On The Nature of Punching Things …
Dark Knight Rises
I finally saw Dark Knight Rises!
This may be the wrong place to exult over such a thing, but exult I shall. Adulthood is a complex
campaign, where one must sacrifice what would be vital ground in other lifetimes for small
holdfasts, the smallness of which will turn out to be crucial, important, and worldsaving.
Which is to say, I had to raise kids and work first and see movies . . . tenth.
Also, it's relevant. Bear with me.
This particular movie was my own little bad-luck charm. I made plans to see it. Said plans fell
through. More plans. More fall-through. There I was, friendless and desperate. Everyone I knew
had seen it. They had moved on. I only cared about one movie.
Why do we even have movies that aren't about Batman? No one has an answer to that.
So I determined a day, a time, and I walked two miles to the theater and afterward I took my own
self out for a milkshake, and dropped myself off with a promise to call later. (I didn't, the
Point being . . .
I loved it. Not quite as much as I loved Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but isn't that the
curse of the threequel?
The story was Christopher Nolan's standard package: mystery, fanatical minions, violence, cool
gadgets, and a stellar performance from Christian Bale. Bale has completely become the Dark
Knight. I've forgotten all about Michael Keaton, Adam West, or any other portrayal.
He might sound ridiculous with that crazy voice-changer, but he plays the fake smarmy
millionaire and the real, tormented Wayne in a way that sticks in your mind.
He never looks like he is at peace. Nolan trades on this, when young Officer John Blake comes
to reveal to Bruce that he has deduced his true identity, if only because the torment is so obvious.
Anne Hathaway quite nearly stole the third movie to the degree that Heath Ledger stole the
second one; I stand with President Obama in saying that she was the best part of it. I didn't know
which way she would go, whether she would prove herself an asset or an enemy in the end.
So at the end I felt great. I had seen a third Chris Nolan Batman film. And life was good, and I
could rewatch them as a trilogy one of these days.
Except . . .
Maybe this is a ridiculous place to say serious things, but as a comic book fan and a parent, I
hope someone will hear.
In the struggle to see Dark Knight Rises, I suspect some of the sabotage was my own. Because
watching that simulated violence onscreen would have made me think of something else.
People are dead because a lunatic opened fire in a movie theater. People who just wanted to see
Batman fight crime, enjoy the movie, and go home.
Every time a gun went off in Dark Knight Rises, I couldn't help think of that. Those prop guns
weren't far off from the real combination of heavy polyethylene, steel and lead.
This lunatic showed no prior evidence of his particular psychosis. He obtained all the guns
legally. Who knows -- if he had been subjected to a psychiatric evaluation in order to get the
gun, he might have just passed. Guns are quite easy to obtain and use in this country and all the
controversy over the issue means that it probably won't change.
The trend has been, since the event, to encourage people to see the movie, share in the
experience, talk about it and honor the dead by celebrating the simple act of going to the movies.
I'm with that. See above comment about Batman, and why he should have every movie.
In a previous column, I even argued for the necessity, the nobility of superheroes. They remind
us of our inner courage, our need to deny corruption and evil, and to recognize good when we
But let's talk about a different side of this coin.
I haven't seen Dark Knight Rises enough to remember a lot of specifics, so we'll recap some
things about The Dark Knight:
In the previous Batman movie, a man was brutally murdered onscreen by having a pencil shoved
through his eye into his brain.
Another man had a bomb sewn into his intestines. When it exploded, it killed most of the people
in a police station.
Two-Face held a gun to a small child's head and ordered the child's father to comfort the child
even though he would kill the child anyway.
This previous movie won an Oscar, made millions of dollars, and was celebrated as one of the
best comic book movies, if not movies period, of all time. What is interesting to me -- what is
crucial -- is what was not in The Dark Knight.
There was no explicit sex in The Dark Knight. There was no full-frontal or full-backal nudity.
Not even heavy kissing. Had there been frontal nudity, the movie would have instantly earned an
Never mind a pencil through the eye. Had we seen female nipples, the movie would have been
restricted from viewers under seventeen.
I don't think anyone would argue that watching pornography makes people want to have sex.
Whether you find it unhealthy and degrading or normal and useful, porn is there to turn its
So what does violence do to the audience? When the Joker shoves a pencil through a man's eye
into his brain, how do we react internally?
Graphic violence onscreen influences the viewer. I'm not going to say how, or in what way, or
blame graphic violence for specific actions like the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. I am saying
that we are all of us affected when we become desensitized to violence. How we reap it is up for
But whether or not we reap it shouldn't be.
Does that mean violence must be abolished from the media? Of course not; there's no suspension
of disbelief without realism. Othello was strangling Desdemona long before ratings came along.
We don't, though, need violence in media that is designed for everyone. Batman is everyone's
hero. How violent does a Batman movie really need to be? Violent enough that only people of
thirteen years of age and up should see it?
That's what the PG-13 rating is supposed to mean, in the US rating system.
We all know it means something else. Recent movies like This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated
have shown how American ratings are assigned as marketing tools, used to deemphasize
violence and overemphasize sex, and how the best way to make money off a movie is to make it
Thirteen. As I recall, Batman, Spiderman and the Transformers became my heroes at the age of
six or seven. There was absolutely nothing, nothing more important than seeing Tim Burton's
Batman movie, which came out when I was nine. My mother had dictated that I was too young
for PG-13 movies, but I had to see it. I was going to burst otherwise.
This was the anti-apotheosis of what happened with Dark Knight Rises. Now I have kindergarten
meetings, papers to grade, even a column to write about other movies I had delayed seeing.
When I actually hit thirteen, I did my best to tone down my raging geekishness and try to get
some girls to talk to me, even if it meant talking about something besides Batman.
I still watched Val Kilmer and even George Clooney play the Caped Crusader through
successively worse movies at the ages of nine, twelve, fifteen and seventeen. At the age of
twenty-five, I jumped up at danced at the bravura power of Christian Bale, Christopher Nolan
and Batman Begins. But once I left the theater, I went back to my job, my schoolwork, my dating
life or lack thereof.
Whereas, when I was a child, I would go home and play for hours in the backyard, trying to
recreate the sense of magic and suspension of disbelief I had felt.
Americans in the audience: remember the PG rating? Perhaps you do. I can't remember the last
time I saw a movie rated PG. Maybe The Incredibles, or possibly Ratatouille, or one of the
earlier Harry Potter movies.
I ask you, Americans (the international audience, please refer to the above-mentioned This Film
Has Not Yet Been Rated), why does a Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman, Iron Man, or any
other superhero movie need to be PG-13?
Because my daughter loves Spider-Man. She will probably come to love Batman, though right
now he's not colorful enough for her. But when she does, around the age of six or seven, I'm not
about to let her watch someone get a pencil shoved through his eye.
She can handle that sort of thing at thirteen, and beyond. But when she turns thirteen, Batman
won't be as cool. Her friends at school will be, and seeing a Batman movie together will not be
so much about Batman as about the social experience.
Why does Batman have to be PG-13 level violence? Your answer might amount to it makes
more sense or it's more realistic, but it won't amount to Batman needs more violence.
Read more by Spencer Ellsworth