The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age

    The Dark Knight Rises

    On the strength of Mary Ann Johanson's 4-star review of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises in the Monterey Weekly,, I did something for the first time since the releases of Gran Torino and Mystic River, I bought a ticket to see a non-arthouse film. Given Johanson's expansive rave, I was expecting not only a cinematographic tour-de-force of but also scathing social commentary decrying the overlordship of New York, er Gotham, City by financial robber barons.

    Instead, I suffered through a bombastic, repetitive, over-long, and occasionally incoherent fascist fantasy. I have not seen the first two Dark Knights, so at least some of my confusion may be due to unfamiliarity with details in the previous films. To be fair, I'll concentrate here on my problems with Dark Knight Rises that could not result from ignorance of its predecessors and conclude with a critique of its retrograde politics.

    The always good Joseph Gordon-Levitt - is given little to do but stand or drive around looking bewildered, bemused, or distraught. Scenes involving the film's most compelling figure - Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle/Catwoman - always devolve into fast-cut, fast-mo, fight sequences that leave the viewer dizzy but unenlightened.

    Exceptional actors portray the main characters and they do look good muttering, scurrying about, and appearing concerned while momentous music rises on the soundtrack, but they never elicit any real sympathy or recognition in the viewer. Some might argue that this is all besides the point in a new-fashioned effects-driven blockbuster. But why should we care about dazzling explosions and breath-taking escapes if we are indifferent to those getting blown up or cheating death by a hair's breath?

    There are a number of chases involving, cars, motorcycles, and bat vehicles rushing through city streets but all are unsatisfying. As today's filmmakers are wont to do, Nolan substitutes IMAX-rumbling effects for the nearly unbearable tension that truly great directors created 40 or more years ago in famous chase scenes - all filmed in New York City. Examples of the latter include: Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle chasing a sniper under the elevated train tracks in William Friedkin's The French Connection, as well as scenes in Philip D'Antoni's The Seven Ups, and John Frankenheimer's The French Connection II.

    Perhaps in order to sustain the movie's dark tone and save money on lighting as well, Nolan makes a very serious goof, the villains storm the just-opened Gotham stock exchange in broad daylight, escaping the police cordon established outside within a few minutes on motorcycles. After disappearing into a tunnel with half the police force in hot pursuit, the baddies emerge seconds later into . . . the dark night. Where exactly did the sun go? Does anybody care?

    For me the above problems render The Dark Knight Rises mediocre but not malignant, its toxicity stems from its obviously reactionary sensibilities. Uber-villain Bane and a number of his accomplices hail from Uzbekistan so they are not only not American but almost certainly Muslim to boot.

    In one instructive scene, Bruce Wayne learns that his charitable foundation no longer supports an orphanage because the multinational weapons manufacturer Wayne Industries has not shown a profit in years. "No profits means no donations," Wayne's wise and kindly CEO tells him. In other words, to maintain the safety net, we must ensure the flow of continued profits to the 1%. In other scenes, the need to develop sustainable energy sources is voiced but none of the heroic characters embrace this position as they drive, fly, and hover around in carbon-fuel guzzling vehicles.

    Nolan presents the political structure of Gotham City wherein the rich and powerful govern as benevolent, uncorrupt, and backed up by tough caring cops. The one example of official corruption in pre-Bane Gotham is Police Commissioner Gordon's tortured and apparently justifiable decision to maintain as pristine the public image of a now dead District Attorney who did so much to clean up Gotham's streets by locking up the criminal element without observing all the niceties of due process.

    In a barely-veiled attack on Occupy Wall Street, Bane attempts to win over Gotham's populace by demonizing Wall Street and the superrich and promising to return power to the people. Before Bane's coup, however, Gotham is shown as clean and tidy with nobody apparently living in impoverished conditions. Afterwards, in a city quickly littered with flotsam and detritus, a hungry little boy is surrounded by thugs eager to wrest from him an apple he apparently stole. There's even a "ticking time-bomb" scene in which Batman must torture Bane in order to save millions who will be killed if he does not identify his accomplice.

    The film's disdain for Occupy Wall Street is most obvious when several hundred uniformed police officers confront felons Bane released from Gotham's Blackgate Prison. The felons are armed with some of the newest gadgetry wrested from the Wayne Industries warehouse as well as all manner of automatic weapons and high-tech armored vehicles. The police are on foot and without faceguards, shields or artillery beyond their sidearms, yet with Batman's help these brave public servants prevail.

    The moving images of a mass of police confronting fellow Gothamites is eerily similar to the real-life dramas played out in the streets of Manhattan and around the country over the past year when mayor's directed police chiefs to roust out Occupiers in city's all across America. Only, in real America, unlike fictional America, the police were the ones with high-tech weaponry, covered faces, metal shields, and the backing of those with money and power while the protesters were nonviolent, unarmed, and defenseless.

    The Dark Knight franchise has already generated millions, perhaps billions, in profits. Maybe, that's part of the reason that Johanson and lots of other critics have given it such high marks. It's tough to swim against the tide. Regardless, I think I'll wait for the next Eastwood movie before again venturing to a mass-release motion picture.


    Everybody hates the film but for opposing reasons.

    The usual Right Wing Radio Reactionaries revealed that this film was part of the beginning of the Democrats' smear  on Bain/Bane and sheer Obama-loving anti-Romney propaganda.


    Batman franchise $2.5 billion worldwide

    You're stupid. Arthouse films are gay and so are you. Go suck a dick


    You make a strong case, and should come here more often. 

    There's a guy named Articleman here who says you have a very small penis. 

    And a guy dressed as Ric Flair who has committed unspeakable acts, but totally consensual (they were her sick ideas) with his mother.

    are gay and so are you

    As in cheery, gay, sunny?

    And that would mean you prefer the depressing, cheerless, uncheerful? The dark, the bleak, the dismal and the violent?

    Ironically, turns out that in the 1950's, when comic books were being attacked for corruption of youth, the Batman character was accused of pandering to homosexual tendencies:

    ...In the nineteen-fifties, there would be hearings in Congress after Fredric Wertham, a New York psychiatrist, published a polemic blaming comics for everything from truancy to murder. (Batman was singled out for homosexuality. Wertham wrote of one of his violent thirteen-year-old patients, “Like many other homoerotically inclined children, he was a special devotee of Batman.”) But in the nineteen-thirties, the problem with Batman was Batman’s gun.

    In a story published in October of 1939, Batman used a handgun to shoot a vampire...

    P.S. It occurs to me that should you ever return to this site, someone should warn you that the Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Night Trilogy, has been known to make "art house films"

    I really enjoyed this piece and hope you'll do more. Frankly, I wouldn't have thought to even read a "review" (a word which understates your effort) so I appreciate being surprised by a post like this..

    As for Clint, not sure if you're serious, but I liked his work even before it became acceptable to like his work---except for his rendition of "I talk to the trees" in "Paint your wagon".

    Sondra Locke's two-minute scouring of the Highway Patrolman in "Gauntlet" is to me worth 200 hours of blockbuster films.


    Thanks for the props Oxy Mora - I am a huge Clint Eastwood fan.  For an under-appreciated and seldom seen gem, check out "The Beguiled."

    Funny aside, but the creators of Bane are hardcore conservatives (more so than the creators of Bain!) and this is the second time that Rush Limbaugh has criticized them as liberals.  In response, they pointed out that the character certain parodies Occupy, if anything.  And, Nolan's crew did use Occupy in their filming.

    Is Nolan a fascist?  I doubt it?  Does he indulge in fascist fantasies?  That's always been part of the most thoughtful Batman stuff.  It's the story of a rich man who uses superior weapons to impose his will on the rest of us.  If Iron Man is the utopian hope that military technology can flawlessly pick out the guilty from the innocent in asymmetric warfare (in the first Iron Man movie the hero goes to the middle east and does just this -- it's on the nose symbolism) then Batman says, "Not possible.  But we're going to do it anyway."

    And, yes, Gotham looks a too Triumph of the Will in the first two movies (haven't seen the latest).  I don't know if that's Nolan's fault or if the Nazis just ruined art deco for the rest of us.

    Thank God for my always-progressive childhood hero.....

    Captain America. 

    Random thoughts:

    It's a comic-book-based, live-action-role-playing game filmed to be imitated and merchandised.

    Of course Dark Knight is political.  Watching and criticizing it as art or simply entertainment misses its point which from the reviews I have read is fairly muddled anyway. 

    Comics are particularly effective agitprop especially the superhero ones.  Have been for a very long time.  

    "Russian theatre agitprop was noted for its cardboard characters of perfect virtue and complete evil, and its coarse ridicule"

    What is it about Eastwood that appeals to a self-described arthouse film buff?  

    Eastwood's box office mojo adjusted for inflation.  

    Adjusted for Ticket Price Inflation

    Rank Title (click to view) Studio Adjusted Gross Unadjusted Gross Release
    1 Every Which Way But Loose WB $288,357,300 $85,196,485 12/20/78
    2 Any Which Way You Can WB $208,120,400 $70,687,344 12/17/80
    3 In the Line of Fire Col. $195,732,700 $102,314,823 7/9/93
    4 Unforgiven WB $193,172,800 $101,157,447 8/7/92
    5 Magnum Force WB $177,945,000 $39,768,000 12/25/73
    6 Dirty Harry WB $172,684,800 $35,976,000 12/22/71
    7 The Enforcer WB $171,919,800 $46,236,000 12/22/76
    8 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly UA $165,660,000 $25,100,000 12/29/67
    9 Sudden Impact WB $164,803,000 $67,642,693 12/9/83
    10 Gran Torino WB $163,358,600 $148,095,302 12/12/08
    11 Escape from Alcatraz Par. $135,681,300 $43,000,000 6/22/79
    12 Space Cowboys WB $132,886,600 $90,464,773 8/4/00
    13 The Bridges of Madison County WB $130,209,600 $71,516,617 6/2/95
    14 Firefox WB $125,826,400 $46,708,276 6/18/82
    15 Million Dollar Baby WB $124,195,800 $100,492,203 12/15/04
    16 The Outlaw Josey Wales WB $118,242,200 $31,800,000 6/30/76
    17 Tightrope WB $113,481,300 $48,143,579 8/17/84
    18 For a Few Dollars More UA $99,000,000 $15,000,000 5/10/67
    19 A Fistful of Dollars UA $95,700,000 $14,500,000 1/18/67
    20 The Gauntlet WB $93,813,500 $26,414,658 12/21/77
    21 Pale Rider WB $92,386,400 $41,410,568 6/28/85
    22 Thunderbolt and Lightfoot UA $91,905,900 $21,700,000 5/24/74
    23 Heartbreak Ridge WB $89,073,500 $42,724,017 12/5/86
    24 City Heat WB $88,179,200 $38,348,988 12/7/84
    25 Absolute Power Sony $86,392,400 $50,068,310 2/14/97
    26 Paint Your Wagon Par. $80,873,200 $14,500,000 10/15/69
    27 The Dead Pool WB $73,039,900 $37,903,295 7/15/88
    28 Bronco Billy WB $71,443,900 $24,265,659 6/11/80
    29 High Plains Drifter Uni. $70,250,800 $15,700,000 8/22/73
    30 Hang 'em High UA $66,503,800 $11,000,000 8/3/68
    31 A Perfect World WB $59,496,800 $31,130,999 11/24/93
    32 The Eiger Sanction Uni. $54,860,500 $14,200,000 1975
    33 Play Misty for Me Uni. $50,880,000 $10,600,000 11/12/71
    34 The Rookie (1990) WB $40,559,900 $21,633,874 12/7/90
    35 Where Eagles Dare MGM $39,600,000 $7,100,000 3/12/69
    36 Blood Work WB $35,762,800 $26,235,081 8/9/02
    37 Joe Kidd Uni. $29,490,300 $6,330,000 7/14/72
    38 Kelly's Heroes MGM $26,570,300 $5,200,000 6/23/70
    39 True Crime WB $25,957,900 $16,649,768 3/19/99
    40 Two Mules for Sister Sara Uni. $25,803,900 $5,050,000 6/16/70
    41 Pink Cadillac WB $24,225,800 $12,143,484 5/26/89
    42 Coogan's Bluff Uni. $18,802,400 $3,110,000 10/2/68
    43 Honky Tonk Man WB $12,082,000 $4,484,991 12/17/82
    44 The Beguiled Uni. $5,280,000 $1,100,000 3/31/71
    45 White Hunter, Black Heart WB $4,342,200 $2,319,124 9/14/90


    Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven, Play Misty for Me, Two Mules for Sister Sara

    Clint's a natural curmudgeon looking to be good, but it never comes easy - the tension is beguiling.

    I suppose one conclusion we can draw from the adjusted gross is if you really want a blockbuster, make the co-star an orangutan.  People love orangutans - nature's goofballs. 

    Comics are particularly effective agitprop especially the superhero ones.  Have been for a very long time.

    Thought of your comment, Emma, when I saw this cartoon by Juan Cole:

    And in the process of coming here to post it, I also noticed a sentence in Hal's essay that seems to serve Cole's topic well: a bombastic, repetitive, over-long, and occasionally incoherent fascist fantasy

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