The Cannonized Cinema column welcomes guest writers John-Ross Bocye and Matthew Jonassaint.
The Great Depression had “City Lights.” The 60s had “The Graduate.” The films of John Hughes dominated the Me Decade. Every era has its important movies – the ones that are defined by their cultural context, and in turn inform future generations about the emotional landscape of their era.
So it is with the 10 years following 9/11. It’s been a politically, socially and economically turbulent time for These United States. It’s not surprising our biggest questions and ideologies about it would find a way into our theaters. And we’re not just talking about “World Trade Center.”
Some see William Hurt’s use of horrific pageantry to keep people in the bounds of his little hamlet and say, “Man, Bush told some big whoppers to keep us in check.” But don’t be such a novice pundit. All governments lie to their people. That’s just what they do. Grow up.
Understand what led Hurt and his cohorts to build their 19th century bubble and you’ll see why “The Village” is truly reflective of the post-9/11 era. All of them experienced a major tragedy in the outside world. In order to avoid future trauma and heartache, they construct a fragile fantasy world sustained and maintained through paranoia the elders spread like the measles ultimately to protect themselves and their loved ones from crime and violence.
But when Adrien Brody stabs Joaquin Phoenix right in the assumed safety of their little enclave, the fantasy world enters the real. And in the real world, we all take off our shoes and belts and let TSA goons touch our bikini zones for the sake of safety. But Umar Abdulmutallab, better known as “The Underwear Bomber” got past all of that, and would have caused another major tragedy if he hadn’t somehow been too clumsy and stupid to blow himself up.
The point of “The Village” isn’t that the government is probably lying. The point is, despite all of the measures you take to avoid trouble, trouble finds you.
Christopher Nolan’s second go with the Caped Crusader is mired in the shadows, paranoia and collective naïveté of its time, the last days of the Bush administration. The only thing that keeps the movie relevant is how no one seems to get just how insidious and insulting to the audience it is.
Joker is Osama Bin Laden in a cooler outfit. Name another violent extremist who achieves his unfathomable ends through cell terrorism. Batman is reduced to a capitalist with PTSD, a cape, and his own temporary Patriot Act. As such, Batman wonders how to maintain his rule while battling someone without any; the citizens of Gotham are reduced to a psychologically unstable throng.
Joker ultimately triumphs in the end. In a patronizing move, the narrative suddenly swaps Gotham’s savage denizens with a noble people who, in the face of certain death, refuse to blow up a boatload of criminals. The audience initially thinks Batman is vindicated about human nature and Joker misunderstands it.
But despite this miracle, Joker has won the battle for Gotham’s soul. Once the citizens discover what he’s done to their beloved Harvey Dent, they’ll finally hit bottom. Dent’s fall from an Eagle Scout with a winning smile to a wrathful demon with half his face missing would prove that Gotham couldn’t handle moral ambiguity or human complexity. Just like most citizens cannot handle the complex, morally ambiguous things their leaders will do to maintain society. For this movie, that’s a bit contradictory, but for a blockbuster from the end of the Bush administration, that’s oddly insightful, if not condemning.
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