Monday 4 August 2008

Some men just want to watch the world burn

I saw Batman the other evening. Truly, it is horrible, but also one of the best films I have seen in a few years. The title of this post refers to Alfred's summary of the Joker's motivation. It reminded me of Nero.

The film sat uneasily with a more realistic view of human good and evil than the dichotomy of "goodies" and "baddies" followed by a nice happy ending. The mobsters were not all Italian for once, but refreshingly poly-ethnic. There is, of course, no prominent white mobster, but, at least, both the troubled and disturbing vigilante and the principal villain(s) are white. The "us" and "them" opposition is further broken down by a nail-biting scene, which I will not spoil, and by the story of Harvey Dent himself. Evil is not a matter of skin-pigmentation or of one's upbringing or environment. Radical evil is no respecter of persons and can surface anywhere.

Heath Ledger's performance makes its point very well and leaves Jack Nicholson's in the dust.

Someone told me that while Mr Ledger was preparing for the role, he kept a list of things the Joker would find funny. AIDS was one of them. It is truly monstrous to regard a spiral of human tragedy as hilarious. I could not help remembering a Classics Professor who once said, either in print or in some materials for circulation to students within the department, "Most classicists have Foucault as their idol." Now, it is said that when Foucault knew that he had contracted AIDS he sought to inflect as many people as possible. I do not know whether that is true or not, but such a monster would never be this classicist's role model.

Back to the film though, there are number of spectacular sequences. None of these seemed like ways of showing off advances in special effects or like trailers for a computer game. Some were breath-takingly simple. There are some sharp one-liners, including one that made me laugh out loud (no one joined me, mind). Oh, and two moments of pure horror - one from the Joker, one from Batman, underlining the point about good and evil being far from clear cut.

[On a more jaunty note, Michael Caine provides a good role model for anyone wanting to imitate a cockney accent. Also, I was pleased to recognise that some filming had been done in Chicago near where we stayed for the APA this year.]

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