Friday, July 25, 2008


THE DARK KNIGHT wasn't as dark as I expected. Or maybe I mean evil. But not because it didn't try to be.

I was afraid of the impact it might have on young minds, or weak minds. And I still think it could cause some of them to see evil as amusing, even enticing.

But it's too muddled actually to cause the kind of direct bad that I believe some movies do.

I have arguments about this a lot, and have my whole life.

Some folks find it strange, that a guy who has fought against censorship, for the First Amendment, and embraced some dark subjects and experiences in my own writing and in the writing of friends like Hubert Selby Jr., would get angry over movies I feel can sometimes cause audience members to do evil things they might otherwise not.

That's a little broad, but that's the kind of arguments I do get into sometimes.

After the flick THE BELIEVERS came out back in the '80s, and I saw it with my teenage kids at the time, they couldn't understand why I was so upset about it. "It's just a movie" was their refrain. But I felt the power and seductiveness of its message, and believed it could actually cause harm.

After it came out on video, a gang of drug smuggling, murdering kidnappers were caught living on a ranch in Texas, the base of their operation. They had been kidnapping U. S. college students on vacation in Mexico and killing them for their money and their i.d.s etc.

When they were caught, the bodies of these college kids were found buried on the ranch, and the viedo of THE BELIEVERS was found in their VCR. One of the gang said their leader had them watch it repeadetly for inspiration. The film isn't precisely about their murderous activities, but it related to them, and more importantly, seemed in the end to justify them.

I don't believe that movies can create criminals, although in terms of bending youg minds toward a criminal career, I do believe that. But they certainly can influence less decisive people, or give them arguments and images and justifications for behavior that otherwise they might have been convinced was anathema.

I was afraid THE DARK KNIGHT would be like that, and to some extent it is. The line I was hearing the young people who exited the movie with me repeating most, was the one where The Joker explains why he prefers murdering his victims with a knife rather than a gun, because he enjoys watching their agony etc. etc.

Smiling young people, maybe thirteen, fifteen tops, repeating this line and laughing about it.

Most of them, I'm sure, actually do find it amusing, and nothing more. But it still gave me the creeps.

Fortunately, like I said, the actual plot of the film and the seemingly justified belief that even to do good one must do evil (some of the plot points seemed like deliberate justifications for some of the actions taken by the present administration, disregarding the constituional rights of suspects, or of citizens, in order to "protect" them etc. etc.) is so muddled I doubt many in the audience could even follow it, let alone understand it.

And it certainly is a wonder and a sad one to see how great an actor Heath Ledger is, and wonder how much greater he may have become had he not died. By the way, after playing this role, which some say had a pretty heavy negative impact on him.

It may soon be the most popular movie in the world. Seen by a lot more people than will ever see that Obama New Yorker cover, despite the internet, that seemed to have so many on the left and the right so upset.

Yeah, I know, I know, it's just a movie Michael. And if moving pictures with words could really have that kind of impact, don't you think giant corporations would be using the same devices to influence people to buy things they don't really need and do things they might otherwise never do? Oh, yeah, that's right...


Butch in Waukegan said...

Although I don't completely agree with your diagnosis, I am concerned about this. What is your prescription Doctor?

i remember the Marge had the same issue with Itchy and Scratchy. Her response laid out the problem pretty well.

harryn said...

i agree, not 'just' a movie michael ...
seeds planted yield fruit - the brain ain't no different; and though there are some movies, books, art, poetry, etc., out there that act as more of an exorcism of the evils mankind is capable of - and function as a warning against such insidious behavior, they don't seek to exploit the acceptance of it ...
guess it all comes down to motive ...
got into a tiff with a lawyer last night, and after i accused him of lying he smuggly replied that he had a license for it ...

Lally said...

I posted a long response to butch's comment, but unfortunately, I'm up in the country and sometimes the internet connection glitches and I lose stuff. So I won't try and repeat what I said since it was all spontaneous and I don't want to lose it again. I'll just say that I believe truth is the answer. Exposing the fraduluence in leadrrs who advocate force as a solution and then prove through their actions the fraudulance of that claim (who exactly ended up 'shocked and awed"?). Not that force isn't sometimes necessary, but that the evil use of it isn't, especially since those advocating it almost never have to carry it out and therefore rarely suffer the consequences of it.
Those who profess to be the followers of "the prince of peace" and then condone torture and assasination and even just character assassination are fraudulent and should be exposed as such. Those who profess to follow "the prophet" and then ignore his admonitions against harming women and children and innocents etc. or Bhudda and then ignore his admonition to harm no living thing etc. etc. Hold them accountable, and me and everyone else who professes to believe in kindness and tolerance and the value and power of love in any of its forms. Expose evil, don't perpetrate it by glorifying it or presenting it falsely as either the only alternative (the Joker's philosophy as far as I could discern) or the necessary one to protect those incapable of handling the truth (Batman's ultimate decision in this flick) etc.

Butch in Waukegan said...

Haven't seen Dark Knight. Problem solving through violence is pervasive in movies and TV - most of the time in small ways that are not noticed on a conscious level

A couple of months ago I saw Open Range on TV, a western with the stock frontier-town-held-hostage-by-villian plot. The heros (Costner and Duvall) clean up the town with guns that never need reloading - hundreds of bullets.

When it's over the main characters are standing around and in the far background, unnoticed by everyone except the audience, a group of townspeople chase the last bad guy, he stumbles and they stand over him and shoot.

That pissed me off. Didn't seem to have anything to do with justice. The movie makers probably viewed this as righteous retribution, catharsis through cruelty. I guess the Dirty Harry ethos has one out.

Reminds me, one of my favorite films is The Oxbow Incident, that teaches a very different lesson.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen Dark Knight yet. Should I take my kid? I think yes, but talk about it.Don't try to protect him from the culture. Teach him to see it and go beyond it.What was the original comic book Batman's mission? To bring the terror of the night, the bat coming out of the dark, to those who were perpetrating evil. To make the perps feel how bad it can get."I take it off me and put it on you, you scumbag bastard!"

In Open Range, the Duvall character had boundaries. Wouldn't shoot a man when he was down.but after his heroics, the townspeople had no such scruples. Maybe that was the point of that scene.We had the same rules in my kidhood fights. There are no rules now.

What will be the response of the peaceniks supporting Obama when it comes to choosing tactics? What will we do when Taliban infiltrate a village? Do we bomb the village and thus offer them no sanctuary?
Newt Gingrich has no compunction about this. Osama had no compunction about sacrificing the little people in the Trade Center
to strike a blow against the corruption, depravity and consumerism of our mass culture
Truman didn't seem to take much responsibility for the Jap babies he fried.

I remember thinking of Wilie S who said something about unleashing the dogs of war when Georgie B took on Saddam.

Now Barackackack is going to take on the Afghan warlords who kicked the Soviet army out 20 yrs. ago!!

The answer is blowin' in the wind

Thanks for letting me get this off

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie tonight.Batman didn't go to the dark side. He didn't kill the Joker.Harvey Dent went over to the dark side proving the Joker's argument that If you are hurt enough by evil, you will become evil. Batman didn't want that to be the popular understanding so he took on the persona of the dark side so there could be a White Knight people could believe in. A true selfless hero willing to see his image destroyed.Like Lally, he doubts that "the people" people will recognize the true good,the true hero.

Lally said...

Don't know what "Lally" you're talking about. What I advocate is telling the truth, not hiding it, as this movie suggests is the best action because "the people" can't handle the truth and will lose all hope if they find out "Dent" isn't a "hero," or was and then succumbed to evil. As did Batman to some extent by ignoring the Constitution and using technology to illegally listen to private conversations and by ignoring the Miranda rights of prisoners to beat up one (no matter how evil) etc. Bad message to my mind, and justifcation for the present administrations actions on the dark side.

Another Lally said...

Truth? Truth is subjective based on the perceptions of the individual.

What is good to one has to be evil to another. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The rant about media manipulation using the subliminal, I totally agree with. Sadly, many of the stories, movies and television aimed at young children and teens express an ideal being promoted by the author.

Censorship has its value. Sadly, as in almost every case, protecting the public good often degenerates into a Crusade of Ideology.

As Star Wars made clear, Good and Evil exist simultaneously in every being and object. The role of Censorship is to minimize triggers that would empower our evil natures and promote the Good nature.

Good does not defeat evil. Only greater evil defeats evil.