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.



mayorofbucktown said...

Brooks, astute observations on The Dark Night. This idea of filtering our experience thru negativity seems all to true. While there are myriad struggles one can go through, it does often seems that negative experience is given a validity over positive experience.

The complex relationship between Batman and the Joker is often looked at as a mirror: it reminds me of The marriage of Heaven and Hell, by William Blake:

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.

Blake equates Evil with Energy, or Desire, and Good as Reason. Later he writes;
Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
Energy is Eternal Delight
Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.
And being restrained it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire.(Thus The Batman, restrained thru out. The Joker, desire unleashed.Or it just as easily could be viewed the other way around: Batman is acting out his desires-The Joker, though flawed in his thinking, is actually so hyper rational that he accepts his insanity-he lives safely within his delusions, actually afraid to explore, to be anything else than what he has decided himself to be.

Within the superhero super villain realm, however the villain always gets to be over the top, is always more exciting the 'bad boy' or 'bad girl' teasing, dangerous,yet somehow charming, the flame that attracts the moths. And it seems to be Blakes Desire unleashed, Reason unbound.

When do we find the Hero unleashing desire? When reason is thrown away, a la Mel Gibson as an insane cop in Lethal Weapon.

If more people were to "follow their bliss" (and The Joker is not following his by his acting out)then perhaps the attraction of the sordid, the violent, will begin to fade away.

I look forward to your next blog.

Brooks Hall said...

Thanks Mr. Mayor for commenting. I appreciate your thoughts. And want to add another quote (...speaking of "follow your bliss"):

People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive....

-Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Anonymous said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog and I see you're familiar with my buddy Dr Jay! :)

Y'know... I get what you're saying here. But to me, Dark Knight represents a time in one's life when... everything is just shite. When actually, it really and truly seems like things aren't gonna get better.

Do we always have to have happy endings to movies? I sure hope not, coz that doesn't represent how things go.

Its easy for evil to be happy - its easy to be evil, to be scarred. Its fantastically easy to hold others accountable for the crap that's happened in your own life.

And that's what I saw in the Joker - somone so badly wounded that they held everyone else in the world accountable for their pain. A victim with a nasty streak. I've known people like that... heck, I'm related to some people like that...

Life aint a bed of roses, and heroes aren't always infalliable.

Some days, its just hard enough to get out of bed. Even when you're Batman.

But then we see Batman rise. We see him, despite his own inner agonies, do what has to be done.

Thing is, its easier to make cop out decisions than it is to choose the path that's as you say, 'good'.

No doubt, this is a very sad movie, and especially given Heath Ledger's death and the state of the wordl (terrorists etc)... its tricky timing...