The Dark Knight Rises, ish. Probably not again.

I’m scared to go back and watch The Dark Knight Rises again. I own the first two Nolan batfilms on blu-ray. I like them both, quite a bit, though I do find the whole Ra’s al Ghul plot a little underwhelming. It’s partly down to my complete lack of interest in the character I suppose,* though I also tend to be fairly unimpressed by Liam Neeson a lot, which is weird. I think he’s a really good actor, and I do buy him as an action guy (Taken and Unknown – yes, Unknown), but there are certain roles that just don’t work for me. He’s probably the best thing in The Phantom Menace but that doesn’t matter because the film is awful and he just manages to elevate his character above embarrassing. He’s meh as Zeus, for crying out loud! Maybe it’s the accent. It’s tough to be impressed by someone that sounds like people who hung around with your dad when you were little.

*I’m a shameless neophyte when it comes to comic book characters. I enjoy the films an awful lot, I like them in video games, I even have fond memories of Fantastic Four and Spiderman cartoons. I’ve never been that interested in superhero comics though. So, effectively, I’m the films’ target market. Sorry guys.

Anyway. I digress, surprise surprise. I’m scared to go back and watch the third Nolan batfilm, because unlike everyone else that uses the Internet, I liked it. I could tell while watching that there were issues with it, but I liked it. In fact, I cried at the end. I knew it was a cheesy way to end it all but I was glad Nolan had done it. To be honest, not copping out is the new copping out anyway. Thing is, I was in a very emotional state of mind at the time. We had lost a close and beloved friend only a few weeks earlier. It was tough. I choked up typing my Posterisk above just now, right this moment, remembering how we both shared a love of comic books that never encroached into the traditional territory of superhero stories. It was a very tough time for us in our lives, and seeing Bruce Wayne happy in this ideal, arguably surreal scenario… seeing Bruce Wayne essentially be in Heaven, because treating that set of events seriously makes no sense, while someone who loves him is looking on but can’t go over and talk to him or touch him or hug him… well that broke me down and I was in pieces.

It doesn’t hold up though. It would be fine if that scene WAS meant to be a representation of Wayne finding peace (in the afterlife or in Alfred’s imagination) but it clearly was not. As has been pointed out elsewhere already, the film throws Lucius Fox out at the audience, effectively barking “it’s ok! He made it!” So, the film is definitely NOT making that point and anyone that says it is, I’m afraid, is deluded. That’s life. It’s a fact. I personally believe very strongly in interpreting art the way you want to. There is an extent to which the artist loses ownership over his or her piece of work as soon as it meets the public. So, in principle I have no issue with fans interpreting the end of the film in the way I just described. Except that the film tells you explicitly not to interpret it that way, and to interpret it in a very specific way.

And that specific way sucks.

The more I think about The Dark Knight Rises, my head starts to hurt. What on earth was the point? Why DOES Wayne have two comebacks in the film? What was Catwoman doing in the film at all? I thought Hathaway was great but she was given nothing to do. Cotillard’s character is rubbish. The “twist” in the film was one of the worst kept secrets I can remember, and I have it on good authority from people who somehow didn’t know in advance that the twist just doesn’t work anyway. Bane’s voice was really, really silly. It was. It was stupid. The Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robin thing…

Listen. I was fine with the “my middle name is Robin” moment at the end of the film. It seems to have made many people violently ill but I had no issue with it. I even quite liked it, actually. I like the reveal of him entering the Batcave. I would love a Batman film featuring Gordon-Levitt in the title role. Thing is, why not just do that for this film? Bale looked like he was bored by it all anyway, and the whole concept of the broken Batman is very cool (this actually is a storyline I’d be interested in visiting in the comics). Not even the Batman with the broken back either.* The old Batman we see at the start of the film. It’s been pointed out that Wayne wasn’t even Batman for all that long but got pretty beat up. I’m actually fine with that. It makes sense to me. Admittedly, a lot of the things in the series don’t make real life sense but I’m okay with my sense of disbelief being elastic. That’s how it goes with films. In reality getting punched hurts. Getting shot while wearing a bulletproof vest hurts. Those things leave bruises.

*The broken back thing, though… Ugh. What a terrible idea. I guess you can fix a broken back if you… believe in yourself?

I’m also fine with Batman being this iconic figure despite not really being around that long in Gotham. The flame that burns the brightest and all that. I have no problem believing he would have left a mark. So, early on I’m fine with the film. Why not bring in Gordon-Levitt and have him as the new Batman being coached by the old Batman? It would have been great. It would have given the filmmakers a lot more room to have fun. It didn’t need to compromise the sense of closure that Nolan was so clearly going after from the start.

Ultimately, there are many possible reasons the film was so bad. Heath Ledger’s absence, both on screen and off, clearly had an effect. I also hate to be an entitled fan who demands to be entertained. It isn’t quite like that. I just don’t like this film. I enjoyed it in the cinema but I don’t think I like it anymore. So I’m scared to go back and watch it again. Because, ultimately, crying at the end of The Dark Knight Rises was a nice experience for me. I missed my friend. I was reminded of him. I don’t want to lose that moment. I suppose I just wish it was repeatable.

Note: Like with anything I write here, I am indebted to all kinds of interesting and wonderful things written online, but it would be downright wrong of me not to specifically highlight Film Crit Hulk’s analysis of the film as this post was heavily influenced by that particular post. So go there and read it if you haven’t already.

Thinking about Nationalism

I think a lot about nationalism. I’ve always considered myself a nationalist, which is a funny place to be for a professional historian, really.* Historians frequently complain about nationalism, critique it, poke at it, tell undergraduates (and graduate students for that matter) that it’s a purely social construction, that there is nothing innately “true” about any nationalist myth, story or narrative of any type. We write articles and books that complain about it, that point out its limitations, and that seek to further discussions on the ways in which specific nationalist ideals are pressed by one community on to another. That last example is one that is particularly vexing to some, and understandably so. There’s only so many discussions on how one people were [insert national group]-ized by another, and this is coming from someone who wrote a dissertation dealing with the concept.**

It’s not really a dead subject, though. I’m not sure I believe in dead subjects. It’s really rather remarkable how many times I’ve had conversations with a historian where s/he talks about a subject being done to death or that there isn’t much left to do. There’s always something to do, even if it’s not much more than complain about the historiography or whine about each other’s methodologies. I say not much more. Maybe you can’t reinvent historical interpretations of Ancient Greece but as long as people are talking about it there’ll be new approaches to take.

But anyway. That’s a whole conversation going in a different direction. Back to my issue with nationalism. I see myself as a nationalist, and it’s a bit of a problem. It feels a little bit like a confession of inadequacy, that I am committed to acting irrationally and ignoring intellectual arguments. Nationalism is such a dirty word for some intellectuals that it feels like I’m participating in some kind of proscribed activity by being proud of my birthplace, or cheering on a sports team, or (more pertinently) having strong opinions about the relationship between my country and a certain neighbouring country.

In a sense, I am, though I cheat horribly and often. For one thing, I’m not completely irrational in my national pride. Making a comparison with an evolutionary biologist that believes in a supreme being is a little silly here, but I keep coming back to the idea. Essentially, just because you identify with one mode of thinking doesn’t automatically make you representative of the extreme forms of that particular view. So, I can be a nationalist without necessarily subscribing to more extreme nationalist views. Beyond that, I can accept the fact that nationalism is essentially an artificial ideological concept while still celebrating in the products of nationalism that are in theory built on the assumption that national identity is immutable, unique and specifically original.

I can’t get past the psychological aspects of the appeal of nationalism. This is something that increasingly attracts my interest. Historians talk a lot about inter-disciplinary study, but we’re mostly talking rubbish or talking up work we’re hoping to publish. In reality, we tend to be remarkably locked in to our own fields, with the only exceptions being the same post-linguistic turn thinkers that turn up again. And again. And again. Foucault and Derrida, I’m looking at you. Yes, both of you. We don’t do much in the realm of analyzing the dynamics of how ideology works on the individual level. Ideological manipulation can be analyzed and discussed in a relatively straightforward manner. The decision to participate in an ideology on the individual level is difficult to include in historical work. Finding the sources, for one thing, is impractical at best. Beyond that, well… it’s just a difficult thing to incorporate into historical methodologies that make sense.

We’ll get there. Of that I am sure. Between now and then I am happy to participate in such an ideological dynamic on a personal level. It doesn’t stop me from analyzing the same process intellectually. It’s all about being open to changing your mind of course. Perhaps I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

* It’s weird to think of myself as a professional historian. Not much has changed from graduate school, except that I get paid. So… I’m professional, I suppose.

** I actually argue that the –izing isn’t happening, at least not in the way previously asserted in the literature. For that matter, it’s not even a central component of my argument, more an aspect of the existing literature with which I disagree. I don’t get off easy though: I’m still discussing the basic historical mechanic.