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Blaming Batman for gun violence

  • 26 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (M). Director: Christopher Nolan. Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy. 164 minutes

Nicola Roxon and Shadow Minister Christopher Pyne can agree on one thing at least. 'One of the good things John Howard did ... was his gun control legislation,' noted Pyne on Monday night's Q&A, taking up Roxon's point that gun control, and not violent entertainment, was the larger issue in the wake of the Colorado 'Batman' massacre. Pyne called America's approach to gun control 'seriously wrongheaded' requiring 'dramatic' attention.

As a matter of fact, Christopher Nolan's Batman films — 2005's Batman Begins, 2008's The Dark Knight, and the current The Dark Knight Rises (collectively the Dark Knight Trilogy) — take a decidedly thoughtful approach to violence in general, and gun violence in particular, compared with your run of the mill action blockbuster.

In Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, it is Batman's (and his alter ego Bruce Wayne's) refusal to kill under any circumstances that distinguishes him, explicitly and fundamentally, from those film's respective villains, Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson), The Joker (Heath Ledger) and Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Aaron Eckhardt). In Rises, he openly shuns guns, much to the chagrin of his sometime agent provocateur, 'cat' burglar Selina Kyle (Hathaway).

Most of the violence in Rises, especially between Batman and his newest archrival Bane (Hardy), is of the hand-to-hand variety. This includes a climactic scene where opposing armed mobs oddly seem to discard their weapons in favour of fists. Bane's henchmen use guns, but Bane's preferred method is to break men's necks with his bare hands — decidedly more brutal, but not conducive to mass murder.

These characters, villains and heroes alike, are to some extent doppelgangers, reflecting each other's traits and beliefs, and prompting them to self-examination. This is particularly true of Wayne, whose grappling with the nature of goodness and justice in light of the actions of those he opposes are the films' philosophical core and most compelling aspect. All but The Joker are vigilantes; Batman's moral code sets him apart.

This is most evident in the rivalry between Batman and the cultish order, the League of Shadows, represented in Batman Begins by Ra's al Ghul and in Rises by Bane. Prior to becoming Batman, Wayne trained with the League in martial arts and philosophy before parting ways with it over ideological differences. The League sees Wayne's home city Gotham as being irredeemably