Batman Begins

I saw the first of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies last night, the 2005 Batman Begins. That’s the one that several people told me is a good and important movie, the one that I ought to see, as the later movies, they acknowledged, are nihilistic as well as much more violent, loud, and sensorally overwhelming. I hate to think of what the latter two movies are like, since Batman Begins is your standard, hyperkinetic, special effects-crazed, contemporary action movie with a protagonist battling mass murdering bad guys in fight scenes that are an incomprehensible swirl, overlayed by some ponderous comic-book pseudo-profundity about overcoming your fears and about an evil group, the League of Shadows, that wants to destroy our decadent civilization.

I must speak frankly. The idea that any intelligent person would think that this movie—and, by extension, the later two movies—has some serious moral, political, civilizational meaning, let alone a conservative meaning that will help advance conservatism (!), is embarrassing. Why not treat Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon II as a parable of redemption, and The Bourne Identity as a discourse on Platonic self-knowledge, and the Die Hard series as a school for budding traditionalists?

Thankfully, the majority of commenters have rejected the Batman movies and snorted at the idea that they are conservative.

I don’t think these movies are worth discussing except as a symptom of our cultural decadence. And one of the marks of that decadence is that some conservatives think these movies are intellectually important. They need to get away from the pop culture and spend some time reading serious literature. They need to develop and deepen their intellectual life. Then they will be less likely to be fooled into believing, e.g., that the League of Shadows represents a significant idea, rather than, as is the case, the kitsch profundity of 1980s dark comic books.

- end of initial entry -

Aditya B. writes:

Your review is priceless.

This is how a mature, intelligent person reacts to Batman. I had a feeling you’d dislike the movie, but I had no idea you’d eviscerate the movie like a samurai warrior.

I’ll be honest; I enjoyed the Batman series. I enjoy them as works of art. Like I said before, these movies are crafted by a virtuoso, and that experience is always enjoyable even if the content is feeble.

And again, these movies aren’t your run-of -the-mill action flicks. Nolan tries to introduce some intellectual food for thought. Plus, the villains are unconventional in that they don’t desire any material gain. They eschew all effete luxury and debauchery. Their goal isn’t “world domination” or loot. It’s the opposite: they want the end of the world. The Joker is especially fascinating as he is Satanic in the biblical sense. All he desires is chaos and destruction. He tempts his victims, whispers lies in their ears Iago-like, and is like the Accuser of the Old Testament.

Also, Batman’s renunciation of wealth in favor of turning his mind and body into a deadly weapon through penance and hardship isn’t the sort of behavior one expects from a billionaire playboy type. This too is an unconventional theme that I found quite fascinating.

Maybe I’m reading too much into the series, but I find it fascinating, and I do like it, because it is unlike anything that I’ve seen in a while. And I like the movies, Lawrence, and these are good, entertaining movies.

Again, Batman has no lessons to offer us except, as you pointed out, “as a symptom of our decadent culture.” There is nothing conservative about this series. My only point was that people can be forgiven for thinking that these movies are conservative because they aren’t ultra-liberal like the usual Hollywood junk.

I do hope you go through this series. I can’t wait to read your review of the other two installments.

Paul Henri writes:

A great evisceration of the Batman series. You are right. You need not see the rest. I’ll probably watch the third mess once it comes to network TV because I succumb to cheap thrills when bored.

The only reason I can recommend The Dark Knight (2008) is the performance of Heath Ledger (a fine young actor who killed himself) as the Joker. It was brilliant. Without it, the movie would have been as boring and pointless as the first of the trilogy. No way can the third installment top that; but we shall see.

Gintas writes:

You wrote:

“Why not treat Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon II as a parable of redemption, and The Bourne Identity as a discourse on Platonic self-knowledge, and the Die Hard series as a school for budding traditionalists?”

Someone at National Review is nodding his head. You shouldn’t be giving them ideas.

Mark A. writes:

I can’t put my finger on it, but in the past ten to twenty years, America has confused low- and middle-brow entertainment with high culture. The great majority of the country seems to have lost the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. (Heck, even TV blurs this line everyday thanks to “reality television.”) I saw films like Lethal Weapon in the movie theater 25 years ago. I thought the first one was fantastic. At the same time, I had NO illusion that it was not completely moronic! And I was just a kid!!

I first noticed this nationwide conflation of reality and fantasy during the September 11th attacks. On almost every television channel there was some reporter interviewing a witness in lower Manhattan. Almost every witness exclaimed, “It was just like a movie!” As I watched this I remember remarking to myself, “No, a movie could be just like the 9/11 attacks.”

July 27

Mark P. writes:

I hate to say it, but, really, there is nothing conservative about these Batman movies. The reason why they are not conservative is that they invert how the hero is protrayed in relation to the villain. Batman is not a Nietzchean entity at all. It is Bane and the Joker who are the Nietzschean supermen. These movies portray villainy as something to aspire to because the characters are drawn very attractively. You walk away from these movies wanting to be Bane or the Joker or a member of the League of Shadows. You don’t want to be Batman.

What is especially irritating about these Batman movies is that they crib their material from Frank Miller’s work. Frank Miller was a writer and artist for Marvel Comics whose claim to fame was revamping the Daredevil series. Miller introduced a film noir style artistry to Daredevil and refocused the storylines away from supervillains and toward organized crime. I grew up reading these comics and I still remember them very fondly. Here and here are examples of the covers of some of his work.

Miller’s work on Daredevil is what eventually got him hired at DC to re-create Batman. And it is Miller’s work that heavily influences Nolan.

Yet, despite all of Miller’s dark and violent themes, never once is any villain portrayed as something that you’d want to be. I was reading this when I was 11 years old, and there was nothing attractive about the Kingpin or Bullseye, or even the Joker when Miller revamped him into the killer clown. Despite the ratcheted up violence, you were always rooting for the hero. It’s the hero that had ultimate mastery over the universe, no matter how powerful the villain was, or how many obstacles he threw in front of the hero. And the villains were always somewhat “off” not only looking decrepit but being decrepit. Here is a signature example of Miller’s work.

Unlike the montage above, Batman is portrayed by Nolan as weak, indecisive, wracked by pain and guilt, and ultimately winning by luck and circumstance against a foe who turns out to have redeemable qualities. Yes, Bane is a redemptive character. Nolan stages a complete inversion of even the source material from which he cribs. Nolan, for example, makes a big deal out of Batman somehow being “morally opposed to guns.” Previous iterations of Batman simply found guns useless and nonthreatening, because no criminal would ever be able to draw a bead on him. Batman has a very strong James Bond quality where he can outfight and outthink his opponents because he is several moves ahead of them. Batman should’ve been portrayed with a lot more swagger than Bale brought to the character. Heck, look at George Lazenby’s Bond character at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Not a hint of weakness, even after suffering this tragedy.

Laura Wood writes:

I can understand a man walking into a theater when he is tired and overworked and getting pleasure in a bad movie simply because it’s distracting. But I can’t understand an intelligent or cultured person justifying that pleasure by saying the movie has redeeming philosophical value.

Your initial reaction in which you said something to the effect of “I’m not even going to see it because I’ve seen so many movies like it before,” was dead on.

I have no tolerance for this junk. I hate even being in movie theaters anymore.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 26, 2012 10:54 AM | Send

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