More Takes on The Dark Knight Rises

The-dark-knight-rises-teaser-poster1First, Aaron Bady in New Inquiry:

The Dark Knight Rises is not about Occupy Wall Street, even though it does have a five month anarchist occupation of New York City, which lasts into the winter until a huge phalanx of NYPD officers flood into lower Manhattan and pound the crap out of them. It is a movie that works very hard at not being about Occupy Wall Street, in fact: it fills the screen and narrative arc with all sorts of bells and whistles, bloating its running time way beyond necessity, and generally wearing you down with all sorts of things that are not Occupy Wall Street until you don’t notice anymore that it’s all the fuck about Occupy Wall Street. I mean, for fuck’s sake, Bane and a bunch of his goons literally Occupy Wall Street at one point, and then they lead a leaderless revolution of wealth redistribution and general assemblies, that they apparently hope will by example (mediated through mass media) be replicated across the country. I think Batman even subpoenas Malcolm Harris’ twitter feed at one point.

Via.This vacillation, ambivalence, even insistent disavowal is what seems to me to be, by far, the most interesting thing about the movie, and precisely the thing that so many “political” readings of it must almost bend over backwards to miss, as they struggle to claim it for various political persuasions. Take, for example, the honorable conservative Ross Douthat who tut-tutted yesterday — from his blog at the NY Times — against the “extraordinary overreactions from ideologically-inclined movie writers” like Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, who he quotes as arguing:

“It’s no exaggeration to say that the “Dark Knight” universe is fascistic (and I’m not name-calling or claiming that Nolan has Nazi sympathies). [It has a] vision of human history understood as a struggle between superior individual wills, a tale of symbolic heroism and sacrifice set against the hopeless corruption of society. Maybe it’s an oversimplification to say that that’s the purest form of the ideology that was bequeathed from Richard Wagner to Nietzsche to Adolf Hitler, but not by much.

Second, Henry Farrell in Crooked Timber:

I saw Batman: The Dark Knight Rises on Saturday (I was a little nervous about copycat shootings). It has some excellent set-pieces, but is not a great movie. If the standard is ‘better than The Godfather Part III,’ it passes muster, but by a rather narrower margin than one would like. It wants to be an oeuvre, saying serious things about politics and inequality, but doesn’t ever really get there. This Jacobin piece by Gavin Mueller argues that it’s not a pro-capitalist movie, but a pro-monarchist one. I think that’s wrong. It’s a pro-aristocratic movie, which isn’t really the same thing. Mueller’s observation that:

There is barely any evidence of “the people” at all – it’s all cops and mercenaries battling it out. So instead of a real insurrection, the takeover of Gotham functions via Baroque conspiracies among elites struggling for status and power.

is exactly right – but a movie about “elites struggling for status and power” without some master-figure, however capricious, who can grant or deny them recognition isn’t actually about monarchy. It’s about the struggle between the elites themselves.

Mueller has lots to say about the movie’s take on Occupy, inequality and so on, all of which is right. But even if The Dark Knight Rises didn’t have this explicit political message, its politics would still be creepy.