Bruce? Meet Dick.

This Spencer Ackerman piece in yesterday’s Washington Independent is definitely worth reading because it asks a fascinating question — is Batman’s become-my-enemy response to the Joker’s aggressive anarchy in The Dark Knight analagous to Vice-President Dick Cheney‘s approach to dealing with Islamic terrorism? In other words, is Chris Nolan‘s film some kind of stealth right-wing statement?

“The thought of Vice President Dick Cheney in a form-fitting bat costume might be too much for most people to bear. But the concepts of security and danger presented in Christopher Nolan‘s new Batman epic, The Dark Knight, align so perfectly with those of the Office of the Vice President that David Addington, Cheney’s chief of staff and former legal counsel, might be an uncredited script doctor.
“Insofar as it’s possible to view an action movie that had the biggest three-day-opening in cinematic history as a comment on the current national-security debate, The Dark Knight weighs in strongly on the side of the Bush administration. Confronting the Joker, a nihilistic enemy whose motives are both unexplained and beside the point, the Batman faces his biggest dilemma yet: whether to abuse his power in order to save Gotham City.
“Again and again in the movie, the Batman’s moral hand-wringing results in the deaths of innocents. Only by becoming like the monster he must vanquish can Batman secure a victory that even he understands is Pyrrhic.”

  • BurmaShave

    It’s not stealth, it’s discussed explicitly in the film. And it’s not a statement, it’s a question. Jesus I know these people have to find angles, but how fucking stupid.

  • iamjoe

    Nice, I just got done reading this myself. There are some good questions there, but I can’t go so far as giving the complement of comparing Cheney to Batman.
    Plus Batman actually captured the terrorist mastermind in this; something the Bush Admin has failed to do.

  • Scott Mendelson

    Reposted from a dead thread – sorry, but it’s as relevant here as there.
    I don’t know if the film was any particular political stripe. Yes, Batman spies on civilians, but the film looks down on it, or at least treats it as a terrible cost rather than a must-have toy for government to have. I was more bothered by the extraordinary rendition that occurs about 35 minutes into the movie, both with the moral implications, and the unrealistic lack of any consequences (in the real world, their would have been an international outcry and everyone from the mayor to Gordon likely would have had to resign).
    As for as the headline of this thread ‘Abu Ghraib Attitude’, it should be noted that had Batman spent less time beating the crap out of The Joker, it’s likely that Joker would have told him the locations of the kidnappees sooner and its possible that Batman and Gordon could have saved them both (at the least, it would have been less of a close call for Dent and thus saved his face).
    Besides, the whole point of Dent’s downfall is that he ‘goes to the darkside’ and becomes a complete ‘no rules’ vigilante, to the point where he attempts to murder innocent people to avenge a crime that someone else committed. Surely that sums up much of the problem with Bush and Cheney’s post 9/11 policy. It’s not just that they did terrible things to fight terror, it’s that they did them to innocent people indiscriminately to make themselves look effective and thus made us less safe and made more enemies. Batman may walk a fine line, but he’s always been more about protecting the innocent than punishing the guilty.
    The biggest annoyance I have with the movie, regardless of my politics, is the very end, which seems to endorse the kind of propaganda attitude that brought us false hero myths like Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman. Aside from the obvious question of why Gordan and Batman simply blamed the handful of murders on anyone else (like, oh, I dunno… The Joker??), the film’s alleged philosophy seemed to endorse the use of mass deception to make people feel more warm and fuzzy.
    Besides, I’m not sure how much better the citizens of Gotham would feel about believing that their champion was kidnapped, horribly deformed, then brutally murdered for standing up for what’s right (it’s not like everyone felt great after Bobby Kennedy and MLK Jr were murdered in 1968).
    As for inspiring Gotham, I’m pretty sure the actions of the people on the ferries would serve as an effective (and truthful) example of good people not giving into the darkness that destroyed Dent.

  • K. Bowen

    Why did he choose Dick Cheney? Batman clearly has overtones of George W. Bush. Here, watch:
    – Batman and Bush are both the rebellious sons of wealthy, prominent families who turn into self-styled terrorism-fighters.
    – The Joker is attracted to attack Gotham because of its newfound virtue.
    – The rising death toll results in the unpopularity of the person defending Gotham rather than the terrorist attacking it and causing the deaths. While there are calls for Batman to give into the demands of The Joker, he ultimately decides to continue fighting, because giving in won’t stop The Joker.
    – Cell phone monitoring is presented as a distasteful practice but necessary to defeat The Joker.
    – Batman’s final choice – to accept and absorb public contempt from the public that he’s trying to defend – is very George Bush. That’s probably exactly how George Bush has viewed himself.
    – So while liberals see the ending as dark, as heroes being “corrupted” by coming so close to evil, conservatives see it as cheating on principle to pragmiatically defend principle. It might be unlikable, but the job gets done.
    Is it a critique or a defense, or a little of both? I don’t know. but that’s one way to read things. Although if you only read it that way, you’re missing a lot.

  • Arran

    As I believe Freud said, sometimes a guy in a bat suit is just a guy in a bat suit.

  • K. Bowen

    Conservatives also love Batman Begins. As do followers of Strauss-Howe generational theory. I haven’t checked over on that board yet, but I’m guessing they have a lot of interesting ideas about the film.
    And whether it was planned or fortuitous, Obama is Harvey Dent.

  • LYT

    If Cheney took a murder rap on himself, I’d accept the analogy.
    As for why Batman did — doing so makes criminals fear him again. They were getting complacent.

  • Craptastic

    This is proof that anyone can find a “message” in anything as long as they’re looking for it.
    The reaction you have from a particular film that doesn’t spoon-feed says boatloads about you as a person. Kubrick knew it, Mann knows it, LaBute is very close…
    What I find fascinating about this is the fact that we’re talking about a Batman film in this regard.

  • D.Z.

    Well, if you’re going to take it that far, you could also argue that TDK’s *anti-Bush*, since Bats tends to exhibit over-confidence in dealing with the Joker. As a result, his hubris, coupled with his bungling, leads to innocent officials getting attacked, much like how Bush’s thoughtlessness and irresponsibility led to the Pentagon and WTC taking hits. Furthermore, his obsession with protecting his own in the form of Dent [Rove or Musharraf] compromises Rachel’s [Plame's] identity and her safety[shades of Bhutto]. Finally, his refusal to deal with problem spots until it’s too late [Two-Face or Al Qaida/Taliban in Afghanistan] puts Gordon’s family [the American people] at risk.

  • Entropy

    My admittedly way off projections of the success of this movie aside, I have been saying for a while now that this film (and Batman Begins) skews more right than left.
    It is a much more complex argument of the same sort of ideological statement made in a film like 300 and I am expecting there to be a huge backlash against the Nolan Batman films by the time the 3rd film comes out. Much in the same way there was a backlash against Forest Gump once boomers realized the film was a scathing critique of their generation, not a ringing endorsement of them. Or in the same way there was a backlash against 24 once it was realized how much consevatives loved Jack Bauer.
    Where Batman is complex is that it shows that prosecuting the War on Terror while necessary, does take a toll and comes at a cost. But make no mistake, Nolan says the war – must – be fought and the cost is necessary.
    I agree that the ending is the key. The first casualty of war is truth and Batman and Gordon know this. But it goes beyond the fake heroism of a soldier or two, it is also, Batman knowing that sometimes the supreme sacrifice is having one’s own good deeds going unheralded for a greater good. By the end, Batman knows he must be perceived as a villain. Far from being a nihilistic film, it is inspirational. It shows sacrifice and honor in the face of true abject horror. Horror that has no excuses made for it, is evil and must be stopped. There is no moral hand-wringing to explain or apologize for the Joker. Ledger and Nolan create a villain so one dimensionally evil that in a lesser pic, it would be seen as a flaw.
    The film does not mock left wing views so much as it takes their arguments seriously, logs and notes them, then says ultimately, in this instance, they do not work.
    If anything, I agree that Dent is the nominal liberal in the equation who does not really know what he is up against until he gets in too far. Then it is too late.
    Batman knows from the start what he is dealing with and as such, does suffer, but we know he will be able to handle his scar tissue.

  • Craptastic


  • York “Budd” Durden

    >Confronting the Joker, a nihilistic enemy
    No. This writer does not understand the meaning of nihilistic. To believe in anarchy and chaos is not believing in “nothing”.

  • JD

    Okay, this is ridiculous. Clearly, the author of this article didn’t understand the movie. The Dark Knight isn’t some kind of Dirty Harry-esque celebration of vigilantism. Not only does Batman’s approach ATTRACT criminals to Gotham, but this ultimately leads to (I want to be careful with spoilers here) all kinds of death and destruction. A case could be made that Gotham is much worse off after The Dark Knight ends than it was before it began. If you want to be analagous to the real world, I think the argument can be made that people like Cheney are inspiring people to become violent, rather than actually cracking down on existing violence.

  • swordandpen

    Considering how many of Batman’s tactics backfired on him, resulting in more deaths as well as a corruption of his own principles, hardly makes this movie an endorsement of the Bush administration. If anything, the movie is clearly illustrating how reacting to fear makes people do completely wrongheaded things.
    The Joker may have been caught and his plan with the ferries didn’t pan out, but, let’s face it, he still won, leaving the city in shambles and getting people to compromise their values. All out of spreading fear. Wasn’t the Joker’s plan a more elaborate one than what Liam Neeson’s character in the first one proposed. Basically, creating a situation so that Gotham City could tear itself apart through fear.
    Besides, if this movie endorsed the Bush administration’s policies, once Batman learned the Joker was behind all this chaos, he would have ignored the evidence and gone after the Penguin or Riddler instead.

  • Josh Massey

    As I said in an earlier thread, if you insist on seeing a political angle, the film is definitely pro-Bush. And K.Bowen nails why.
    In Oldman’s final speech, you could practically replace “Batman” with “George W. Bush” or even “America.” And that speech is meant to be rousing, not critical – I love that some liberals are now trying to spin that the film is a slam on Batman.

  • Mgmax

    All superhero movies are fascist and pro-vigilante.
    Are we really just now noticing this?
    Oh, and Jeff needs to pick a couple of trusted commenters who won’t abuse the power and give them access to pull that fucking dating spam as soon as it appears. No, I am NOT volunteering myself.

  • Ozwitch

    I agree the film has more of a conservative slant than a liberal one. The ultimate theme of the film is about belief – how much you believe in the established system. Harvey believed in it passionately, and when he fell, it was not because of Rachel, but because Gordon who was the system – the law – let him down and did his ‘deal with the devil.’ That’s why he did what he did to Gordon.
    Harvey says that the Joker is ‘just a mad dog’ and he’s right – he’s there to expose people’s lack of belief and doubts in their values.
    But in the end, he doesn’t win because Batman and Gordon work to restore that system of values to the people of Gotham, albeit via an untruth, through Harvey’s elevation to sainthood, and the casting out of the Dark Knight to pariahdom. The establishment doesn’t fall, and there is the possibility of redemption for Gotham.
    The other major theme stated by Alfred is ‘endure’, which again ties into faith and belief. Seems a pretty right wing view to me.

  • Ozwitch

    And if it’s being seen now as a conservative film, bang goes any Oscar chances it might have had.

  • StoneFan1

    You guys never fail to surprise me. Nolson is
    clearly a big time left-wing guy (just like 99% of
    most film directors), so the very idea this is some
    sort of ring-wing film is just crazy. I don’t buy it!

  • JD

    Nolan himself has described the film as a critique of vigilante justice. Both of his Batman movies are about people — including Gary Oldman’s character — desperately wanting to believe in a simple-minded ideal that is constantly over-powered by the complex realities of the real world. Batman’s whole persona is an attempt to act out a fantasy. This is what distinguishes these movies from other superhero movies: they understand the absurdity of fascist superhero thinking. Obviously, Nolan can’t be really obvious about this point and still make a mainstream movie, but it’s clearly there.

  • Balthazar

    Of course that thug Christian Bale has now been arrested.
    No such fate will ever await Cheney

  • K. Bowen

    As I said, I don’t know if it’s a critique or a defense, but it’s definitely there.

  • fielding

    What a load of absolute garbage.
    Of course all superhero fiction is going to be inherently conservative. Why? Because it’s about good vs evil, categories the Left don’t even believe in.

  • JD

    Yeah, what’s the left’s problem, fielding? Of course life’s a comic book!

  • Michael

    It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened…Spielberg has impeccable lefty credentials. He tried to make an “anti-war” flick with Saving Private Ryan (he picked the wrong war to demonstrate this unfortunately), and it just came out as anti-bureaucracy.

  • pm123

    As usual, Dave Kehr gets it right:

  • Josh Massey

    Saving Private Ryan was the most pro-war film since the days of John Wayne.
    But I guess that’s for another thread. From 1998.

  • K. Bowen

    Dave Kehr and I are the only two critics that I know of to compare the film to Dirty Harry. So obviously he’s right! :)
    Unlike Kehr, however, I’m open to JD’s point of view. For one thing, we have the example of Memento, in which the man convinced that he’s a hero turns out to be a psychotic killer.
    That said, what Nolan’s intentions might be and what his work says, and what different legitimate perspectives on his work might be, are all different things.

  • ryanv

    Batman’s always had a fascist element to him. However, in the film his willingness to hang up the cloak to save Harvey Dent endows this Batman with 10X more altruism than Dick, who would sacrifice himself for anything but Haliburton stock trading at $500 per share and the ability to lock up anyone who dares criticize his shotgun handling abilities or his spotless record of draft deferments…maybe.
    Of course, the rule of law loses out in Nolan’s film – to some extent – with Dent having turned (mostly) evil or at least embracing a more extreme vigilantism. The real glint of hope and the tortured process of reason in Nolan’s film is Gordon.
    How about the murdered judge for a statement on the right’s approach to “activist judges”?

  • Edward

    How many summer blockbusters generate this much discussion? Great thread, well done.

  • renorambler

    Can’t wait to redo this debate when Watchmen comes out.

  • Walter Sobchak

    Oh No!
    “The Dark Knight” might be sneaking a pro-conservative message? Now I’m going to have to not only HATE the movie and everyone involved in it, I’m going to also need to go back to the theater I saw it in and burn it to the ground.
    Then I’ll need to make a huge puppet of Chris Nolan dressed like a Nazi and march in a rally with it kissing huge Cheney and Bush puppets.
    I’ve a busy day ahead of me.

  • Chase Kahn

    Another hidden message that isn’t there in a movie which simply exists to entertain us…

  • Howlingman

    It may have been Frank Miller who said it best, that “Superman is how America likes to see itself, but Batman is the way we really are.” Or words to that effect.

  • PatrickC88

    Jeff, it seems like you are going out of your way to post negative commentary about The Dark Knight. Highlighting the handful of negative reviews, drawing comparisons to Neo-con poltics.
    Why so serious?
    Every now and then along comes a successful film that everyone enjoys. There’s no need to tear it down.

  • Howlingman

    The need to tear something down rises in proportion to how successful that “something” becomes, because something almost universally liked can’t in any way be good. There’s an overwhelming need amonst many to be “the kool kids” who praise a book or a movie or a musician, then are the first to call it shite or overpraised or lame. Kinda shows how far we come since high school, doesn’t it?
    I don’t get the idea that Jeff didn’t like TDK though — he’s just reporting on the small but inevitably growing backlash that inevitably follows an out of the gate success like this one.

  • Count Thread

    Well, here’s the real trick.
    If Batman takes off his mask, does the Joker stop?
    If that happens, then Harvey Dent has a chance to succeed. Batman’s done the heavy-lifting.
    But the problem there is that you have to trust the bad guy. Can you trust the bad guy? Probably not.
    Of course, the flip-side is, can you trust the *good* guy? And while all the nutjobs out there like to pick on the Dick Cheneys of the world, I believe 100% that the man goes to sleep each night worrying about how to protect our country– even from itself.
    We’ve been arguing this shit on stupid blogs– including this stupid blog– for SEVEN YEARS NOW, people. People who hate Rethuglicans still cast them as some bad guys who will lock them up and throw away the key, and guess what? Only people on comments boards now THE TRUTH!
    God, if it were only that simple, Danny.Z. would have been dragged out behind the El Pollo Loco and shot years ago.
    But that’s not what this is. It’s not what it EVER was. The War on Terror is a real war– just not real enough for some people.
    I’m just sick of it, all of it. It doesn’t matter how many adults have conversations, the children keep bitching.

  • qwiggles

    While I’d say the parallels are deliberate, the analogy does not hold up: Batman does not become more like the Joker to stop him; that is made very clear at the end, when Harvey goes that route and Batman takes a fall for him. Also, the Joker tells him “You’ve changed things,” meaning Batman started the cycle, and the Joker responded.

  • Steve Felix

    Immediately after 9/11, Bush was legitimately above the law in pursuing the culprits. The Patriot Act passed with flying colors and his approval rating was high.
    But he’s now been stepping on the law for seven years in service to an experimental ideology. Bruce Wayne did it right — he responded to an imminent danger by the necessary means and then immediately gave up the power.
    We in the real world “deserved to have our faith rewarded,” but it wasn’t. Gotham City’s was. The cell phone plot in TDK is a depiction of what it means to be pragmatic yet respectful of the law, and what we should have expected from our leaders. It’s pro-who-we-hoped-Bush-was, and anti-Bush.
    To say this is merely an entertainment is anti-intellectual.

  • Major Calloway

    “the hatred of the good for being good”

    oh shit, I’m in for it now….

  • theultimatebiu

    LOL! And this is the problem today…everything must be political. I want justice – neocon, I want redemption – liberal, I like Jesus – Neocon, I like Mohammed – liberal, I like white bread – Neocon, I like brown bread – liberal BLAH BLAH BLAH! The movie has a theme on what is justice and what is revenge. Of course it can be put into today’s politics but it does not draw any lines with any political ideology.

  • Krillian

    Schumacher made Batman liberal in Batman & Robin. How did that turn out?

  • anti-sardine

    Entropy said:
    The Dark Knight does not break 250 domestic, kids. Sorry to break to you. I was an usher as a teen during the first Batman in 89 and this film does not even come close to the anticipation of that film. Theatres had police in place for crowd control. Nicholson then was a much bigger star than Ledger is/was now, his unfortunate passing aside.
    I do not know what the average age is of the HE reader but anyone who says over 250 is whack. Films only gross over 250 with rare exception if they hit the family audience or catch a cultural zeitgeist (Titanic, Passion). The Dark Knight just has a lot of fanboys hoping for NC-17 level violence that they are (sorry to break it to ya) not gonna get.
    And sorry one more time…this does nothing different theamatically than Batman Returns. “You complete me” is no different than “You’re a freak like me” which DeVito said in the Burton film. At least the Burton film was sexy with Pfeiffer.
    Hey I am a Batman fan and can’t wait for the film but enough is enough.
    Hey Entropy. Remember posting this? And then all we “kids” get is “My admittedly way off projections of the success of this movie aside…”
    How about saying, “I (Entropy) was utterly wrong and apologize for my condescending treatment of Batman fanboys & non-fanboys alike. Now please consider my view on the political undercurrents of The Dark Knight.” That would be nice.

  • Nicol D

    Talk about petty petty petty. Sheesh. Yep. Uh-huh. You got me. I was completely wrong about the potential for the gross of The Dark Knight.
    To those who take offense I suspect an apology will never be enough.
    I should be purged, flogged and pilloried. I should be tied to the Tree of Woe so that the crows and vultures doth pluck out mine eyes. I should be put out to pasture and the glue factory never to be allowed in these parts again. I should be assaulted by Christian Bale.
    As for the the political subtext…well…if you don’t see it…

  • anti-sardine

    Hey Entropy (or is it Nicol D now?)
    No one really cares if you were wrong or not about the gross of the Dark Knight. It was that you were so patronizing to everyone that guessed it would make 300 million or more. I have no desire to see you sans eyes, and a simple, “Gee, I totally blew that one, sorry for saying you all were whack.” would be enough for me. I AM actually interested in you opinions on the political themes of the film, as I thinks it makes for some interesting debate. Not trying to be petty, I just think you needed to own up to it a little more than you did. Nothing personal.

  • D.Z.

    Count: “And while all the nutjobs out there like to pick on the Dick Cheneys of the world, I believe 100% that the man goes to sleep each night worrying about how to protect our country– even from itself.”
    Cheney cares about protecting his stock in Halliburton, and could care less about the country.
    “God, if it were only that simple, Danny.Z. would have been dragged out behind the El Pollo Loco and shot years ago.”
    How about being assaulted?

  • frankbooth

    Entropy was Nicol all along? That makes a lot of sense, actually.
    But why the fake identity? And why cop to it now? Were you afraid Wells would expose you and humiliate you further?
    “I should be put out to pasture and the glue factory and never allowed around these parts again.”
    Well, we could take a vote…

  • Josh

    This is the most conservative film released this year.
    Wonder why it is setting records……