Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Depravity/ Batman Redux

[This was going to be a comment on Jack's Batman post below but it got too long. --ed.]

I haven't seen "Dark Knight" yet (or "No Country", for that matter) but I think the deliberate moral depravity you get in movie villains is an outsized version of the more run-of-the-mill moral threats to society that people see or think they see. Sort of on par with the alien invasion in Independence Day. So, when you make a serious-minded movie with similarly scaled villains, yes, you're commenting on cultural anxiety blahblahblah, but you're also probing the murky, apparently troubling ramifications of these moral circumstances that, to my knowledge, have never actually existed within the whole of human experience. Good behavior gets compromised by much softer stuff than your average cartoonish supervillain.

(Making sweeping, unsupported statements about "society" takes me right back to tenth grade English class, by the way. Think I could stretch this to exactly five paragraphs?)

When Christopher Nolan's previous Batman movie came out I saw it with my friend Kuzman and a bunch of his friends, many of whom were very much into the Bat-mythology and talked at length after the film about how well "Batman Begins" treated the theme of fear, etc. I have modest comic-book-geek chops based on hanging around a bunch of techies for my whole adult life so I hung with them for a while, but when I wanted to get out of the conversation I just said, "You know what I think is really underrated? The old Batman movie from the sixties with Adam West." And sure enough, they just sort of stopped talking to me after that. But the 1966 Batman is a surprisingly fun watch, almost entirely because West plays the part so unflinchingly straight, with all the William Shatner-esque would-be gravitas he can muster. I haven't seen the latest DVD incarnation but the Adam West/ Burt Ward commentary track on the one I did watch a couple years ago is a hoot too; Ward is all jiminy-jillickers about how great it was to be part of this franchise as a kid that he's probably honed at boat shows for decades while West talks about the theater of the absurd.


Blogger Jack said...

There's a good skeptical review of the movie (I mean the new one) here, though it won't make any sense unless you've seen it. (And it has spoilers.)

Mostly I don't like being shown genuinely disturbing scenes that just use your moral reaction to ratchet up the tension, especially when they act like they're saying something deeper. I'm not sure Dark Knight acts in bad faith in this way, but I don't think it succeeds in these scenes and it might amount to the same thing.

OK, I might be done talking about this now! Except for that I plan to argue till February that the Academy should come up with some kind of appropriate posthumous honor, in recognition of what we can all agree on is an indelible portrayal of the Joker, to bestow upon Cesar Romero.

7/30/2008 10:42 PM  

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