Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dark Knight Review

Christopher Nolan’s vision of the iconic Comicbook Hero is almost as mesmerising as Heath Ledgers performance as the grungy Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. I realise that it’s fashionable to make references to the “Emperor’s New Batcape” but that’s… that’s… just wrong in so many ways.

This production gives Batman / Bruce Wayne added layers to deal with, utilising Wayne’s desire to use a character as an avatar to save Gotham from itself, whilst dumbing his own true self down so as not to give the game away.

Truthfully, Batman Begins wasted the opportunity of bringing to the big screen the Scarecrow, one of my personal favourite characters from the Comics; but Dark Knight doesn’t waste the Joker, turning Jack Nicolson’s signature portrayal of Jack Nicolson The Joker in Batman (1989) into a creepy, sardonic, homicidal social pioneer in Ledger’s performance. Small piece of trivia, according to Popbitch, Heath Ledger had a notebook of things he thought that the Joker would find funny. Top of the list? Aids.

Typically, Hollywood (all of it) gets fuzzy when it comes to stuff like the “laws of physics” and DK is no different. The grappling hook which shoots up to the top of buildings and / or into concrete? Impossible under current technology. But that’s just me being a geek about Hollywood physics.

The reason why so many people have flocked to see Dark Knight is because the ideas behind it have more venom. Batman isn’t a hero, he’s “whatever Gotham needs me to be”. Which is incredibly admirable by Hollywood standards. Normally the main protagonist just shoots the bad guy (eventually) and shags whichever blonde / brunette / redhead he happens upon that episodes. DK is more complicated than that.

What’s interesting, is that so many of our big heroes aren’t heroes, but Anti-heroes and almost Byronic Heroes in some ways. Take yourself back to Braveheart, or read Nigel Tranter’s The Wallace to witness some genuine antiheroic moments. No, I’m not comparing Batman to the Wallace, I’m suggesting that we don’t believe in heroes any more, not in the classic sense. Let’s quote some anonymous bod on Wikipedia: “The brooding vigilante or ‘noble criminal’ archetype seen in characters like Batman is slowly becoming part of the popular conception of heroic valor rather than being characteristics that are deemed un-heroic.”

And this is one of the flaws in the movie. By the end, I was not so much “rooting” for Commissionaire Gordon (played flawlessly by Gary Oldman) but wanting the Joker as Heath Ledger’s zombie corpse to reanimate for Batman 3 so he could swedge Jim Gordon a few more times… But let’s not let my lack of moral compass sway you. (I called Batman a cunt under my breath when I thought he was about to let the Joker fall from a building).

And it was at that very moment, (well, in the bus home afterwards if I’m being honest) that I started thinking about Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCoombes. Not that I want to see either of THEM in a Bat-cape (what Tommy gets up to Casa Sheridano…) No, I started thinking about public perception of Sheridan after his famous scandal. The working classes, in my experience, didn’t give a rat’s ass about what Tommy did. He could’ve had fourteen activists dressed as cheerleaders, snorted cocaine and gotten home back in time to do another anti-war rally and people wouldn’t have bothered. Alan McCoombes famously (apparently) told TS: “People will forgive what you’ve done, but they won’t forgive you lying to them.” (approx).

If you segue from that to the falling levels of voting at election, and the growing public disaffection with modern politics it’s curious when you think about the concurrent rise in obsession with celebrity culture. I’m a morally bankrupt 30 something now, but back when I was 14, I was a clean living, Jesus-worshipping, god-fearing attendee at church. Back then, my 14 year old self would’ve looked at Hello, the Sun, the News of the World and saw a litany of depravity. Now we all gleefully flick past Amy Winehouse’s addictions, Britney’s revolving-door panties and demand vigilante justice be inflicted upon… well just about whoever is collectively pissing us all off that week.

I forced myself to watch Ricky Lake today. I did so, after seeing that the show was about congratulating this girl (whose name I can’t spell) who worked all the hours she could to both get into college and to get money for her family. Ricky was going to congratulate her with a visit from her favourite band, Salt ‘n’ Pepa. I clicked past, probably muttered: “Oh… crap.” I switched over to E Entertainment and was about to watch Denise Richards in something (she looks like a pretty version of my ex-fiancee – three / four years ago, long story). Considering the Ricky Lake girls inspiring story, I felt suitably guilt-ridden enough to force myself to watch the one and only episode of Ricky Lake I’ve ever seen. Motto of this digression: occasionally one has to recognise and act upon one’s own moral depravity.

Politicians are probably slightly less interesting than they were ‘back in the day’, especially in the mainstream parties, but how do you square Celebrity Infatuation with falling interest in politics? Has society become so entrenched in its post-modernist angst that Politics is just too big to consider thinking about? Or is it just that the modern world has forced our moral and social compass to change so drastically that modern politicians haven’t caught up with the rest of society yet? Celebrity culture is often criticised, yet (and the independence movement is no exception) but people seeking it and eager to witness it through the media are still the majority. Modernity has made us a nation of hypocrites. We’re eager to tell the world just WHY Pete Doherty should remain in jail and be kneecapped for his crimes, but give people a chance to vote for it… then there’s a problem. Suddenly interest falls to an all time low. When Jamie Hoggan was arrested, it didn’t exactly cause outrage at the Independence movement, but curiosity about it, and gave rise to the odd “Free Jamie Hoggan” on whatever marches I was on that year…

We are a culture now, where I can take a news story about Maggie Thatcher being given a state funeral, and guarantee attendance at my long planned “Rave on the Grave” Soiree in Glasgow City Centre whenever the hell it happens. Yes… I can officially mock the nearly-dead with impunity. People don’t believe in God anymore, like Nietzsche proclaimed: “God is Dead” and we are the damned children of Rolling Stone magazine, addicted to the addictions of celebrities and with no interest in politics. Some of our brothers and sisters, at least.

I think we need to accept that the world we live in is different, and strategise accordingly. We needn’t restrain ourselves to merely getting out there and trying to get votes for independence. We can think darker thoughts and whilst a liberal minority will no doubt be uber-critical, it’ll do its job and get our political beliefs recognition from a people hyped-up on controversy. Fathers 4 Justice did it reasonably effectively. The ex-millies have been doing it well for years, and did it SO well they united the left in Scotland, for a brief and beautiful instant (only for it to be washed away like the first flurry of snow by the November rain).

If the “Dark Knight” movie has resonated with so many people, as it patently has done, it’s because it has exposed just how much change society’s moral compass has changed since the 1950s, when we all started rebelling against the hangover from the hypocrisy that Victoriana, in my opinion. In addition, I think society is taking a collective breather from politics after being subjected to the 1970s and 1980s. When you lose count of the amount of acronyms you use for terrorist groups agitating for political change, and you have a myriad of groups across Europe eulogising and evangelising either change or continuation of the norm, then people are going to tire. But either way, whilst we need to see the past to see ourselves, we must occasionally look at the present to see just how different things have become. I don’t believe we are in the same politics as we were back in the 1992 general election. I think we’re now smack in the middle of Scottish Politics 2.0 and need to think about things differently if we are to prosper as activists in the current climate.

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