The Dark Knight Fulfilled Many Expectations While Raising Ethical Issues About Privacy
There are seven basic ingredients that make a story. To illustrate, let’s examine The Dark Knight, Ridley Scott’s dark vision/interpretation of the Batman story. In the latter part of this post we’ll examine some ethical issues raised by this film.
First, there is Setting. This story takes place in the big city of Gotham, Bruce Wayne’s hometown. It is the center of their world, as in real life Gotham believes itself the center of our world. I have heard it compared to Babylon more than once in my life, and some there are who would say rightfully so. It’s police and its history were famously corrupt, though in the past ten years crime and corruption has been significantly reduced in the real Gotham, even without a Batman. Maybe with all that new eye-in-the-sky technology we don’t need superheroes anymore?
Second, there are the Characters. Can you believe the names in this film? Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman and an especially disturbing Heath Ledger lead an all-star cast. But these are not characters. These are the actors who play our story’s characters. Batman is, of course, the hero. His nemesis: The Joker.
Third, we have the Problem or Goal. Drawing from mythology, the hero’s quest is what gives the story its impetus. What does he want? What are his motivations? Batman exists to fight crime, but he also wants to give it up, to quit. In this film, he longs to hang up his cape and spurs, uhnm, mask… and settle into a quiet life with his one true love played by Maggie G.
Fourth, the Complications. The complications are what create the tension. The hero has a goal, and the screenwriter puts in his way every conceivable barrier that be can be dreamed up while still being believable. Believable is the operative word here. Even within a fictional construct, the rules of the game are established. The audience will happily suspend disbelief if the story remains faithful to its own rules.
In The Dark Knight, the primary complication is The Joker, whose goal is to destroy all notions of order and decency, first by creating fear and chaos, and second, by corrupting the uncorrupted hero of Gotham Harvey Dent, who is striving to clean up crime and wipe out evil… The Joker’s own motivation or quest is to tarnish this paragon of virtue, thus dispelling hope or confidence in the moral order of right and wrong.
Fifth, there is the Turning Point. Alas, there must be a dark moment when it appears all is lost. In this film, sadly, Harvey Dent himself becomes a comic book villain: Two Face. Clever story line here, flows logically out of the fluid and flames that make for good comic book drama. There is philosophy here, too. Are moral actions merely the result of a chance act like the flip of a coin. Or is there truly a virtuous act? The Joker simultaneously puts his theory to the test with two boatloads of people out on the river. Is self-preservation the final value, or is there another set of values that excels beyond looking out for number one?
Sixth, the Climax. The last and most dramatic scene of the story. There are two here, because there are two bad guys now. The irony is abundant as Bruce Wayne/Batman persuades his right-hand man Lucius Fox to violate his own code of ethics in order to reach an ethical conclusion. In short, for the powers of right to ultimately win, ethical considerations must be temporarily set aside. Is this the rationale for torture and other ethical violations in today’s real-world drama regarding terrorism?
The Joker must be brought to justice, and to save more innocent lives from being taken, Batman must rid the world of Two Face as well. It is all so dramatic… if at this point you are identifying with these characters as real people. Alas, it’s a Hollywood blockbuster budget extravaganza, and gosh, at this point I am just watching and waiting. The good guy has to win, right?
Seventh, and finally, Resolution. The denouement comes quick. It is a tidy little knot tying all the loose ends. And so it is, with dramatic music pulsing through the veins of the dark theater, we have just experienced The Dark Knight.
As for the overall effect: Well done… The sets, the mood, the whole feel here was a phenomenal achievement. No indie filmmaker can ever compete with Hollywood in that department. There was some originality and entertaining interpretation in the bat cave as well as the ultra-modernized gizmos Mr. Wayne had access to.
Privacy Issues and the Dark Knight
After mulling it over a while, I have upgraded my opinions about the new Batman flick featuring the Dark Knight and the Joker. I can’t change my rating at IMDB, but I did modify my blog review, from an 8 to a 9 on the Richter scale.
Reality is, though initially critical about a few small things, the big questions it raised still loom large, knocking about against the walls of my wooden skull. The film touched on important issues related to belief systems, good and evil, and the nature of how power should be used.
In this fictional construct, Bruce Wayne/Batman crossed a line in regards to the invasion of privacy. The technology may be fictional, but the realities are not.
Ten years ago Google began photographing every front door in England, the aim of which was to be able to show not only an aerial view of every place, but also what it is like to walk down the street anywhere and everywhere. We now know this as Google Streetview. Many people felt uneasy or even disturbed by this.
Objections included this one. It gives criminals a great tool for scoping out your place so they can plan getaway routes. And some people simply do not want a camera in their yard.
Cities all over the world have embraced the eye in the sky network of cameras, in the name of “security.” For the sake of personal peace and security, people will give up freedoms. But how much freedom do we put on the altar of security?
We have by now all heard stories of people whose computers were raided by “the authorities” for containing illicit or illegally downloaded content. The most vivid story that comes to mind is a police raid in which a man had been downloading child porn. They show up and find he is not home. The wife is very cooperative, and offers his computer. They say, “We don’t need it. We already took all the evidence before we came.”
That’s a bit scary to me. What else can these legal, professional hackers steal from us without our permission?
And so Batman takes this new technology, the ability to “see” via peoples’ cell phones, and uses it to locate his arch nemesis The Joker. His purpose is admirable: save innocent lives. His assistant, Lucius Fox as the voice of conscience (Morgan Freeman) is repulsed by the idea, though not so repulsed as to fail to carry out the request. It’s an ugly business this law and order stuff.
And one wonders how much invasion of privacy is taking place today in our society, carried out by people “following orders” who are equally repulsed. Morgan Freeman says he will do it this once and then resign. How many others are there who resign rather than carry on clandestine surveillance? (See, for example, my blog post on The Lives of Others.)
Here’s yet another story that highlights grey areas of the privacy problem. Currently the state of Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Jack Wagner wants to put GPS units on the ankles of sex offenders in that state. It has been learned that nearly ten thousand registered sex offenders in Pennsy alone have disappeared and are unaccounted for.
A similar incident occurred in Wisconsin where thousands of Wisconsin sex offenders being monitored disappeared, escaped, predators who were again “out there somewhere.” Isn’t this what our parents and grandparents were really trying to warn us about when they told us about the bogeyman? “The bugger man gonna get you, chile. Stay away from the dark.”
And so we have terrorists and sex offenders, and all manner of dangers to make us afraid. People dislike being afraid, so they make a trade-off. “Yes, I will give up some of my freedom if you’ll watch over me, Big Brother. Please take away more of our privacy rights so I can sleep tonight.”
But what if our government is not quite as benevolent as our favorite comic book hero? Where do we draw the line in how freely we should allow Big Brother to monitor all our activities?
Though the future remains unwrit, there are legitimate causes for concern.
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Joker illustration by the author. Feedback welcome. This review is an updated variation on two blog posts that originally appeared at Ennyman’s Territory.