16 August 2008

The Dark Knight

I know some blog readers might've thought I've completely vanished from the Blog world. The belief is, I must say, not totally unfounded as I haven't updated my blog for more than a month. Some might've thought that after reading a self-help book like Compass of Life, Dechito would've been brought back to sanity and started living as a monk, filling his time with meditation and religious chanting. Well, sometimes cynicism dies hard, even though there're a lot of films and books nowadays that elicit a need to believe, to have faith in mankind, not to give up hope that mankind is essentially virtuous and capable of positive sensibilities.

Yes, I'm talking about The Dark Knight. I know there're a lot of people out there who love it and begin seriously thinking about putting it in the list of the top ten best films of all time. I like the film too, especially the Joker, who is just so indifferent to social order. For me, he's more 'amoral' than 'immoral', especially in the sense that his anarchy makes us acknowledge the imaginary foundation of our ethical system, i.e. that our belief in what is right and wrong is just our own imagination. Like Iago in Shakespeare's Othello, the Joker makes us realise that our ethics doesn't exist prior to the birth of mankind, but 'after' our society begins to take root. For some reason, this reminds me of Nietzsche's philosophy.

That's perhaps why people are so scared of the Joker, not only because of his appearance, but mainly because his presence reminds us of something even starker. We can find no determinate cause for his evil making. Even his stories vary. Perhaps, the Joker might like to remind us, we're not decent animals after all; we just want to believe that we're a far superior race, but in fact we're simply not. The case of Harvey Dent as a man losing faith in humanity even drives us further into the abyss of pessimism and hopelessness. One couldn't help but feel sorry for this guy, but alas it's even more terrible to learn that there're a lot more people out there in the real world facing the similar crisis of faith.

That's why we need the Batman. He's a confirmation that we as a race are capable of unconditional sacrifice and virtuous acts. In the modern day when people tend to do something out of their interest, unconditionality becomes a marker of good and the Batman's role at the end to shoulder the responsibility somehow gives us hope. This film perhaps heralds a significant shift in our Zeitgeist -- we can no longer be cynical and indifferent towards everything around us, we need to act and hold on to our ethics 'even though' we know that it's all imaginary. (But of course when we come to seriously think about it, the Batman is so terribly rich he could afford to be good. Is it possible that good acts are reserved to rich people only?)

This doesn't mean that I agree with this ending. I couldn't help but be embarrassed when Commissioner Gordon extolls the Batman at the end, saying to his son that the Batman is an outsider, destined to live in the dark, blah blah blah, ending with the words 'he's the dark knight'. I almost fell off my seat. It's such a shame, with an ending as cheesy as that.

The other thing that I feel could be improved is the role of the betrayers. When it turns out that it's Detective Anna Ramirez who betrays everyone's trust, I couldn't help but wonder who she is. Her role is too marginal in the film and this twist really needs someone more significant. I think if the betrayer had been Commissioner Gordon himself, it would've been much better in terms of suspense and surprise. (Of course, LA Confidential is a very good example of this kind of twist.)

Well, the film does raise a lot of interesting questions. Like The Mist, it's not just a Hollywood blockbuster, it's also a philosophical tract rewriting what such philosophers as Kant and Nietzsche pondered and wrote long time ago.

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