Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Psychopaths, revolutions and Hollywood: From Gotham City to Gorky Park

Last month I wrote a set of articles (beginning here) that loosely linked the fictional Batman character "The Joker" (as played by Heath Ledger), to the real-life biography and psychological state of Stalin, aka "Koba", The Wolf.

Fiction and reality rarely meet exactly for the sake of convenient comparison. But I did see some intriguing similarities between the psychological state of mind, modus operandi and "agenda" of "The Joker", and that of Stalin.
In an nutshell, both Stalin and The Joker seemed to be personalities born from a chaotic upbringing, ruffians raised on the brutality of the streets; both used their key role within a wider organisation (the Bolsheviks and The Mafia, respectively) to rise quickly to supersede and eliminate their rivals; both simultaneously perfected the art of unpredictable and amoral terror for their purposes on their rivals and the general population; and both seemed to be driven not by any earthly design or goal (such that money or luxury was of no value), but the goal of terror and chaos for its own sake, or to simply paralyse the human aspect into a submission to chaos.
To the extent that "The Joker" and Stalin had an ideology or end in mind, they were simply in rebellion against everything else that was. "The Joker" turned against The Mafia that had originally put their trust in him as he saw them as morally beneath him (as he was completely amoral and nihilistic); Stalin turned against people who had supported him to gain power soon after gaining power himself, as he saw them as hypocrites and against his "purer" form of revolution.

This brings me to the new, and final, part of the Batman trilogy, "The Dark Knight Rises", which was released this weekend, and I saw at the cinema. What interested me most in the film was how it compared to the previous one in terms of plot, the underlying psychology, and the characterisation of the films antagonist, Bane. 
The psychology of Bane is markedly different from "The Joker". In summary, Bane is a mercenary employed by a businessman, John Daggett (Bruce Wayne's rival), who then uses his cohort of mercenaries to attack the Stock Exchange and by manipulating stocks bring about the bankruptcy of Wayne. Bane, however, has his own agenda separate from Daggett, who then sidelines the businessman, coerces Batman into a confrontation to disable and exile him, then uses explosives to trap the police of the city underground, while also destroying the bridges of the city, trapping the population. Bane then forces open the city prison, releasing criminals to run amok in the city while also encouraging the population to rise up against the "corrupt" rich. The last twist is the nuclear device that Bane had stolen from Wayne's research centre, holding the city to ransom from the outside world, knowing all the while that the device would eventually destroy the city in a matter of months.
Bane's "ideology" is not as purely chaotic as "The Joker": Bane's ideology is a methodological one, if no less amoral. His "end" is clear: to destroy Gotham City, while bringing about some kind of chaotic "class warfare" in the meantime.

The director of "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Dark Knight", Christopher Nolan, has said that there is no intentional resemblance to contemporary events in the West in the latest Batman movie (eg. Occupy Wall Street), and I believe him. There isn't one: but the film did get me thinking again about the "Bolshevik connection", and another personality of the Bolshevik revolution: Stalin's predecessor, Lenin.
The story of Bane and his "cause" towards Gotham City raises some similarities to how Lenin came to power in Russia.
Both Bane and Lenin were "introduced" to their fate by outside forces: Bane was employed by the businessman John Daggett to bring down Bruce Wayne, while Lenin was smuggled into Russia by the Germans to bring down the Tsar. Both men succeeded in their assigned task, but both Bane and Lenin later betrayed their former "paymasters": Bane later has Daggett killed, while Lenin tries to export his revolution to Germany after the war. Lenin was psychologically a rebel of the cultured middle-classes, an emigre internationalist; in a similar manner (again in contrast to "The Joker"/Stalin), Bane appears like some psychological cross-breed between Hannibal Lecter and revolutionary leader - with a cultured manner (gained from pseudo-ideology of the "League Of Shadows") and non-specific international accent, but with a resolute hatred of the wealthy, using it to channel his eventual aim  to destroy, like Lenin, everything that existed before. Both men did not flinch at the unlimited use of violence for the purpose of their aims.

Probably I'm reading far too much into two films, but that is what makes film so endlessly engaging: being able to get so much out of two films and the antagonists in each. But Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy works, as a collective piece of art and as an engaging moral tale, as well as Jackson's rendering of "The Lord Of The Rings", or Lucas' (original) "Star Wars" trilogy.
All three of these trilogies (and each of a different genre - comic strip/gothic/crime, fantasy, and science-fiction) tell us a lot and reflect much on the frailty of human nature, how we as humans are fascinated by the personification of evil, and what makes people become, and behave as, psychopaths. The essential battle between good and evil is never as black-and-white in reality as it is often explained, and these three trilogies, by Nolan, Jackson and Lucas respectively,clearly show that.
It is the shades of grey, the compromises, hard choices and frailties that circumstance forces upon us, that make a human what they are, for good or ill.
It is a sign of a great work of art when art does seem to imitate life so seamlessly.

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