Batman’s Politics

Since discussing the political lessons of The Dark Knight is all the rage, I’ll take my crack at it. But since spoilers are involved, I’ll hid it after the jump:

First of all, I don’t think the movie is overtly political. Yes, it draws from contemporary events, but it doesn’t necessarily take a side on the matter. The most obvious example is at the end where, in order to locate the Joker, batman uses the cell phones of Gotham to create a system that alows him to triangulate images and positions, an obvious nod to echolocation, and the FISA debate. But while one might take this as an endorsement of the Bush administration position on the matter, Batman, in effect, acts as the anti-Bush. Keeping with the noble, reluctant, hero character, Batman constructs the system in a way such that he cannot use it, only Lucious Fox has the ability to that, and Fox is able to destroy it after The Joker is defeated. In other words, while Batman may recognize that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, but even then there must still be checks (Fox) on the power’s of Batman. This is of course the polar opposite of the Bush administration, who have consistently taken the position that there should be no oversight of or limit on the executive branch.

In the larger sense, the overall point of the movie is Batman’s longing to retire and hand the mantle of cleaning up Gotham to Harvey Dent. The very tortured ending is an extension of this sort of recognition, that Batman can never be seen as a complete hero. Batman is a vigilante acting extra-legally. As such, he is a problematic figure. At one point, after Rachel Dawes has been killed by The Joker, Batman asks Alfred if he brought this on, and as viewers of Batman Begins will remember from the end of the first installment, the answer is most certainly yes. Batman is the “good guys” escalating the fight, and The Joker is the bad guys responding in kind. Without the Batman, there is no Joker, and the movie goes to great length to present The Joker as Batman’s other half as it were. In this respect, The Dark Knight is clear where other superhero movies are not; there are consequences to this extra-legal, vigilante heroism. Without superheroes, there are not necessarily supervillians. It is with this in mind that Batman demands Gordon blame the crimes of Harvey Dent/Two-Face on Batman, because, since Dent acted as a District Attorney, within the law, he can be a symbol of uncorrupted justice, while the vigilante Batman must remain morally ambiguous, and so Batman (who the movie has just set up as incorruptibly noble) must then take the fall and tarnish himself. So, in a round about way, it’s fundamentally an indictment of unilateral action, and an argument for working within the system. If you’re going to draw any political conclusions from The Dark Knight, there is simply no vindication of Bush administration policies.

And, of course, it’s a work of comic fiction.