelmed, in light of all the good reviews it had gotten, though that might have something to do with the fact that I had spilled copious mounds of bad "nacho cheese" on myself. But I've spent enough time reading about the film on the internet, including here on LJ, and talking about it with those who have seen it that I'm starting to think that both films need to be reconsidered along the lines of an auteurist approach to cinema.

While Christopher Nolan has been praised for making the films more serious and thoughtful than their predecessors, the trend has been to see his work on them as the equivalent of what Steven Soderbergh did with the Oceans 11 series, a way to have fun and make money while taking a break from challenging filmmaking. What if that assessment badly misses the mark, though? What if the Batman films were an integral part of his ouevre, a continuation of the theory-made-flesh ingenuity that made Memento seem so fresh when it came out?

Memento shares with Nolan's debut feature Following a meditation on the way in which a sense of purpose and, with it, identity is constituted over time. And it shares with his 2002 remake of the Norwegian film Insomnia and his 2006 period drama The Prestige a pronounced concern with what happens when individuals push themselves to the outer limits of their own self-understanding, a nebulous region where moving forward may mean forgetting what brought them there in the first place.

Perhaps the Batman films take this emphasis on identity and its potential undoing and restage them as a mass-market spectacle, not only in order to make massive amounts of money -- though that's surely the studio's chief goal and one that Nolan must share, up to a point -- but as a way of self-reflexively meditating on the relationship between genre and character. Batman, as Batman Begins made clear, is so single-minded in his pursuit of a specific goal, revenge, that he rejects any path that seems to delay its achievement. His monomania deprives him of the capacity to register the multitude of possibilities in negative relation to which his identity has been constructed.

Isn't that also the dilemma of the filmmaker making another Batman picture, with such tight constraints on everything from storylines to fashion that there is little room for maneuvering? In choosing to start a new Batman series, Nolan was like someone who starts playing a video game in which the potential to veer off mission is severely circumscribed. There might have been freedom to do things differently, but it was assuredly a little freedom in the sense that Jacques Lacan means.

Bearing all this in mind, wouldn't it make sense if the identity crisis facing Batman in The Dark Knight was founded on the realization that he is trapped in a role that verges on the flatness of caricature, one which by definition excludes all but a narrow spectrum of feelings and actions? I'm not sure, from what I've heard, that this is what happens in the film. I'll find out tomorrow. But, even if it's not overtly the case, I'll be looking for ways in which this problem is invoked by other means, such as the film's secondary characters. Right now, though, I'm going to go watch Batman Begins again in preparation.

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3 comments or Leave a comment
From: babyiwasshot Date: July 22nd, 2008 06:53 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Bearing all this in mind, wouldn't it make sense if the identity crisis facing Batman in The Dark Knight was founded on the realization that he is trapped in a role that verges on the flatness of caricature, one which by definition excludes all but a narrow spectrum of feelings and actions?

Richard Corliss of Time pointed out a similar point:

"he [the joker] says he'll stop terrorizing Gotham if Batman will come out from under the mask. A modest request from the bin Laden of movie villains, yet Bruce is reluctant. Or rather, the film is, since the informing principle of any franchise is perpetuation of the series. No secret, no Batman — just a moneybags with a Messiah complex.

Regardless, the joker is what makes the recent batman so great, which may be precisely on account of what you're implying: Nolan "shakes free" of the genre constraints in the secondary character of the joker. After all, he's the one responsible for all of the moral/ethical dilemmas I so enthusiastically laud. Harvey Dent is another character to watch.

I'm also curious as to the extent Nolan's brother, Jonathan, plays in making his films what they are. Memento was based on one of his short stories, and he co-wrote the screenplay to the latest batman, so....I dunno.

Keep an eye out for other, more "minor" cultural issues that manifest in the flick too; the character from China/Hong Kong may suggest anxiety about America's dwindling world economic status, etc.

From: catfishvegas Date: July 22nd, 2008 08:28 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
If this is your state of pondering going in, I think you'll love The Dark Night. I sure as hell did.
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: July 22nd, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

It's all about Principle v. Practice; You'll love it.

The main issue in this series is Batman's running up against his vow to not kill ever. He's finally met a villain who he wants to kill. Even being Batman aside, he just wants to rip the Joker's freaking head off. And worse than the visceral reaction, he feels death would be justified in this case. But! He's vowed to not do it!

So the main character issue for Bruce in this issue is dealing with that cold reality that it's pretty darn easy to be Principled if you never have to apply it along with dealing with finding himself constantly trying to see how far he can push the line, and the principles (or not) inherent in doing *that*. And the fact that since he is ever considering it (and considering how to rationalize it) might be a sign that he is no longer "Batman", you know?)

Christian Bale has said in quite a few places that he wasn't sure he captured that internal dilemma that goes with the realization of, essentially, "eh, fuck it, maybe I just don't care enough any more [to be principled]" but I think he did a good job.

Plus, the clowns are creepy as hell!
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