Dark Knight Rises (Part 2)


Gen-X-Review-Dark-Knight-Rises-Part-2The joker may be gone, but the joke remains in the Dark Knight Rises.

The film finds Batman retired and his alter ego Bruce Wayne a recluse in his sprawling mansion. The hero was unable to save the love of his life in the last film and he has spent eight years nursing this injury, fixated on his impotence in the face of madness and violence.

Paradoxically, the city has thrived without its dark hero, largely because it has embraced the model of a police state under the emblem of its former district attorney Harvey Dent. (Dent, like Batman’s former lover, became a victim of the Joker’s insanity in the end of The Dark Knight.)

Superficially sanity has regained its hold, both of the masked crusader and of Gotham, but really both are on the brink of a mental breakdown. The city has not learned to listen to the clown and as a result inequity has flourished. Those social anxieties fester underground, where a paramilitary group of zealots are training under the tutelage of Bane, one of the last living men trained by the League of Shadows, Batman’s old fraternity.

Bane sings in the same tune as the Joker, who said in the Dark Knight, “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!”  This is essentially the same logic Bane applies to a captured Gotham when he tells them that their liberation is inseparable from their destruction.

The project for both villains is a fool’s palace on earth.  For the Joker, this world is the natural result of removing the artificial barriers introduced by culture. By showing the civilization where it hides its madness, he hopes to demonstrate the basic insanity at work beneath our culture.

Bane seals away Gotham’s law enforcement officers in the sewers of Gotham and separates the city from the rest of the world in an attempt to create a culture freed from the operation of the state. “Behold, the instrument of your liberation! Identify yourself to the world!” he announces to the city after telling them that they’re all going to die.

The end is near. No one can stop you from reinventing your world. What do you deny yourself at this moment?

For the Joker and Bane the answer is obvious. Given the power to do anything, you deny yourself nothing. The veneer of civilization with its complex rules of law, logic of the market, social graces and other niceties do little more than mask the seething desiring machine at our core, and the ultimate appetite is a hunger for oblivion and destruction.

This is why they wear masks. By coming out in drag, these villains show the culture itself that it, too, is a fabrication. Beneath the masks are brutal men (and women) who would do what they’d want, if they had access to their desires. The masks give them strength and power, but they also makes them less than fully human.

“No one cared who I was, until I put on the mask,” Bane says sneeringly. But Bane’s mask is also a life-support system. It keeps excruciating pain at bay and puts his vulnerabilities – tiny tubes that supply his oxygen – on display.  To wear a mask is to admit that you’re a nut, that you need the mask to manage a personality that otherwise would be babbling nonsense.

Ultimately the mask is a face that bears the scars of psychological battles. Insanity rises up out of the unconscious and collects in the face. For Dent, the Joker and Bane, the face doesn’t conceal the troubled nature of the insanity beneath it. For Batman (Wayne), the mask is more than a face: It’s a fully formed identity that threatens to possess him, an alien being in his mind.

But really very little separates the superhero from the supervillains. The presence of the mask (even as face) shows that they’ve ascended out of darkness broken and disfigured. They have not been able to adjust to a normal life and have an unhealthy attachment to fetish objects.

The fetishist doesn’t love the whip because it brings pain; he loves it because it focuses pain into a form that’s manageable. Release comes, not from the object, but by turning away to it at a crucial moment, averting your eyes from something that would cause excruciating psychological pain.

This pain can be subverted into pleasure, but not for Batman. He can only experience pleasure in negation, as a martyr. The fool’s promise of liberation will only make him confront whatever it is that lurks behind the mask, a psychological force he fears will destroy him.

The fool’s palace Bane hopes to create will display everything on the other side of the mask. It will lay bare the brutality at the heart of the city, put its hypocrisy and contradictions on public display, and reveal the anarchy that gives state power its meaning.

The problem with the fool’s palace is it does not undo the logic of a corrupt state; it inverts it. New masters emerge to take the place of old masters and new hypocrisies replace old ones, but the same basic logic is at play. The problem is not of will, but of imagination.

The irony is the clown speaks the truth. Historically the jester – with his direct experience of insanity – is the only one who could tell the king the truth. These truths, so difficult to communicate within the state’s bureaucracy, could be conveyed concealed in a joke, spoken by a madman.

The culture is sick. Like our own world, inequity and corruption have become institutionalized and the institution is the last place to look for solutions.

The world needs a Joker to reveal these realities, but only if the punch line comes at the end of a joke and not the barrel of a gun.  



0 #1 VMreader 2012-07-30 01:07
I watched this series in reverse over the past week - definitely an amazing trilogy that has many psychological resonance. I wonder what would Freud say?

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