June 11, 2012
The rise and fall and rise of superheroes
Some people don't know what all the fuss is about but Hollywood director Neil Marshall does:
'Sure, it's really just about a guy who dresses up as a bat, but it's such a smart beautifully-made movie about a guy who dresses up as a bat!'
He's speaking of 'The Dark Knight', the second in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and the biggest box office success of 2008. It's a hot topic now because on July 20th, the much-anticipated final film in the series, 'The Dark Knight Rises' is released. But should we be bothered by such escapist nonsense?
Batman has come a long way from the comic book hero who went 'Kerpow!' and saved a grateful Gotham City with little sign of personal trauma. These days, he's a darker figure who even has a back story. In 'Batman Begins' the young Bruce Wayne faced his deep fear of bats and turned it into a strength. Adopting the bat persona, he became that which he feared and now it was his enemies who felt the terror.
The message was simple: transcend your fears and put them to work for you.
And as we discovered in 'The Dark Knight', the super hero can't always be super. Here he was faced with an impossible choice: save Gotham City's heroic young District Attorney or the love of his life, Rachel Dawes. Super heroes usually solve such conundrums and save everyone but not on this occasion. Batman makes his choice, the D.A. dies and those who wanted two hours of popcorn and escapist fun are brought back to savage reality. Our hero is letting us down badly. This shouldn't happen, should it?
The English Nolan believes it should. He wants to trouble us as well as entertain and compares his latest offering with Dickens' novel 'The Tale of Two Cities.' 'There's an attempt to visualise certain things in this film,' he says, 'that are troubling and genuinely threatening to the idea of an American city. Revolutions and the destabilising of society have happened everywhere in the world. So why not here?'
It's a delicate balancing act, holding together the real and the mythological, the dark and the light. We need our heroes to be better than us to give us something to admire; but we also need them troubled and rooted in a world we recognise otherwise what's the point? To this extent, the selling of Jesus and Batman can appear similar.
In the case of Jesus, we have the savage and implacable denouncer of hypocrisy and cant alongside the ever-available and empathetic friend who walks with us each step of the way. Film directors and theologians both walk the slippery tightrope between challenge and reassurance.
And similarities with Jesus continue for ultimately, the caped crusader is the suffering servant of Gotham City. 'You've given everything!' he's told as he contemplates further sacrifice towards the end of 'The Dark Knight Rises.'
'Not everything. Not yet.'
Shivers down the spine...
Posted by Mr Bojangles at June 11, 2012 11:14 AM