Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Dark Knight: When Worldviews Collide

This essay was written for my Ethics and Worldviews class at the Berkshire Institute of Christian Studies. For the essay, we had to take a piece of pop culture and find the following: the worldviews presented in the movie, the fingerprints of God, and a means of using it apolitically and as a witnessing tool.

The Dark Knight: When Worldviews Collide

Eric Mikols

The character of Batman, created in 1939, has seen many changes throughout his career. Starting as a dark detective, created by Bob Kane, Batman became a campy crime-fighter, played by Adam West, in the “Batman” television show (which became his status in the comics as well). When the show ended, the writer Danny O’Neil and others decided to bring Batman back to his detective roots and tried to bring back the darker nature of the character. Batman saw another change in the 1980’s when comic book writer Frank Miller took over. Creating “Batman: Year One” and “The Dark Knight Returns”, Miller took Batman into a dark corner that most comics hadn’t gone. This influenced the tone of the first “Batman” movie, directed by Tim Burton, in 1989. Sixteen years later “Batman Begins” came out in 2005 and changed the character once more, bringing him back to his dark roots and origin. Director Christopher Nolen brought a realistic and psychologically dark take to Batman and in the 2008 sequel, “The Dark Knight”, he went even deeper into the character Batman and the world he inhabits.

What is interesting about “The Dark Knight” is that it doesn’t hold just one worldview but many and they interact in ways that are very similar to the real world. For this paper, we are going to focus on the three main characters; Batman/Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and the Joker.

Starting with Harvey Dent, we find a naturalist. Harvey Dent makes no claims to believe in a God and neither does he makes make claims about other religions. When given choices, he flips his coin and claims to criticizers that he makes his own luck (with a two-sided coin). In the movie, Dent is captured and the left side of his face is horribly burned. Finding that he has nothing to fall back on, he retreats to his coin (now charred on one side) and claims that luck is the only true justice, that it is unbiased and completely free.

The character of the Joker is next and we find the child of naturalism: nihilism. The Joker believes in and claims to be an agent of chaos. Why? Because, as he explains; the only sane way to live in this world is to live without rules. He stands as a man who sees that the world has no point to it, that human life is worthless, and death is the only end. The whole point of the Joker’s actions is to prove his point, to show that life is nothing and then you die. We can even see the effects that nihilism would have on a person in the Joker. Like a real nihilist, the Joker cannot successfully live in the world; he has no fingerprints, no D.N.A. matches, and he has no other alias. He has completely removed himself from reality in order to cope with reality. In the end, the only place for the Joker to go is to Arkham asylum.

Finally, we come to the Batman, who represents existentialism. When trying to create the identity of Batman, Bruce Wayne states that he needs to become more than a man, something that can be seen as a symbol. He wants people to see Batman as indestructible, as an idea. We can see the existentialism in the way he is giving meaning to everything. Batman doesn’t have a cave; he has a Batcave. Not just a car; a Batmobile. He is a man who instills meaning into everything he does. As he says in “Batman Begins”, “It’s not who I am on the inside, but my actions that define me.”

The most interesting part of these views is that these characters interact in a way their worldviews interact. Throughout the movie, the Joker is trying to corrupt Harvey Dent. Nihilism is the outcome of naturalism and tries, in a way, to remove it. Near the end of the movie, Harvey Dent is almost taken by the view the Joker offers, but tries to hold onto his trust in luck. As for Batman, it’s interesting that he is existentialism, fighting the nihilistic character, the Joker. Considering existentialism was created in order to fight nihilism, this adds something to the struggle in the movie.

What’s more is that during the climax of the film, the Joker has corrupted Harvey Dent. Commissioner Gordon and Batman both agree that if the citizens of Gotham see Dent’s fate then they will lose hope in the restoration of the city. In order to keep Dent’s reputation untarnished, Batman agrees to take the place of Dent’s crimes. Batman is willing to become what the city needs him to be. He is the ever changing symbol that society makes him.

There is a paradox found in the Joker. During the movie, he seems to lose a sense of his nihilism. What he finds is meaning in Batman. When Batman asks the Joker why he is trying to kill him, the Joker laughs and tells Batman that he isn’t trying to kill him. In fact, the Joker questions what he would do without Batman. Batman has given the Joker a challenge and in that way, given the Joker meaning. If the Joker was to kill Batman, he would have to return to nihilism.

It seems like the director is hinting at a world of elements. There is no God, but there is nature, chaos, and chance. During one scene in “Batman Begins”, Batman has a corrupt cop strung up to the top of a building. Batman questions the cop, who swears to God he doesn’t know anything. To this, Batman demands that that the cop swears to him. Batman is trying to instill the fear of God into his enemies by replacing God in their mindset.

Yet, even with the denial of God, there still are signs of his existence. Bruce Wayne knows he needs to become Batman to protect the good people. But where does this notion of good come from? How do we know the right from the wrong? Where does his sense of justice come from? During the beginning of “Batman Begins”, Bruce Wayne tells how he lived with criminals to understand them, but then his view of those who steal changes and he realizes not all wrongdoers are as evil as he thought. There is a sense that humans can know right and live that way, but are too fallen to do it on their own.

There are a other things Christians can find to embrace in this film. The idea of Batman taking the place of Dent’s crimes could be used as an example of Christ’s work for us. Batman will now be held responsible for everything that Dent did, just as Christ was. We can also see how fallen and hopeless the world is without Christ in the picture. When these characters lose what they have, they realize there is nothing left. No amount of endurance, hope, or dedication can help them deal with the real world.

If I were to witness to someone with “The Dark Knight” I would use the Joker as an example of absolute truth. I would point out that it is fully agreed that what the Joker is doing is wrong. I would than ask why it isn’t ok for the Joker to act the way he does. If truth is relative and reality belongs to the individual, how can we truly judge the Joker’s actions as wrong? We would have to question who the villain is in the movie; is it the Joker who sees killing as a joke and death as the punch line, or is it Batman, who is persecuting the Joker for his beliefs.

Throughout the movie, we’re meant to see the Joker as the villain; yet post-modernism would say there are no villains, just people with different views. But the Bible presents a very clear description of right and wrong and God is always true. Where, as Harvey Dent and Batman take part in questionable decisions for the “good” of the city, God doesn’t have to cross any lines.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Loose Ends

Oh, how this one raked me through the coals.
It started out fine. My mom introduced me to the song and the more I listened to it, the more I wanted to do an AMV to it. My first instinct was "Cowboy Bebop", but having done a few with it, I wanted another anime. I had just finished "Trigun" and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to use it the video. But, my love for Bebop was still there, so I chose to do a combination video (my first).
The decision to go from black and white to color came from a few things. The first was that I was still in love with how Bebop looked in black and white. The other came from me wanting to do something tricky, even though I didn't have a handle on Adobe's effects. So, I chose something simple that I though would add style to the video.
I wanted to present the parallels that Vash and Spike have, because I thought they were obvious, almost embarrassingly so that I thought I should almost avoid it. The fact that Spike and Vash are both men who surround themselves with people but still suffer from being loners was interesting. So was the fact that their brother figures were their antagonist. I wanted to show how both characters are running from their pasts, and how they're going to have to deal with what happened soon, and painfully.
I started editing in May 2005. I was done with the first part with Spike when I started my first relationship. Leave it to a chick, but editing was at a standstill. Other problems arose. I couldn't edit the two animes together without the system crashing, and exporting was not happening. So, I had to make separate projects, edit the video in three parts, and then combine them in post-production. The song was also two long, mainly for the second chorus, and it through off the symmetry I was trying to achieve. So, I cut the song down and spliced it together at a part I won't reveal, in order to keep you from noticing it. I'm actually proud of how well the cut worked out.
When you watch the video, you can tell the video quality suffers. It's from all the post-production work I had to do in order to get the pieces together. I wish it had come out better, because I really like this one. I though that as an action AMV it worked well, and with not to many effects it came out well. The swipe effect was used because I kept wanting to be like VicBond007 but I still have not achieved that man's skill.
A video I'm happy with, though wish it's quality was better. It took 8 months to finish the video but I felt great when it was done. What do you think?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Monkey and Dog Show #3

I'll be the first to admit it. This is not the best Monkey and Dog have to offer. The concept is funny enough. Play off the idea brought up in "Monkey Business" and "Phantom of the Apartment" that Dog is a detective on the side. Add the idea I came up with a co-worker, that Monkey is a spy, and I thought there would be comic gold.
Kind of.
One problem is that between episode two and this one stands a year of not doing Monkey and Dog in their normal sitcom routine. I even had a hard time getting the voices right again.
When you get to the episode itself, there are pacing problems. Dog's time at the computer, while funny at first, drags on too much. This is another problem of me not scripting at the time, and just seeing what dialog comes out. Sometimes it work and other times I got something like this.
One problem that Monkey has in this episode, that you could say he has in all episodes really, is that his dialog is very drawn out. I never really got a handle on delivering Monkey's dialog without taking forever to do so. Part of the issue, I think, is that Monkey is funniest when he's not talking a lot. His five word comments are always funnier when played off of Dog's whinny nature and the more lines Monkey has, the less funny he is. It also takes away from the moment of rage, the moment where Monkey explodes.
Dog suffered a bit as well, though not as bad as Monkey. I had been using Dog in other videos, so his character was still fresh in my mind. A problem that occurs in this video is that Dog really isn't a victim. While that routine would get old, I'm not sure it had yet. But, when Monkey is subdued and Dog is more out there, the balance is off.
The twist at the end, that Monkey is indeed a spy, came across well. The reveal, the fake accent and the eye patch all made me happy. There were plans for this reveal; Monkey would drop Russian vocabulary, we would meet his parents, and there may have been an evil/good Monkey storyline. But, alas, it was not to be.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Hero is Only as Good as His Villain?

“The Dark Knight” was a great movie. I saw it 4 times in theaters, the last being in IMAX. I think the movie is by far the greatest Batman movie ever made and wanted others to see it. But, I feel the world fell in love with it for the wrong reasons.

Ask people what they like about “The Dark Knight” and you will most likely hear the Joker brought up. Some like the character because of the performance by Heath Ledger, and they should; Ledger portrayed the Joker better than anyone else has. Others say they like the character because of how bad he is, and they should; the Joker really got to cut loose in the movie. But, I have yet to hear someone say they like it because of Batman.

Is that sad? You might not think so. But, to me, I see this as a problem. We have elevated the villain character above the hero. Why? Batman was performed by Christian Bale, who is the best Batman to date, and who is a great actor. Batman got to be more like Batman than any other film. So, why do we love the film for the villain?

I can understand why we do enjoy a good villain. They get to be evil, which we don’t get to be. They tend to be more charismatic, have better lines, and break more things. I also believe without a good villain, it’s hard to have a good hero. “The Dark Knight” has a great villain, so why don’t we say it has a great hero?

I worry sometimes that we are becoming a society who looks for evil as entertainment. I don’t mean this as in we seek out evil media like movies and tv, but the content in these films. Why do we have six “Saw” films and more to come? Why do we hope the Joker kills more people than before? Why do we not want the heroes to succeed anymore? Have we become so jaded on true heroes that we can even pretend with fake ones? Do we love the Joker because he fits the world as we know it better than Batman? Have we really reached the point where villains are easier to relate to than heroes?