Monday, 10 December 2012

Bane and me

(My views on Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. Plot spoiler alert – do not read if you want to see the film at a later date)
Last summer my friend Chris asked me whether I had seen the latest Batman movie, the Dark Night Rises. I replied I had not. Chris said that I should, it was a great movie and then added “the villain reminds me of you.”
As you can imagine, I found this somewhat alarming. Asking why that should be, Chris started to look a bit shifty. “Oh,” he said vaguely. “It’s just the way he speaks.” The subject was rapidly changed. Anyhow, I didn’t rush straight out to the picture house. Once the DVD came into the shops though, my curiosity finally got the better of me. I have seen Batman movies in the past (who hasn’t?) and enjoyed them but truth be told, superhero movies are not really my thing.
What of the movie? Gone are the days of Batman, the caped comic crusader. Gone are the movies that feature villains like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Iceman, which incidentally also featured Bane as a lumbering, evil, subhuman henchman. Today’s characters are more rounded, more vulnerable and more human. But this also means far less action on the screen; no WWF-style bouts here. When a person gets hurt, they stay hurt and it takes time for them to recover. The real pain though isn’t from combat but is psychological. Bane tortures Batman with images of his beloved city dying, he tortures the citizens with false hope. Batman is tortured with demons of his old life and Alfred is tormented with the possibility of Bruce Wayne donning the cape once again. There is a lot of mental grief going on here.
We don’t find out Bane’s motivations until right at the end but viewers do not have to wait that long to see what kind of man he his. What is clear from his opening scene is that here is intelligent and perceptive. (Plot spoilers really kick in now so stop reading!) From his opening rhetorical question, he knew that the CIA man wasn’t really throwing his comrades out of the aeroplane. Bane’s kidnap plan is pretty damned smart it has to be said! This is a calm man: when the nuclear physicist is screaming like a baby in the doomed aircraft, Bane tells him: “Calm down doctor: the time for fear is later.” Not exactly reassuring but a good line. But what struck me from the first was the willingness of one of Bane’s henchmen to stay on board. All Bane had to do was to explain that it was part of the plan and all was required in return was reassurance that “we had lit the flame.” Bane was a villain with an Idea.
The taking over of Gotham (aka New York) was of course a plan that both requires patience and is executed with perfect timing. Performed in the name of the People, it was pretty easy to see the recent banking crisis twisted into the French Revolution. Bain’s opening of the prison was the fall of the Bastille in Paris. The People’s Courts were the sentencing hearings of the mob after Robespierre, sorry I mean Bain, did away with due process. As for the weak response of the US military; well it was no coincidence that the captain who led the failed special-forces infiltration physically looked a lot like President Obama.
It is clear that the whole movie is a very skilfully crafted propaganda piece, telling the American people to beware of change because one never knows how protests can be hijacked by foreign ideas and fanaticism. Bane does not really have a big idea in the political sense; that is all a smokescreen for his real motives. But he understands the power of hope and fashions it into a prison, both psychological and physical. Despite all the talk of politics, Bane isn’t really a political creature; it is just a tool that offers hope to a doomed population in order to keep them placid. In that way though, the propaganda message is two-edged. After all, are we not enduring the economic pain of today in the hope of something better for us and our children in the years to come?
The part of Bane that is monstrous is, of course, is his complete disregard for human life. Even this facet is explained, and accounted for well, in the film. The irony is that it was a single courageous act of decency that turns him into the masked and totally calloused individual later in life.
So, is Chris right? Am I like Bane? – apart from the facts that I am not a six feet four, muscle-bound, mask-wearing super villain with a private army ready to die upon my word.
Probably not. But he does talk a bit like me. Sometimes.

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