Aug 2, 2008

No popular film better describes America's obsession with fear, despair and veiled hopes then The Dark Knight. That the film is garbled and uneven, often just silly, doesn't dilute the rapture. This beleaguered Batman is, in his muddled way, quintessentially American, from a long legacy of cinematic heros such as old man Hearst in Citizen Kane; the John Wayne character in Red River; Butch Casidy; Cool Hand Luke. Or what about Patton, even Thelma and Louise. All films in which the hero or tandem is not only brash and contra but also reckless, sometimes suicidal.

This summer it's as though we cannot indulge our disillusionment enough. Can't get enough of failed heros barely making it, just as we are barely making it. In the last two months three hits (and the coming James Bond film seems on exactly the same tack) feature deeply disturbed men, which is its own subconscious story, men who are either ridiculously clumsy, drug-ridden or soul-ragged and thoroughly cynical. And for whom taking vengeance is always the temptation...

If Hollywood has a forefinger on society's neck, and you can argue the point many ways, then maybe the studios are getting a pulse here. But how exactly do you read it?

For sure the country has had it with conventional heroes, and now the spin cycle of revere-and-despise runs ever quicker, especially for those people who are supposed to be heroes: the presidential candidates. John McCain has gone from war hero to maverick to a senescent crackpot. Barack Obama, whose chances of becoming president always seem simultaneously locked and unlockable, has gone from underdog to 'the leader for our time' and now back down to, as Sean Hannity puts it — that AM matinee idol for the faint of thought — The Annointed One. Code for 'elitest nigger'. For Panther-X, pinko sympathizer.

Right wing sarcasticas have feasted on the idea that Sen. Obama would suggest Americans pump up their tires and get tuneups to defend against the oil shortage. Forgetting that it will take years to get oil out of American ground, that it will take time just to build the ships needed to drill. Hannity was deeply disturbed at Obama's suggestion and noted that he had never even seen what was under the hood of his Escalade. "Do cars even get tuneups anymore?" he asked.

As an aside Rush Limbaugh was entranced by the story of the Gulf sheik who flew his Lamborghini, the same model as in Batman, to London for an oil change: $10,000 for an oil change. Limbaugh is a big time car aficionado himself, but the reason he loved the story was because it pissed off so many conservationists. "Don't you just love that?" he kept saying.

Reagan conservatives howl when Obama describes McCain's candidacy as cynical, but how else to describe it...

But isn't it interesting how this Batman catches the vibes. Coming from a country that seems plum tuckered out from fear, real and imagined, and just too much reality IV. Now, everything and everyone is under suspicion; no perception or belief is secure. What you thought was true at noon may be the just the opposite by the time you drive home from work. How do you keep your balance in such a situation?

You don't. You assume everything is false, you become lost in the stars, you become paranoid, you become even more cynical than you were, or you pretend to be, all the time hoping that something real will come your way.

Meanwhile, Batman himself seems tired of it all. He's had to do a few flip flops of his own. He's become more and more 'political'. He's also become familiar and so derided. He has few people to back him up. No Robin, no girl friend. He has only his valet and a business colleague, who is up to here with Batman's willingness to suspend constitutional guarantees to get his demon. At the end of The Dark Knight, Batman reminds you of Orestes in Sartre's Les Mouches, forever pursued by flies, a criminal on the run from his incestuous relationship with truth.

The Nolans, the film's directors and writers, have invented a prototype of a new neurotically-efficient hero. It's not enough to have super strength or super intentions, the new hero has to sacrifice himself for the greater good, which is an image we can believe in, even if falsed up, made over; even if the image we believe is nothing behind it.

How cynical is that? Our new hero, to feel genuine, to us as well as to himself, needs to live the appearance of a lie in order to protect an out-of-hope society, so down on itself that it can be trusted only with an appearance. That's cynical. No?

One of the notable scenes in this film is a hospital blowing up, with the joker-terrorist standing in front of the Emergency room sign. The film's one virtue is just this scene and that message: there is no institution that will help you get healthy these days. If you want help, you're going to have to do it yourself, using whatever creativity and instinct you can muster.

No comments: