Sunday, July 15, 2012
Do you like this story?
The Gotham city can be identified with any liberal city-states in the world which on a casual glance appear peaceful and prosperous but a closer look reveals the unhindered criminal activities and rampant corruption threatening to overthrow order and plunge the city into decadence and immorality. Nolan's brilliance lies in his ability to seam multiple layers into the plot. In these two movies he has been able to weave action, breath-taking visual effects,human emotion, politics and philosophy.
In the first part, Batman Begins, we see a timid Bruce Wayne scared of bats, filled with guilt and anger at his parent's murderer, fighting his inner demons and transforming himself as a vengeful rebellious youth. He plans to kill the murderer in the court but a mafia-sponsored assassin beats him to it,but it is not the same thing. He has been killed to prevent him from revealing information and testifying against Mafia boss, Falcone. Bruce feels his parent's death is still not avenged. Disillusioned with jurisprudence system, he calls it broken when talking with his childhood friend and the then Deputy District Attorney, Rachel Dawes.
Your System Is Broken
This is one statement that we are quite accustomed with. From terrorist attacks claiming hundreds of lives to burglary in the neighborhood our spontaneous reaction is to blame the system which allows these incidents to take place. Often when demanding justice we are actually seeking revenge, which brings us down to the same level as the criminals, the difference being we seek gratification through the law and its agencies. Justice is not about revenge, at least not in modern liberal democratic society like that of Gotham. When we seek the system to punish someone to gratify our thirst for revenge,the system ceases to be impartial, we lose the moral high ground. This may sound too idealistic but the fact is it these ideals on which most modern states are founded. Moral high ground, or rather lack of it, is what keeps some people behind the prison bars and rest on the other side of the bars.
Why is it that criminals operate with more freedom than the police ? A criminal can kill a cop at whim or in cold blood but the cops cannot even slap the same criminal except in self-defense and/or restrain from fleeing. Does it sound unfair ?
What needs to be remembered is that it is assumed moral correctness that gives the cops the authority to use force when necessary. It is society which gives the police the power to coerce to enforce law for the general good. It is assumed that when a traffic cop signals us to stop it is to prevent us from meeting an accident. Similarly, it is assumed that when a person is arrested it is for the sake of justice.Criminals operate outside the law, their use of force, however minuscule is not only unauthorized but also punishable. Law enforcement officers represent order and as such get paid not only with money but also with respect. In return they have the responsibility to use the authority vested in them strictly in accordance to law. When using force there is a very thin line between justice and injustice .
In the next installment, The Dark Knight, a new character, the Joker emerges as the nemesis of Batman. What makes the Joker so powerful ?
The Joker is unlike any adversary Batman has known before.
- He is a diabolic genius who can plan three steps ahead : In the opening scene, his goons kill each other exactly in the sequence until only he is left as planned. [no, I kill the bus driver].
- Has nothing to lose : Walks in to mob meeting with grenades strapped to his vest, provokes Batman to kill him and burns money [ You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength]
- Is manipulative : manipulates mob bosses to hire him, he eliminates them, convinces Harvey Dent he had nothing to do with Rachel's death and gives two different accounts of how he got the scars which indicate that both the stories were incorrect.
- Has no rules : In fact, he calls himself an agent of chaos, his sole agenda is to bring down the established order,starting with beating Batman on ideological ground. [The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.And tonight you're gonna break your one rule ]
For the sake of brevity I wouldn't go into a full character analysis or the unsurpassable performance by late Heath Ledger but it would be necessary to mention what the Joker stands for. Joker's meticulous planning and flawless execution of devious plots frequently putting Batman and the people of Gotham in situations that tests their belief in their own value-systems. In a manner he provides a snapshot of how their world would be without law and order, without justice.
On the opposite end of the spectrum stands Harvey Dent, the District Attorney who fights crime strictly according to the rules. Despite the presence of corrupt officials within the police department spying for criminals, Harvey succeeds in nabbing a large number of criminals earning the title of Gotham's White Knight. Although,he is very much like the Dark Knight when it comes to fighting crime and putting justice before self there are differences between the two on how they handle their split-personalities. Batman's tragedy lay in the past, it made a helpless Bruce Wayne become nightmare of criminals, Harvey Dent faces tragedy when he is in the best part of his life. Batman is definitely more equipped to handle mind games that the Joker throws, yet Harvey transforming into Two-Face is still a bigger defeat for Batman and Gotham. In his final scene, the Joker triumphantly reveals.
The Dark Knight
Harvey Dent's transformation threatens to undo everything he himself, Commissioner Gordon and Batman have done for the sake of justice. As the White Knight of Gotham, Harvey goes rather ruthlessly after Gotham's criminal, revealing an obsessive trait for fairness which turns him into a hero while working as the District Attorney but after his accident the same trait turns him into a psychopath whose every act,especially, murders, are dictated by chance (which he finds by tossing a coin ). Presuming him to be dead, Batman wants the public to remember Harvey as the hero they knew him as. With this, he also wants to keep the idea intact, that even a common person could become the hero and ensure justice if they were determined to. Batman is aware how wrong a message this would send to the people.
Batman indicts himself to uphold justice
It is at this juncture Batman grows higher than any hero,both he and Commissioner Gordon realize that if the people get to know that it was Harvey Dent who killed those people they would lose faith on the system. Batman is no Godfather who runs a parallel system to provide justice, he dons cape to protect the existing system. However, what sets him apart is not just his willingness to sacrifice his life but also willingly bear the blame for misdeeds committed by others as long as it is in the interest of justice. Ironically, Harvey Dent's prophetic statement in partly in reference to the Batman, "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain", is fulfilled by Harvey himself when he transforms into Two-Face. Batman goes beyond heroism and villainy when he takes the blame for crimes committed by Harvey.
* I have come across articles suggesting the movie may have been allegory of GWB's war of terror campaign.I find this view absolutely contradictory !. Liberal/humanist laws like that of Gotham is exploited by rogues, this is why Bruce Wayne becomes the Batman, so that stricter laws are not introduced and common citizens are not harassed because of a deranged psychopath's random acts. Seems they should make some room in Arakham ;)