Monday, July 30, 2012

At the Movies: The Dark Knight Rises

Overall: 9.8

As a conclusion to the latest Batman trilogy, this movie is very satisfying. As a comment on the dangers of dishonest and/or envy-driven politics, it is even more so.

Plot Synopsis:

A Wikipedia article on the movie can be found here.

The Skinny:

SABR Matt: I'm going to make this easy for my co-author, who seems to be suffering from a severe case of writer's block, and for the rest of the world at large.  The Dark Knight Rises is NOT a conservative film because its creators set out to make such a thing, or because Hollywood money goes where the people want it, or because Batman, as a franchise, is inherently conservative (we've seen Batman movies in the past that were notably liberal).  The Dark Knight trilogy, and especially Dark Knight Rises, is explicitly conservative by accident - and the cause of the accident is simply this: honesty.  It's hard to spot this nebulous h-word anymore - politicians of both US political parties lie every day.  Mitt Romney is, in all likelihood, lying about some aspect of his gradual withdrawal from Bain Capital (because telling the absolute truth might give Democrats an angle to lie about the meaning of some of Bain's dealings during the early 2000s), and Paul Ryan is lying when he tells you he's got Medicare all figured out.  He doesn't. He has a great framework on which to build, but he hasn't worked through the details because working through those details will require the effort of the entire House Budget Committee and its healthcare panels, which can't be convened until the next congress opens in 2013.  Lies are everywhere. Conservatives shouldn't dupe themselves into thinking Republicans are honest and Democrats lie.  Hence, we would not say that Dark Knight Rises is an argument for the Republican establishment.

No...this film is Conservative because it is honest.  CONSERVATISM, in its simplest and most fundamental form, is a series of rational principles built on the honest self-examinations of European scholars from Burke to Locke to Toqueville to Adam Smith and even John Adams (yes, liberals, Adams was a radical leftist in his day...when the right wing were loyalists to a tyrannical monarchy!...but in today's world, the tyranny he'd fear would be the oppressive rule of democracy...he would be to the RIGHT of even Michelle Bachmann).  The fundamental assumption of conservatives is that people respond to power with selfish motives.  Free enterprise must endure because our selfishness makes us competitive and competition makes us stronger.  Governments must be carefully divided and restrained with enumerated powers because men who run governments will always try to do what is best to keep themselves and their friends in power (and because governments rarely serve the people if they are not directly answerable to the people).  Religion must be chosen freely because a state which mandates a religion is more likely to use the doctrine of that faith to wield more power over the people.  Liberals assume the reverse - that people are inherently good, and that if you trust them to govern wisely, they will produce a better outcome than if you restrain that government.

The Dark Knight Rises is essentially a fictional test of those theories -- a 300 million dollar blast of honest self-examination that makes the case that, while it's bad to leave all of the power and wealth in the hands of a few wealthy elites, it's even worse to hand that power over to "the people" because what you'll quickly get (to fill the power void left by the ousted establishment) is a mad, desperate scramble for power...and only the "fittest" will survive it (i.e., those that join a successful mob/gang and those willing to kill to protect themselves and their power).  If you view the world honestly, you must realize a few basic facts like:
  • Money is neither good nor evil.  Money is a tool that is necessary to accomplish anything desired by the hearts and minds of men. Those desires can be good (as in Wayne's desire to take care of homeless young men like his former self or the Catholic Church's desire to bring food, healthcare and religion to destitute third world nations around the globe) or they can be evil (as in the real mastermind of Bane's plot for Gotham or Barack Obama's real reason for handing 80% of his stimulus not to the states that really needed it, but to monied and powerful campaign contributors).  But we can't do without represents the currency of haves and wants (because no man is an island and no one needs nothing from others), and without our ability to pool our resources, we'd still be living in mud huts and eating wild berries and game.
  • Power never goes away.  Why does power exist?  If people were made to live in an ideal (utopian) structure that no longer requires government, as Karl Marx proposed in his Communist Manifesto, then why did such a concept ever evolve in the first place?  I mean, after all, when humanity first started and our numbers were in the thousands, not the billions, we lived in simple, hierarchical tribal structures, not an egalitarian paradise.  Power exists because people have different levels of competence.  Some of us are better at making things than others.  I would be relatively useless in a tribal world as I'm legally blind and have rather unskilled hands.  The only reason I can thrive today is that humans realized some ten thousand years ago that life was better if we could pool our resources and choose some of the most capable among us to lead and protect the rest.  Without skilled hunters, albinos would never have evolved - they'd have been eaten by the tigers they never saw coming.  We can forget, today, just how critical organization and politicization is to most of our survival because the world seems somehow more tame, but the bottom line are still not equal in faculties.  Some are better at producing wealth, new ideas, new technology, new art, than others.  The most skilled will always be handed power - when the skill that's needed is acting ability, we get Hollywood and all of its great performers.  When the skill that's needed is violent force, we get a mob filled with convicts and mentally unstable folks who are looking for an excuse to kill someone.  (Or rape them, as we saw in Zucotti Park even as well-meaning, but clueless hordes gathered and tried to protest peacefully.)  The power in Zucotti Park organized pretty quickly, and protest leaders frequently resorted to rule by fiat to keep order.  That's a fundamental truth about men.
  • Fearlessness is insanity.  In the previous film, the Joker was utterly fearless.  He was also moonbat insane with a great desire to spread chaos wherever he went.  In this film, Wayne struggled for a good solid five months with the delusion that he did not fear death.  He succeeded in escaping the pit only when he embraced the reality that no human can function and survive without a healthy fear of death (and entrapment, for that matter).  Mobs are fearless (all psychological studies show this to be the case)...and all mobs are insane (as we just saw in London when flash mobs and civil unrest nearly burned the city to the ground).
  • Appeasement is weakness.  Bane is only able to keep control of Gotham for so long because he issues a threat that if outside forces attempt to intervene, another Gotham citizen will destroy the city -- and the US government's reaction is to accede to his demands and provide his forces with food and protection while keeping Gotham citizens locked in their own private dictatorship.  The proper response to a madman is a fight...a refusal to show weakness and play into his hands.  Did our government really imagine that Bane could see everything happening in the entire city?  They could have begun sneaking people out of harm's way while sneaking military forces in to get at the heart of Bane's operation without Batman's intervention.  They didn't do that.  Appeasement didn't work against Hitler because all appeasement a lack of conviction.
There are other truths in this movie, but I'll stop with this sample, because I think that's all I really need to make my point.  The left has consistently taken the other side of the argument against each of those truths and the left is consistently proven wrong by the tides of history and the misdeeds of men.  Modern American conservatism (which used to be called liberalism back when we were liberal relative to King and Country European conservatives who were fighting to preserve an oppressive system of command and control in which most people had no say) hold that all men are of equal intrinsic value, but unequal abilities.  The founding belief of our new brand of conservatism is that people are fundamentally flawed, unique, and chaotic and that no one man or group of men should be handed too much power and control because no one man or group can relate to the needs of the rest of us and because no one can be trusted with that much power.  Meanwhile, Obama's progressive vision for American includes a fond desire that we emulate China and give him and his friends the ability to implement his ideas (well-meaning or not) without interference...without checks and balances.  Progressivism is based on the fond wish we might all have that we could find a "benevolent monarch" - someone who could get things done efficiently and really was a great man or woman with the fondest wish in his or her heart that all of the people he or she serves could be happy.  They cover this basic impulse with sophisticated populist rhetoric, but their actions reveal the truth.

And so does this movie.  Apart from being deeply entertaining and well made, Dark Knight Rises is also honest.  And that is a rare thing in Hollywood.  That alone makes it the most conservative movie of the modern era...and that alone explains its popularity (well...that and stuff going boom and Batman being a badass superhero and some really good actors doing their stuff :) ).  The irony is...Progressives are so tone deaf that they think this movie is an argument against capitalism and Mitt Romney.  Cause...Bane and Bain are homophones!!  And...stock exchange...see...corporate boards created this mess!  (Actually, Bane did...the money was just a tool)  But let 'em be fooled...there's a slim chance that a few of them will go see this movie and it will have some influence on them the next time the very same rhetoric used by Bane to subdue Gotham (I give this city back to you, the one will interfere! - The wealth was gained by the sweat of your brow! - We are the 99%...oh wait...that one was real life...) is uttered by Barack Obama when he tells ordinary Americans that they didn't build their small businesses.

Writing: 9.5

There are a few places that need some editing. This movie is probably a bit longer than it needed to be to have the same effect, and, especially early on, there are snippets that seem to happen as if from nowhere.  But on the whole, this is a great script - a personal redemption for Wayne/Batman made possible by faith and a healthy fear of death (after all, if you fear death, it means that you have embraced life), and a victory for civil society and the rule of law (and conservative principles like those espoused by Robin when he says "Structures can become shackles.").

Acting: 9.5

The twist involving Miranda seemed not to work for me, and I think it's because I didn't find her performance at any time in this film particularly convincing.  But Christian Bale, Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy were all essentially perfect (though...why does Batman continue to speak in a low raspy voice even after his ID has been made?...ah, minor quibbles). (Note from Steph: And don't forget Michael Caine! Caine freakin' rocks.)

Message: 10.0 with a NUCLEAR ROCKET!!

Whether they meant it to be or not, this is one of the greatest works of conservative entertainment the world has ever known.

Cinematography and Technical Mastery: 10.0 with a BULLET

This film is visually stunning, as you'd expect, but Hans Zimmer's sound track is even more forceful and perfectly fits the mood of the film. On the whole, there is little to critique regarding the look and feel of the piece (though some have tried to argue that Bane's sound mixing was a bit off in a few spots - I never observed that). (Note from Steph: Regarding the sound mixing, I think your experience must depend on your theater. At the AMC Potomac Mills, I did have a little trouble making out some of Bane's lines.)

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