So anyone who has HBO will know that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight has been playing quite a bit, so forgive me for the commentary on a movie released eons ago (at least in blog time). Anyway, I was watching it this morning in half-drunken a drunken torpor (thanks Adams Morgan!) and was thinking about how conservatives probably love this movie. And as it turns out, they do! After all, the plot involves the use of illegal surveillance activities and enhanced interrogation techniques in the name of stopping an ultra-violent, misanthropic nihilist.
Like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight earns its dread, draws us into a world enough like our own that it can’t be dismissed as fantasy. It reaches into your bones and gives them a good rattle, and you may still feel the vibrations long after the house lights come up. (The Dark Knight, much more than Batman Begins, allows itself to slip into a few wildly artificial moments, such as when Aaron Eckhart’s D.A. Harvey Dent badgers a witness into pulling a gun on him in open court, then dispatches him without mussing his hair.) The Spider-Man movies can barely be endured once; Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies demand repeat viewings.
Now, insofar as the point the movie makes, it does seem that in a world filled with nihilist mass murderers hell bent on sowing destruction for the sake of it, I don’t have an overwhelming problem with superhero use of illegal surveilance techniques. But of course it’s important to note that despite Pajamas Media’s assertions otherwise, The Dark Knight is really quite unlike the world which we inhabit. For starters, though terrorists are indeed mass murderers, they aren’t nihilists. Rather, they have political goals, and though it’s pretty clear there’s no reasoning with a man like Osama bin Laden, there are concrete reasons that animate terrorist activity. This shouldn’t be interpreted as an apologia for terrorists — violence of the sort employed by terrorists is without condition wrong, but the fact remains that until we actually have villians like the Joker, there will always be options for dealing with enemies that don’t necessitate infringing on civil liberties or basic conceptions of human rights.