Jonathan Dodson explores the philosophical dimensions of The Dark Knight.


  1. Hm. I don’t know what to make of that. It was certainly a very thorough analysis—but an analysis of something imaginary.

    I suppose one can’t fault a non-comic reader for basing one’s presuppositions about comic heroes on Saturday cartoons or Sixties television shows (the only way I can imagine someone arriving such a warped view of the Batman), but it really drops the floor out from under his argument when it becomes clear that he doesn’t understand the character.

    When Dodson speaks of Nolan recasting Batman into a new light, he is mistaken. When he speaks of comic-book appeal and the loss of frivolity, he betrays a lack of knowledge for his subject. When he describes The Dark Knight‘s Batman as postmodern, he is neglecting observable history.

    Batman, from the start, has pretty much been as Nolan describes him in his latest film (though much of the details of his treatment arrive by express mail from the Eighties and the work of Frank Miller and Alan Moore). It was only in the middle-twenty years of the character’s history that he was saddled with the camp and colour that Dodson sounds like he’d prefer to be the Dark Knight’s status quo.

    Batman, as a character, is dark, violent, and probably a bit insane. And this is canonically the case. He’s always been very dark for a hero, and often even closer to anti-hero. So the Batman that Nolan offers us in The Dark Knight is not Nolan’s take on the character. It is the character. And it’s not a postmodern take either since this Batman was alive and well in the late Thirties and the postmodern novel didn’t come about until the postwar. If we really have to define the Batman, he’s a pulp hero. Angry, violent, at odds with the law, self-guiding and self-righteous.

    In any case, we shouldn’t be surprised that Dodson doesn’t get the protagonist and his storied history, because he makes significant errors in getting the details of even the film right. Two-Face does not flip a rigged coin, though Harvey Dent did. One side is heads, the other is marred. While Harvey made his own luck, Two-Face relies more wholly on probability. Batman is not motivated by the sentimental lie that Rachel would have married him had he given up the Bat. He finds comfort there, but little else. He is entirely motivated by the death of his parents. That night cause the psychological breakdown that turned him into a madman for the sake of the innocent. Rachel never meant anything for the trajectory for the character except maybe to underscore (similarly to how Casino Royale did with James Bond) the character cannot have a long-term love interest. And lastly, I guess, Batman never rejects Gotham. It’s the other way around.

    Anyway, he goes on and it turns into one of those things where we pit some quote-unquote postmodern hero against the quote-unquote true hero and we all end up cheering for Jesus and feeling sorry for the other guy who could only be all he could be. This is that Christian ghetto we whine about (albeit more eloquently put than the God’s Gym: His Pain, Your Gain shirts). I, for one, demand better.

    Or at least wish for it when no one’s listening.

    The Danes last blog post..20080802

  2. Thanks for your response, Dane. You clearly know the Batman history much better than I do. I am not a comic book guy, just a viewer who is trying to make sense of the Batmans portrayed in film the past few decades. So, forgive me for being out of step with the historical batman, and thanks for filling out some details for us.

    As you point out, Nolan depicts a batman that is out of step with prior films, but in step with comic books. And even it that is the case, surely you can appreciate the similarites between a postmodern hero and the historical batman. Despite my batman ignorance, the qualities that make Batman smack of postmodernity remain, and it is very fitting that they are brought out now, in a “postmodern age,” and not in the “modern age” of 80s.I like your description as a “pulp hero,” perhaps you could elaborate on that?

    You write: “Batman is not motivated by the sentimental lie that Rachel would have married him had he given up the Bat. He finds comfort there, but little else.” Perhaps you are getting this interpretation from the comic book? The film certainly allows the status of their relationship and its impact on Batman’s motivation to figure much more prominently. Numerous references to the fact that, if he took of the mask, she would marry him. Then there is the card and at least two statements by batman that he will abandon the hero for her. He burns his stuff. And the closing scene depicts wayne telling alfred that she was going to wait for him, as he resolves to continue the fight. Seemed like a strong connection to me.

    I attempted to comment on film, not batman history, and despite your claims as the piece being “christian ghetto,” I’ll stand by it. I attempted to deal honestly with the character issues of batman, and we do find in him a conflicted hero, one we can identify with. In my mind, Christian ghetto would have been to interpret batman as a great Christ figure. Instead, I tried to be honest about the sort of hero we have–violent, conflicted, unsure, sentimental, and so on. But I also gave him credit for taking the curse of Gotham, for being the villain instead of the “hero.” Sorry to disappoint.


    Jonathan Dodsons last blog post..Preparing for Sunday on Saturday

  3. Thanks for the gracious response. Not everyone is so cool under fire.

    Re: “You clearly know the Batman history much better than I do”:
    Don’t think I’m proud of that ^_^

    Re: “I like your description as a ‘pulp hero,’ perhaps you could elaborate on that?”
    A pulp hero either originates from or bears resemblance to the heroes of the pulp fiction of the early twentieth century. Pulp fiction, so named due to the extraordinarily cheap quality of the paper it was printed on, were usually lurid tales of adventure, mayhem, and derring-do. Several genres were catered to in this form—notably fantasy stories (like Conan or John Carter on Mars), adventure stories (like Tarzan), and detective/crime fiction (like the work of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain). The protagonists of these stories were often violent, morally ambiguous characters. These kinds of characters worked their way into Hollywood cinema as movie audiences became less and less enamoured with the wholly unbelievable and far-too-pure characterizations that had marked much of mainstream cinema in the Thirties. The film noir movement that began around 1941 was one such display of this disillusionment and was in earnest exploration before the postmodern movement began to effect cinema.

    Anyway, the Batman began as a pulp-style hero. He even killed pretty freely in those early days.

    Re: Rachel Dawes:
    I’ll grant you that Rachel played an important part in this two-film cycle, but I don’t think her effect was to inspire the Batman to continue to fight crime. Her place in the story here was not to motivate Bruce to put on the suit but to motivate him to take it off. With Rachel’s death, Bruce’s faith that he’ll one day put away the Bat is shaken. With Dent’s transformation, that faith is shattered. In mourning Rachel and pointing out that she would have married him, Bruce is burying any hope he has in forsaking the Bat while simultaneously sloughing off responsibility for that decision (in reminding Alfred that Rachel would have married him, Bruce is taking a deterministic tack, pointing out that the city brought the Batman upon itself by destroying the one thing that would make him turn back). So Rachel is less motivation and more an excuse.

    Maybe that’s a quibble, I don’t know. The distinction sounds important but maybe it’s only important in my mind.

    In any case, Alfred, having read the letter, destroys it thinking it better that Bruce live with the deterministic version of why he can’t stop becoming the Bat. He may be right. Bruce already exhibits a fragile psyche—as he dresses up as a bat and jumps off buildings and beats people up and scars his vocal chords. Alfred may be afraid that Rachel’s revelation maybe be that ultimate straw, the one that brings down his charge’s sanity for all time, placing him in the same Arkham Asylum where so many of his future antagonists will be interred.

    Re: Christian ghetto:
    As I said, I think you arrived there far more thoughtfully and artfully than the usual path, but when you began the Batman Illustrates Our Need for a Saviour thing at the end, even my wife groaned. The thing is, we don’t need to shoehorn notice of our need for someone to take our sin on his neck into every discussion of pop-culture. If the discussion is naturally headed in that direction, sure. But yours wasn’t. You were discussing the Batman as a postmodern referent—and whether correct or not in your argument, that was your subject matter. The jump to Dark Knight as faux-saviour was abrupt. It either deserved its own article or better lead-in, so that it wouldn’t appear that you were doing something like:

    Windows is a Microsoft operating system. The most recent versions of the computing platform are Windows XP (released in 2001) and Windows Vista (released in 2006). XP, though older, is preferred by gamers because Vista has trouble running many computer games and runs more overhead concurrent with programs—thereby slowing down processing speeds. And oh yeah, Jesus.

    The Danes last blog post..20080802

  4. Thanks, Dane. You’ve made a good case and I’ll take your points into consideration.

    On the ghetto/christ tack on, it was just a blog post, not an article, a much more casual medium…and I rarely “tack on Jesus”, but in this case the substitionary role of batman being the outcast for the sake of the city pretty much begged for a christological reflection. But you are right, it could have had a better lead in, if i wanted to put that much time into it. We can agree to disagree on that.

    very kindly: JD

    Jonathan Dodsons last blog post..Corrections and Reflections on The Dark Knight

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