Lessons of the Dark Knight–Necessary Stories column, Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

It’s after 10 p.m. on a Saturday night and I’m descending an escalator in the Jerusalem Mall, located in the Malha neighborhood. My head is a bit muddled at this hour – a late one for me. I’m on a father-son outing – I’m going with my two boys, one a soldier, the other a high school senior, to see some good guys beat up some bad guys. We slide off the moving stairs at the second floor and swerve left to the Gil multiplex movie theaters.

The boys have chosen “The Dark Knight,” the new Batman movie. I grew up with Batman comic books and the old twice-a-week TV series, but it’s a long time since I’ve had contact with Bob Kane’s eyeless hero of Gotham City. I missed the earlier films with the caped crusader’s latest incarnation.

My junior high school comic book addiction seems to belong to the biography of a different person. That kid knew who the good guys were (Batman, Robin, Jews, liberals, most Supreme Court justices) and who the bad guys were (the Joker, the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Communists, Republicans, Nixon). The bad guys wore makeup, dressed funny and sought world domination. The good guys had big muscles and washboard abs (except for the Supreme Court Justices, the liberals and the Jews.)

My own boys, growing up closer to real battles, may be more worldly about conflict than I was at their age….[Read the rest on the Jerusalem Report website–come back here to comment!]

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6 thoughts on “Lessons of the Dark Knight–Necessary Stories column, Jerusalem Report”

  1. A marvelous essay, Haim.

    Do you recall the chase scene in The French Connection where Gene Hackman slams on the brakes and stops his car just before hitting a woman with a stroller? Imagine the audience reaction if he had actually run her and her baby over and killed them, their bloody bodies and the mangled stroller wedged under the car. There would have been such revulsion that the entire plot of the movie would have been forgotten – so it didn’t happen – but in the real world such things do happen.

    It would seem the movies are growing up and maybe that says something about the society that produces them. On the other hand, maybe in the drive for novelty anything that takes a different tack is being tried.

    I’ve been easily revolted by the graphic scenes of violence in movies, but thinking about it in terms of your review, it may be that moviegoers who become used to the gore will then begin to think of the underlying themes – dismissing a movie where nothing more than carnage is there and gaining insight where something is. Think of it as the gaudy dress of a clown who, having drawn his audience, gets the close attention that reveals his tears.

    I haven’t seen any of the Batman movies but I do have the one you review on my Netflix queue. I look forward to seeing it after reading your review.

  2. I think you have to be our age to pick up on the subtleties presented in both the movie and the comic books. I was a fan in my youth, and saw only the adventure — it’s interesting to go back now, and see Batman (and Spiderman) both creating havoc and tragedy through vigilanteism. Children see the chase scenes; adults see the underlying tragedy.

    An excellent movie, if your boys haven’t seen it, is A Man For All Seasons, where Moore tempers the crusading zeal of his young acolyte with a pertinent question:

    “If the Law were a forest, and the Devil hid behind a tree, would you cut it down to reach him?”

    “I would!” enthused the younger man.

    “And if you had to cut down every law in this Forest of Laws to reach the Devil, would you do that as well?”

    “I would,” the younger man asserted.

    “Then where would YOUR protection lie when the Devil turns on you and the laws that should be your protection lie fallen where you have cut them down? What then?” Moore roared at him.

    The rule of law, however imperfect, is preferable to chaos, or the rule of the the street, or vigilante “justice,” or revenge, however satisfying it might appear at the moment.

  3. Aliyah: Good point More made in the movie.

    But what does one do when the law with the whole world behind it says one (or one’s country) is in the wrong and one (or one’s country) says, “I choose not to recognize the law and will do as I (we) wish”?

  4. It seems that we do not have an international system of laws as yet, since what treaties and agreements are out there are not applied equitably to all parties.

    But there is hope–slavery and concubinage used to be lawful; the Inquisition and the Star Chamber used to be lawful; women used to have NO property rights. More and other Renaissance thinkers posited for the first time that NO man, not even the king, is above the law; the Declaration of Independence posited that all (white, free) men were equal and it took two centuries to include non-white men and women, but it happened.

    The day may yet dawn when we have a system of international law that is respected by all nations and applied equally and fairly to all nations—but so long as we have a system that is highly politicized, used illegitimately, and applied only to score political points or used as a pretext to count diplomatic coup, you haven’t arrived there yet.

    For laws to be respected by all, they must be fair, and must apply equally to all.

  5. aliyah06, it’s certainly true that international law and treaties aren’t always respected. But the same is true to some extent of domestic law in every country in the world. That’s what gives us so-called “criminals” and judicial systems to deal with them. And judicial systems, even in countries where the rule of law is fairly well established, are far from applying the law equally and fairly in every case. The fact that the law gets occasionally disrespected from either side of the bar doesn’t however free anyone else to break it, too.
    International law is of course a work in progress, more so than domestic law, because the understanding that we can and should have international law at all is far younger historically. To pretend one’s own country to be exempt because of some others’ behaviour is a cop-out.

  6. Haim,
    I definitely agree that this movie was dark, and in some way a reflection of a lot of what is going on in the world.
    I thought that the writing was very well done, and that good intentions arent always good decisions. Im glad your son realized that there was a deeper message. I definitely heard it.

    It’s definitely not the Batman either of us grew up with (probably very different Batmans).

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