Tuesday, July 29, 2008


So, I'm stuck on the recent Batman movie: The Dark Knight... Not that I liked it, exactly. In fact I left the Imax theater in a huff, and even called the movie irresponsible. I later read a review that reflected some of those first thoughts, and felt somewhat validated. But I still had some unfinished business in processing this movie experience. I want to look at an aspect of what it might mean, and what follows is an utterly personal interpretation, along with more thoughts.

Heath Ledger's Joker is so flirty, sparky and joyful as he does or ponders evil. The treatment of his character by the filmmakers shows a natural human tendency to dwell on negativity, even to savor bad experience. A recent example from my life: I was recently out with a friend for dinner, and I said that I had enjoyed so many things on the menu, and there was only a sandwich I wasn't crazy about. Well, rather than asking what I liked, my friend wanted to know the one thing I didn't like. I repeated back to be sure,"You want to know what I didn't like?" I did tell her, and I resisted my own urge to wallow in my one not-so-good experience at this really great restaurant. A part of me wanted to say something like, "The bread was as dry as sawdust. It was so salty and "blackened" that I really had trouble convincing myself that it was "food." In fact, the taste buds on my tongue cringed and recoiled from the sight of the approaching abomination on bread." Instead I just said it was kind of dry, to allow us to move on to better topics. I probably could have put a negative spin on the whole evening by making a joke of the place.

I think we tend to filter experience through what we don't like. The Joker in "The Dark Knight" takes violence and destruction (things we're not supposed to like) and allows us to really dote on them. He's our friendly-eyed guide into evil. He's crazy, dark and thrilling.

If our guide into good could have only been so alluring. Instead we get a monotoned Batman who behind the scenes, as Bruce Wayne, is having a career crisis. Again this aspect of the movie shows how hard it can be to define a positive and joyful life when we spend so much time articulating what we don't like. Batman and Bruce Wayne really seem to be faking it. Both are doing what they think they are supposed to be doing and trying to please others. There is almost no life in our representative for good (even though I am a fan of Christian Bale from "Velvet Goldmine").

At the same time the Joker is just brimming with life as he pushes against his own invisible boundaries of evil-doing. He seems to have tapped into his life-energy more than Batman/Bruce who seems tapped out and confused. The Joker doesn't need a thing: only knives and some lint in his pockets. But, of course, the Joker is off-center and delusional. Even so-in his skewed and sick sense of reality he believes himself to be achieving and fulfilling his desires, which is more than we can say for the so-called super hero.

"The Dark Knight" shows that we have lost hope. A character we might have been inspired by in the past has lost his zest for life, and his nemesis has the delightful pungency of stinky cheese. It is such a good representation of the times and how we're stuck in melancholy and negativity: depending on violence and pornographic thrills like big explosions to keep us going. I empathize with the makers of Batman: It's hard to know how to articulate a better world where people are more balanced and able to bring zest into everyday activities.

How many people do you know who do not like their lives? I know that I have struggled to like mine (So I guess I do grudgingly identify with Bale's character. I just wanted to see him do easily what I have worked hard for.). And I am doing my best when I am directing my attention into creating what I want, instead of dwelling and spiraling down into what I don't want, or past failure.

A good portal into this ability to direct one's experience toward what one wants is meditation, and a good first step is getting to know your mind in a state that is free of judgement. Or just sit quietly and ask yourself,"What do I want?"

From "Peonies" by Mary Oliver:

Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with it's terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden, and softly, and exclaiming of their dearness, fill your arms with the white and pink flowers, with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling, their eagerness to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are nothing, forever?

Let's forget the Joker and Batman now, and go for a walk in nature.