Monday, 20 August 2012

On The Dark Knight's Priorities and Supreme Art Cinema

A Look into the recent Cronenberg controversy and Batman's hygiene.

[Disclaimer: The Dark Knight Rises spoilers ahead. But really if you haven't managed to see yet, I'm surprised you get internet under that rock of yours] 

'Come at me, bro!'

Batman sure is a deteremined dude, I mean in the time leading up to the final, epic battle of The Dark Knight Rises he's lost his family home and his one true love. He's crippled mentally just as much physcially. Wayne enterprizes is in ruins. And his new nemesis Bane has broken him in 'Spirit' and 'body'. Never the less, Bruce Wayne over comes his inner and outer demons to return to Gotham prepared to give everything in order to save his beloved city.

So while the clock is ticking and all life is at stake... why does he take the time to shave?


This topic is not something I thought up myself, no, I was in my natural habitat of message forums a few nights ago when someone drew my attention to this as a joke. But between the initial post and the responses it garnered it left me with a few thoughts that I felt were worth sharing.

Firstly, although it is possibly the pickiest of nits that I've seen regarding The Dark Knight Rises, it actually is a small but very important example of one of the crucial problems with Nolan's latest epic. The disconnection between the visual design and what the film is trying to convey. With regards to Batman's infallible hygiene perhaps it's a conscious decision on Nolan's part, after all Batman is a symbol, and his defined, clean appearance is a presentation of inner strength that everyone can adhere to. Equally however this is the time when everything is at stake, Bruce Wayne is holding nothing back and even looks like he's prepared to break his golden rule ('Tell me where the trigger is. Then... you have my permission to die!') Had Batman arrived looking like he'd actually been on the spiritual and physical journey he just had been, not only could it have created a sense of urgency that the final act lacked, but it also could have illustrated the intensity of Batman's determination to give everything.

The bigger issue here is Nolan's presentation of Gotham. At the end of the second act Bane establishes his control over the isolated Gotham, he declares the city as something of an anarchist state and a modern day Gomorrah. Yet... look at it:

'Gottam Garabge force, keeping the streets clean regardless of rain, snow or collapse of Western civilisation.'

Okay that HD Trailer screen I grabbed doesn't actually showcase my point, but snow or no snow, this just doesn't look like a city in decay, controlled by fear and death. This expands into the actual actions of the characters. We are told that Bane runs the streets with an iron fist, yet we repeatedly see Blake and Gordon walk around in the open conspiring against him. The odd thing is, Nolan didn't have this problem in either previous entry. In Batman Begins Gotham is grimey and cluttered illustrating a population of the verge of collapse. The Dark Knight's city is defined by lines and squares representing the established values The Joker wanted to undermine. How did Nolan get it so wrong here? My guess is that he spent so much time and effort going for raw emotional power that the detail was lost.

Going back to the intial point, the first response and one of the most popular defences I've seen of The Dark Knight Rises and Batman in general is the weak 'It's just a superhero film.' This is probably the most frustrating of arguments to deal with, not only is it a silly excuse for bad writing but it also undermines the whole point of Nolan's series. I don't get this response one bit; if a series that has defined itself by it's realistic approach to a genre that is typically a fantasy, then surely we can expect the character's actions and attitudes to adhere to that same realism. 

This leads me into the backlash that director David Cronenberg recieved after some remarks he made about The Nolanverse and it's fans.

'He said what about my cape?!'

In an interview with he was asked if he would consider branching out into the Super-hero genre, to which he responded:

'I don't think they are making them an elevated art form. I think it's still Batman running around in a stupid cape. I just don't think it's elevated... The movie, to me, they're mostly boring...  I would say that's a no, you know. And the problem is you gotta… as I say, you can do some interesting, maybe unexpected things. And certainly, I've made the horror films and people say, "Can you make a horror film also an art film?" And I would say, "Yeah, I think you can."

But a superhero movie, by definition, you know, it's comic book. It's for kids. It's adolescent in its core. That has always been its appeal, and I think people who are saying, you know, "Dark Knight Rises" is, you know, supreme cinema art," I don't think they know what the fuck they're talking about.'

Skating round the 'art is subjective' issue which I am by no means prepared to get into. And whilst I do find Cronenberg's comments sort of unprofessional, although the dude made Videodrome so he can whatever the hell he wants, I must say I actually find myself agreeing with him on one point. Nolan's films may be a more complex take on the genre, they may offer up some attempts to tackle broader political, social and economic themes but when we get down to it, they never offer up much to say. And if we take them into context of the movies they want to be compared to, then they just fall apart. 

Although I think to denounce all Super-hero films based on their premise alone is stupid and I will challenge him on the idea that a Super-hero film can never belong to the realm of 'elevated' cinema because we already have one. Yes it may be years since I've seen it, and in that time the director's name has become something of a cinematic taboo but there is at least one Super-hero film to me that could qualify. A film much more about unfufilment, longing and belonging than it is about beating up the bad guy in spandex, M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable.

I couldn't resist.

With that I will leave you with this one great scene.

Peace out, and see you next time folks!

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