After three days of watching the emergency response and hearing talk about the theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I felt it necessary and appropriate to check in to a theatre and see the movie which was playing when the massacre by a lone gunman took place. As an artist and observer I keep a somewhat closer eye on pop culture, the media and cinema of our times. In this case, the question of whether art imitates life, or vice versa, is foremost in my mind. Will watching The Dark Knight Rises enlighten me on why the recent horrific madness occurred or is this film just the pleasant getaway – an innocent fantasy which all world-weary are entitled to a brief escape?
I had to admit to a bit of trepidation as I entered the theatre. Briefly I interviewed the young lady at the concession stand by asking if security precautions had been added. She said things had been calm and normal; they were asking people to leave backpacks and large bags at the counter.
Finally settling in with about fifty other viewers, I appreciated the cool air after the scalding sun outdoors. A matinee is a lovely diversion, or so I thought until the previews started. This was just a precursor to what was to come in the main feature, kind of a violence warm-up:
Black Ops? or something like that : “Their Hero Becomes their Killer”; Jason Bourne is “just the tip of the iceberg” – more trained killers in The Bourne Legacy filled with killing and violence; Bilbo Baggins – The Hobbit, tucked away in Middle Earth, between more violent previews; “ Taken” with Liam Neeson, more violence set in Istanbul; More Killing in Kung Fu movie with Lucy Lu – “ Puts the F-U in Kung Fu!!!”; and “The Campaign” – Politicians acting stupidly – one punches a lady and a baby!
The Dark Knight Rises opens at Harvey Dent’s funeral 8 years prior. The audience is swiftly taken hostage in a flashback where 3 hand-cuffed, hooded prisoners are threatened with being thrown from a military plane if they don’t answer the interrogation of the captors. One of the prisoners is a muzzled man; the plan is “No Survivors.” Then the crew is overtaken and the hero is forced into a blood transfusion which, as an infrequent viewer of the Batman series, I must assume was the cause of Batman’s turning to the “dark side” in the previous movie, “The Dark Knight.” (Fans – please correct me if I’m wrong!)
Back at the funeral, we are schooled on the importance of The Dent Act, which gave major sharp teeth to law enforcement. In the belief system of the Powers that Be, Harvey Dent was a hero and his work has been honored and celebrated as a holiday. Explanation is offered that due to the Dent Act’s success in addressing crime, over 100,000 criminals are imprisoned in Gotham City.
We’re then introduced to the recluse Bruce Wayne, who has not recovered from past incidents, and has taken the blame for Harvey Dent’s murder. Wayne’s butler is worried and conveys his wishes to see his employer (and friend) take more interest in life.
We come to understand that Wayne has funded Boys’ Homes in Gotham City, but his Board of Directors, during his self-imposed isolation and lack of participation in the management of the vast Wayne fortune, has discontinued funding for boys once they turn sixteen. Huge numbers of homeless boys and young men are living in the tunnels below Gotham since they’ve “aged out” of the Wayne Trust Boys Homes.
The action then heads to a society fundraiser where meet a wealthy woman who is engaged in what Wayne dubs “a save the world vanity project.” Also, the disguised Cat Woman is working at the mansion as a server for the gala event. In a rare moment of comic relief, she catches the eye of the corrupt police chief and as he pulls her back in order to grab two hors d’oeuvres, she says “Shrimp Balls” and keeps walking.
She looks like the perfect waitress, so she’s sent to take a tray food upstairs to the ill recluse, Bruce Wayne. But once she’s in Wayne’s room, she cracks the safe and steals his mother’s necklace AND his fingerprints by dusting the safe. She cruelly trips him by kicking out his crutch then escapes as he lies helpless on the well-polished floor.
Wayne pulls himself together, asks for the remaining Bat Mobile to be taken out of mothballs and tries to regain his strength. From there we rapidly move ahead through a convoluted plot where dialogue is offered as a frayed clue of continuity to harness us in for the intense action and violence to come. Recollecting my main reason for seeing this film, I acknowledge the repeating motif of disguise and weaponry in the film, quite reminiscent and parallel to the lone shooter’s M.O. in Aurora. The Joker, a major villain in previous Batman comics and films, is not included in this episode, but we are soon to be re-introduced to Bane, Batman’s current nemesis who was born and raised in the harsh tunnel prisons, and is the only known escapee from that hell.
Bane, we soon see, is one and the same who wore the huge muzzled breathing apparatus in the opening scenes of mid-air torture and mayhem. His Darth Vader mouthpiece is an encumbrance, both for him in his personal pain and affliction and for the audience in their strained effort to hear him. The lower half of his face is contained in the black device, which contrasts interestingly with Batman’s exposed mouth and hidden eyes, nose, and hooded head. The motifs of good vs. evil, shadow and light, repeat and repeat, as does the violent gunfire and showcasing of the extremely powerful WMD technologies that have been developed by evil forces who’ve infiltrate Wayne Enterprises. The only counter-balance to the violence is offered by the young detective who has ultimate faith in Batman and a shared secret history with Wayne of being an orphan, and the flirtation between Batman and Cat Woman, and her jealous flairs directed at Bruce Wayne’s society lady admirer. Those three offered some pretty hot and sweet eye candy when we become bored of barrage. ( Barrage and Carnage vs. Visage and Cleavage, as it were!)
In order not to spoil “the plot”, let me say there are many turns in this twisted production and all is set right in the end, although we are left with blazing ears and thundering hearts having witnessed at least 10,000 bullet shots and innumerable acts of destruction and hate. The movie is a vehicle for showcasing force and I longed for the days of “da-da-da-da-da-da, Batman!” or “Get to the Bat Mobile, Robin!!!”
The montage, a complicated variety of ideas and images, if we look at it through the lens of what’s in the news, in society and culture these days, becomes a kaleidoscope of ever-changing issues raised, then dropped from high cliffs without explanation. Sure, this is comic book balloons of dialogue and comic-book butt-kicking (Pow! Pow! Wham!) yet it’s taken to such a high level of graphic and auditory abuse that we are both mesmerized and repulsed (and a bit embarrassed to be sitting through this spectacle which delivers up over two hours of bad actions, bone-crushing breakage and bullet-battered bombasity, while parents shush their antsy five year olds and fussing infants).
Fragments, like shrapnel, lodge in our consciousness, if we are thinking adults. For example, the growing animosity as rival “gangs” of released and escaped prisoners face off with the “men in blue” is a direct reference (and could in fact fan real fires of rebellion) to the huge prison population in America. The fact that Gotham City is so loose a disguise for New York City and the contrast of rich and poor, the plight of the homeless and disenfranchised, and the potential for class war is portrayed yet never commented upon. It is as if Hollywood uses imagery to foreshadow or instigate, and this forces me to again consider whether art imitates life, or if life imitates art.
Perhaps in my boredom with this film, I’ve overthought a mindless piece of entertainment, but when people are constantly exposed to this level of violence in films, video games and on television, I wonder how strong a filter and how much self-control is being developed or eroded. With special effects growing ever more real, will the future hold more cases where reality and fantasy become indistinguishable, and acting out in deep anger or disillusionment become standard results? There are no movies good enough “to die for” so I hope Hollywood, the media, on line regulators, and U.S. policy, will direct energy away from the display, acquisition, and emulation of weapons and violence in favor of more meaningful, less violent and escapist fare.