Batman series: The Burden of Pain

Published: Wed, 08/08/2012 - 08:48 Updated: Wed, 08/08/2012 - 09:31

The consequences of a deranged mind has brought into debate gun laws, moral responsibilities, societal decay, and the entire brooding world of Batman into the public eye

Sonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata 

The Batman franchise is no stranger to controversy, but with The Dark Knight Rises, the consequences have never been so harsh or tragic. One of the highly anticipated movies of 2012, The Dark Knight Rises had fanboys writing blogs, analyzing the movie, giving out plot spoilers, even before the movie hit the screens. When Marshall Fine posted the first negative review of the movie on the movie review aggregating site rottentomatoes.com, the fan boys were out baying for blood, crashing the website’s server with abuse and death threats, prompting rottentomatoes.com, for the first time since its inception, to shut down the commenting feature on all The Dark Knight Rises reviews. Rotten Tomatoes Editor-in-chief, Matt Atchiity, wrote, “There are plenty of other things to get angry about, like war, famine, poverty and crime. But not movie reviews.” 

But someone somewhere was angry. When James Holmes, wearing a gas mask and Kevlar suit, sporting a rifle and a shotgun, walked into an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre and opened fire on an audience killing 14 and injuring 50, the first question that surfaced after the shock of the horrific tragedy was “Did the movie make him do it?” What was even more tragically ironic was when he walked in with his arsenal the audience mistook him for a fan dressed like the film’s villain Bane, gas mask, guns, et al. 

Did the movie make him do it? I think not, but the consequences of a deranged mind has brought into debate, gun laws, moral responsibilities, societal decay, and the entire brooding world of Batman into the public eye. 

It also led Rush Limbaugh to do a quick turnaround: ".... the rich wealthy hero in the Batman movie is more like (Mitt) Romney and the Bane guy seems more like an Occupy Wall Street guy'

It’s a fact that the Dark Knight trilogy has got legions, of loyal, dare I say even violently loyal supporters around the globe. Unlike others of his superhero ilk, Batman is a tormented superhero fighting his own demons, a vigilante bird of prey fighting greed, corruption and evil. He is an orphaned billionaire, but he is no Tony Stark. He does save Gotham City but he is no heroic Captain America. He has cool gadgets, but he has no superpowers a la Superman or Spiderman. He is in short, shorn of his wealth, just a regular guy with regular problems. And that’s what makes him so easy to identify with.

When Batman Begins released in 2005, critic Roger Ebert had this to say “This is at last the Batman movie I’ve been waiting for. The character resonates more deeply with me than the other comic superheroes, perhaps because when I discovered him as a child, he seemed darker and more grown-up than the cheerful Superman. He has secrets. As Alfred muses, “Strange injuries and a non-existent social life. These things beg the question, what does Bruce Wayne do with his time?” He goes on to say, “….The movie is not realistic, because how could it be, but it acts as if it is.” This perhaps is what struck a chord with an America still reeling under the effect of 9/11 and the Iraq war and what led to its box office success.

Under the stewardship of Christopher Nolan, an auteur of the dark and brooding (Memento, Insomnia, Inception) our superhero has grown even darker and grimmer with each sequel. As have his villains. When Heath Ledger gave his Oscar winning turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight, it was hard to figure out where reel life ended and where real life began. And his untimely death just before the movie released added to the legend of The Dark Knight, transforming the audience from popcorn carrying customers to Dark Knight worshippers. The Dark Knight had now gone into that divine space beyond movies called “it belongs to me” realm. A realm where the Joker is celebrated, Batman revered, and the franchise became family. 

Add to this Nolan’s depiction of Gotham City as a megalopolis of excess and a city on the cusp of doom. This could mirror any city today - New York, London, Tokyo - and thus, made its message of good vs. evil, of terrorist destruction and annihilation even more real. 

Nolan also cleverly manipulated the Batman narrative to the current political climate as critic Jeff Myers stated with The Dark Knight “Allusions to our current struggles with surveillance, public perception and terrorism are thrown into the mix, adding political immediacy to Nolan’s psycho noir.” 

Unlike others of his superhero ilk, batman is a tormented superhero fighting his own demons, a vigilante bird of prey fighting greed, corruption and evil. He is an orphaned billionaire, but he is no Tony Stark

This theme has continued in The Dark Knight Rises and that the main villain Bane could mirror Mitt Romney’s Bain capital was an issue raised by radio host and political commentator Rush Limbaugh. To be fair to Limbaugh, the movie did tackle everything from the Occupy Wall Street campaign, to a Nihilistic revolution to a defence of the status quo. This led The Guardian’s Catherine Shoard to brand the film as a “quite audaciously capitalist vision, radically conservative, radically vigilante, that advances a serious, stirring proposal that the wish-fulfillment of the wealthy is to be championed if they say they want to do good”. It also led Rush Limbaugh to do a quick turnaround with “….the rich wealthy hero in the Batman movie is more like Romney and that the Bane guy seems more like an Occupy Wall Street guy.” 

Whew! And all this for just a movie! However, The Dark Knight Rises is in that sense, not just a movie, but a cathartic experience for its fans, because it brings to a closure a sprawling 21st century epic, a farewell to a beloved superhero and a sense of loss that only true superhero fans can feel, but the Denver Killings also bring The Dark Knight Rises into yet another uncomfortable first— the first mass murder in a multiplex theatre. As Richard Corliss of TIME magazine says “The killings had one effect new to American culture: they toxified the whole experience of movie going. They turned a movie house, which people attend believing that all the mayhem will be on the screen, into a charnel house. They overturned the notion of the multiplex as refuge.”

So as Batman flies into the Gotham horizon, he will be carrying with him not just the burdens of his reel city and its inhabitants, but also the fear and violence of real life tragedies. And we hope, for his legion of fans, probably for the last time.

The consequences of a deranged mind has brought into debate gun laws, moral responsibilities, societal decay, and the entire brooding world of Batman into the public eye
Sonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata 

Read more stories by Batman series: The Burden of Pain

This story is from print issue of HardNews