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Did anyone read Joker his Miranda rights?

July 21, 2008 |  4:04 pm

Joker If you're one of the 22 million or so people who saw "The Dark Knight" this weekend, you probably noticed that the movie had some Serious Themes alongside the bombs, slick stunts, and brilliant performances. (And if you haven't read seen it yet, don't read on, and consider this your spoiler alert.) Sure, "Iron Man" had brown guys being blown up to a hard rock soundtrack, and American arms killing Americans. And at least the editorial board thought "The Hulk" could be considered an allegory for the war on drugs.

But Christopher Nolan's latest addition to the Batman canon is the most explicit and thought-provoking with its post-9/11-ness, starting with bursting skyscrapers in its first few minutes and at various points taking up torture (I think the sound of ringing steel is still in my head from Batman's slamming Joker's head onto a table), surveillance (complete with heavy-handed speechifying on privacy by Lucius Fox) and even directly calling the Joker a terrorist a handful of times (he does nearly knife privacy advocate and one-time anthrax target Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has a cameo).

What do the pundits have to say? Wired's Scott Brown and Brian Raftery IM about it:

Waldorf75: Do you think the telecom company that issued batman all those cellphone numbers will be pardoned?
Statler76: Ah, yes. Batman is also the NSA. Lest we forget this particular Bat Fantasy is Culturally Relevant.
Waldorf75: I bet Alberto Gonzales watched this and thought, "Oh, so THAT's how you do it -- just blow the equipment up afterward!"
Waldorf75: He also thought, "I can make either the 11:30 or the 2:40 show, as I really don't have much else to do."

Slate's Dana Stevens didn't mind the inclusion of the themes:

A colleague with whom I saw the movie felt that Nolan's use of 9/11 references was exploitive, that he was tapping into our deep cultural anxiety about terror just to spice up his blockbuster. After a second viewing, I vigorously disagree. The use of 9/11 would be exploitive only if Nolan didn't care about thinking through 9/11 for its own sake, as he clearly does.... The Nolans' closing vision of the state of Gotham City — a pessimistic landscape of corruption, chaos, and fear — may not be to every viewer's taste. But at least it's a vision, one that, as Sept. 11 draws near again, looks disturbingly familiar.

The New York Times' ed board said it's the summer superhero flick we deserve:

So, what is the movie’s attitude to this Bush Administration-style approach to combatting terrorism?

In some ways, it seems sympathetic. The domestic-spying system that Batman sets up is helpful to him in his campaign against the Joker. The torture elicits (somewhat) useful information....

Mainly, though, the movie seems to paint it all in moral grays — like almost everything else in this Gotham City. This latest Batman is not exactly a hero — he is someone who fights evil while, in many ways, bearing an uncanny resemblance to it.

Societies get the heroes they deserve.

But Jeff Dawson has the most thorough run-down, pointing out that superheros have always faced American enemies du jour, and that Frank Miller even proposed two years ago that Batman take on Al Qaeda. And of course, disaster or superhero movies that have been set in New York since 9/11 have all taken their lumps for being too callous or cavalier, too freed from context (including last year's big summer hit, "Spiderman 3"). But the Gotham-set "Dark Knight" relishes its context without hamming it up (too much). It's safely in the realm of metaphor, even if it's a none-too-obscure one.

*Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

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