- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Here’s a guest post from a reader who suggests that Dark Knight be seen as a terrorism film. I am open to this interpretation — I think that frequently popular films deal with social issues in an oblique way. For example, I think the 1986 Jeff Goldblum remake of The Fly was really about the advent of the AIDS crisis. And is Avatar really about Iraq? (Don’t ask me — I’m not gonna see it.) And yes, Hollywood tends to make movies that somehow offer reassurance that it all will work out in the end. Except for poor Jeff.
I think he is right. Just look at how 9/11-ish that film poster is.
By Ian Keegan
Best Defense guest film reviewer
While its popularity and box office take would suggest it has little to do with more focused terrorism movies (at least if what Malcolm Johnson said is true), I think that there is enough intelligence in the plot to make it worth a look. Besides, Best Defense already did Fight Club.
First is the Joker’s use of cheap, asymmetric methods to stymie the seemingly better resourced good guys, from the mundane (bribery and intimidation), to the technological (wires to destroy helicopters), to the fiendishly clever (disguising hostages as criminals and vice versa). On the other hand, this doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know, and besides that some of the Joker’s stunts (rigging an entire hospital to blow up) are more than a little far-fetched.
Second is the Joker himself. While his general thirst for destruction seems pretty far removed from today’s terrorists who have solid ideological or political goals as a basis for their behavior, I find his rise to power fascinating. It reminds of the rise of younger, more ruthless leaders like Zarqawi in Al Qaeda. I don’t know enough about Zarqawi and his ilk to say whether or not there really is a connection there, but I am intrigued by the possibility.
However, the real value of Dark Knight regarding the discussion of terrorism, in my opinion, is in its depiction of the effects of terror. As viewers we are placed in the shoes of a populace targeted by a successful terrorism campaign. We see innocent people being attacked and killed, while the police and the Batman are unable to make any progress towards stopping the source of the violence. And even though we are experienced movie-goers who know that in the end the forces of good will prevail, the movie is so well made that we are forced to consider the possibility that the Joker cannot be stopped. How we act, threatened by a seemingly unstoppable terrorist threat?
Of course, good does prevail, and in a climactic finale the Joker’s threat ends (with actor Heath Ledger‘s death, for ever). This is a far cry from the long, gradual pace of a ‘successful’ COIN campaign. But the foundation for this success is shown as people doing the right thing — not so far removed, I think, from the need to win the populace to one’s side in a COIN campaign.