Monday, August 6, 2012

Heroism and The Dark Knight Rises

One of my biggest fears about coming to Honduras- I kid you not- concerned my ability to view The Dark Knight Rises in English on a big screen. Movies this big and this bold should not be cheapened by crappy voice actors dubbing the film into Spanish, let alone witnessed on a small computer screen via some pirated copy that features a fat guy walking across the screen because he couldn’t hold off on his second tub of popcorn.  I feared that Honduras’s few theatres would only show dubbed versions, and I do not consider English street copies an acceptable substitute.

But two weeks after its US release date, and a week after its Honduran one, I found time and transportation to see The Dark Knight Rises in English.  The film was my most anticipated film in at least five years: after all, the trailers were awesome and The Dark Knight was my favorite film of 2008 (its Oscar snub for The Reader caused the Academy to expand the number of Best Picture nominees to ten to avoid similar future embarrassments). 

The events in Aurora, Colorado considerably dimmed my excitement, at least until a few hours before the screening.  James Holmes- aka the over armed lunatic- managed to strike a frightening chord that resonated deeply. It could have been any one of us in that theatre. An enormous pop cultural moment will forever be stained by his actions; a monumental film will forever have an ugly asterisk by its name. And of course, some family will never see their loved ones again.

But onto the film itself. It was not a disappointment, despite my absurd and unfair expectations. I don’t think the film was as good as The Dark Knight, but few are. The wild card element, tangibly embodied by Heath Ledger, was missing in the final piece of the trilogy. The Joker was the perfect character for director Christopher Nolan, who loves narrative sleight-of-hands (see Memento or The Prestige). With The Dark Knight, Nolan upped the ante: apparently comic book film adaptations are not encoded with DNA that claim they must be predictable.  Very rarely has a genre been so vigorously turned on its head, as the super hero film was in The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight Rises lacks this chaos. There are twists and turns to be sure in Rises, but they are less clever and more predictable than those of its predecessor. But the final installment of Nolan’s trilogy makes up ground with a larger scope and greater emotional pull.  And despite its 160-minute plus running length, The Dark Knight Rises will not have anyone staring at their watches.

Though Nolan cannot coax a Ledger-esque performance out of any of his principals, the film is finely acted all around. Christian Bale turns in his best performance as the Bruce Wayne/the caped crusader; his gritty devotion to the role shines through in every scene. Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard all acquaint themselves well. Hardy is suitably intimidating; Gordon-Levitt appropriately earnest. Hathaway provides the film’s minimal levity. But best in show, in a deeply moving performance, is Michael Caine. It would have been easy for the veteran actor to phone in a performance- he is only playing Alfred the butler, after all. Caine, however, gives the character his all, in a classy performance that reminds viewers why he is a legend.

The politics of the film are difficult to decipher, but there are some clear messages. Nolan, and his brother Jonathan, who co-wrote the screenplay, clearly have a libertarian streak. They warn against oppressive government, and rally for civil liberties. Moreover, the movie relentlessly reminds us of the power of the individual.

Ron Paul enthusiasts should hold their breath though. The Nolan’s also have a timely message about economic inequality. This did not stem from the Occupy movement; the script was finished several months before protesters appeared at Zuccotti Park. The Nolan’s credibly suggest in Rises that inequality can breed hatred, political instability, and violence. Indeed, there are several references to the French Revolution. If people do not believe in the system, than they may try to destroy it.

Yet the film, more than anything, is a cry for heroism. Bruce Wayne puts everything on the line for Gotham; his body and soul are beaten to a pulp in Rises. And I think Nolan’s willingness to do this to his hero, is the critical ingredient that separates The Dark Knight trilogy from other super hero films. Bruce didn’t get his super powers through some freak accident or genetic enhancement (a la Superman or Spider-Man), and Batman gets no fame or fortune from his heroics (aka Captain America, Iron Man, Thor).  Instead, he gets physically punished, faces the scorn of the city he has protected, and must grapple emotionally with the deaths of those he loves.

Bruce Wayne battles bad guys not because he receives personal gain, but because it is the right thing to do. He protects the city because he loves it, and because he can. I think everyone would be a damn superhero if they only had to get bitten by a spider, and their reward was a relationship with Emma Stone. If it meant incessant training, no sleep, guaranteed bodily harm, and endangering those they cared about it, well then they might decide against it. Yet Bruce, who inherited a fortune, by the way, goes for it anyway. He is a real patriot, and a true hero.

There may no Batman’s in the real world, but Bruce reminds us at a critical juncture in the film that anyone can be a hero. It could be as simple as putting a coat on a boy who just watched his parents get murdered, he says. But it could also be a Honduran cop refusing to take payouts from the local drug gang. Or perhaps a young man covering the body of his girlfriend in a movie theatre turned war zone.

Collectively, we have the power to emulate the hero who has inspired us; now we must show the courage to do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment