As Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films went on it’s parallels to the real world became eerier with each instalment. First Heath Ledger’s death, then the economic crash of 2008, only months after we’d seen Ledger’s Joker burn a mountain of money with more glee then a banker on crack cocaine. Then we get the last film, a tragic shooting at one of the premieres and a film with uncanny echoes of Occupy Wall Street, despite the fact that by all accounts the script was written well before that particular Occupation.
And after watching The Dark Knight Rises one can’t help but wonder if we’ve been watching a reactionary, even fascist, film series condemning Occupy Wall Street and making apologies for the one percent. But while it’s certainly possible, that would be simplifying a series that bravely refuses simplification. If you consider Nolan’s earlier films (particularly Memento and Insomnia) you find a director that makes very flawed heroes aiming for perfection. But they never succeed and never get any moral discount, any deceit or falsehood will haunt them in the end. This is also present in the Bat-trilogy, even if you could argue that Bruce Wayne does get some discounts Memento’s Leonard Shelby never got. But the overriding sentiment nevertheless seems to be how fallible human beings are, on both sides of the political spectrum, in fact too fallible for any ideology to work properly. In an interview with Rolling Stone Nolan says: “What we’re really trying to do is show the cracks of society, show the conflicts that somebody would try to wedge open,” and one might argue that he simply went from baring the cracks of human souls to the cracks of human societies.
But Nolan remains elusive about the film’s politics, yet denies attacking the Occupy-movement and tells Rolling Stone: “If the populist movement is manipulated by somebody who is evil, that surely is a criticism of the evil person. You could also say the conditions the evil person is exploiting are problematic and should be addressed.” And it is true that the 99 % of Gotham play a very small role in the whole scenario, the battle mostly being between Batman and other one per centers (plus the cops) and extremists like Bane. And while the trilogy has been commended for it’s realistic approach (for a comic book movie, at least) the absence of normal people is a weakness. This is a world mostly populated by the rich and corrupt and the poor and sociopathic, with little middle ground. And in a way Nolan accidentally becomes the tragic hero of this series, an honest, ambitious director that perhaps got overambitious while at the same time not standing his ground firmly enough towards the studio (that ending) and the dominant source material – lets not forget that while he had 80 years of Batman material to draw from the overriding influence will always remain Frank Miller’s Reagan era classics – and unlike Nolan, Miller left no one in doubt about his politics when he ranted: “”Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.”
Spidey and the Raven
Batman’s Gotham has often been described as New York by night and Superman’s Metropolis has been called New York by day. Spider-Man’s New York however is simply called New York. It’s here you can find the normal people missing in Nolan’s world. Because while Batman and Superman deal in myths and ideologies that feed off each other the apolitical masses of Spider-Man’s world are simply struggling to survive – including working class Peter Parker himself. And they’re struggling even harder then before, with ‘Newsweek’ recently naming it Generation Screwed. And while The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest series of Nolan’s brilliant trilogy The Amazing Spider-Man is certainly superior to the Sam Raimi version, even if I’m still curious to see what happens when his New York will become Occupied.
Yet both Spidey and the Bat were forged by the urge for revenge, a motif Nolan has repeatedly used, usually with his character perishing if they can’t let go of their vendetta. And in the new Spider-Man film one of the key differences is how his reaction to Uncle Ben’s death are more complicated then before. The murder seemed to turn Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man good in an instant, but Andrew Garfield’s Spidey becomes a misguided superhero first, before two more incidents finally show him what great responsibility his power comes with.
And since we’re on the issue of revenge, The Raven Files cannot go unmentioned. I saw it recently for the first time since childhood, and finally on the big screen, and was amazed at how well it has aged. And it is a revenge film at it’s purest, and even more critical of revenge than Nolan’s films are. In fact, the economy of the storytelling sometimes reminds you of ‘Memento’, although director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson’s subsequent career hasn’t reached the heights of Nolan’s. Hrafn has probably both benefitted and suffered for his friendship with Davíð Oddsson and no subsequent film of his gained anything like the acclaim his original Viking epic got. But I got a sneaky feeling that his whole Viking trilogy might be ripe for re-evaluation, and also the much maligned later movies.
Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson