The Dark Knight

A and I had a man-date on Monday and went to see The Dark Knight. Like its predecessor, Batman Begins, I really, really liked this movie. It was a tad long, causing you to wonder a couple of times if it was going to end or keep going. But besides that, it was well-done, a great story, and, yes, Heath Ledger was amazingly creepy.

I would love to write a review of what I thought about the impact of the movie. But it has already been done. The Wall Street Journal published this piece called What Bush and Batman Have in Common. It sums up my feelings pretty well.

What Bush and Batman Have in Common
By ANDREW KLAVAN
July 25, 2008; Page A15

A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .

Oh, wait a minute. That’s not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a “W.”

There seems to me no question that the Batman film “The Dark Knight,” currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society — in which people sometimes make the wrong choices — and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

“The Dark Knight,” then, is a conservative movie about the war on terror. And like another such film, last year’s “300,” “The Dark Knight” is making a fortune depicting the values and necessities that the Bush administration cannot seem to articulate for beans.

Conversely, time after time, left-wing films about the war on terror — films like “In The Valley of Elah,” “Rendition” and “Redacted” — which preach moral equivalence and advocate surrender, that disrespect the military and their mission, that seem unable to distinguish the difference between America and Islamo-fascism, have bombed more spectacularly than Operation Shock and Awe.

Why is it then that left-wingers feel free to make their films direct and realistic, whereas Hollywood conservatives have to put on a mask in order to speak what they know to be the truth? Why is it, indeed, that the conservative values that power our defense — values like morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right — only appear in fantasy or comic-inspired films like “300,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Narnia,” “Spiderman 3” and now “The Dark Knight”?

The moment filmmakers take on the problem of Islamic terrorism in realistic films, suddenly those values vanish. The good guys become indistinguishable from the bad guys, and we end up denigrating the very heroes who defend us. Why should this be?

The answers to these questions seem to me to be embedded in the story of “The Dark Knight” itself: Doing what’s right is hard, and speaking the truth is dangerous. Many have been abhorred for it, some killed, one crucified.

Leftists frequently complain that right-wing morality is simplistic. Morality is relative, they say; nuanced, complex. They’re wrong, of course, even on their own terms.

Left and right, all Americans know that freedom is better than slavery, that love is better than hate, kindness better than cruelty, tolerance better than bigotry. We don’t always know how we know these things, and yet mysteriously we know them nonetheless.

The true complexity arises when we must defend these values in a world that does not universally embrace them — when we reach the place where we must be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love.

When heroes arise who take those difficult duties on themselves, it is tempting for the rest of us to turn our backs on them, to vilify them in order to protect our own appearance of righteousness. We prosecute and execrate the violent soldier or the cruel interrogator in order to parade ourselves as paragons of the peaceful values they preserve. As Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon says of the hated and hunted Batman, “He has to run away — because we have to chase him.”

That’s real moral complexity. And when our artistic community is ready to show that sometimes men must kill in order to preserve life; that sometimes they must violate their values in order to maintain those values; and that while movie stars may strut in the bright light of our adulation for pretending to be heroes, true heroes often must slink in the shadows, slump-shouldered and despised — then and only then will we be able to pay President Bush his due and make good and true films about the war on terror.

Perhaps that’s when Hollywood conservatives will be able to take off their masks and speak plainly in the light of day.

Mr. Klavan has won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. His new novel, “Empire of Lies” (An Otto Penzler Book, Harcourt), is about an ordinary man confronting the war on terror.

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  • I loved that movie. I probably need to go see it again one more time while it’s in the theater (perhaps a matinee this time).

    I also like and basically agree with the Wal Street Journal article you linked to. I don’t expect anybody to believe me, but I actually thought several times during the course of the movie, “gee, I wonder if anybody is going to write an article noting the similarities of some of the things Batman did in the movie to some of the analogous things that the Bush administration has done.”

    I’m also impressed that you had the cahonies to openly link to that article considering that it’s likely to draw the attention of the “Bush&co.-is-the-fount-of-all-evil” segment of society. I must give you credit for boldly going forth where angels fear to tread.

    I will be the first one to concede that Bush has made some grievous, monstrously stupid mistakes, but the vast majority of his detractors have done nothing but assume the WORST possible motives on his part, and that’s just not right. It will be interesting to see if people who so enthusiastically denounce Bush will also denounce Obama when he’s forced by similar circumstances to do the exact same sort of things.

    If the movie had a central theme, it’s that sometimes people are put in positions in which they are forced to do things they consider abhorrent to protect what they cherish. I especially liked the statement to the effect that Batman will be whatever Gotham needs him to be.

    While I can’t think of any parts of the movie I didn’t like, one of my favorite scenes was the one with the large, intimidating prisoner on the ferry (“here, let me do what you should have done 10 minutes ago”).

    Heath Ledger’s performance was amazing. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but Ledger’s Joker is the kind of person I wish I was in my weaker moments…because I there are times when I think that’s the sort of person the world really deserves (how thankful we should all be for God’s grace!). I don’t think anybody else can do the role of The Joker now because I can’t imagine anybody else doing a better job than Ledger.