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Blaming Batman for gun violence


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 corrupt, and in both films plots to save it by destroying it.

Wayne, though, sees the destruction of human life as fundamentally unjust. Implicit in his refusal to kill his foes is a belief that no one is beyond redemption. This is evident in his decision not to execute the anarchic mass murder The Joker in The Dark Knight; and, in Rises, in his decision to come out of retirement, and resume as Batman in an attempt to overcome Bane, rather than hiding, or running, away.

The Dark Knight Trilogy is surprisingly, poignantly humane by the standards of Hollywood action films. Rises finds Wayne too damaged — physically, psychologically and emotionally — from his past exploits as Batman to succeed alone against the formidable foe Bane. He requires and receives much practical and moral support.

Fatherly butler Alfred (Caine) tends to his physical and emotional wellbeing. Longtime ally Commissioner Gordon (Oldman), guilt-ridden over the morally equivocal climactic events of The Dark Knight, seeks personal absolution even as he fights alongside Batman for Gotham's salvation. Upstanding young cop John Blake (Gordon-Levitt) helps consolidate Wayne/Batman's moral compass and becomes an unlikely protégé.

These good men who support and sustain Wayne/Batman are the heart and soul of The Dark Knight Rises. They stick in the memory more firmly even than 'cool' villains such as Bane and his trigger-happy henchmen.

The massacre at Aurora was tragic, but as far as US politicians are concerned, blaming Batman is as good as hiding your head in the sand. Pyne and Roxon's fellow Q&A panellist Simon Sheikh, National Director of GetUp!, alluded to an American journalist's comment that the massacre 'was akin to a natural disaster'. 'That suggests to me that in America there's this view that this is somehow uncontrollable, that there's nothing they can do.

'The reality', continued Sheikh, 'is that this bloke didn't commit a crime right up until the point where he started opening fire ... It's obviously about gun control. Let's hope that in an election year they actually can get together and formulate some responses to this.' In other words, take a leaf out of John Howard's book. Or Batman's.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street


Topic tags: The Dark Knight Rises, Aurora massacre, gun control, John Howard, Nicola Roxon, Christopher Pyne



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Existing comments

Sharp piece of work, that. Among the more chilling details of the Colorado murders is the casual ease with which the man strolled into gun shops and bought the weapons used to kill children of all ages.

Brian Doyle | 26 July 2012  

The continuing - regular continuity, of lone gunman (sometimes two)randomly killing unarmed innocents in the USA is a cultural one with little to do with gun control, other than the lack of laws covering automatic fire power. Search the history of the USA going right back to the War of Independence and you will discover massacre after massacre by deranged, deluded, evil gunmen. They need to evangelise their culture rather than blame it on lack of gun control. Note the Australian experience, we have the laws but no control, you can obviously go to Sydney and do an illegal deal for some very powerful weaponry. The police intelligence reports back this up with the estimated numbers of illegal weapons. If there are no concerted and consistent attempts to evangelise the culture in Australia we will end up like the USA.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 26 July 2012  

I've pinched this quote from Marilynne Robinson's recent book "When I Was a Child I Read Books" (I can recommend it strongly): "Writing in 1870, Walt Whitman said, "America, if eligible at all to downfall and ruin, is eligible within herself, not without; for I see clearly that the combined foreign world could not beat her down. But these savage, wolfish parties alarm me. Owning no law but their own will, more and more combative, less and less tolerant of the idea of ensemble and of equal brotherhood, the perfect equality of the States, the ever-overarching American Ideas, it behooves you to convey yourself implicitly to no party, nor submit blindly to their dictators, but steadily hold yourself judge and master over all of them."

Pam | 26 July 2012  

@Fr Mick: What do you mean by "They need to evangelise their culture"?

Mike H | 26 July 2012  

Fr Mick Mac Andrew is partially correct, in that "evangelising the culture" may help. However, that doesn't prevent the occurrence of disaffected, disengaged, deranged loners - excessive solitude would seem to be a risk factor for derangement among we social ape descendants. That is, while evangelising the culture may be necessary, it is not sufficient; what is also required is the ending of social exclusion. The other point on which I disagree with Fr Mick is gun control: had Holmes's semi-auto military weapon not jammed, the death toll would have been much higher. That is, gun control is a necessary exercise in harm minimisation.

David Arthur | 26 July 2012  

Still don't know what he means by 'evangelising the culture' but the word 'evangelise', especially in relation to the U.S.A., worries me.

Mike H | 26 July 2012  

I agree with your review of the film. I also agree that the main issue here is gun control. I also believe that John Howard's gun policy was flawed and ineffective because the only people who sold their guns to the government were law abiding citizens. I believe most of the criminals kept their guns because this was the opinion of one of the state police commissioners. Notwithstanding that these mass shootings have occurred in most countries, I believe they are more prevalent in the U.S.A. because of their 'wild west' culture of either owning or carrying a gun; this culture continues because of the significant national support for the Riflemen's Association lobby. I also heard recently that since the Colorado massacre, there has been an increase in gun sales in that state. It is also interesting that the U.S.A. economy is dependant on the gun and the military industry; this industry accounts for 60% of their GDP and their military budget exceeds the total of all other countries.

Mark Doyle | 26 July 2012  

"evangelise the culture" = restore the culture of life, defeat the culture of death. Pope John Paul II urged all Catholics to undertake this mission. Evangelising the culture can rid us all of so much which threatens our very human identity. The priesthood culture has to be re-evangelised so us priests will not misuse our power, especially against the vulnerable. Gun control laws are not the answer if the culture is not evangelised, just as much as Church and civil laws will not protect the vulnerable if we priests and our culture are not re-evangelised.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 26 July 2012  

Thanks for clearing that up, Father.

Charles Boy | 26 July 2012  

I had to work one Christmas day in 2008 and watched a batman movie - the dark knight, with a resident who had no one to go to on christmas day. I was disturbed by the level of mindless violence that occurred all through the film - the plot doesn't really matter! The violence is just constant. It is a total fantasy, but the result still disturbs. I am more concerned that as a culture we have become desensitised to other people's pain.

Jenny Esots | 26 July 2012  

I was appalled at the level of gratuitous violence in Dark Knight Rising, not only by Bane who carried out massing shootings and executions, but also by the police. Tim Kroenert correctly points out Batman's aversion to killing, but I still think that the film deliberately pandered to a general desire for screen violence. There has to be a link between the psychology of such screen violence, lack of US gun control and mass murder.

Peter Noar | 27 July 2012  

Father Mac Andrew - No need to reevangelise - just follow the original teachings, which are the priests do not have any power to begin with. They are sacrificial lambs like Jesus, not powermongers. And gun control issues should be a non-issue in a Christian society - the bible tells us never to raise a weapon against anyone, not even our enemy. So a total ban would be more appropriate.

AURELIUS | 31 July 2012  

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